Film School Bubble

More people are chasing careers in film than there are careers in film. And not just in front of the camera.

More people are chasing careers in film than there are careers in film. And not just in front of the camera.

NYT (“For Film Graduates, an Altered Job Picture“):

[A]nother round of graduates is now hitting the street, in greater numbers and perhaps better equipped than ever before, to pursue opportunities that have seldom been more elusive, at least where traditional Hollywood employment is concerned.

As home-entertainment revenue declined in the last five years, studios reduced spending on scripts from new writers, cut junior staff positions and severely curtailed deals with producers who once provided entry-level positions for film school graduates. Yet applications to university film, television and digital media programs surged in the last few years as students sought refuge from the weak economy in graduate schools and some colleges opened new programs.

“It’s becoming an increasingly flooded marketplace,” said Andrew Dahm, who in May graduated from the Peter Stark producing program at U.S.C. with a master’s degree and an expectation that he would work for two or three years as a low-paid assistant in lieu of the junior executive jobs that were once common.

“Working as an assistant for six years is not unheard of,” Mr. Dahm said. He estimated that perhaps a quarter of the two dozen graduates in his class had lined up assistant jobs; about as many, like himself, are still looking for similar work, he said, while the rest are writing screenplays or otherwise preparing projects that might open a path into the business.

At U.S.C. about 4,800 would-be students applied for fewer than 300 slots next fall, up from about 2,800 applicants the year before. Educators at established film and television programs like those at New York University, the University of Texas, Loyola Marymount University and the University of California, Los Angeles, said they had seen a similarly sharp step-up in the number of students seeking what used to be called film education but now typically embraces the production of video games and Webisodes and virtually any medium in which the pictures move.

By and large those established programs have kept enrollments steady. But an expanding number of new film and media programs at other colleges around the country helped feed what appears to be a bumper crop of graduates in the academic year that just ended.

I’d always assumed that most people getting degrees in the arts were wasting their time, in the sense that they’d likely wind up in careers only tangentially related to their studies.

There are strong parallels with the academic job market here, in that people who enjoy studying something will often go on to graduate school in hopes of waiting out a weak job market. The predictable result is too many advanced degrees chasing too few jobs that require them. That’s fine for those who graduate with little or no debt and found the pursuit of knowledge worthwhile. Presumably, a Master of Fine Arts provides skills and experiences to draw upon in other endeavors just as a PhD does. But those who enter into these programs thinking their lives will be a failure if they don’t land on the coveted track are setting themselves up for disappointment.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. john personna says:

    Well, motion pictures are one art that maps to an industry. Also video games, music. There may be many people driven to do them, but there is cash flow to support it. I’d guess it’s harder to make sculpture pay off.

    I actually worked briefly in the film industry (a software gig for shoot scheduling), it confirmed my experience that the people doing it had to be there, identity and career tightly bound.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    Maybe this is just a sign of the rich white kids fleeing from the Asian students who dominate the sciences, engineering, and medicine.

    What else are the rich white kids who attend liberal arts schools suppose to do with their degree in peace studies from Oberlin?

  3. mantis says:

    This isn’t really news. Film schools have been packed for decades with students with big dreams who will never work in the industry.

  4. A voice from another precinct says:

    @superdestroyer: Thank you for oversimplifying a complex issue in our country–the (possibly fictious) idea that everyone should be seeking a college education because college educated people “statistically” do better than others economically. Now that we know that the problem is simply rich white dilletants from Oberlin, we no longer need to consider whether continuing to shoehorn every student into a college-prep high school curriculum is a effective use of our educational system. You really helped solve this one,

  5. Ted Craig says:

    Government incentives played a role in this. States offered lucrative tax breaks to the motion picture industry in an attempt to add jobs. Here in Michigan it was touted as the industry of the future and people flooded into film programs.

  6. Trumwill says:

    @superdestroyer: Someone who avoids science, technology, and medicine due to the prevalence of foreign students in those fields deserves what he or she gets.

  7. JKB says:

    Well, this isn’t as dire as I see some think. Unlike the over-production of lawyers, which is a blight on mankind*, to many aspiring film producers has the potential to transform the industry. It seems most are seeking the traditional route but it is logical that sooner or later some frustrated film school graduate is going to figure out how to bypass the “industry” and make a market. The tools are there, low priced equipment, ready distribution system via the internet, excess talent. Someone will either figure out how to add value to that for a profitable business or they’ll do what blogs are doing to “journalism” and produce low cost alternatives.

    *To many lawyers ends causes a lot of “innovative” theory lawsuits in hopes of extracting money from someone because someone else saw their face and was sad.

  8. superdestroyer says:


    I lot of kids avoid the hard majors in college or quickly move out of the hard majors in college because being a chemical engineering or biochemistry major does not lend itself to the current college lifestyle. In addition, many whites kids end up feeling like outsiders in engineering classes when the majority of student are Asian or Asian-Americans.

    What else is a liberal arts students suppose to do if there is no family business to fall back on. Those upper middle class whites students just go on to graduate school. Why do you think the ACA exapnds health coverage to 27 y/o college students who families are wealthy enough to have good health coverage.

  9. Trumwill says:

    Avoiding STEM majors because they are too difficult is one thing. Avoiding them because they’ve been infiltrated by Asians is the same dynamic applied to blacks who (are accused of) hold(ing) themselves back because they don’t want to “act white.”

    Beyond which, there are engineering schools that are not dominated by foreigners anyway. To assume otherwise and to make decisions on that basis is pretty dumb.

  10. superdestroyer says:


    Any engineering school on either coast is going to have a significant number of Asians, Indians, Persians, and other ethnics who may be counted as whites but do not live the lifestyle of suburban American whites. Want to bet the the Korean, chinese, Indian, and Persian students in engineering at most any school are not in a fraternity and could not care less about the football at college.

    There is joke at many universities that Chinese is the official language of the biochemistry department. Any white kid who does not want to live the lifestyle of the Asian grind will suffer in engineering school. That is why all of the white kids want to go to law school, film school, for G-School.

  11. Trumwill says:

    White Americans don’t start disappearing until graduate school. Look at Texas A&M CoE’s statistics*, or Cal Poly’s**, or Kansas State’s*** and you’ll see a lot more whites than Asians or International students at the undergrad level****. Kansas State’s college of engineering is 80% Kansan. Non-elite comp-sci programs (maybe some elite ones, too, I am less familiar with those) have lots and lots of whites. Medical schools have lots and lots of whites.

    Anyone who goes to film school because the student pool is tainted by the presence of a significant minority of Asians is an idiot.

    * – 69% white, 6% Asian, 4% International. The numbers do change radically for graduate studies.

    ** – 60+% white, and apparently yes they are actually white.

    *** – 81% of KSU’s Engineering college is Kansan, and I don’t think that there are hordes of in-state Asian-Americans and Indian-Americans. 8% international.

    **** – I didn’t cherry-pick colleges here. I looked up engineering programs I was familiar with and that had info easy to find. I have no doubt that some programs are Asian and International dominated, but the notion that you have to major in comparative folk dancing to avoid being a stranger in a strange land does not appear to have a whole lot of backing. Go to the land grant school, if it bothers you that much. But dear lawrd, don’t major in film studies.

  12. superdestroyer says:

    Cal-Poly is actually only 65% white and that is with counting the persians, Arabs, Turks, and former Russians as whites.

    Of source that is better than UCLA that is only 33.8% white. or UC-Irvine that is only 23% white

    I am surprised that you mentioned Kansas State since the only two engineers that I know from Kansas State are both Asian.

  13. superdestroyer says:


    While I saw thinking about it, the four year graduation rate at Kansas State is 28%, at Cal-Poly it is 24%, I bet the graduate rate for engineering students at those schools is lower than the overall student body.

    Is much easier to graduate with a degree that leads to film school that leads to a career in engineering or science. In addtion, the film school student probably had a lot more fun as an undergraduate than the engineering students had.

    I keep wondering why no one wants to do research on what it is like to be a white students in a majority non-white setting. My first guess is that the researchers are afraid of what they are going to find. There was the high school in Mississippi that was involved in a federal desegregation lawsuit. At the 80% black high school, the white students do not even bother going to the graduation ceremony or any of the other social events.

  14. Trumwill says:

    Cal-Poly is actually only 65% white

    I said “60+%” and provided a link to people talking about how white (and middle classish) the place is. It’s also worth noting that the non-resident alien population at Cal Poly is really quite small. And that Asians are barely more than 10%.

    Of source that is better than UCLA that is only 33.8% white. […] or UC-Irvine that is only 23%

    As I said, no doubt there are some that are dominated by Asians. Many such schools are in California (though it’s not just engineering where whites are outnumbered), but even there, you can go to Cal Poly. So if going to a school where you’re going to be outnumbered by Asians bothers you, go to Cal Poly!. Go to Texas A&M. Go to Kansas State. Go to Idaho. Go to Louisiana Tech. But don’t go to film school without some better reason.

    While I saw thinking about it, the four year graduation rate at Kansas State is 28%, at Cal-Poly it is 24%,

    Cal Poly’s 5-year graduation rate is 61%. Kansas State’s 5-year and 6-year graduation rates actually exceed those of the University of Kansas (and if you compare to less prestigious schools, like Arkansas State, it’s no contest). These numbers are not actually unusually low. Engineering degrees in particular are known to be more likely to take 5 years than four to complete.

    Is much easier to graduate with a degree that leads to film school that leads to a career in engineering or science. In addtion, the film school student probably had a lot more fun as an undergraduate than the engineering students had.

    Sure, but that’s a different reason than “too many Asians in engineering departments.” Engineering is difficult.