Professional Acting Resources


Acting Tips: Film Acting Schools

Attending A Film School With An Acting Program

Several film schools are starting to offer acting programs as part of their curriculum. They sell this in several ways, the foremost being that students on both sides of the camera benefit from the seemingly obvious relationship. The film students get actors and the acting students get to be in films all the time. What could be more perfect, right?

The trouble that I have with these sorts of arrangements are the same basic problems I have with the film school model in general. That being the idea that in neither case are they working towards or practicing what the realities of the film set is going to be like.  The basic trouble of the working film set is two-fold, first, is time. Productions, just by the nature of needing to get everything "just right" before filming commences, require a significant amount of time. Professional film productions routinely put in 16 hour days and in the school environment, that simply can't be accommodated. The film school classes have to have a finite run time and trying to assign an arbitrary stopping point in a film production will never work.

The second problem the film schools run into is the highly specialized nature of each job on the soundstage. I would say that by and large, the people who are attending film school and spending $80,000 to $120,000 on their education want to learn to be directors or cinematographers. I've yet to meet a student that told me they just wanted to be a grip. Or a prop master. So, generally speaking, the students rotate through the various productions they do and "fill in" for the support roles. In theory, it's all well and good, but in the real world, those "fill in" roles are done by people with tremendous amounts of experience that take great pride and care in what they do. The notion that someone can just come in and "wing it" until it's their turn to direct just doesn't work.

So, if you put those two elements together...well, you end up with a student film.

As an actor participating in these "productions" day in and day out, you will find that you're learning to do things in a rushed atmosphere, where people are just trying to get everything to work long enough to cobble together a quick take or two before moving on. And, to make matters worse, when things aren't "right", the "crew" doesn't care, because it's not their shoot and they don't really want to be doing the job to begin with. These are hardly the traits you want to refine in your acting and especially if you're paying a tremendous amount of money for the privilege!

For the most part I think getting a degree is a good thing. Just, for my dollars, I'd want to know that the degree I'm getting will pay for itself down the road.  I can say without any hesitation that a liberal arts degree with a major in acting will not make you any money back.  It will be money that you spend and never see again, regardless of what the sales literature says about their graduates "employment" statistics. And, for the record, a graduate that gets a job as a delivery driver for a editing house is considered "working in the industry".

He gets paid less than the guy that delivers pizzas. At least the pizza guy gets tips.

So, How Do I Learn Film Acting If Not At A Film School?

Generally speaking, you're going to learn film acting the way everyone else has. If you don't have family in the business and you didn't grow up around this stuff, you're going to have to learn by trial and error. Almost every actor that moves to LA to follow their dreams of becoming an actor will audition for or take part in a student film. You don't need to pay anyone for that, most especially a four year trade school.  

Most people move to town, start taking acting lessons at one of the 4000 private acting schools around town, they read a few books and they go out trying to book work. A few of them will find jobs, they won't really know what they're doing on set, the jobs will slowly dry up, they'll flame out, get discouraged and quit. The really hardy ones will keep at it until they figure out what they're doing on set, never give up and eventually start to book meaningful work, which takes on average, I'd say about 10 to 12 years.

The truth of the matter is that, unless lightning strikes, attending a four year film school with an acting program is just going to cost you four years of your life and a lot of money without meaningfully advancing your acting career at all. But, you'll probably be one of the best "student film actors" out there!

My advice to aspiring actors and actresses is always to read and learn about how movies really get made. Read and learn about acting technique and then put the two together with meaningful training and practice. I seriously think a dedicated and disciplined student that did just that could cut that 10 to 12 years down to 2 or 3. I think the total cost would be: your time, the cost of your acting training (maybe $150 to $200 a month) and probably $150 in books.

Sounds like a way better deal than $80,000, right?

If you want to learn more about how to get started in acting for film or tv, be sure to check out Acting For Film And Television.

As always, if you have any questions or thoughts, or would just like to share some of your successes, please feel free to drop me a line.  I actually answer them.

Best of Luck out there and remember, you can't fail if you don't quit.

D.L. White