An undergrad in photography approached me after my talk entitled, The Business of Art, at a big New York university 17 years ago.
The tuition office had just informed her that she would not qualify for her scholarship renewal.
She was understandably shaken, looking for advice.
"The admissions office at school has a program to help students in my position sign up for, and max out credit cards to obtain funds to pay tuition. If I took the same dollars I spend on tuition, and instead invested it in starting my own photography business, would it be worth it?" she asked.
She handed me her portfolio, or "book".
I'd seen hundreds of professional and student books in my advertising and marketing days.
Within 20 seconds, I could tell her portfolio was in the top 5% of any I'd encountered, both professional and amateur.
Stunned, I asked, "How much it would cost to finish school?"
"22k per year for another 2 years. Not including fees, housing, books, etc." she said.
I had another appointment and didn't want to advocate against the school in which I'd just spoken.
"Let's take a walk," I offered.
With a few of her friends, we grabbed a slice of NY pizza and strolled down the cobblestones in Greenwich Village.
"With your talent, the weight of validation from "photography" school amounts to less than a fleck of lint in a gnat's bellybutton." I said. "With a ton of hustle you'll be light-years ahead of your peers by the time they graduate. You'll be making what you'd save in tuition within a year."
She thanked me for my candor.
I could tell she was a go-getter.
I never heard back from her, but I felt like I had saved someone from a massive scam.
Recently, I heard a friend's son just got accepted to film school at USC this fall.
NYU and USC are the world's premiere film schools.
I found myself musing on the young photography school student's predicament years ago.
And $150k+ in student loans for what?
Hanging out with Spielberg's kids? (yes, they go to USC)
Pulling cable on HBO shows, 10 generations of film grads deep, waiting until the boom operator or 3rd assistant director dies?
The barrier to enter in filmmaking is ZERO when just about everyone has a camera in their pocket and a Youtube channel.
It boggles the mind.
Not being in Hollywood day-to-day, I'm not sure how much leverage degrees in lesser film schools carry, though a quick survey indicates they aren't charging much less than NYU and USC.
Ironically, the value of film school-style education - away from Hollywood - has never been more important.
Media making skills are becoming as important as reading and writing.
They are no longer a "nice extra".
They are no longer "enrichment".
The Youtube era and all the video sharing platforms that come with it are making and consuming billions of visual and aural media hours per day.
According to one book packaging expert, our screens with their sound and motion are usurping the 500-year reign of books.
Being able to learn to persuade with sound and motion should not cost $150,000 buckaroos!
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With an app and smart-device, all the fundamental Hollywood tools are at your fingertips.
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Get your kids ahead of this curve.
It is a new era.