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By TACP Staff on July 07, 2021
Film schools are designed to teach you the fundamentals of film. These educational institutions are where you can go to dive deep into filmmaking and learn the various aspects of the craft – including screenwriting, film theory, film production, and digital media production. The curricula of film schools tend to combine both film theory and the technical, hands-on aspects of film production to produce well-rounded graduates. Training in production and technical aspects of the craft may include hands-on instruction in camera operation and technique, video and sound editing software, lighting equipment, and other relevant equipment. Film schools may also include curriculum in subjects such as broadcasting, animation, audio engineering, and television production.
Film study is a very broad area. From directing to, writing scripts, to sound, camera equipment, and lighting, there are a vast number of jobs available to students who complete a degree in film. There are also several key differences between the degrees available to film majors and important areas of focus that will help students develop specialized skills for niche professions within the film industry.
Some students who are aiming for work in film production and will gravitate towards production-oriented majors like screenwriting and cinematography. Others who are more interested in the academic side of film will seek out majors in subject areas like film theory and film studies. What they all share, whether they ultimately become notable alumni and make an Academy Award-winning motion picture or are employed in more modest occupations, is a love for the visual medium of film and video.
So what exactly are the differences in degrees for film majors?
A filmmaking workshop is an intensive and immersive program generally taught over a shorter time period than a degree program. Workshops can last for anywhere from an afternoon to a period of weeks or months. They give you hands-on experience where you typically focus on a single area of the filmmaking process, such as video editing, acting, screenwriting, and so on. Workshops are available for all types of students, from people with no experience to those who want to further hone their craft. You can often find workshops at the local film institute if there is one in your area, as well as at community colleges and universities with film and television production programs.
A conservatory program is slightly different from a traditional college film program. A filmmaking conservatory program will have you focus exclusively on your chosen subject, such as cinematography, instead of having you take courses in all the different facets of filmmaking. Conservatory programs will offer degrees in different focus areas like directing, screenwriting, and production. These programs tend to last from one to three years, depending on your area of focus. When you attend a conservatory program, you will be deeply involved in filmmaking throughout the program, not only with your own projects but also as a crew member on the student films of your peers. Conservatory programs are known for hands-on training and intensive graduate programs that produce notable alumni in a variety of degree programs.
An associate’s degree in film and video is an undergraduate degree program that lasts for two years. These programs are available at many different community colleges, colleges, and universities, making them accessible to most students interested in starting a filmmaking and video production career. These programs are ideal for students who want to learn the skills they need now to enter the workforce as quickly as possible and those who want to build a strong foundation for further coursework in video production and other related filmmaking.
Most associate degrees will require approximately 60 credit hours of course work, which typically takes two years to complete. The coursework will include both production-focused courses, like screenwriting, and more theoretical-focused courses like film studies. Associate degree programs also tend to require that students take more general education courses like English and humanities.
A bachelor’s degree in film and cinema is chosen by many aspiring filmmakers because it offers the most practical combination of filmmaking education and a liberal arts education. A bachelor’s degree is required by many employers, so completing a four-year bachelor’s degree in film and cinema gives you more employment options moving forward. It also demonstrates your commitment to your education and sets you up for further opportunities like a master’s degree program.
There are several different paths that students can take through a bachelor’s program focused on film and cinema. Some students focus more on the history and analysis of film, taking more film studies and history courses, while others focus more on film and television production, taking more production-oriented courses like cinematography, documentary production, and video editing. A bachelor’s degree program gives you time to explore your interests and determine which career path is best suited to your unique goals and aspirations.
A master’s degree in film puts you in a position to occupy a leadership position in your chosen field. Master’s programs that center on film analysis and film history set you up to teach film as a profession in a liberal arts institution, while master’s programs that focus on production give you hands-on experience, help you develop a reel and a give you the opportunity to cultivate a network of other video production professionals so you can pursue a career in filmmaking.
Students who enter master’s programs are fully engaged with their chosen field for one-to-two years. These programs are the next step towards professional mastery and prepare you to enter a Ph.D. program if you are interested in pursuing further education.
One of the most popular undergraduate film majors is film production. Students pursuing a degree in film production are immersed in coursework focused on both the technical and theoretical components of producing a film. The basics of sound, lighting, camera operation, and video editing will most likely be a focus of students in this major, along with graphics, photo editing software, production planning, and writing for film. Film theory and the history of cinema are also a significant focus for students as they progress through their major.
Prior to graduation, most students are required to demonstrate mastery of the training they have received by producing their own short films and assembling a portfolio of work.
Students enrolled in TV production programs, learn about multiple forms of media, along with the technologies and methods required to complete audio and video projects from start to finish. Intense training and curriculum in all stages of the process are standard, including pre-production, production, and postproduction. All formats for television use are part of thorough curriculums. Students can expect to learn about both field production and studio production for television and all stages of the process, including directing, writing and producing.
Film studies is another top major pursued by students who plan to pursue careers in the film and entertainment industries. Film studies offered by liberal arts institutions may also go by the names “cinema studies” or “media studies”. In this subject area, students explore academic topics that help them understand the theory behind classic films and the techniques used by iconic filmmakers. Rather than focusing on the technical aspects of operating film, lighting, and sound equipment, students dedicate a majority of their time watching and analyzing films, both famous films, and small independent productions.
Studying animation may be the best choice for you if you enjoy drawing the old fashion way, or if you prefer modern methods of digital illustration. Much like majors focused on film production, animation programs will give you a basic understanding of filmmaking and film equipment, editing software, animation computer software, and scriptwriting.
Some of the classes you will find in an animation program include character animation, 3-D modeling, drawing, animation history, sound design, and storyboarding. High school classes that can prepare students in this field include art history, commercial art, computer graphics, creative writing, geometry, and theatre arts.
In mass communications, students focus on news production instead of film production. They will learn how to tell news stories effectively and understand the news process, including how to gather newsworthy stories and information and the history of news and its role in society. Students will learn how to effectively write for various media types, such as magazines, television, newspapers and the web. They may also learn entry-level camera operating techniques and the basics of studio television production.
Coursework in mass communication typically includes the study of mass media and society, ethics in media, global perspectives in media, and media law. High students who envision themselves pursuing careers in this field can prepare themselves by taking classes in speech, U.S. history, political science, and journalism.
Cinematography majors are immersed in the study of film history and modern cinematic elements, which requires them to master industry tools and creative techniques. Cinematography programs are designed to provide advanced instruction in subject areas such as the theory of film, film production, equipment operation, film editing, media technologies, computer imaging, multimedia production, and film technology, in order to prepare students to communicate dramatic information.
The objective of a degree in Media Studies is to examine the way media, including television, print, and film affects society and influences the behavior of people in their professional and personal lives. Students who major in this area of study topics such as the impact of television and movie violence on viewers or how political thought is influenced by news reports.
Students who graduate with a degree in film are equipped with a diverse set of skills and knowledge that can be applied to a wide range of professional opportunities. Careers in the film and entertainment industries are notoriously competitive, nonetheless, graduates who developed experience, hands-on film production skills, and technical expertise will have an advantage when entering the workforce.
A major motion picture is a massive undertaking, with the production and supporting film crew often growing in the hundreds, if not thousands, of professionals who all contribute to the filmmaking. The processes of development, principal photography, pre-production, and post-production alone may involve dozens of artistic, technical, and logistical departments. Think, for a moment, about the movie credits at the end of a film. The credits may play for several minutes as hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of contributors receive recognition for their work.
The bottom line is, there is a huge number of career opportunities to pursue in the film industry, and graduates with a film degree are uniquely qualified to fill these roles.
A film director is responsible for the creative components and the final form of the film. Different directors may focus on a particular type of production, such as:
Art directors are responsible for the art department on a film. They help the production designer realize their vision of the film through creative input and by managing the art department budget. Their responsibilities include:
A video editor is responsible for piecing together the different video or film recordings made by the cinematographer to realize the creative vision of the director and screenwriter. Scenes are often shot out of order and require multiple attempts to get right. The editor takes all of these pieces and puts them together in a way that is typically invisible to the audience. The responsibilities of the editor include:
The camera operator is responsible for handling the camera before, during, and after production. Television and film cameras are complex, expensive pieces of equipment that require careful handling and maintenance to perform properly. They may utilize actual film or digital media, so the camera operator needs to be comfortable with the specific media being used in the motion picture. Camera operators ensure that these cameras are in good working order and use them to record footage as directed by the cinematographer. Camera operator responsibilities include:
A production assistant can have a wide range of responsibilities. Production assistant jobs are how many first enter the production industry and can include everything from fetching coffee to doing paperwork, sweeping the floor to setting up craft services. The job can be challenging because it can take the production assistant time to become familiar with the wide variety of potential job duties, but the end result is hands-on training in multiple areas of production. Ultimately, production assistance can learn what area of the production process they are most interested in and start down the appropriate career path. Production assistant job responsibilities include:
A television or film producer is a job that can have different duties depending on the situation. Ultimately, the producer is responsible for “producing” the television or film production. Producing can include developing the project, such as getting the rights for a story so that a script can be written, and financing the project, including finding different sources for money to pay for the production from investors or film studios. Some producers are more oriented towards development, while others may focus more on financing. What a producer does will depend on the particular needs of the production and the personal preferences of the producer. The responsibilities of the producer can include:
Lighting specialists include the different jobs in the lighting department on a film or television set, such as the best boy and gaffer. Lighting a film set is a complex process using technical equipment that can be dangerous if not properly operated. It also requires a thorough understanding of lighting design and how the camera will pick up the light in the scene. Lighting design needs to be different for digital media than film media, so the lighting specialist must understand how to work with both mediums. A lighting specialist needs to be technically proficient, safety-oriented and creative, all at once. The responsibilities of a lighting specialist can include:
Audio engineers or sound engineers are responsible for recording sound on a film or television production and editing those recordings to achieve the creative vision of the production team. An audio engineer needs to be both technically proficient and creative. Sound equipment is complex and sensitive, so an audio engineer must be detail-oriented and a strong problem solver to address the myriad challenges that inevitably come up during production. Audio engineer job responsibilities include:
Film school is an opportunity to sharpen your creative skills and become immersed in your craft. It is a place where you can go to learn the fundamentals of filmmaking and experiment to find your own vision. As a filmmaker in training, you will encounter numerous personalities and styles while being exposed to various artistic filmmaking perspectives. You will also discover a wide range of genres of film, some you may know very little about and some you may know more about than you realize. However, with thousands of film schools around the globe, it’s important you pick the right one.
Before you choose a specific school, it can be helpful to identify your particular requirements and needs. Consider the following factors as you consider a college program in film.
Make sure the school you plan to enroll in is entirely devoted to film and video. Keep in mind that most general colleges will not have the kind of resources or robust filmmaking programs that you may be expecting from a film school experience. Their programs may be underfunded, their staff may be less experienced and their available technologies may not be as cutting-edge as you want or need. Respected film schools, with a dedicated filmmaking program and a staff to support that program adequately, will provide you with higher quality instruction, more resources, and more innovative academic programs.
Figure out who is teaching the classes at your target school. You want to learn from teachers who have enough experience to pass on the necessary knowledge you require. Do some research to find out about the background of the instructors to get a better idea of their accomplishments. You should be able to find programs that attract and invite well-known industry professionals who will visit as guest instructors from time to time. They may have guests that include industry heavyweights and professors from other respected educational institutions that will add to your experience. Attending lectures will allow you to glean important lessons from leaders in their respective industries – leaders that can offer valuable real-world insights.
Visiting professors may offer a unique perspective, but your first and foremost convcern should be be the permanent staff of teachers who will provide a majority of your instruction. Studying under people who are dedicated, life-long film experts will introduce you to new ways of seeing things. Every great film school program will have some great professors, the kind of instructors that understand how to combine filmmaking theory and exciting inspiration with techniques that you can apply immediately to your films.
An obvious start to choosing a school is finding a place you wouldn’t mind living but there are other less apparent things to consider as it pertains to film. Look for the top film schools that are located in areas where you will be inspired to film and that will stretch your artistic boundaries. If you attend school in a rural area, you could end up being limited on the style of your shooting locations and the availability of opportunities to get paid while you learn your craft. On the other hand, if you have been living in a larger metropolitan area, you may gain benefits from visiting more isolated locations where a different way of life and perspective is prevalent. Having access to diverse scenery and a lively atmosphere will make life easier for capturing unique and original content.
Another consideration is finding a school in an area where you would want to eventually work. This will undoubtedly point you towards a few obvious destinations, where entertainment and technology are industry focal points. Studying in one of the best cities for filmmakers like Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco or Austin, will help open doors to valuable industry contacts and opportunities in your desired area of focus.
Also, if you already reside in an area where your desired industry operates, you do not have to pick up and move to a new town after graduation. Your internships can translate directly into a job as you transition out of film school. You will also make connections with classmates and instructors that can turn into opportunities, but most of those opportunities are likely to be in the area where you are going to school.
Being part of a community of artists and filmmakers will naturally drive you to improve your skills and open opportunities that simply aren’t avaialble is more remote locations. When you choose a film school, start with cities that are great to live and work in as a filmmaker, and pay attention to factors that signal strong community interest in the local film scene. Look for film festivals and screenings that are hosted near the school and pay close attention to any events that suggest that there is a student culture that supports filmmaking as a lifestyle.
One of the more stressful aspects of choosing a film school will be the reality of cost. Any university degree is going to be expensive, and the rising costs of post-secondary education does not appear to be slowing down. A film school degree will undoubtedly be pricey, especially if you attend a nationally recognized program. You can expect to pay upwards of $100,000 or more for your degree. Top film schools typically provide modern, cutting edge technology to simulated professional production environments, which drives up the cost of your education.
Before you commit to a school, ask yourself if the price you are paying is reflected in the quality of the experience you will receive. High costs should be accompanied by high-quality staff, equipment, and facilities.
A successful transition into the industry will be very difficult for students if the equipment they use in school does not simulate the professional production environment they enter after graduation. It is a vital part of your film education that the equipment and studio facilities are in good condition and that students have access to top-of-the-line industry standard equipment to learn on. Ask questions of a program admissions advisor or request a tour of the facilities so you can see things for yourself.
Professionals in the film and entertainment industry consistently express different views about the relevance of a degree in film and whether or not a degree is necessary to find employment and succeed in the field. Some feel that natural filmmaking talent is a skill that cannot be taught or developed – like many professionals in the arts. Others firmly believe that mastering techniques and studying theory is essential to a person’s success as a filmmaker.
Proponents of a formal education argue that students receive a more well-rounded theoretical understanding of techniques and artistic approaches to film making and have an opportunity to gain important insights from professional instructors that they may never learn on their own.
Another major advantage of film school is that many programs make it easy to find internships in the film and television industries, and that graduates of a well-respected school immediately have a alumni network they can leverage into greater professional opportunities. If the institution is one of the more well-known and well-respected film schools, it will likely invite actual industry executives to attend the events.
Those who argue against the necessity of film school cite the high cost of getting a film school education and state that film school students would be better off spending their money making their own films. By making their own films, they would get a more practical hands-on education. At many film schools, including the most well-known like USC and NYU, the first films students make are on actual film stock, not digital. Students shoot in black and white and are not allowed to include dialogue in the films and often no sound, or only sound added after the fact.
The argument for using old, out-of-date equipment and techniques is that it encourages students to learn to express themselves in pure visuals as the first filmmakers did. The argument against is that students could better spend their time using equipment they would actually encounter in the industry and techniques of the modern filmmaker – like having sound and dialogue. Using modern, relatively cheap digital equipment would certainly be cheaper than using black and white film cameras.
Aspiring filmmakers who attend one of the top film schools in America are provided with all of the tools and instruction they need to nurture their talent into a career. Graduates with a degree from one of the best schools use the experience, exposure, knowledge, and connections that only a prestigious program can provide to unlock high-demand job opportunities and make a successful transition into professional life.
While many aspiring film students will have a unique set of objectives and school preferences in mind, there are a few common factors about a film program that every person should consider as they make a choice about college. First and foremost, all students should organize their selection process around the concept of return-on-investment (ROI), which is a measure of school performance relative to the cost to attend. A few of the key considerations include a proven track record of graduate success, world-class staff, professionally accomplished instructors, innovative curriculum, connections to the film industry, a strong alumni network, state-of-the-art equipment, and overall cost of tuition.
To help students with their selection process, we provide comprehensive rankings of the best film schools and colleges in the United States. To appear on this list, schools must demonstrate an exceptional track record of graduate success and meet strict criteria that measure overall return-on-investment.
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