Review of Vancouver Film School

Is Film School Worth it?

I was searching for video production companies in Vancouver and through the power of google and a few links later, came across this review about the Vancouver Film School (VFS). The point that really resonated with me was this comment by the reviewer in talking about a one year film program at VFS:

“This is not enough time to get a comprehensive education in film production. You merely skim the surface of each department. I could have learned all of this by simply moving to Vancouver and volunteering on a few independent film set.”

Now, I never attended VFS, and I also want to clearly state I have nothing against film programs or education. What I would debate as worthwhile is the price of the education vs. what you get out of it. According to the article, programs at VFS can range from $30,000 – $60,000. That’s a lot of money. You won’t get the same education volunteering for indie films that you would at a school. In some ways I think you would get more practical education and learn the reality of making a movie and in other ways you may miss out on the theoretical and the big picture

I myself took one course at the Art Institute. This was after I bought my own little handy cam and computer set up – which back in ’98 cost around $5,000 whereas today you could seriously put something together for $1,000 – and had been shooting for around a year working on my own little projects. At the Art Institute, I found I was helping out other students more than I was learning. Now this was an intro course, I already had experience shooting, and I did learn a few things, but I didn’t see the value in spending more time and money to see if the program would give me more as I went on.

I also have the experience of hiring a VFS student. I was honestly dismayed at what that individual could produce. I thought that with a film education he would certainly be better than I. Unfortunately it wasn’t so.

I will once again state that I think education is a wonderful thing and that I myself have a Bachelors Degree in Business from Simon Fraser University. It disheartens me a bit to hear a story like the girl who posted the review of VFS who had to learn very expensively that it wasn’t cut out for her. There are other art school reviews at http://www.artschoolreviews.ca, and I haven’t spent time checking it out, so there could also be many glowing reviews up there about VFS and other local Vancouver film schools.

After looking this post over I noticed that I sound quite negative towards film education. What I really was trying to get across is that I totally understand where the reviewer was coming from and I would advocate to anyone looking to get into a film / digital arts / multimedia program is to see what you really want out of it in the end, talk to people who have been through the program, and see if it is really what you want.

Spending $5,000 and a year on something that may not work out is one thing, but $50,000 and a year is a different thing.


Written by:

Greg Lam is a small business specialist that helps clients do business online. You can find him at http://www.vancouvervideographer.ca/ and http://www.smallbusinessdoer.com.

  • I absolutely agree Greg. In my opinion it is definitely not worth it to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to a school like VFS. I took Broadcasting at Mount Royal College in Calgary when I first started and spent a few thousand like you did, and I consider it have been a good introduction/overview, but nothing more really. By far the most relevant learning that I got was by doing stuff hands on and working with others in the industry.

    I spent about the same amount again producing my own low budget independent TV series a few years later and learned so much more from that experience than I did in college, and in the end had a finished product that I could say I produced (and that was even being broadcast)! So even the argument that you need to have a film school on your resume to get a job doesn't really stand in my opinion because I think having your own produced work speaks even more to what you're capable of.

    I'd say to anyone considering VFS to look into interning for a video production company instead. I think a year of doing that would give you so much more real world experience, and it wouldn't cost you anything.

  • Elisa S.

    I wrote that article. I am glad that word is getting around. I also extremely value education. Which is probably why I was so disappointed in the lack of education I received at VFS. I have heard from many many VFS Film Production Program graduates that they were unhappy with their experience, but not many people feel the need to voice their opinions to the public. I know some people who even want to sue the school. There are a lot of other bad reviews out there… I only wish I had come across them before I was coerced by VFS to take out a $54000 loan. Thanks for linking to my article. I hope it can save a few people from the terrible experience I had.

    • Zenjay87

      I can't help to feel that I am going to do something terribly wrong. I applied to vfs about half a year ago and got accepted directly into the sound design course. They also spons about 35-40% of my tuition. I just want to know if all of the different courses are as bad, or are there just some in particular whom are as bad. I have come across students who succeed after the school, and those who are left with a major hole in their life because of the incredible high tuition cost. Is it worth it, or should I scrap it and find another school in canada? I am set on going to Canada now as I'm from Nor and wanna experience new cultures and so forth.

    • Jason

      i cant believe it could b that bad?…don’t they teach you everything you need 2 know?

  • Brdtorrence

    When applying for film school at UBC, my son was told “if you want to make films, make them. The film school on your resume won’t matter. Most grads won’t make films, and many of the best filmmakers do not go to film school.” How refreshingly honest. I love it. When film schools charge $30,000-$50,000 per year, my radar is screaming “scam” Cap is $12000 (too much) and UBC is $4700 (fair!) plus about 3k per year in years 3 and 4 for production costs.

  • SuziQP

    My child applied there. She is already finishing a 4 year college and needs to specialize in her areas of interest with regard to animation and CG. It was scary how quickly she was accepted. They followed an acceptance call with an meal stating she has 2 days to lay down a deposit of $2400! i’ve never heard of a school racing through a process this quickly. Now, I don’t want to downgrade my daughter’s talents, but this raised some red flags with me. They seemed to like the fact that she was a mature student which indicated to me that the news applications they get are mostly from new high school graduates. Maybe the school is good, but the speed with which they moved this process makes them look desperate. Recently, I have read comments about most students needing to stay at the school for 2 years instead of just 1 because the first year is not specific enough. Does anyone know about this?

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  • Brianne Stremel

    Perhaps another point to consider: there is nothing inherently wrong with film school. Do your homework. I would recommend that if you’re going to do it, either do a program like the ones at Langara (they have 16-week programs that have affiliations with industry and give you the basic overview of all aspects, intensified into a shorter amount of time) or else do the degree, since if you are going to do 4 years of something, regardless of what you pay for it, if you put all of yourself into it, just IMAGINE what you will get out of it! I think people tend to over look that so much now, and then can’t figure out why they’re disappointed. I’m not talking about people who spend tons of money who find out something is not for them (this has happened to me, in a different industry/program). I’m speaking more about people who know what they want, and want the best start for themselves. Absolutely, if you can go right out there and get your feet and hands wet in the industry, go do it. But the industry’s been taking a hit and is inundated with people who are willing to work for cheap or free. It’s not as easy as it used to be.
    An education can be so much more than just an expensive piece of paper. It puts a learner in an environment to engage with other creative people, work on a number of different projects in different roles (understanding exactly what it takes to make a production happen, not just a person’s particular role in making it happen), and gives access to all of the equipment that is usually far too expensive to accumulate in the beginning to make one’s own films. Also, there are professionals there, people who have worked in the industry and who are there to share their own experience. Is every film school going to rise to professional standards? Obviously not. A lot of these institutions are first and foremost moneymakers, and should be regarded as such. Definitely be suspicious if they appear to be hauling people in off the street indiscriminately, or if it’s $60/year (I’m sorry…that’s ridiculous, no matter where it is, and I cannot believe people pay that price). Read reviews; there are plenty online. Contact the schools and ask to speak to former graduates, meet with instructors, view the facilities, etc. Call up production companies, film studios, and other industry-related affiliates and find out what the reputation is of that particular school. Do they hire graduates and/or practicum students? What in particular are they looking for in terms of employees?
    I think perhaps one of the most important things to remember is that a film program can give you experience, and exposure. Most film and television productions expect you to have that going in. Many people in the industry have said that it’s difficult to even get a job as a PA anymore. Expect to be required to have certification: set protocol, WHMIS, some places might require you to have a flagging certificate, a driver’s license, etc.
    I think the bottom line is: whatever you do, DO IT. With all your heart and soul. Pretend that it’s exactly what you need and want to be doing, because it is and it should be; everything you do is an investment in your career, and an investment in yourself. Be honest about your capabilities. Be professional, no matter what capacity you work in. That is what people will remember. There are so many people wanting to make it in film and television. What is going to set you apart from everyone else? Don’t just invest in your film education. Invest in business, communications (SO IMPORTANT – written and oral), and even marketing courses. Get to know that side of the business as well. So many people assume that if they go and get the technical training, or if they have the big ideas and the dreams to go with it, it’ll be enough to get them by. But it’s already been said on this thread: so many people who go to film school never even end up making films or working in the industry in any form. And then a lot of people who do it professionally did it from the ground up, without an education. What kind of person are you? It is possible to get an education and work in your field, both. Just don’t expect the education alone to be enough, and remember that regardless of what you do you are going to have to finance it somehow. 🙂

  • Brianne Stremel

    By the way, Greg, thanks for featuring this article. I came upon it while doing an internet search for volunteer jobs and student film opportunities. I am amazed at how many people take out enormous loans to finance one year of something, probably because they want to get going right away and think it’ll be worth it in the long run. I read a post by someone who owns her own successful production company – I define “success” by the fact that it has produced award-winning material, but also because it has been running since, I believe, sometime in the 90s – and she mentions that so few people see past the creative part of it and recognize it as a business. So yeah, it’s important to have all that info.

  • linda

    -they only want CASH
    -they accept ANYONE (so your classmates in a year that important can be ANYONE.i mean ANYONE.and every other term quality goes down and down and down. it was very close to a kindergarten of fan boys in my time.)
    -price is ABSURD. (there was an assignment called -spider- that you need to integrate 3d spider into live action footage, look at digitaltutors they have EXACTLY same tutorial, integrating 3d spider into live footage. RIP OFF, one is 37.000CAD one is 40USD per month)
    -mentors are people who couldnt make it in the industry (look linked in)
    -no one is happy in that place (look glassdoor.com)
    -no industry relationships or what so ever, they dont introduce you to any studio or anything like that, they got the cash so bye bye
    -fee is negotiatiable , seems like since more people know about how this place is they just want to make as much as they can before ‘disappearing’ , every term many students sue them. you wont hear it because they need to sign nda’s
    -Stereotyping is a big issue

    that explanation was very accurate

    A fellow VFS graduate so perfectly stated, “The ‘school’ seems to me to be little more than an assembly line, ushering people in and out as quickly as possible, while giving no thought or care to their personal well-being: past present or future. Far greater priority is given to marketing and perception than to the actual quality of the learning experience it provides. VFS is not a school. It is a product. It does not have students or teachers. It has customers and employees.

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