Do you need to go to film school to work as a filmmaker?

Posted on: 01/09/2014


At Collaborative Media we have a wide range of professionals in our filmmaking team. Some have degrees and masters and others are self-taught. I asked some of our team to pass on their thoughts about film-school and how they got into the industry. Please do comment with any questions and we’ll get back to you ASAP.

Shane (John) Fennelly– Filmmaker

I never attended film school, and I almost fell into film, really. I always had a great interest in film, music and the combination of both since I was very young. During my MA in Visual Anthropology at Manchester University we were strongly encouraged to use visual and aural mediums such as film, photography, music and soundscapes as a means of research and representation. Through this I developed the skills to produce video and also got the opportunity to express myself creatively whether it was through music videos, documentaries or corporate videos. For anyone, like myself, who was never formally trained in film but have an interest in shooting films, it’s worth taking chance to get involved with it. If you’re unaware of what everyone else is doing, what you produce might just be totally original, maybe. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else now.

Gliss 1

Tom Roecker– Filmmaker

Studied at Bournemouth University: MA Post-Production Editing

Film school was great as it gave me an opportunity to actually use professional video and film cameras (yes, film cameras, 8mm and 16mm) as well as editing equipment. We had the opportunity to try everything, from filming and editing to animation and screenwriting to live TV studio mixing.

Tom filming at Juwi Renewable Energies

Tom filming at Juwi Renewable Energies

Even though I did work on every film that I could and got nominated for the Sky scholarship programme, it sometimes felt like I could have gained more skills while the time and opportunities were there. Many people argue that you could teach yourself everything and use the money you spend on university on making your first feature film, but I don’t think that would have really suited me at the time.

Film school was great but no matter how much you do work, nothing really prepares you for working day in and day out, working with new people in new places on new projects and finding yourself working on things you could never have imagined liking when you were still at university.


Chris Goodson– Filmmaker

Studied at University of West London: Film studies and video production

I finished university nearly 3 months ago and was lucky enough to leave University with an interview for a camera operator and editor job lined up for the day after. I was successful and I started the role here at Collaborative Media, a TV production company.

I went to study film because it was a subject that I thought was very free and open, as it would give me the creative freedom to make the films I wanted to make…This wasn’t the case, as at University there were limits, restrictions and modules with guidelines that you have to abide by. However, this taught me a lot about deadlines and about the fact that in this society you have to conform in all types of institutions.


After the 3 years of studying, I saw that many of my fellow students now work in a completely different field than what they studied in. For instance, a friend of mine studied business but he has written a feature length film on the homophobia within premier league football, and has gained funding for the project. It just goes to show that you don’t need to study film to make films. Film is an art form and you can’t teach art. You can teach techniques, aesthetics and you can study the history of film all the way back to the start, but film is subjective and speaks a thousand meanings. The key is passion and dedication, and as long as someone has the urge to express how they feel, they can make film!

The journey to becoming an experienced film maker is long and you need to keep learning and developing your skills through increasingly demanding projects. I’m always watching films, analysing the techniques used, studying and practicing myself through the work we do here and my own short films.


Anthony Crossland- filmmaker

Full Sail University (Orlando, Florida): Film Studies

When film started it was a trade that people learned by working at a studio. Cinema advanced when intellectual graduates of film schools started to revolutionize film in the 1960’s and 70’s.

I had always wanted to make films as a director. Besides writing ideas down, playing with a cheap video camera and editing on windows moviemaker, I had no idea of how to get a job in the film industry. I almost studied computer science at college. I knew computers would pay the bills but the market was being over saturated and it wasn’t creative. I was encouraged to first do a small college course where I could make a short film.

I learned the basics here and then decided to expand my knowledge of film at University. Normally a film school is either more about theory based or in my case more hands on with equipment. I think more hands on is good because you learn as you film and you can study films by watching them which I did in my spare time as I’m a film lover.

Anthony's shot at Juwi Renewable Energies

Anthony’s shot at Juwi Renewable Energies

In University I learnt all aspect of the industry, from set construction and make up to producing and basic animation. I think when you hear of directors who have dropped out of film school, what you don’t realize is that they’re limited in knowledge and roles. Quentin Tarantino is a famous film school drop-out and he is a very good director but I think when he made Reservoir Dogs, his first film, he only knew how to do his role.

There are some aspects of the industry such as editing, which are more difficult to learn in general and film school helps. It can also help you by letting you learn different aspects but it’s not always a necessity. In the past 5 years camera technology has changed so much, making everything more affordable.

With the internet expanding holding all sorts of information, a keen filmmaker would only need to go to University for the qualification. With it becoming easier to load films onto the internet through Youtube or Vimeo, there is even more content and competition out there. To stand out from the competition, a qualification in film school can help, as it shows some dedication. However, you really need a great show-reel, which displays your best work.

Have a read about Collaborative Media’s production process for more info on what we do. Our writer also wrote a guide for interviewing clients for documentaries. Please share this post on social media below if you found it useful.