Rachel is a writer, director, film professor, wife and mother. She’s written and directed: movies, episodic television, shorts, and branded webisodes. She’s a member of the WGA and the DGA where she was Chair of the Women’s Steering Committee. She’s happy to help you navigate the murky waters of a film career in Hollywood. Ask her anything. She’ll tell you the truth.
This week: “Master of my Dreams”
I’ve been accepted to a prestigious film program for a Masters Degree. Even though it’s crazy expensive, my parents think I should go for it. I’m not sure it’s worth the big student loans. What do you think of MFAs for filmmakers?
Signed, Master of my Dreams
Dear Master Dreamer,
This is a great question that has a variety of answers. A masters degree in film (screenwriting or production: directing, producing, editing, cinematography, sound) can be a wonderful three year period of creative development, a time to build sympatico relationships with colleagues, and to exercise a craft – however you are right, it does cost a very pretty penny. If you think you might want a future in teaching it will certainly benefit in that department. An MFA can also be a great opportunity for someone who has previously been in an allied field, such as design, photography, writing, or acting, but has never made films before. Creatives such as these may have strong instincts with excellent backgrounds to become filmmakers, but little concrete experience. For these folks, a masters can be an incredibly rich time of life. If, however, you have already made films in undergraduate school or on your own time and have a proficiency in writing, directing, producing, shooting and/or cutting your own films, then I would say that an MFA might be a redundancy and not worth you valuable funds.
You might take a portion of that money and simply keep honing your skills on making your own projects because in the end, the best thing you can have is that strong calling card – a great film, and no school can guarantee you that. In short, the degree itself will not help you in your career as a filmmaker. No one will care if you have one or not. Perhaps if you envision a career as an executive it might be of value, but as a maker of movies no one will even ask.
As someone who has worked as an adjunct professor in screenwriting and directing at some of the finest graduate and undergraduate film schools in the world and has an MFA from another, I can tell you that there are phenomenal students and teachers from whom to learn and collaborate. Additionally, the structure of a program with its prescribed demands is easier to satisfy than the terrifying emptiness of your open agenda. Having said that, if you have discipline and focus, you can accomplish as much, if not more, on your own.
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