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Featuring photo and video work by Kirsten Stanley for the adventurous and fun-loving

Do you need to go to film school?

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Here is a question that has been debated to exhaustion:

Do you need to go to school to be a filmmaker/videographer?

No matter how many sentences I compose from this point forward, there will undoubtedly be points that I will miss. I am not creating this post in hopes of bringing the debate to a close but rather to throw my thoughts into the mix. The answer to this question is complicated in the details but simple in the summary.

The summary: It's up to you.

Not a very helpful answer, is it? Well, then let's dive into some details together.

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First, you need to ask yourself some other questions.

  1. Are you self-motivated enough to learn, practice and network on your own?
  2. What type of filmmaker do you want to be?

Let me explain why I went to film school.

I attended NSCAD* University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Major in Film. Believe me when I tell you that a Fine Arts degree was not my original plan.

*NSCAD is pronounced Nas-kad

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In fact, I have a distinctive memory of seeing the High School Art room during a tour as a Grade 8 and thinking "I'm not going to do art classes." But, Art class was mandatory in Grade 9 and despite my logical brain fighting it, I ended up doing every art and creative class available over the next 4 years. I was completely split between academic and creative courses. Even with art, design and video creeping its way into my life, I still planned to pursue business after high school.

When Grade 12 rolled around and it was time to get serious about post-secondary education, I applied for 4 universities. 3 were for Business and Management programs. To this day, I can't recall what motivated my fourth application. The only memory I have referring to NSCAD as an option was me thinking "I'm not going there." upon seeing a promotional flyer outside of the Art room. For whatever reason, I also decided that if NSCAD were to accept me, then it was meant to be. I genuinely did not believe I had a good chance since the portfolio I submitted was rather lacklustre.

The 3 business programs accepted me and offered generous scholarships. NSCAD was the final school to reply and they did not approve my application initially. Before my acceptance, I had to attend a 1 hour workshop with a professor, 4 hours away. Thanks to incredibly supportive parents, that's exactly what I did. Perhaps the workshop was a success and they saw potential in me, or perhaps the school simply needed my tuition money but either way, NSCAD accepted my application and offered a whopping ZERO in scholarships. Sometimes, things are meant to be despite the associated disadvantages.

The next fours years at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University Film School (phew.) were some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.

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For anyone who thinks a Fine Arts degree is a breeze, y'all are kidding yourselves.

I can sum up my years at NSCAD in bullet points.

  • Year 1: I am doubting whether or not to continue, but only giving it one year doesn't seem fair.
  • Year 2: I am still uncertain but am now halfway so I may as well continue.
  • Year 3: I am out of my league with the other film majors but only one year to go.
  • Year 4: My thesis film script was selected, I bonded with my classmates and I was really f-ing proud to graduate.

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Was film school worth it?

Absolutely. It gave me an incredible base for technical and structural dynamics on a film set. It taught me production management and post-production skills which I use daily. Most importantly, it gave me a network of film professionals to reach out to if I chose to continue in the film industry after graduation. University is much more than learning the course material. It introduced me to social dynamics, presentation tactics, industry hierarchies and key life skills. While I chose to pursue other avenues, I continue to refer to lessons I learned at NSCAD.

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With that being said, I also continue to broaden my expertise with the help of online tutorials and other video and photo professionals. I believe that no matter what degree I received, I still would have began my current business. In fact, my business is a direct result of the one business course I took during university. I am certain I would have figured out my way around a camera, but I may have arrived at my destination a little slower.

As I said at the beginning of this post:

In summary, the decision is up to you.

If you are currently in high school and debating university, I can certainly advocate for attending. If you have already completed post-secondary education and craving a career change, the internet and some self-motivation would be my recommendation for your starting point.

If you are looking for something to do for the next 11 minutes and 30 seconds, here is my thesis film. Someday, I'll explain why it hasn't made it past Vimeo for viewing. Until then, enjoy this quirky film about misunderstandings and while you're at it, remember to forgive the "student-esque" quality.

[vimeo 41157440 w=640 h=360]