Are student films worth it? It’s a big question, and a vague one, too. Are student films worth what exactly?
Is it worth paying to see a student film in a theater? No, probably not. Is it worth paying to see a few dozen student films in a theater? Yes, probably.
We’re assuming here that folks asking this question online are wondering whether it’s worth making a student film or worth working on a student film in some capacity, so these are the specific questions we’re going to answer.
But first things first: student films are bad. Among any group of fresh-faced film students, there are always going to be at least a few of them who just assume that their student films are going to be better than all the rest. After all, they got accepted to film school, so they must have some kind of talent, right?
Well sure, talent is one thing, but having great ideas for films and actually making great films are two vastly different things.
Making films of any kind requires a massive amount of communication and collaboration, on top of a fair sum of money for equipment, locations, etc.
Getting good at absolutely anything takes a lot of time. You have to practice so, so much to get good at something. It doesn’t just happen because you want it to.
A student’s early films are going to be bad in some way. That’s just a fact. And if you’re ready to accept that, we can move on.
First, we’ll talk about whether it’s worth it to make student films, then we’ll talk about whether it’s worth it to participate in a student film in some way, regardless of whether it’s as a crew member or actor.
Yes, it’s generally worth making student films, even if they come out completely terrible. Why? Well, it’s all about that practice we were just talking about.
Making anything is excellent practice. You’ll see how your idea changes over time, especially once you start getting other people involved. An actor might have a very different idea about a character that works better for the story. Or the location you really wanted to use just turned you down.
You’ll also learn a lot about how to record everything correctly, getting the visuals and the sound you want.
You’ll learn to communicate with everyone else on the team.
Now, again, your student films won’t be good. They just won’t, and that’s fine. This is the time to find your artistic voice and figure out what you’re really good at.
However, if you end up making a student film that’s actually pretty decent, you could easily submit it for various film festivals and even just local showings at theaters. Your film school might even have a way to showcase your best work.
Participating in Them
Ok, so while making student films is definitely worth it for film students, helping out on a student film probably isn’t really going to be worth your while, though it also depends on what you’re after.
If you’re an actor who thinks that a role in a student film is going to be a breakout performance, you’re mistaken.
Don’t get us wrong: you can give an impressive performance with just about any role, but at the end of the day, not many people are going to see this film. It’s just the reality of the situation.
Still, if you want to help out some film students, then it’s definitely worth working on one of these films. You probably just won’t benefit from it very much, personally. In most cases, film students should have other students help them out with their student films.
Tips for Student Filmmakers
To close things out here, we’d like to give a few short tips for any student filmmakers out there who are gearing up to make their very own student film.
Take Care of Your Cast + Crew
As we’ve laid out here, people helping out on a student film don’t get much back in return, so thank your cast and crew and make sure they’re taken care of.
Give them some kind of food and water during shoots and answer any questions they might have. And if they need to leave for some reason, take it in stride. You’re not actually paying them, after all.
And maybe this goes without saying, but don’t yell at your cast and crew, either. You’re not Kubrick, and this isn’t a Best Picture contender you’re working on. Even if you get frustrated, be patient and try again.
Make Sure Everything Works BEFORE the Shoot
To cut down on stress while shooting, try to set aside some time when you can make sure that all the gear you need for the shoot actually works.
Cameras, mics, and recorders should all be tested. And if you’re unfamiliar with this equipment, then you should also be spending this time getting to know the equipment better.
You really don’t want to be messing around with settings in the middle of a shoot, and of course audio issues could easily make all of your audio unusable, which could, in turn, ruin the whole project.
Experimentation with equipment can be a great way to come up with new ideas, but unless 100% of your cast and crew are down to wait around a bunch, you shouldn’t be experimenting on set.
Know your gear and be sure that it can do what you need it to do. That’s all you really need to worry about for a film like this one.
Keep it Short
You’re not going to win any awards for creating the longest student film in history, so try to keep the film and the shoot as brief as possible.
If you’re not wasting everyone’s time, you’re more likely to get better results from your cast and crew.
Don’t spend thirty minutes trying to find just the right angle for a 5-second shot. Move things along and keep your people happy. You’ll be glad you did.