Starting a career in Film and Television — is Film Connection legit?

on set

Today’s question is from a reader about to graduate from high school and is looking for guidance on launching their career. They also are asking about a specific film program.

I’m a senior in high school and I’ve been looking into colleges that have film classes and degrees. I want to learn to write screenplays, produce, work the cameras, lighting, directing, etc. While looking at schools in Atlanta, Georgia, I found a school called Film Connection. They claim to be different in their approach to teaching their students and make interesting claims about what they have to offer for prospective students. I’ve read a few reviews that support Film Connection’s claims, but they still come off as a little sketchy to me and my teacher who has been helping me look into school.

I would like to know what your advice would be in regards to what would be best for my career, what I should be looking for in a school in regards to what they have to offer in film, and if you believe it would be best for me to focus on getting a degree or getting on the job training. I’d also like to know your opinion on the school I mentioned, Film Connection, and whether you think it would be a good idea for me to further explore them as an option.

So many great questions here!

Firstly, let’s tackle the Film Connection question. I’ve never heard of Film Connection, nor have I worked with any of their graduates (but that doesn’t mean anything), so I took a look at their website. While they do have a few legitimate points, there were a couple of red flags for me:

  • They appear to be a “chain”.  To me, this means they’re focused on the quantity of students they can obtain instead of the quality of the education.
  • There are a myriad of ways to get into the film industry. No one school holds the key, and if that’s one of their selling points, I would be wary.
  • It reminds me of music producers that charge parents money to turn their kid into a star. If only it were so easy as to drop a few thousand dollars on seminars and be guaranteed connections and a job upon graduation! Sadly, that’s not the case.

I could be off base, but those are my first impressions. Go with your gut on this one!

 

Film Degree vs. On the Job Training

There are so many options for someone about to embark on their college adventure, there is not one right paththat will guarantee a career in television or film. To help answer your questions, I sought advice from my coworkers on how they found success:

What was your major?
Did it help you get into the film industry?
What advice would you give to someone about to enroll in college or film school?

 

“Music Education, Composition and Vocal Performance. No. Film schools offer more sizzle than steak.”
–Jeff, gaffer.

“Mass Communications / TV Production. Yes, [it helped], via an internship. Try film school. You will learn the basics, and more importantly, a good film school gives you solid networking opportunities.”
Steve, sound recordist/audio mixer.

“Cinematic Arts (USC); [it helped] in the sense that the school granted respect. Only go [to film school] under certain circumstances – if you won’t go into debt; if you want to experiment with different departments, esp cinematography/directing; if you realize it almost certainly won’t give you an advantage in the job market or teach you all (or even most) of what you need to know.”
-Julie, assistant director.

“My under grad was in PR and Mass media and my post graduate was in directing. I learned a lot in film school, but I learned the most by working on production with people who knew what they were doing. There are a lot of books you can read to subsidize any areas you may lack knowledge. With film, it’s a lot about who you know and how hard you are willing to work. Have a good attitude, work hard, and learn at every turn. Do it without loans if you can. Work film gigs and pay for college in cash.”
-Jason, director/DP/editor.

“I was a photography major. It helped me to understand lighting once I was IN the biz but didn’t help me get in. I have talked to and heard a LOT of people that went to film school, then worked on a movie set as a PA or an intern say that they learned more in a week on set than film school taught them in 2 years. That’s what THEY said….enough said!”
–Scott, electrician.

“I would tell any 18 year old to go to college with maybe a minor in film (if that’s possible). Get an education. It can do you wonders! Any type of education. Working in film is a “hands on.” Start at the bottom and work your way up. That way you’ll find out where you want to go in film. [I’ve had] Thirty years of experience in this business.”
–Stephanie, producer/casting director.

“Major: Communication / broadcast (radio). It helped me get into the industry but not because I had a degree. It helped in that I had access to gear and people who were happy to answer my questions and guide me. If it were me, I’d choose a four year school and make sure it’s a well established accredited institution. Live on campus or in an apartment nearby and be there as much for the experience of college life as you are the education.”
–Bill, director/producer/editor.

To summarize: Film school can provide some insight and opportunities, but nothing compares to on-the-job training.

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Photo Credit: Emily Carver

What Should I Look For in a Film School?

I didn’t attend film school, but my colleague Landon offered specific insight for this question:

“[I studied] marketing with a minor in film at Oklahoma University, then went to 1yr film school at Vancouver Film. It didn’t open any doors for me, but it definitely helped me stay there once I was in! Look at Full Sail or Vancouver Film School if you like the technical stuff, look at university (film study) if you like writing & concepting.
Landon, producer.

Also, look for accreditation and maybe a list of graduates currently working in the business and research their list of accomplishments on IMDB.

 

My Advice

I think you’re on the right track looking at universities in Atlanta. They have a booming film community and that’ll be a great place to learn about the business and launch a career. If it were me, I would look for a university in the Atlanta area, maybe one with a Communications or Television major. Get on a set as soon as possible.  The faster you do that, the sooner you’ll know more about what direction you want to go in: cameras, lighting, producing, art department, etc — and if more technical knowledge is required, you can supplement your education by adding a class.

I didn’t realize I wanted to pursue this career until midway through college. I ended up with a business degree and took supplemental TV/film classes for my electives. I interned my butt off my last year of college and in the months before graduation, I was getting permission to skip classes to work on film sets.

General money saving tip: One year of community college shouldn’t be overlooked for general education classes. It can save tens of thousands of dollars on that first year. Just be sure to consult an admissions counselor to make sure the classes will transfer.

 

Finally: Be Determined.

As echoed by my peers: no degree guarantees a job. The one characteristic that everyone seems to possess in this business is an innate, almost indescribable dogged determination. Just as you need it to get into the business, and you also need it to survive the long hours, days, and weeks once in the business. (There are exceptions of course– if you’re really good at networking, that can also get you a long way).

If you have the drive, common sense, and a good work ethic, you will succeed. There is no one right road to get there; everyone has their own story. Also, there are so many ways to make a buck in this industry– from working on blockbuster movies to television dramas to indie film to reality to documentary to commercials to music videos–  that with tenacity and trial and error, you’ll find the corner of the production calls your name.

Best of luck!

Also Read: Get Discovered: Build a Website for Your Demo Reel

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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13 Comments

  1. Is Chicago a good city to get entry level PA work? And assuming things work out will PA’ing open doors to other position in the TV/Film production industry?

    Post a Reply
    • I don’t have any first-hand experience working in Chicago, but I’ve worked with people based there and it seemed to be a good hub for them. Try searching Craigslist or StaffMeUp to get a feel for the number of job postings.
      PA’ing is a great way to open doors, and you can PA (or at least intern) in almost any department you’d like to move up in.

  2. Is there a “best” city to get started in the tv/film production industry? For example, do you recommend moving to Los Angeles or New York? Or would you recxomend getting work where you can then moving after gaining momentum and experience? Also, is it acceptable to walk into a production company’s office and ask face to face about interning? Does that cross some ethical/professional boundary? Oh and thank you very much for answering my previous question!

    Post a Reply
    • It wouldn’t hurt to gain a little experience where you’re at and make sure you enjoy it before moving cross-country, but if opportunities are scarce where you’re at, moving may be necessary. (Atlanta and New Orleans also have booming film industries at the moment).
      Also, having some savings in the bank is a good idea if you do move, as it can take a couple of months to start working steadily.

      I’ve known people to walk into production offices to drop off a resume. It never hurts to call in advance to make sure someone will be there to receive it — that way they’ll know you’re coming.

  3. This may prove helpful, especially in the Los Angeles area, to those using craiglist to get work on films:

    Do a google search for “Secret Craigslist Decoder, No Ring Required”.

    Good luck and keep your eyes and ears open, it’s a jungle out there

    Post a Reply
    • HA! You’re not far off the mark there. Craigslist has its share of inherent sketchiness, for sure. StaffMeUp is a far better source for credible employment!

  4. Little late to the party on this one but I thought I would weigh in on Film Connection since I had some experience with them. I contacted them about 4 years ago when I was moving to Chicago to start my career. They lined me up with a production company to interview with before I paid any money to them and the company agreed to take me on. Then some things happened and I could not get the $7k that they required to start my “training” or whatever. So I was dead in the water with nothing and after almost 6 months living in Chicago and still no closer to getting that money and getting my foot in the door on a film set, I called the company up that I originally interviewed with and set a meet. I told the owner why I hadn’t been able to start and how much I was motivated to get my foot in the door and I would empty their trash if they would allow me on set. He in turn took me on as a unpaid intern and I learned a lot in my year and a half there. I am now based in Memphis and work pretty steadily as a PA / AC. I have a friend that went through the whole program and they pretty much just take your money to set you up in the production house and nothing else. Save your money and knock on a few doors yourself and you will come out much better.

    Post a Reply
  5. It seems to me that what Film Connection advertises is a program where you get 8 month on-set immediately and lots of connections- which is what many pointed to above. My understanding is that you pay money in order to work alongside an experienced mentor – like a supported PA position. I’m starting there soon- I’ll let y’all know how it goes. I don’t know that it’s a chain as much as it is affiliated with many production companies in many places. also, it is accredited and received an “A” from the better buisiness bureau.

    Post a Reply
    • Glad you’re liking your schooling. I’m currently doing the same thing but with their Culinary Connection program for cooking, it’s the same idea: go into a kitchen with a cook and learn.

    • I’m considering going there in spring. Can you please let me know how it goes for you?

    • Thanks, I am looking into the film connection New Orleans and hope that this mentor business in on point. If so it is just what I need. I am a student working on a degree in Mass Communication/advertisement. This process is way tooooo slooooow. Just need a boost.

      Thanks,

  6. Great blog for film makers. Thanks Laryssa for sharing this wonderful information with us. Nice work. Keep it Up!!!

    Post a Reply
  7. Wow! These posts are old! Hope someone can give me advice!
    I am a 45 year old Mom, Nail Tech/Instructor, business owner, farmer. I have yet to
    answer my true calling of acting…..
    In the meantime, I have written many ideas/treatments for possible screenplays.
    Would LOVE to learn to write an actual screenplay! On that note, I checked out The Film Connection here in Kansas. Would it be good in my case, mentorship? Is it worth getting a loan, or should I find a mentor differently? Thanks!

    Post a Reply

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