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School or No School?

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Aanarav SareenSchool or No School?
by on Mar 14, 2006 at 9:06:42 am

This question has been in my head for a while, so I thought, why not ask the people that know most about the business.

Anyway, I am a student with a major in finance from a well respected school in the finance field. However, my background is 100% in television or production. I have really, never done anything to do with finance or anything of that sort. I have designed business plans, but they were for production companies or for specific productions. Now, my question is: do employers look at where you graduated from? The reason I ask is: I sent my resume to the big 4 networks and the response couldn't be better. I applied for a business related jobs, they came back and offered my a motion design/post-production job. Obviously, they are not looking at what I am doing in school. So, is school really a waste of time and money, when it all comes down to making $$?

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Mark SuszkoRe: School or No School?
by on Mar 14, 2006 at 3:45:24 pm

I recently read the very entertaining and instructive biography of one of the most successful and prolific producer/directors in Hollywood: Roger Corman. He hadn't had a lick of training in anything to do with the business, he was an engineer by training. His break came when he saw he could employ principles of efficiency he learned thru his particular education to the film making process and achieve great economic efficieny gains over the existing studio production system. He feels he's been vindicated by the industry's universal aceptance of his methods over the years. He wasn't a great cameraman, but he brought a new perspective to the job and became good at getting a lot of useable shots in a short time. He wasn't a great editor, but had an innate understanding of what he needed in the field to satisfy the storytelling needs in post, and what were frills he could avoid the time to shoot. He wasn't a great writer, but could and did direct a lot of some of the best scriptwriters in the business, shaping their work significantly. He was masterful at the art of the deal and scheduling, often shooting as many a three pictures at a time on the same sets or locations, using the money for the next deal to finish the current one. He very rarely lost money, and many more famous directors and actors learned under his tutelage. IMDB says he's going strong still, with new projects in production or release this year, and over 200 productions behind him.

I think much of your question depends on the quality of the student. If you sort of just show up and do minimum-effort work, expecting the diploma to be some kind of free ticket to success, then no, it won't do any better for you than self-teaching in real-life production work. Either path you choose, it's the driven, active pursuit of the knowledge and it's application that makes a difference. If you skip school and go the hard-knocks method, eventually you wind up with a reel or portfolio to demonstrate you have the understanding. If you really apply yourself in a university program, you also can leave with not just a diploma but samples of work you did while pursuing the diploma. The farther along you get in your career, the less important the sheepskin gets and the more important your reel and list of credits gets.

On the other side of the hiring equation, you have to wonder about the guy or gal doing the interviewing; if they were self-taught, they will likely tend to favor people they have an understanding about thru the shared life experience. If they were school-taught, they might be more comfortable with a known quantity.

My personal take on the school/no school thing is, while I bear no grudges for tech school grads, I really believe in the utility of a liberal arts and sciences background, because it makes for a more well-rounded person in a multidisciplinary kind of business. They stress in Liberal arts curricula that we "learn how to learn", so we can adapt to change. I know folks who skipped college and went straight into the business, and while many are successsful to some degree, they have often been stymied by little things that they missed in their formal education and never pursued on their own.

Because you can work with so many differernt disciplines in a TV project, it helps tremendously to be a jack of all trades and know a little about a lot of things. Art history, literature, design, music, math, physics, chemistry, languages, English, religion/philosophy/psychology/sociology... something from my university training comes in handy for me on almost every project I work on, if only so I can communicate more effectively with clients and people we interview, or gain a different perspective.

Part of the time my video projects involve teaching or describing a concept to people with no background in that area, and my generalist background often helps me create simplified and clear analogies and examples the clients and general audience can immediately grasp. So it's worked great for me and the kind of work I do. By no means is mine the best and only path. I just think it has a lot of things going for it over a more narrow kind of learning.

If you are an auto-didact, I would encourage you to not just concentrate on a narrow field of learning: any monkey can be taught what switches to flip in what order to get a result - but the monkey doesn't understand anything about why the switches are flipped in that order, what's behind them. When the situation changes, the monkey cannot figure out the switches need a new order of flipping and what it should be. Don't be the monkey. Don't hyper-specialize to the point it costs you the ability to adapt.

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Leo TicheliRe: School or No School?
by on Mar 14, 2006 at 4:26:22 pm

Looking at large numbers of people, the prestige of your school does affect career income. However, it's difficult to determine if the effect is the result of the schooling or the caliber of people who choose that school in the first place.

I can think of one Yale graduate who has poor job performance, while Gordon Parks, who never graduated from High School, had a profound ability in a wide range of arts, visual, literary, and musical.

For our business, I believe the most well-rounded education in all the arts and sciences serves us the best. Where we get that education may matter far less than having it. I think we must have a natural love of it, of making art; there are certainly easier and more economically fruitful ways to make a living.

Best regards,


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Pixel MonkeyRe: School or No School?
by on Mar 14, 2006 at 5:56:37 pm

Does the scool matter? Sure. However I'd bet big $$ that a graduate with more years of non-production academia would sell him/herself better during the "hunt".

A couple of the hardest working production folks I know are simply unaware of how to sell themselves into better positions, whereas a really green 25-year-old I met last year is now raking in almost six figures for the 5 (or so) months of work he does per year.

Not that I think it's advisable to bluff with a 9-10 offsuit, but the rest of the straight might come down on the river.

`(=)`/...Pixel Monkey

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Tom MeeganRe: School or No School?
by on Mar 15, 2006 at 3:46:42 am

I came across this recently, and thought this might be a good time to share it...

It is not directly on topics, but it helped clarify my thinking on the nature of education.

I understand what you are saying about bluffing and hoping for the straight that comes down the river.

Sometimes jumping into the deep end of the pool is the only way to learn how to swim.


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Pixel MonkeyRe: School or No School?
by on Mar 16, 2006 at 5:24:40 pm

[Tom Meegan] ""

A thuroughly excellent article - thanks!

`(=)`/...Pixel Monkey

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glenn chanRe: School or No School?
by on Mar 20, 2006 at 3:17:41 am

For many fields, people with degrees definitely make more $$$ (medicine, law, engineering especially). However, for film and video the degree may not help you very much. For example: video/picture editing. Your clients will almost never care if you have a relevant degree. The degree might give you a little edge in getting an entry-level job... employers will prefer those with some experience. However, you don't necessarily need a degree to get an entry-level job and work your way up. At the highest ranks in editing, it doesn't look like people with degrees dominate.

If you assume that the highest you can go in editing is facility ownership, then I know of at least two owners who didn't finish their degrees because they failed a course (one for Humber college/technical school, the other for Ryerson University/liberal arts education). A liberal arts education doesn't really seem to help in this regard (as the first example shows). Even if you look at the Fortune 500, many CEOs don't have an MBA (i.e. Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, dropped out of undergrad).

If you look at all the greats in particular fields, there's little correlation between success and higher education. Except in math and science, where you need education to give you a foundation of relevant knowledge.

2- The saying "learning how to learn" doesn't even make sense. If you didn't know how to learn in the first place, then how would you learn how to learn? Perhaps this oxymoron is intentional, but the saying doesn't exactly prove itself.

In my opinion, the best school can do for you is to provide you with base knowledge. And even with this base knowledge, you will need further skills once you get a job. There's a lot of things that don't get taught in film/video programs. The biggest skillset they don't teach you is how to work with people (other than learning by doing, which you could've learned yourself) or how to get clients.

If you learn how to work people (i.e. be persuasive, be easy/enjoyable to work with), then you will likely make a lot of money. Editors who are hard to work with will not have clients and soon be unemployed. Or if you want to be a producer, it's really important that you can convince others to invest in your projects (even in terms of your crew- you want them to 'invest' 110% effort into your show).

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Tom MeeganRe: School or No School?
by on Mar 24, 2006 at 9:42:37 pm

Hi Glenn,

Great post. I just wanted to clarify what I think of when I say "learning how to learn."

I think learning to learn is really learning to be comfortable and motivated when you haven't yet achieved mastery

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