Do I Need a Film Degree to Get a Job in the Film Industry?

I occasionally get emails seeking advice about the film industry.  I’m by no means an expert — there is SO MUCH to learn in this industry and I’m still (somewhat) of a young’un myself! I will do my best to answer these questions, and if I’m not sure, I will seek for input from my more experienced cohorts and mentors and learn something too.

So, for the maiden voyage — here’s the first question:

I am a recent college graduate with a bachelors degree in speech therapy. I’ve always wanted to work in this field of work, but when i began the program I chickened out because I thought I would be unable to find a job, thus the reason i changed my major! But now I regret it so much and now I know this is what I want to do! Is it possible to obtain a job as a PA and be able to move up the ladder without a tv/film degree??

Congratulations on your graduation!

As a gal with a business degree, I can answer this in a heartbeat: You absolutely do NOT need a film degree to make it in this business.

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People in tv/film come from all walks of life. Sure, you’ve got the die-hard movie buffs that lived, ate, and breathed film since they were kids — but there are equally as many people that got into the business without the “proper” degree.

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know I enjoy teasing egotistical film school graduates, but there are advantages to film school. You learn a lot about theory, proper filming techniques; you have access to gear, access to cameras, and you get to stretch your creative muscles. You also get a jumpstart on networking, as there will probably be a few people you meet in film school that will cross your path for the rest of your career.

But, I’m a firm believer that being on a real, non-film school set is the best way to learn — and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper. There’s practical aspects of a film set that are missed in film school.

A degree in speech therapy is NOT a waste! The timing of this question couldn’t be better. I’m currently working on a project with a therapist-turned-producer and she’s had an extremely successful television career. In the stressful moments when the crew or cast gets a little disgruntled, having an empathetic producer holding the reigns is a godsend. She’s a great motivator AND she gets the job gets done. Speech therapy is a little different, but I’m sure you could put your skills and compassion to use in a similar manner.

Another perk to having a degree from an entirely different field affords you a quick escape route should you decide to change careers, which is always a possibility when you work 70+ hours a week in an industry that loves to overrun your personal life!

Getting a Job Without a Film Degree

I recently wrote a post explaining how to get a job as a production assistant. The biggest tip: Be willing to work for free. Don’t be fooled, there are a LOT of people vying for jobs in this industry, and budgets are constantly getting smaller. Line producers will constantly hire the experienced person over the person off the street. The best way to gain that much-needed experience is to just GET on a set, and the easiest way to achieve that is to offer your services at low cost: nothing.

 

I recently got an e-mail from someone who couldn’t justify working for free without getting compensated a little, at least to cover the cost of gas. If you’re asked to use your car to go on runs and make pickups, you should absolutely be compensated for mileage (around 55 cents per mile). However, few, if anyone, will pay you gas money just to drive your car from your house to set (unless set is REALLY far away). But do the math: Paying for a few tanks of gas to gain experience is a LOT cheaper in the end than the cost of a film degree.

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered? Send me a message!

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Author: Laryssa

Laryssa has spent 6+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. She writes about her experiences to help (and amuse) others. If she's not working, she's either traveling, reading or writing about travel, or planning travel. Follow , Twitter, or Facebook.

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9 Comments

  1. I couldn’t find a date on this post so I’m not sure how recent (or old!) it is, but I just want to thank you for this!

    I am in almost the exact situation as the original question-asker (as I am sure a lot of people find themselves in), about to finish my degree in an unrelated field (anthropology) after steering away from a film degree in cowardice. I originally declared film as my major because I have always wanted to act or really just work in the film industry in almost any capacity but was never sure where my talent lied, so I got scared and decided to go a different route with my college education. While I have sincerely enjoyed studying anthropology, I have just constantly thinking about how badly I still want to be involved in film and I regret not pursuing the film degree, worrying that it’s too late for me! I know it will still take a lot of hard work and ass kicking but, knowing it is at least *possible* to start and perhaps work my way up without going back to school for 2+ years for another degree is a huge relief! And while I don’t have a degree to show for it, I do feel I have a tiny little leg up, having taken a handful of film classes (a few film studies courses, intro to editing, and documentary production). I also hope that, like the “therapist-turned-producer” you mentioned, might anthropology degree could come in handy with knowing how better to relate to people, if nothing else!

    Now, I’m off to read some more of your advice! Again, thank you for taking the time to give out advice like this. It is really great to get realistic but encouraging advice from someone like you, who has been working their way up, starting without a degree!
    Ashton recently posted…I love the internet. My Profile

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    • So glad this was useful to you, Ashton!
      And I think you’d have a unique take on how to handle on-screen talent, given your anthropology background. After college is a great time to pursue film, as you’d probably be laying the groundwork at entry level in any industry, which is always hard– at least this is the one you want to be in. Best of luck 🙂

  2. hey im just graduating from high school. my goal in life has always been to go to film school and get a degree and start filming for anyone and anything i can. i come from a ghetto….the money thing has always been a problem and i just found out a day ago that my English grade is not high enough for the school i want. and more then likely not going to be high enough for any school i look at. film is my way of writing essays. it is how i communicate. i live breath and am never happy unless behind a camera or at a editing computer. my question to you is. how much of a head start into the industry does a film certificate get you and is proper grammar, literary term, etc. important in finding a job?
    right now i am thinking of giving up on my dream and just living a life i hate for the better good. so any advice, thoughts, school suggestions would be very nice.

    thanks, Tennessee

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  3. Your post is really good. Yes film degree is important to get a job in film industry because by this you can learn basic things about  proper filming techniques, access to camera and many others things.

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  4. Hi! I find your blog so useful! I want to tell you my story. I am from peru and I have been accepted to 2 Master programs in Germany: Serial storytelling and International media studies. The problem is that the first one is very expensive but I like it and the second offers me a full scholarship but it is 50% journalism. I really want to become a film and tv producer (fictional drama). What should I choose? Which is more useful?. I don’t have enough money so is my economic situation the one that forces me to choose a cheap option.
    Please help me!!
    Sandra

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  5. Thank you for this.

    I’m straight out of high school, and heading into my first year of college as a biological sciences major, which I’m planning to change. I’ve always wanted to work in film/television production, and even though my parents and friends have always been supportive of passions, but I did not have the courage to follow that passion until recently.
    Reading this blog has really boosted my confidence.

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  6. Large and much informative blog for every filmmaker. I really appreciate your blog. Thanks for sharing it.

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  7. how do i become a film maker I’m only on ssi pleas help me if u can

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  8. I think it’s great that you were able to get into the film industry even without a degree in the field. I feel like that’s a great option for people who want to go into the entertainment business but want to be able to have a backup plan. I like your tip to be willing to work for free, since that will help you get your foot in the door and gain experience. Thanks for the article!

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