“Should I Go to Film School?” – Advice from Famous Filmmakers

In this post I will dismantle once and for all any delusions you might have about the merits of going to film school. The film school industrial complex does not want you to read this article.

First things first: I have a lot of respect for higher education and I myself had the privilege of attending a wonderful University, but not every area of human endeavor lends itself to being taught in classrooms. At University I studied a real subject (Biology) and subsequently taught myself filmmaking with a lot of private study and practice. It took a lot of work, but when you’re in love with something it doesn’t feel like work.

You can go to school to be a doctor; you can go to school to be a lawyer; you can go to school to be a biologist. You cannot go to school to be a filmmaker.

advice-from-famous-filmmakers-film-school

It would in principle be possible to teach somebody how to be a decent filmmaker (assuming they have reasonable potential) by teaching it as a highly practical profession using cameras, actors and scripts from the outset, but to the best of my knowledge there is no school out there that does this.

Some film schools allow you to start shooting from the very beginning, but they don’t actually train you in the art and craft of film direction: there is no professional development. By “training” I mean proper, solid, practical training of the type that you might receive as a doctor or airline pilot. There is quite simply no institution out there that trains film directors in the same way that airline pilots are trained.

Film schools vary enormously in reputation, but they all have two things in common: they are scandalously expensive and they all break down the course into units, each one taught by an instructor who gave up on filmmaking a long time ago.

Why do people go to film school?

I cannot help wondering why people choose to go to film school in the face of abundant evidence that the most talented and successful filmmakers in history made their own destiny by eschewing film school and building a reel instead.

In my opinion people go to film school as a means of shifting responsibility to someone else and delaying the day of judgement. It is essentially a manifestation of “magic pill” thinking, whereby they throw themselves into a film school and just hope against hope that when they get out of it three or four years later they have miraculously turned into filmmakers.

“Magic pill” thinking is the same thought process that lures people into the deluded hope that they can improve their physique by taking pills when the reality of being physically fit is that you must eat a sensible diet and exercise regularly and correctly.

Those who hope that film schools will somehow turn them into filmmakers are no better than those who seek to avoid physical exercise and a healthy diet by taking magic pills instead. None of these folks will ever get the results they hope for, because they are not willing to take right action. They are lazy and afraid.

Take responsibility

The truth about learning to be a film director is that you will have to take responsibility for your own training. There are plenty of free resources out there to help you, and some very useful books that you can buy for a few bucks. Ultimately, however, if you want to become a highly skilled filmmaker, you must accept that there is a lot to learn and that only regular practice will aid the transition from the mediocrity of beginners to the smooth professionalism of mature work.

The right path to “becoming” a filmmaker entails improving your skills and building your reel consistently and systematically rather than placing your hopes in film schools.

Let’s take a look at some of my favorite film directors and consider whether they went to film school or not:

* James Cameron – Did not go to film school

* Steven Spielberg – Did not go to film school (he dropped out after being hired to direct episodic TV at Universal on the strength of a short film he made: glory!)

* Ridley Scott – Did not go to film school (I believe he studied set design, which has absolutely nothing to do with traditional film school)

* Stanley Kubrick – Did not go to film school (the story of his first few years as a filmmaker is absolutely fascinating — Stanley Kubrick is truly the forefather of all independent filmmakers, and followed a path that was deemed unthinkable in the 1950s, when he started).

* Franco Zeffirelli – Did not go to film school

* Quentin Tarantino – Did not go to film school (his opinion on this issue: “To this day I actually think that…rather than go to film school, just get a camera and try to start making a movie”source).

Two other famous film directors who did not go to film school are David Fincher (“Fight Club”) and Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings”).

Two famous film directors who did go to film school are Martin Scorsese (NYU) and George Lucas (USC). For the record, they are two film directors that I emphatically do not admire — make of this what you will.

At this point I must caution you against inferring a causal link between a successful film director’s attendance of a film school and his subsequent filmmaking success: the fact that a film director went to film school does not in any way infer that his success is due to the film school, whereas the fact that a film director did NOT go to film school shows quite clearly that it is perfectly possible to learn filmmaking without going to film school. Indeed, bright folks will learn better and more quickly away from the toxic failure and sluggish pace associated with film schools, and in any case film schools do not train film directors, but merely churn out exhausted graduates — it is worth repeating.

I find it highly significant that the two most technically gifted filmmakers who ever lived — Steven Spielberg and James Cameron — started making films completely independently and did not go to film school. Steven Spielberg attended some university classes, but he dropped out as soon as he was given a seven-year TV directing contract at Universal Studios on the strength of his 35 mm short film “Amblin’.” It is sweetly ironic that he abandoned his sanctimonious instructors at college after being hired as a professional director by Universal Studios after they watched a short film that he shot with some friends in the desert. Food for thought!

Steven Spielberg’s advice for aspiring filmmakers

Don’t take my word for it — listen to the most talented and successful filmmaker of all time, Steven Spielberg:

“If you get bitten by that bug you can make a lot of little movies and somehow those films will get seen by people hopefully that will hire you to do a music video someday, or a TV commercial, or a television show or someday a feature film.”

The quote is from the video below — Spielberg’s advice starts at 08:27:

There you have it — Spielberg’s advice is to build a reel until you are valuable enough to be hired as a director. At no point does he recommend film school. He knows that is not how directors are made.

The reality of film school

I will now consider some undeniable, cold, hard facts about film school:

1. Film school is scandalously expensive

The cost of film school is absolutely ludicrous, particularly in the United States. I visited one film school in particular in California and one thing was clear to me: there is very much an atmosphere bordering on embarrassment, because the college employees know that they simply aren’t delivering enough value to justify the exorbitant fees, and the overwhelming majority of the graduates will never see a single day of employment as a director. All they have to show for it is a gigantic bill, which they will take years to pay off by working in a job that does not involve cameras and lenses.

2. Film schools do not train film directors the way they ought to be trained

As I wrote above, in principle the profession of film direction could be taught properly, in the same way that dentists and engineers are trained, but for some reason no such course exists, to the best of my knowledge. Instead, they treat filmmaking as an academic subject, breaking it down into units that are taught separately. Part of the problem with this approach is that film direction is a highly integrated skill that cannot be deconstructed. It is instead something that you gradually get good at, but it takes a few years of mediocre work before everything suddenly clicks — and believe me when I tell you that when it clicks it is with you for life, just like learning to ride a bicycle, but there is an initial period where your work is embarrassingly weak and self-indulgent, and most people are not sufficiently motivated and disciplined to get past that hump. Most film school instructors probably don’t even have the faintest idea of what I’m writing about here.

3. Making useful contacts at film school is a ridiculous myth

It is a fact that most film school graduates never see a single day of employment in the movie business, so it is difficult to see how meeting these future failures in film school will help you. Film networking is one of the topics that is most replete with myths and wishful thinking.

4. Film school will give you access to filmmaking equipment — true but irrelevant

The fact is that you could get access to the same or better equipment for the fraction of the cost of film school. They no longer have a monopoly on giving young filmmakers access to quality equipment.

You can now achieve a remarkably cinematic look with any DSLR camera, if you have to stoop that low.

5. You will not get “valuable feedback”

Feedback from film school professors is generally useless or even dangerous. The feedback you really need will come from those who are actually in charge of hiring directors: for feature films, that would be producers or whoever is really controlling the film behind the scenes (follow the money); for TV commercials, you want feedback from Executive Producers (who sign new directors) and agency creatives (who decide who gets to direct the TV commercial they wrote); and for music videos…good luck with that.

If you want feedback on your spec spot reel, why pay a film school to get advice from a dusty retired director who won a few Clios 30 years ago when you get totally free feedback from an Executive Producer who is signing new directors right now? Or from an agency creative who selects TV commercial directors every week?

6. “But I’m not smart enough to learn filmmaking by myself!”

A film student actually told me that once! If that is what you think, filmmaking really is not for you. Filmmaking is the epitome of intellectual independence and initiative. If you cannot pick up a camera, read a few books, watch films and gradually hone your skills by practicing, you have no realistic prospect of “becoming” a film director. It might also be a sign that you are not sufficiently besotted with filmmaking — after all, one has to be mildly unhinged to pursue this line of work 😉

Still not convinced? Let’s see what Forbes et al. have to say about film school

Film is the second most useless degree (Forbes).

Film is the third worst major for your career (Yahoo Finance).

“Should I go to film school?” — My verdict

Due to the highly integrated and vocational nature of the film director’s profession, I would say that what it comes down to is this: if you truly have what it takes to become a highly skilled filmmaker, you absolutely do not need to go to film school, and indeed the time and money you would waste on film school might actually make it less likely that you will make it; conversely, if you do not have what it takes to become a talented filmmaker, I can assure you that no film school will be able to help you, even if they taught filmmaking as a practical profession, which they most certainly do not.

Here are some things you can do that will cost you little or no money and that will make a real difference to your filmmaking skills:

1. Get a cheap camcorder and start learning about framing and focal length.

2. Read Grammar of the Film Language— an absolutely amazing book that I am happy to recommend personally.

3. Read any decent book on screenwriting — the basics of screenplay structure are not that difficult to master and you will learn more by reading a good book than by following a 16-week course taught by a long-winded professor.

Film schools willfully sell kids a very expensive dream. I don’t know how they can teach their students with a straight face when they know that most of them will never, ever see a single day of employment as a film director. It’s time to say enough; it’s time to go your own way, like Stanley Kubrick, James Cameron and Steven Spielberg.

Update (8th July 2016)

A young reader emailed me to describe his situation. His analysis and strategy are so sensible that I thought the text of his email was worth adding to this page, which I am doing with his consent:

“I just wanted to say thank you a ton for all the work you put into this website which you really don’t have to do. I find your tips on directing and cinematography and such very helpful and your advice on career paths very believable. I really appreciate that. Whether or not everything goes according to the way you have described, I get the notion that you have thought through this and are not giving us any bologna. I’m a senior in high school and I’ve been making videos on my own or with friends since 3rd grade, most of which were pretty cringeworthy. However, growing up it has been one of the few “hobbies” that has not faded because I really enjoy doing it and think there is a purpose behind it.

“I’ve been reading your stuff at least since I started high school and now as I’m faced with the beginning of the national ritual of applying to colleges, your article on not going to film school definitely spoke to me. I’ve concluded for a while now that I wasn’t planning on majoring in film simply because of one of the reasons you stated, being that it is a huge investment of time and money that could be spent on something more practical. However even as I have made that conclusion, young people (definitely not my parents) tell me that they think I should “go for it” and by going for it they mean go to film school because it shows you are really dedicated purely to pursuing film.

“But this article has conclusively convinced me back to the rational side of the fence (if I ever was on the fence) and on the side of my parents, which, although they are not explicit, I can tell they think that film school could be a waste of time and money, even if I am going to pursue a career in film (which they are all for if it’s what I want to do). So thank you for your advice. Since I live on the East Coast, I was thinking of going down a path of studying business and accounting, and using that knowledge to start a production company here which could sustain an income by providing video services, and use that money (in conjunction with crowd funders) to expand and create feature or short films. A part of this conviction is based on your advice, so thank you for your time and help.”

You’re most welcome. Keep me posted!

Update (15th October 2016)

A reader from Australia sent me this email (shared here with her consent):

“I just read your article ‘How to Become a Film Director: a Sharp Reality Check,’ and I just wanted to thank you enormously for what you have said.  I worked really hard in school to get into the most reputable film school in my  state of Queensland, Australia, and honestly I have not engaged at all this whole year with my peers or the content of the course, because it seems to be a lot of amateurs talking themselves up and patting each other on the back, whilst not really doing a lot of serious film making.  I have been feeling torn for the past few months about whether it was my own fault and I lacked passion, or it was the course itself – and I’m so glad to hear that Film School really isn’t all its cracked up to be which is what I’ve been thinking for ages.  I still want to pursue film as a career but now I feel like I can do what I’ve been wanting to do this whole time, just begin making things, teaching myself, and finding like-minded people wherever I can rather than the select pretentious assholes at my school.  Thank you so so so much!”

You’re welcome!

 

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111 thoughts on ““Should I Go to Film School?” – Advice from Famous Filmmakers

  1. Jim Malmstrom says:

    Don’t admire Lucas OK, I get it. But Scorsese? What is it about MS that you don’t admire?

    JJM

    • Hi Jim,

      There is nothing particularly wrong with Martin Scorsese’s style — but nothing particularly brilliant either. I actually more or less enjoyed most of his films, but they don’t inspire awe like Spielberg, Cameron or Zeffirelli. Scorsese’s reputation is unwarranted in my opinion, but I have nothing against him and wish him well 🙂

      Cheers,

      Ed

      • There is actually an interview with Scorsese, in which he says that film school is only good for getting your hands on the equipment and nothing else. That was true in his times, now – not so much.

  2. I agree with your verdict from personal experience, and I do think film school is wildly overpriced. The one thing film school does give you is structured time and place to experiment, something that requires a lot of self-discipline to give yourself if you’re just learning on your own. And there are some exceptional schools: what about the Lodz school in Poland? Alumni: Roman Polanski, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Jerzy Skolimowski and Andrzej Wajda. Not bad…

    • Robin,

      I see what you mean, but my take on the filmmaker’s journey is that aspiring filmmakers who are unable to take charge of their artistic and professional development either lack motivation or they do not love filmmaking enough — or indeed both — in which case this brutally tough career is really not for them. If they need to be set homework by professors, they are not going to make it.

      I’m not familiar with the Lodz film school — interesting alumni!

      Cheers,

      Ed

  3. Jim Malmstrom says:

    Funny – it’s why they make vanilla and chocolate. I personally don’t anything Cameron has done can compare to the brilliance of Raging Bull or Goodfellas just to name two MS masterpeices.

    Sure, JC can make big, commercial movies but when is he gonna make a personal film?

    JJM

  4. Didn’t Spielberg go to the same film school as Lucas?

  5. Sorry I should have kept reading.. he dropped out

  6. Did Alfred Hitchcock go to film school? He is considered the most prestigious of all directors.

    • Alfred Hitchcock did not go to film school. There was more common sense back then: people went out and DID things 🙂

      • Anonymous Film Director says:

        I understand the thinking behind your comment, and I agree that film school is ineffective for many people.
        However,
        Alfred Hitchcock also didn’t win a single oscar for his brilliant and groundbreaking work as a director, so one could say the street goes both ways.

        • So? Is a film director someone who makes movies, or someone who collects golden statues? Is David E. Kelly a better director than Hitchcock or Begman or Kurosawa or Kubrick because he won a best director Oscar and they didn’t?

        • asdfvsavvd says:

          The Oscars are a joke.

  7. Thank you for the response! Hoping to do that with films one day!

  8. videofilmmaker,

    Would you consider film university programs “film school”?

    • Hi Marco,

      The real question is: “Are they in the business of training film directors? Proper training, of the type dentists and airline pilots receive?”

      Of course not.

      “Film studies” programs are even less useful than film schools. It’s a bit like taking a course in the history of aviation and hoping that you will be qualified to fly aeroplanes at the end — it is absolutely insane and delusional.

      Avoid.

  9. Thanks for the response!

  10. neonknights says:

    I totally and wholeheartedly agree with what you wrote. The only thing you’ve mistaken is that Spielberg DID go to film school, but he didn’t graduate. He studied film directing at the University of Southern California, but before graduation, a producer who had seen his short film, Amblin’ called him to get him a job in television. Spielberg said: “But I got to have my diploma first!” The guy answered: “What do you want to be? A film director or a university graudate?” Of course, he chose the first, and the rest is history.

    All the other parts are correct, and I completely agree with all you wrote. (And for the record, I was never a fan of George “Jar Jar” Lucas either.)

    • Hi Neonknights,

      Thanks for your comment. I did in fact write that Spielberg attended film school but left before finishing:

      “Steven Spielberg attended some university classes, but he dropped out as soon as he was given a seven-year TV directing contract at Universal Studios on the strength of his 35 mm short film “Amblin’.” It is sweetly ironic that he abandoned his sanctimonious instructors at college after being hired as a professional director by Universal Studios after they watched a short film that he shot with some friends in the desert.”

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  11. neonknights says:

    Oh, sorry. Somehow I skipped that.

    Another similar case is Antonioni. He studied at Centro Sperimentale, the Italian film school, but only for 3 months, then dropped out afterwards. He said, he never regretted that.

  12. Filmbaker says:

    Hi,
    I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I agree on every aspect, except for MS. I think he is remarkable.
    I myself dropped out of my University because the course was ridiculous and I was gaining more knowledge by experimenting, reading and watching films! I don’t regret dropping out one bit! I now intern at a studio as an Asst. Director/ Editor.

    P.S; Your e-mails do have some useful info. Thanks.

    Cheers.

  13. frank johnson says:

    In life there are many paths to one destination. To say that film chool is a waste of time, is like saying, “We all have to drink orange juice to get vitamin C.”

    There are several filmmakers who have graduated from film school and became successful directors; MS, O. STONE, S. LEE, F. Coopola…

    There was a time when doctors didn’t have to go to medical school. They become practitioners by apprenticeship. Trial and error is not the only effective way to learn. Education can not hurt you, it only enlightens you. Though I understand your point regarding passion and self discipline, however, everyone does not operate the same way. Film school and going out on your own has it’s pros and cons. None of them are going to guarantee you success. For every one example you gave us, there are an enormous amount who have not made it as well.

    • Hi Frank,

      My point is that film schools do not train film directors. They teach them plenty of material, but they do not produce properly trained directors who can confidently and competently direct actors and crew members to deliver slick, professional-looking footage.

      Law schools produce lawyers; medical schools produce doctors; engineering schools produce engineers. Film schools do not produce film directors. They produce film school graduates, to be sure, but they do not produce properly trained directors who know what they are doing. In this respect, film schools are very much the black sheep of education: misguided, expensive and criminally useless.

      Would you like to board an aeroplane that is flown by somebody who studied the history and mechanics of aeroplanes but was never actually taught to fly one? This is the most compelling analogy I can think of.

      There is an additional and critically important issue: film degrees in the United States are so expensive that many U.S. students have to take on significant debt in order to afford the degree.

      This means that they have to spend an enormous amount of money to pay the tuition fees, and then on top of that of course they have to spend another significant sum of money to shoot projects and build a reel, because without a reel nobody will hire you to direct anything — this is so inescapably true that even film schools make this clear.

      –> No reel = you are not a director

      So, to recap: a lot of money for the privilege of attending classes that do not train you to be a film director, and then you have to spend money on building that reel anyway!

      You see, building a truly professional-looking reel requires money, time and the sort of mental well-being that enables you to be truly motivated and creative. Having graduated from film school with an enormous debt, that debt needs to be serviced — not even bankruptcy can save you from Federal debt!

      Therefore, for the average U.S. student who needs to take on massive Federal debt to finance film school, it is not just a waste of time, but an albatross tied around your neck that will turn you into a wage slave who needs to service that debt no matter what. I guarantee you that in that situation you will have neither the resources, nor the time nor the mental well-being required to assemble a good reel: at that point you’re done, you’re another film school graduate who will never direct anything.

      The bottom line is that becoming a film director does take money, but you need to spend that money on shooting projects and learning from your mistakes. Film degrees do not shave time off the learning curve and they do not improve the quality of one’s first project. The rookie filmmaker’s first two or three projects tend to be cringeworthy, and the sooner you get that out of the system, the sooner you can move on to do high-value work.

      I hope I have clarified my thoughts, and thank you very much for commenting!

  14. Why don’t you admire George Lucas? Is it his style of filmmaking, the things he does to the original trilogy? I respect your opinion, but I would like to know why.

    • I don’t admire Lucas because he lacks flair. I am drawn to brilliance; mere competence will not suffice. As James Cameron said, “Good enough isn’t.”

      No one can deny that Spielberg, for example, is preternaturally talented. You might not like his films, and I would totally understand that, but even his most vitriolic critics concede that Spielberg’s sheer filmmaking talent is truly awe-inspiring.

      The same goes for James Cameron.

      Lucas? He’s the equivalent of the kid at the back of the class who scrapes by with a C grade every time. I strongly suspect that he would be the first to admit that film direction is not his forte — and I don’t think he cares.

      No animosity here at all — I’m sure he’s a great guy. But he’s several leagues below his good friend Spielberg, and he knows it, and he doesn’t care, because he is rich and famous and does not need our approval 🙂

      Thanks for following my work!

      • Eric M. Blake says:

        Amusingly enough, Lucas is on record as actually ADMITTING that he can’t write good dialogue.

        Which, of course, begs for the question as to why exactly he wrote the screenplays for the prequel trilogy. Why not hire Lawrence Kasden again, if you know he does a better job? *sigh*

        Thanks for your food for thought, BTW–I’ve recently discovered your site, and am scouring your material religiously!

  15. I am highly encouraged by your article. I went to an actors conservatory and after graduating got married and serious about non profit work. In the midst of all my friends moving to LA and New York I had 2 kids….. recently I’ve found joy behind the camera. I guess I knew it was always in me… but, now I can’t afford film school. I will con’t to experiment and work on my craft. Keep writing!!!!

    • Hi Jeremy,

      Being unable to attend film school is one of the best things that could have happened to you — it would have been a waste of time and money, and they would have sent you down the wrong path, which is even worse.

      The director’s reel is everything — respect the reel!

      Thanks for the kind words.

      -Ed

      • 1 year later or so… I’m still working on it! I’m getting better! I have worked on a few independent projects w/my boss and I am gearing up for my short set to shoot this Summer! I’ll ping you when I’m finishing up post.

  16. Thanks, this answered a lot of questions I’ve been too timid to ask. Do you have an opinion on shorter term vocational or tech schools? I’ve been considering taking classes at the NW Film Center before looking for internships or PA work with local filmmakers. Do you think it’d be worthwhile?

    • Hi Carri,

      I am less opposed to short-term courses that teach you tangible skills more quickly and affordably than film schools.

      I’m not familiar with the the NW Film Center.

      My recommended approach is to get a camcorder, read useful books, practice with camerawork and editing, then make your first project.

      After your first ambitious project, you will have enough perspective to make sensible decisions for the future.

      You will learn more about filmmaking if you apply yourself to the path — courses can teach you the basics, but the most subtle and high-level filmmaking skills can ONLY be picked up when you’re actually trying hard to make a great project, with all the creative and practical challenges that entails.

      I hope this makes sense. It actually applies to most things in life — no one can inject knowledge into you — you have to fight for it yourself, and you don’t need to pay anyone to do that!

      The issue here is consuming knowledge versus internalizing it: you can read, watch and listen to filmmaking tips, but sooner or later you will have to start directing/shooting/editing your own projects and learn from your mistakes. That is how you gradually improve your value as a filmmaker.

      I hope this helps.

      -Ed

  17. amit srivastava says:

    Thankyou sir, thanks a a lot, you have broken my myth, I have been exploring a good film institute since a month, but I am sure that i am not going to it now., you have saved my lots of hard earned money, which now i can spend in buying equipments related to film making.

  18. Having done some time at a film school, I have to concede that it was frustratingly slow, limiting and very underwhelming. Too much of it felt like stepping stones, little modules where we made 30-second clips, then a minute long clip etc with a lot of restrictions on how to shoot and edit it. Incidentally, what really bothered me, was that one tutor seemed to have not made a film of his own in many, many years and the other…the other occasionally made short-films, but seemed to have little interest in pursuing bigger aims any more. It wasn’t encouraging.

  19. A.T.M.A.MOHET ANU (BANGLADESH) says:

    Hi,
    I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I agree on every aspect, except for MS. I think he is remarkable.for sharing your experience, lot of thanks to you

  20. I discovered this site last evening and was immediately hooked, I stayed up all night to read it and your site (and especially this post) have certainly improved my understanding of filmmaking more than anything else i´ve read.

    What I was wondering about is that if Spielberg so discourages filmschool, why did he send his son to the New York Film Acadamy?

    Another question is that if you don´t live in the USA and especially not LA or NY(I live in the Netherlands and am 17 years) will you ever be able to find all these Cast and Crew members because I seem to be the only person in my region that seems remotely passionate about film and filmmaking

    from an admirer after one day, thank you and I hope for a quick reply

    • Ignore the outliers, zoom back and look at the big picture. I am a Big Picture kind of guy – I am more interested in large meaningful patterns than in the inevitable exceptions. I bet there is at least one person out there who landed a job after submitting a CV printed on colored card, but so what?

      Some people openly admit that they go to film school because they need the externally imposed discipline and would never build a reel on their own – I cannot begin to tell you what a bad sign that is for a filmmaker.

      Ultimately, you will do whatever you think is best for you. If you do end up going to film school, remember to report back on your experience 🙂

      Do you live in a big city in the Netherlands? If you don’t, you should consider moving to one! I have met some incredibly talented filmmakers from the Netherlands — it seems to have a pretty decent indie scene, but you do need to live in a large urban centre.

      Thanks for the kind words,

      -Ed

  21. I am looking into colleges and plan to go to school for film production. I’m planning on doing the traditional four year school and having film production be my major. Is this sort of school plan a waste of time or should I find something else to major in or what? Are the type of schools you’re talking about the 2 year schools?

    • Hi Kaitlin,

      ALL film degrees are an egregious waste of time that you will bitterly, bitterly regret. Did you check out the Forbes and Yahoo Finance links above? Executive summary: film majors are rated 2nd and 3rd most useless.

      By all means go to university, but study a REAL subject, like chemistry or mathematics, or don’t bother at all. Filmmaking is an activity, an art, and an industry: it is not a respectable major. Film graduates deservedly languish in the unemployment line while jobs are hoovered up by folks with real degrees and skills.

      Read “Worthless” by Aaron Clarey. Read it BEFORE choosing a major. It will save you some excruciating heartache.

      If you do go ahead with the film school plan, come back here a few years after graduating and let us know if the degree is paying for itself 🙂

      Good luck,

      -Ed

  22. That’s really a good post . I’m thinking of going to an interior design school , not a film school . I’m going to shop for a camera .

  23. Great advice, but as has been mentioned in the beginning by someone else, do you not think that there are some film schools that are quite different? The National School of Film and Television in London for instance, is a two year degree, quite specialised in comparison to pretty much any other film school in the UK. The alumni listed on the website – pretty impressive within all domains of filmmaking from directing to CGIs visualisations and at least from what the website says, the school has quite a direct link/relationship with the BBC who go to this film school to find graduates for employment. I am not trying to sound like an ad, but it seems to be quite different to the system that you were presenting, involving learning film language, focusing on building a strong reel, all while encouraging involvement in all creative and technical aspects of production. Do you still find this kind of school pointless? I mean… it is undeniably expensive, but does this not sound a lot like the kind of functional film school you envisaged at the start of your article?

  24. I read your article, and I’m still very confused.

    I’m 18 years old and I (should) be starting Film School in September.

    It’s either Film School, or studying Film at University. I find a degree in Film to be ultimately pointless, and I’d prefer to do more practical work rather than theory. Plus, University would send me in £27,000 pounds debt and I would have to do 3 years. If I pulled out before the 3 years ends, I’d be left with the debt and no degree.

    Film School, on the other hand, is much less expensive. Plus, I am able to leave after the first or second year with some kind of qualification. The work there is all practical and I would be working with many different types of cameras for different projects, like music videos, documentaries, short films ect.

    I think my situation is different to others and the educational system in the USA, but ultimately I’m confident that having practical experiance will benifit over a degree. I AM still young and naive, but I’m not an idiot. Nor am I going to give up.

  25. Francisco Lamy says:

    Hi,
    My name is Francisco. I’m 15 years old and I’m from Lisbon, Portugal. My dream is to become a film director, and I dream about that ever since I was 10 years old. I’ve been making my own films (nothing special, but at least is a practice) and I started to write my own script. I’ve been reading a lot of books and a lot of websites about every aspect of filmmaking a script writing.
    Now I am really undecided because when I graduate high school (3 years from now) I want to go to LA to study in USC School of Cinematic Arts. I’ve started to read blogs and weabsites about the reasons to go and not to go to film school. Any one of them had different prespectives and arguments (like extremely high tuition; you gain contacts; it’s a waste of time….Everything and anything). I really need advice because this is the site with the most complete article about the reasons not to go.
    And one more thing… Since I leave in Portugal and i wanna be a film maker, do you think I should go to USA to have the chance of make it big??
    Thank you so mutch.. Great site by the way… Beautifly structured and organized!

    • Hi Francisco,

      Here is my quick analysis of the pros and cons of going to film school in the U.S.A. in your case:

      PROS

      1. You get to spend a few years in Los Angeles, where you have easier access to the film industry than in Portugal. (This advantage is irrelevant to U.S. citizens.)

      2. You might meet people who can help you in your career — again, tough to do if you are in Portugual.

      CONS

      1. They will not make you an employable Director — only you can do that. You cannot imagine what a chasm there is between knowing a few bits and pieces about filmmaking and actually being a complete, well-developed and employable Director. If kids knew this, film schools would all go out of business — and make no mistake that they are businesses! They are not respectable academic institutions.

      2. Film degrees are not respectable degrees like Chemistry, Medicine or Engineering. Film graduates have to rationalize their past decisions, but you have the luxury of being told this before you go to film school.

      3. It will cost you a fortune, and the degree is unlikely ever to pay for itself — either in the film industry or in a civilian job (because it is a weak degree — see above).

      Keep me posted, and thanks for the kind words!

      -Ed

      • When I saw “they will not make you an employable Director” I thought you were going to talk about how difficult it would be to be hiredif you are not a US-citizen, since studios (which are in most cases american companies) would be inclined to hire US-citizen directors avoiding the cost of hiring a non-US citizen.

        Could you please elaborate if that is the case and if in that case is it worth to try to attend film school?

        Thank you.

        • My point was that they will not make anyone an employable director, regardless of nationality.

          It is talent and skills demonstrated by a reel that make a director employable, not film school degrees.

  26. Francisco Lamy says:

    Hi Ed,
    To start, thank you so much for your quick response, I appreciated a lot. And I’ve talked with my father and I decided to go to USA but not to go to a film school. To start making movies. I realized that the best way of beeing a filmmaker is through practice.
    Thank you for making this decision much easier..
    – Francisco

  27. annabelleMJ says:

    Hi im 17 years old and from the UK.
    Your argument is extremely compelling and well presented and I have to admit i agree strongly with most of the points being made.

    Recently I have started looking around universities (college) and i know for me…film is everything and the only thing i can do. I need to take the next step in my life which is a daunting thought especially as i am unsure of where to go. I have been looking into a Film making course at uni and considering the pros and cons. the system in the UK is different to the USA but i think the principle of the courses are very similar.

    would you recommend that I take the 3 year uni course that will get me a degree but also debt? considering that i would get experience with professional equipment and maybe a link to people who are in the business?

    thank you for your posts…incredibly enlightening 🙂

    • No, I do not recommend film degrees under any circumstances. See my reply to Francisco higher up in this thread.

      I encourage you to do a real degree in a real subject at a real University, followed by a full-time day job so that you can earn a living. It will be many years before filmmaking will pay your bills!

      You must pursue filmmaking on the side, and you will have plenty of time at University to follow my advice, practise with your camera and acquire filmmaking skills — but do so while remaining on a sensible career path!

      Good luck,

      Ed

  28. I am in high school now and I have decided I want to go into film making. Part of me wants to do things like work behind the camera, work with lights and sound, do some editing, but I’m not sure how to get into that. I thought that going and getting a degree would help me put my foot into the business, but you seem to highly discourage any type of film school. At the same time, I have been writing short films for a while now and my biggest dream is to someday write and direct my own short films. Yet again, I’m not quite sure how to do that without some kind of degree. My parents want to pay for me to go to college, and I cannot imagine not going, but I don’t want to waste my time like you said i would. There is a school of the arts in my state and while it many focuses on dance and theatre, it also has a film department. Would it be a complete waste for me to get a degree there? Or should I just study to be a music teacher like my parents want, and hopefully someday continue my dreams without a film degree.

  29. I do honestly not know what to think of your comment.
    On the one hand you do say a lot of stuff that is correct, on the other you’re argument is very one-sided and uncritical towards your own opinion. It does even seem slightly manipulative.

    I agree that the best way to learn filmmaking is by practice. However, what speaks against using a film school for your own sake? In other words: Go to film school, keep your brain, do not get incorporated and play and use them for your own goals.

    To clarify: I’m gonna go to film school in the UK for which I will have to pay exactly nothing. I personally think that a film school provides a certain safe net, where you can experiment, grow and bloom safely.
    I agree that if you use ONLY film school you’re not gonna get far.
    But I’M quite certain that it is good to hear different lectures from different professionals with different backgrounds and opinions.
    There are also just facts to learn and you can accept them or don’t. Going to film school doesn’t mean you’ll be hooked up to a net and then just swallow everything they say.
    Why not do both? Do the lectures and films you’ve got as homework and continue learning on your own.
    More important: Continue MAKING on your own. Have the own project for which you can use contacts you could get or equipment.
    I mean essentially a film school is a tool a filmmaker can use to get experience and knowledge. So why not use that tool?

    • I simply don’t see film “school” as much of a tool. Budding filmmakers with real potential will be hamstrung by the red tape, slow pace and generally ungifted vibe; those without real potential won’t develop any by attending. Either way, it’s a waste of time, resources and youth.

  30. So, as I’ve said before, great job! I live near a community college that has a class for camera operation. The class takes a whole semester, but is dirt cheap. Would it be worth my time and money as a director who isn’t as savvy as she needs to be with camera equipment?

  31. OMG thank you for THIS ARTICLE! Iveta

  32. I see this article as a personal opinion to discourage people for their ambitious. For the fact that you think filmaking is not a respectable degree I strongly believed that is your own personal opinion so don’t use it to discourage people. Tell me how much those respectable degree holders earn and I will tell you how much people that owns degree in filmaking earns. Stop discouraging people about filmmaking with ur own personal opinion.

  33. I find this article extremely helpful. I just want to clarify one thing. Do you think going to college in general when aspiring to be a film maker is a waste of time or just going to film schools? I am an aspiring filmmaker who was planning on going to a film school but after reading this article started to weigh my options. Should I instead go to a regular university for a third of the cost to get a good education and be doing my films on my own? Also, If I do this, should I major in film at this school?

    Thank you so much for your time and advice!

    -Lara

    • Hi Lara,

      In general I do encourage people to go to University, provided they pursue a serious and substantial subject; I myself had the good fortune of attending a very good one and it was immensely worthwhile. University gives you time to mature and practise while you exercise your mind with your university studies. It’s a productive combination of formal study and independent maturation, if you are motivated and ambitious.

      However, for people in the United States, there is the additional complication of the exorbitant fees charged by universities. You definitely ought to read Aaron Clarey’s “Worthless” before you make a decision. It’s better that you know the truth!

      If you do decide to go to University, I strongly advise you against majoring in film — did you check out the Forbes and Yahoo links in my post? They rated film as the third and second most useless major. Don’t do it!

      Employability is a serious issue for youngsters these days. Unless you are independently wealthy, it is essential that you make yourself as employable as possible, and majoring in film is not the way to do it.

      This advice might not be glamorous, but it’s in your best interests.

      Keep me posted on your progress, and thanks for reading my work.

      Best wishes,

      Ed

  34. Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your
    blog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts.
    In any case I will be subscribing in your feed and I am
    hoping you write again very soon!

  35. Jocelyne Berumen says:

    Thank you for this article. I am so lost now though. I’ve known I wanted to do film since I first picked up a camera in the 3rd grade and made stories about nothing. Now its my last year in school, and I’ve been working so hard to get into an art school or a school with film. You’re right though, all my hard work could go to waste so quickly. I live in a small town, and I want to move out to a bigger place, so I thought maybe going to a school in Chicago would help. Now, as I read this I wonder if that’s a good choice anymore. What do you suggest I do? I’m still JUST a high school girl, BUT I love filmmaking more than anything in the world. I have been grabbing a camera and practicing, but where do I go the next few years of my life as I practice by myself?

  36. Your use of Speilberg’s comments- which, with all the embolden letters and the accompanied video seem to be your main sticking point- are very thin to say the least. You used a personal interpretation of what he said to surmise that he meant “don’t go to film school”. He neither emphasized going to film school nor not going, you shouldn’t take a vague comment and use it as a point of emphasis. Yes, you can most certainly make films without going to film school. You can technically do anything without going to school for it, but don’t take one mans word for it. People are individuals, who have individual needs and learn things differently from one another. Make your own assessment. Although the saying is trite, it’s really not about where you come from.

  37. North Carolina says:

    I would like some advice. I have applied to the top film schools in the country (USC, UCLA, NYU, etc). I would only go to one of those schools if we could afford it which we probably won’t be able to. One exciting prospect though is UNCSA which I am in state for. The cost is only 8,000 for me and they have a different approach to film school than most others. They agree that the best way to learn is to pick up a camera and make a film so that is their approach. Hands on experience is how they teach. They also provide students with a budget for each project they make. I am incredibly passionate about filmmaking and have done much studying and learning on my own. For this reason I fear that year one and two of film school will be a review of topics for me. What do you suggest?

    • Don’t do it. Even if it were entirely free, it would be a waste of time — that most precious and irreplaceable of assets!

      Youngsters today have two sensible options:

      (i) go to a real university and study a real degree in a subject that will give you solid employment prospects;

      (ii) eschew college altogether and go straight into the best job you can get.

      In either case you will be pursuing filmmaking on the side.

      It doesn’t sound sexy, I know, but it’s all for the best. Good luck and keep me posted.

      -Ed

  38. Good Articale as alwayes. you mention just directores from USA. what about other country? the adivce above are still good for young filmmakers from lebanon or russia?

    Any way, love to read your plentiful material. Thank you.

    -Gil

  39. All well said, I agree. One thing that I don’t understand- why is it called ‘Film’ these days when film is a by-gone era? To say ‘Film School’ says that they teach real film…It’s confusing.

  40. Making a film start with writing a script (original/adaptation). Without a great script, don’t even dreams of making a great film. To be a great filmmaker, first of all you must have a great script. You can write a great script or you can buy the right to make it into film. But buying is expensive and so not creative. Challenge yourself by writing your original script.

    It may took 3 years to learn and practice writing on your own, or in University, before you finished 1 great script. Base by this, if any of you wanted to go to University, my opinions is took a Journalism degree. Many journalist became an author, screenwriter, and film director because of one thing: they have written stories. Great thing about being journalist is, you know many famous and success peoples because you interview them.

    I’m not a journalist myself. I have a degree in Accounting. This is help in term of Producing. But I don’t recommended Accounting degree, because there is no budget or funding to discuss or account if no script ready in my hand! I haven finished a single script yet. If I took journalism in University, I’m sure I’m already become a famous writer by now. And I agree that filmschool is a useless degree. Took Journalism instead! You still practice with your camera as Journalist.

    NOTE: In America, Nora Ephron has a background in Journalism. You can add more on the list here. In Indonesia, two famous filmmakers has a journalism degree, while one other journalist became an author, novelist, TV Writer and Screenwriter, and the rest own one TV show.

  41. Jacob Lemley says:

    If you dont go to a film school how can you get noticed and get asked to do a nice starting project to get into bigger ones? I really want to be a producer/director

  42. Videodromer says:

    Thanks for yet an interesting post. I agree with a lot of what you’re writing here. I work though as a teacher at a film school, combining it with directing various small Projects, and develop bigger projects. Film school is to expensive, I agree. But I think it would be wrong to say that students won’t get anything out of going to a film school. It depends on what kind of film school it is, but this film school is very practical and hands-on. I myself don’t have film school, and has pretty much gone the same route that you have. So my teaching – I think – is much closer to the reality of making film, then lets say a professor with an academic approach. I’ve been working with film (mostly as a writer and a director) for about 23 years, and I feel that I give away a lot of my experience and knowledge to the students in a very short time – things that I’ve used years to find out myself. So in my opinion – with the right type of advices and education, they could get a career faster than if they would have to find out everything themselves. Now I’ve read through a lot of the stuff that you’ve written here on this site, and I recognise a lot of the same advice I give to my students, so it can’t be all that bad? You must see a value of teaching others about how to become a film maker, since you have posted all these great advices, right? So, there are bad things about film school, but also good things about it. A negative thing, I would like to say – since I’m self thought and also work as a teacher at a film School – is that the students often learns what mistakes to avoid, which sounds like a good thing, but might not always be so. Because film is not an exact science, it is also a good thing – in the beginning – to do some basic mistakes, because it is in itself a creative process and helps them to get their own point-of-view on how things might work for them, when in the long run they are developing a style. Sorry about the bad language; I’m from Scandinavia 🙂

  43. Videodromer says:

    By the way, I was very skeptic to film school myself (I’m self-thought), and now find myself teaching at a film School (as well as still working as a director). As a director, I’ve been working with both other self-thought film workers, and film workers with film school background. Typical for people like me is (or was) to be very skeptical to the film School background, and typical for film workers with film school background is to be skeptical to self-thought film workers. In the end the most important thing is not where and how you learn the craft of film-making, but that you learn it. If you have it in you, you will get there with or without film school. Great directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Mike Leigh have their background from film school, just to balance it a little bit 🙂

    • Jacob Lemley says:

      Thanks Videodromer after i read your comments it gave me good expectations for takimg class for film this summer im going to the New York film academy camp for 2 week in New York

  44. I want to start making my reel! What camera would you suggest using?

  45. Matthijs M. says:

    Hi,

    I am sorry to say this overused internet argument, but i think this only apply’s to the US. As i dropped out of university after trying two diffrent study’s becoming a teacher in Biology and Physics, i finally decided that it was my time to film. As i only had an old JVC camcorder that filmed 480p and had close to no options regarding depth of field and manual focus, i decided that i needed some proper instructions on how to accieve my personal taste of films and a new camera.
    I had read all the internet fora about this topic and (first thing that i think you are incorrect) DSLR was the way to go. I was only 19 yo and i had no job. YOu state that DSLR’s are actually one of the worst choises by linking that topic, but you can acchieve way better pictures with diffrent looks by changing lenses for under 1500 dollars, while the first camcorder that has changeable lenses cost about 10,000 dollars over here in the netherlands.
    I tried out some of the options on my dads camera and found out that i had absolutely no knowledge about the effect some of the settings have. So i needed some teaching of this (and the internet was depleted by then for me of any information on this topic).

    I joined film college (this is more of a technical kind of film school) to learn the techniques that will make my films mine. All teachers are currently actively working as directors or camera operators/editors in the field of work, so that gets that argument out of the way.
    This school was more directed to the people who will work FOR people, operating camera’s and editing than directing, so i’m already looking for options after this school.
    And boy, did it amaze me how nice most of the schools are. Here in Rotterdam there is an Art school, mainly aiming at the creation of your own style of directing and filming.
    Amsterdamhas a Filmacademy that aims more towards directing the large budget films (although there are almost no production company’s who do big budget movies over here in the Netherlands, so abroad it is). Both schools have a 80-90% active in the field-of-work staff and the spare 10-20% are actually not teaching any of the directing stuff.

    So, that makes those arguments invalid. That leaves only the price up for argument, and it is very affordable according to the maths. The film college costs me about 1000 euro’s a year and the film academy about 1700 euro’s (too lazy to calculate the amount in dollars). this means i can have the technical experience and a basis of directing after eight years for about 11,500 euro’s. this is only 1500 euro’s more expensive than a high grade camera that doesn’t come with any experience on the techniques and directing. And the schools provide me with internships that get me into the industry.

    I want to inform you that the industry over here is very small. Most people over here in the Netherlands are forced to work for big advertising and tv businesses because the movie market is way too small over here. Besides that, you won’t get any further than an upgraded internship without the proper papers (a.k.a. degrees) because the dutch laws demand that.
    The only way you get any further with movies is by making youtube short movies, and that leaves me with about ten years of no-income before i get any contracts, while the schools will make me able to get a job after four years, just because i have a degree.

    Of course i know that the industry of Europe and the US are nothing like another, but you told it like it was the absolute truth. And all the directors you listed began directing in a time when “how good you are at it” was way more important than actual degrees. Times have changed and so did the industry.

    Greetings,

    Matthijs M.

    • Matthijs M. says:

      oh, i forgot a big part regarding the linked “don’t use DSLR’s” page.

      They state that shooting with a dslr provides you with poor knowledge of the more widely used high end camera’s. My film school provides me with the needed knowledge to direct this kind of camera’s, since we practise with almost every kind of camera out there. From old DSLR’s that are outdated, to a canon 5D MKIII, onto the SONY HVR 270, onto tape Camera’s, up to the RED camera’s. I will not have to keep on purchasing higher quality expensive camera’s and still get the experience asked by production companies.

  46. I am planning to go to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts to major in film production. Filmmaking (especially editing) is what I plan to pursue, and I understand the reasons why I shouldn’t go to film school. However, here are some why I should go:

    • My parents won’t let me move to LA only to start interning at studios. I would be lost and not sure where to start.
    • My parents require that I get a college education, and the only thing I am interested in filmmaking, so I might as well major in film production.
    • I don’t care about my degree or grades, but I do care about my portfolio, working with other film students, and getting to know some people in the industry. Film school is costing a lot, but I plan to work hard the whole time.

  47. Jack Mince says:

    I’m currently hiring crew for a short film we’ll be shooting next year and I can’t tell you how annoyed I am with all of these film school students applying for our jobs.

    They don’t even read the requirements and will send generic cover letters that give nothing but useless personal information and nothing relevant to the open positions. They have no reels and no IMDB credits even if they list a bunch of films on their resumes.

    If they give you a reference it will be some instructor that got friendly with them in film school… meaningless.

    The terrible part about this… they aren’t asking to come on the crew as PAs or just to help wherever in order to get experience they are asking to be hired as the camera operator (on a motion picture camera shoot) with no motion picture camera experience or the production sound mixer with no real production sound experience or lighting, etc. They want to be hired for key roles. GTFOH!

    I’m more annoyed when they want to be hired to work the camera. It’s disrespectful to know you have very little experience and then expect someone to put their entire film in your hands as a camera person.

    On another note, it’s equally infuriating when we get the same from others who have not gone to film school who are equally inexperienced. They insist they have worked on motion picture cameras or worked in the respective roles “millions of times” as they claim but have no reel and no IMDB credits. They have no proof at all for the claims they are making. And no offense people, you are asking a LOT by expecting someone to hire you based on nothing. There is a lot at stake.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Jack. I have repeatedly emphasised the importance of one’s reel, and it cannot be done often enough.

      Best wishes for your shoot,

      -Ed

  48. Hey I am attending film school in the Fall,
    However I am already building my reel and planning shoots before even attending. But the reason that I believe the film school will benefit me, is the potential study abroad opportunities it offers. Which would allow me to get credit for classes by working on films overseas and my school even allows me to make a films for credits in some classes. I was just wondering what your thoughts were on it? I’m going to be making films regardless of going to film school or not going to film school.

  49. Alex Lutkoff says:

    Hey, im 16 years old and I am considering majors as a student. i am already set on going to UCF. What is you opinion on a minor in film as opposed to a major in film.

    • Hi Alex,

      Don’t waste your time and money on film studies. If you’re going to get a degree, get a degree in a subject that will add value to your job prospects — I can assure you that’s not a trivial matter these days (ask your parents).

      There is more than enough information on this website and elsewhere to learn filmmaking to a very high level — the only limits are your innate talent and willingness to work hard and practise.

      Do the exercises I have described in other posts. Read “Grammar of the Film Language.” Then practise some more. Post your practice videos and I will do my best to help.

      Good luck — let me know how you get on!

      -Ed

  50. I wish I had read this blog and the others 24 months ago

    I do agree film schools are a waste of time and money.

    What I did;

    I set up plan B – I got a trade, excelled became leading supervisor. I left to go to film school.

    12 months later it never improved, useless feedback, out dated methods, surrounded by fresh out of high school rich kids with that “ego” that they know everything. The best thing I learned was from their teaching materials, all sourced from the internet – this started my researching, everything is out there.

    I eventually dropped out, I went and did a 3 month course on photography and lighting – worth every penny, especially the rules of 3 framing

    I followed that up by doing some weekend seminars that were designed to encourage students to undertake their full time courses. The seminars focused on sound, practical effects, stunts, safety, accounting, business management.

    Then I did a 6 month acting course, I absolutely suck at acting, but I paid attention to how the teacher taught, this is the best directing actors class I have ever taken, every actor responds to their own directing language

    I followed that up by door knocking, if they rejected me, I said to myself “that was yesterday” so I knocked on the same doors again, they eventually gave me 3 trial jobs, one is a documentary, general production assistant, sci-fi pilot art director assistant and a grip and camera assistant job on a coming of age feature. I was told if I do well they will arrange an “assistant to the director” mentoring type position. Then if I do well there, they will then talk about producing my 214 page feature (7th draft)

    I have achieved more by taking advantage of what is free and available online – film riot, indy mogul and video co pilot on youtube – nofilmschool.com, and google.com. Everything I have read or watched is read and watched 3 times, this way nothing is missed.

    My experience with film schools is they can’t teach you how to be persistant or passionate.

    Anyways that is my 2 cents.

    • Thanks for sharing your story! You have shown real clarity of thought, motivation and character. You made stuff happen. You’re an example for all!

      Love your intials, by the way. GDP — perfect for our economically challenged times.

      Good luck and keep me posted on your progress,

      -Ed

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