OPEN MIC: Film School, What Is It Good For?

Film student and GFI intern Erin Migdol brings the quarter-life crisis back into perspective

With university costs skyrocketing, jobs dwindling and Flip cams turning average videographers into YouTube sensations, film school may be becoming as outdated as the VCR.

That’s the idea a recent New York Times article explored in an effort to explain the changing job outlook for film school graduates. Apparently, as profits from home entertainment have decreased in recent years and a record number of students have entered film and media programs, low-level jobs for new graduates have become scarce—meaning an education in film no longer guarantees entry into the industry like it did before.

As a film studies major at UC Davis about a year away from facing this bleak outlook myself, of course the story got me a little worried.

My decision to study film in college was a no-brainer. When it came time to fill out college applications senior year of high school, I suppose my last 12 years of learning the dry California public school curriculum was heavy on my mind as I scrolled down the list of majors and picked the one that seemed to be the most flat-out fun: film studies.

Fast-forward a year. I’m sitting in Intro to Film Studies, hardly believing how lucky I am to earn four units of college credit to watch clips of Citizen Kane and discuss the difference between close-ups and long shots. Now, as a senior sadly counting down the number of film classes I have left to complete my major, I think of film studies as the best-kept secret at UC Davis. It’s a tiny program housing less than 100 undergraduate students out of almost 25,000 total, and most take on a second major in an effort to beef up their resumes.

Claudette Colbert

And yet, I can’t imagine not being a part of this wacky little program. Immersing myself in film theory and surrounding myself with professors and students just as enthusiastic about film as I am has taught me more about the film industry than I could ever have learned on my own. In my classes, I’ve learned that Russians sometimes used to change American films’ endings to make them more depressing, Technicolor and sound are completely unrelated to a film’s quality, and that Claudette Colbert is the best thing since sliced bread. Among other things.

Director Zhang Lu

Still, it’s hard to argue with the critically acclaimed careers of filmmakers like Spike Jonze, Quentin Tarantino, and Steven Spielberg—none of whom went to film school. Interning at the Global Film Initiative has shown me that for some filmmakers, film school simply isn’t an option—and that doesn’t mean they can’t create a beautiful, thoughtful film. Zhang Lu, director of 2011 Global Lens film Dooman River, became a filmmaker at age 40 and never went to film school.

For Lu and others like him, not being able to attend film school should never prevent them from picking up a camera and shooting. Rather than lament the fact that a formal education in film may not be worth anything anymore, we should celebrate the fact that global, up-and-coming filmmakers like Lu have the opportunity to break into this business like never before.

You never know—we may end up sitting in their classes one day.


Erin Migdol is entering her senior year at UC Davis, studying for a double major in Film Studies and Communication and a minor in Sociology. She works as the Features Editor of The California Aggie and has held internships at KTEH, KGO-TV/ABC7, and Stanford Hospital & Clinics. She is currently an intern at the Global Film Initiative, where her film studies major is being refreshingly reinforced.

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