Q. College is tearfully expensive, and the school you
emphasize is the best funnel into the entertainment industry (USC) is
one of the most expensive of them all; to me, it is prohibitively so.
Realistically, the only schools within my family's means are smaller
state schools, the best of which is still isolated from any hub of
film or television.
Is it more valuable to spend four years getting
an affordable education in a little-going-on city and graduating with
relatively low debt, or taking the risk of striking it out West and
trying to break in with a high school diploma and a winning smile?
Both routes have taken people to success, and both have led others to failure.
I would hate to tell anyone to skip college and just try to break into the film biz. College gives you a lot of skills you need for life, not just showbiz. Whether you're a writer or a producer or a director, you'll need to express yourself clearly, and organize your thoughts, and plan ahead, and research, and these are the basic skills you get in college. After you have a college degree is not too late to move to LA, and you'll need one to get a job as a producer's or agent's assistant.
At any state school, you'll be able to make films. Hell, anyone with an iPhone and a computer can make films now. If you make a couple of shorts every semester, and put them on YouTube, and see which get the hits (ignore the idiot comments, just check the hit counter), you'll learn a huge amount about filmmaking. Just find the other guys who also want to make movies, and make movies.
The only person I would tell to move to LA without a college degree is an actor. No actor can afford to burn the last of their teen years in Peoria. By the time you get to LA with your college degree, other actors your age have built up solid resumes. You've got college theater credits. They've got TV credits.
One compromise would be to move to LA, establish residency (I think it's 6 months?), and then go to UCLA at the in-state tuition rate, which is hella cheaper than USC, even though it is not exactly free either.
Or, do the same for City College of New York. Or the University of Texas at Austin.
It is unquestionably better to put down roots in a filmmaking hub. However, if that's not an option, try to wind up in a major city with a strong arts community, and hopefully a theater community to pull actors from. San Francisco, New Orleans, Portland, Seattle, Boston, Nashville, Chicago, Philly, Miami: surely one of these has a college you can afford?
(Almost all of these are port cities. Make of that what you will.)
By the way, USC has a top MFA program, but I would not particularly recommend anyone go there undergrad for the sake of filmmaking. For that matter, I don't think anyone needs a college degree in filmmaking, or indeed, any degree in filmmaking. The city you're in is the thing, and the arts community, and then just making films. Film programs give you access to free equipment, and fellow students to work with you, and feedback from professors, and they get your parents off your back about the huge amount of time you're spending making movies. But they are not necessary
. Just go and make stuff.