Main Media Filmmaking
Certificate in Collaborative Filmmaking at Maine Media College

Is Film School in Your Future?

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Written by Christina Hamlett

Years ago, I interviewed a prominent producer and asked him whether he thought a film school degree was essential to a successful career in the movie industry. His answer surprised me. “I can’t say I learned anything in a classroom I didn’t already know from grunt work on a tech crew, peppering screenwriters with questions and reading as many scripts as I could. What I did come away with was lasting and invaluable—my friendships with classmates who had the same dreams I did.”

When you’re planning to apply to film school, the good news is that the U.S. has some of the best in the world. The bad news is that competition for slots is extremely high. Unless you’re entering this arena with a stellar referral or a recognizable family name, the first—and sometimes only— impression you can make is with the portfolio you submit with your application. Here are six tips to make yours stand out.

Tip # 1.

If you’re asked to submit only one video sample, make sure it’s not only the best representation of your skill sets but that it also embraces diversity, inclusivity and originality. If your demo reel can showcase multiple projects, go for variety to demonstrate your flexibility and enthusiasm for multiple genres. Continuity, cutting and expert storytelling are what they’re looking for here.

Tip # 2.

Video samples should focus on projects you’re especially proud of. Don’t forget that these don’t have to be limited to directorial and screenwriting expertise. The inclusion of credits for cinematography, lighting, sound, special effects, makeup, set design and costume design will all be in your favor as demonstration you want to master your craft inside and out.

Tip # 3.

Link your demo reel to your website, social media, YouTube channels and online resume so that admissions directors know where to learn more about you. Just make sure all of these links are strictly professional and focused.

Tip # 4.

Writing samples should include concept pieces (descriptions of new projects you want to try), dialogue scenes to show your expertise with spoken conversations, and non-dialogue scenes to support your awareness of the power of a visual medium.

Tip # 5.

Don’t forget a cover letter. This piece of your portfolio should be no more than three concise paragraphs which (1) introduce yourself, (2) define what you believe you can bring to the academic table, and (3) explain why you believe this institution is the best match for what you’d like to accomplish. Stay humble. Declaring that you are the next Spielberg is not going to get you any points.

Tip # 6.

Don’t stress about test scores or awards. While these can certainly be helpful, film schools place a greater emphasis on whether you possess the creative spark to thrive, survive and adapt to the mercurial nature of the entertainment business.

Top feature photo taken by Tim Mossholder. Connect with Tim through his website or IG.

Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award-winning author whose credits to date include 44 books, 249 stage plays and squillions of articles and interviews. She is also a script consultant for stage and screen and a professional ghostwriter. Learn more at

Christina Hamlett


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  1. The best film school is the one you will go to and learn filmmaking. Get any job you can on a film set if you can’t afford film school and pay attention, learn and get into what you want to do.

  2. School helps but it is not mandatory to succeed. These days, we have access online to so much info. You just need to put in the time and effort to learn, try new things and create a very good portfolio. School helps because you get to meet many others with the same passion as you and you can hang out together and make awesome projects. But again, you can do this at events as well.

  3. It would be really helpful if film schools would offer students the opportunity to go in an internship that will help them secure a real job after they graduate. Of course, secure a real job if they are hard working and fit for the job. Film schools should also offer opportunity for future employment. This will motivate many students.

  4. Yes, it is a pity that some film schools have gotten so snobby that you have to prove to them that you are already an accomplished filmmaker in order to learn filmmaking. When I applied to NYU grad school, we had a good face to face interview, but they did not think that my undergraduate film was perfect in their eyes. I totally agreed that it was flawed; after all, it was made with no budget, no time, by a student, as part of a class! I told them that if I was capable of making the perfect film, then I would NOT be going to a film school in order to LEARN how to make a perfect film! (They liked my rebuttal and did accept me; but I did not accept them and went somewhere else.) I also once got a call from a student graduating Temple U, who was advised to call me (this is after I was established in Hollywood) — Bob Saget. He applied to USC, having already won an Oscar for his student film — and they wanted him to enroll in their first semester film basics classes! I wonder how many of those instructors had an Oscar? Choose your film school wisely; you are there to learn, not to show off what you already know.