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Ben Yennie: New Study Looks at the Effects of Film School on Income


We’ve all wondered whether or not film school is worth the money.  Whether the impetus for the question be Quentin Tarantino starting his career after a two-day film making workshop, or just not wanting to pay the sometimes outlandish tuition.  Despite the continual questioning, few studies have been done as to whether or not film school actually helps your career in a significant way.  That is, until now.  Let’s look at the data.

Does Film School Matter? - State of the Film Industry Report Part 3/7 from Ben Yennie

As you can see on slide 3, film school graduates are significantly more likely to be in higher income brackets than drop outs.  People who went to college somewhere other than film school are more likely to be in higher income brackets than both film school drop outs and graduates when it comes to household income, but significantly lower brackets than graduates when it comes to filmmaking income.  

If we look at average respondent's filmmaking income by age and whether or not they attended film school, the trend holds up with one exception.  Respondents who pursued other degrees and are over 50 tend to make significantly more than their contemporaries who went to film school. When it comes to filmmaking income by age, film school graduates remain king. However, likely due to a VERY small sample size our drop outs between the ages of 30 and 49 do make more from filmmaking on average than their film school graduate contemporaries.  We believe this is due to a few outliers overwhelming a small sample size.  Due to this, we do not feel comfortable calculating filmmaking income estimates over the career life of a filmmaker life from this data.  

From the data on slide 5, we can see that film school graduates are significantly more likely to have filmmaking as their primary source of income.   Film school drop outs and those who attend something other than film school are significantly less likely to spend as much time on paid film industry work.  The intangible benefits of this alone may well be worth considering film school.

On slide 7 we see that filmmakers who drop out of film school tend not to continue their education elsewhere.  This is likely correlated to their lower earning power throughout their life, which we see from their lower average household income at all ages.  

Slides 8, 9 and 10 all examine how active in different job types filmmakers are, versus how likely they are to be doing paid work in those job types.  They’re basically different ways of representing the same data.  We’ve included the different representations to help the data be more easily digestible.  Going to film school positively effects your likelihood to be both active and paid in the film industry on almost all job types.

It’s worth noting that while filmmakers who drop out of film school are more likely to be active as directors, filmmakers who graduate from film school are more likely to be paid as directors.

My editor and I have an informal contest each week on what slide contains the most depressing data, and this week it’s likely to be slide 10. While filmmakers who graduate are moderately more likely to be paid as a filmmaker, the percentage of filmmakers being paid versus being active is abysmally low.

So in summation, our data shows the following trends when it comes to film school.  First, that film school does indeed matter.  On almost any metric, graduating from film school increases your chance of making film your primary career.  Second, If you go to film school, it’s worth your time (and likely tuition) to graduate.  If you don’t graduate, your chances at a high income are often worse than if you got a different degree. Third, if you want to be successful in film, a Bachelor's seems to be the best course of action.  However, our data specifically related to what degree program filmmakers are in and how it affects their chances of success is inconclusive and requires further analysis.

It’s worth noting that statistics mean very little on an individual level.  There will always be outliers who are wildly successful after two days of film school, just as some who graduate from 4-year film schools will work as baristas more than filmmakers.  If you’ve made other choices, be aware of the data, but try not to be discouraged by it.  

Join us next week for part 4, where we examine the effects of gender on the film industry.  If you don’t want to wait, check out the other sections we’ve already published.

Part 1: Key Metrics of the Film Industry - Includes Data on our sample size and overall methodology
Part 2: The Economics of Filmmaking (AKA Filmmakers aren’t as broke as you think they are.) 

In the mean time, apply for the ProductionNext Beta.  It’s built with the real needs of independent filmmakers in mind.  What does it do?  I’ll let our fancy banner .gif tell you.  


If you want to read the other sections of this report, plus lots of bonus content, plus an entire standard survey export, check out the paperback version of this book on Amazon.  It's more than 110 full-color pages of data on the Film Industry.  Plus, for every copy sold, we donate a copy to a relevant educational institution.  Click the image below for mor information.

If you want to read the other web versions of this report, here's a table of contents.

Section 1: Overview/Key Metrics - 
Section 2: Economics of being a filmmaker - 
Section 3: Does Film School Matter - (This Section)
Section 4: The (Not So) Changing Face of Gender in the Film Industry -
Section 5: Do Romantic Relationships Correlate to Success in the Film Industry -
Section 6: Is Equipment a good investment for filmmakers? - 
Section 7: What makes for Economic Success in the Film Industry? - 



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