Film School & Careers in FilmHow to Become a Filmmaker
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The global film industry is an economic powerhouse generating $88.3 billion in revenue in 2015 alone, yet demand for the art continues to grow. A study by The Harris Poll found that 68 percent of Americans attended a movie screening in 2013, while Netflix memberships jumped from 31 million to 43 million between 2014 and 2016. This trend brings new opportunities to aspiring directors, cinematographers and other filmmaking professionals. The following guide highlights what it takes to break into the cinematic world by outlining the different educational paths available to prospective students.
Cinematographers, producers, editors, screenwriters, directors, videographers and the myriad of other film professionals work in a creative and adventurous field. It can take years of study and experience to break into the film industry and cinch a professional title. Aspiring film pros must have an unrelenting passion for all that comes with filmmaking and a willingness to take on virtually any related role that comes their way, at least until they make it. Because the industry is so dynamic, people with diverse interests and passions can find positions matched to their skills and future goals.
Steps to Going to Film School & Pursuing a Film Career in Cinematography
What Film Programs and Degrees Are Available
Matching Film School Degrees with Career Goals
|Career Goals & Educational Needs||Associate||Bachelor’s||Master’s||Online|
|I’ve made a few films by myself using basic software and want to learn more about the process, but I am not sure if I want to pursue film as a career.|
|I’ve been passionate about cinematography for a long time and have some practical experience. I’d like to develop more technical expertise while refining the real-world skills I’ve gained.|
|I’ve worked in the film industry for a while and enjoy all that comes with creating moving pictures. Still, the life can be a bit hectic. I’d like to transition into a senior-level role that allows for more stability.|
|I’m currently working on my own film project, but find I’m missing technical skills that would really improve the finished product. I need one or two classes to really hone my knowledge of filmmaking.|
Degrees from Film School
Many traditional colleges and universities offer degrees in film, cinema studies or related topics, and at several different levels. Which degrees students should pursue depends on their interests and ultimate career goals. Review the array of degrees available below.
Associate Degree in Film Studies
Associate degrees in film teach students the fundamentals of production and cinematography through a variety of classes, workshops and field trips. They study history of moving pictures and the art of storytelling and screenwriting. Students interested in entry-level roles as production assistants often hold associate-level degrees. Common courses include:
Intro to Cinematography
This course teaches students all that goes into making a successful film, including casting, film locations, direction, editing and sound. Studied projects range from documentaries and shorts to dramas and experimental cinema.
Starting with silent films and moving into the 21st century, Film Eras provides students the opportunity to see how moving picture content, production and styles evolved throughout the decades. Students will also consider the cultural, political and social factors at work during different eras.
Even if a student already enjoys writing, screenwriting is a significantly different form of artistic expression. This class reviews the principles of ancient theatre before moving into a study of past and present dramatic writing. Students discuss what makes a good story before learning how to present it in script form.
Bachelor’s Degree in Cinema Studies
Typically offered as a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts, undergraduate degrees in cinema studies survey cinematographic topics while delivering a liberal arts underpinning that helps students think about historical, cultural, societal and political forces at work in filmmaking. Individuals who graduate from these programs could become screenwriters, producers, lighting directors and scenery supervisors, among other roles. Common courses include:
The Director’s Chair
This course exposes students the works of renowned directors--such as Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock or Wes Anderson--and asks them to consider each professional’s historical period, reception and legacy.
While students complete some coursework during this class, the main focus is on watching contemporary films as a cohort to discuss themes, outside forces, art direction, production techniques and actors’ performances.
Acting and Directing
This highly interactive class helps aspiring actors or directors learn the tricks of the trade. Actors are encouraged to listen to directors’ cues while directors are given tools to effectively communicate their character visions with actors. Coursework and in-class workshops are incorporated.
Master’s Degree in Film Studies
Master’s degrees in film or film-related topics are ideal for the most dedicated students and for seasoned professionals who want to refine their knowledge and skills. Programs are often offered as a Master of Arts or a Master of Fine Arts and continue to impress upon students the importance of understanding film and cinematography as an art form. The theories and philosophies behind film production take center stage, and students conduct independent research about the emotions and passions that drive a masterful film. Common courses include:
This course introduces students to all that goes into planning, shooting, directing and producing documentary films across various media. Students often work in teams to create their own short documentaries.
Advanced Script Editing
Editing a script can sometimes feel even more laborious – especially when it's your own. Advanced Script Editing teaches students about style and narration, and how lines are written versus spoken. Students workshop their own scripts and provide feedback to peers.
This course introduces students to certain types of recorded video, including commercials and promotional materials. Students learn about the different forms of media that support these productions while gaining valuable marketing skills.
PhD Degree in Cinema Studies
While no job in film or media production requires a PhD, doctorate programs may appeal to students who wish to research film or teach postsecondary courses. PhD candidates focus on the historical and philosophical currents running through the art form while delving deeply into film theory and the social, cultural, political and socioeconomic meanings that define various works. Doctoral film programs often require extensive independent research and a sizable dissertation on a specialized topic. Common courses include:
Film and the Senses
This course examines the aesthetic, psychological and social factors at work in film via numerous theoretical frameworks. Students are asked to think about how the five senses shape the interaction between the screen and the spectator, and what those interactions can teach them.
Curation of Moving Images
Whether addressing the environment in which an audience is exposed to a moving image or discussing how to archive, preserve, or restore existing footage, this course examines the many different types of curation at play in the film industry. Students are asked to think in broad strokes before discussing individual methods of curation.
Chinese Cinema as History
This is one of many courses available that closely examines a particular country’s or culture’s filmmaking traditions. By studying international cinema individually, students are able to compare and contrast how different parts of the world use film to explore their humanity.
Career Paths in Film
Filmmaking, and the careers associated with it, exists in a place where the creativity inherent in fine, popular, and commercial artistry intersects with the latest developments in technology. Historically, the art of filmmaking involved huge capital investments because the technology itself was expensive, and thus rested in the hands of big Hollywood studios and production houses. However, as technology has evolved, filmmaking has become much more accessible. Digital cameras, desktop editing software, and the proliferation of online video streaming services are just some of the developments that have helped to decentralize the industry, and to open it up to new possibilities.
Careers in film offer prospects for the artistically gifted, the technologically savvy, and the entrepreneurially inclined to enter a dynamic and challenging field in which new opportunities are opening every day. Take a closer look at some of the familiar careers in film.Film/Video Director
The director of a film or video project is the person at the helm of the project, the individual whose creative vision ultimately determines the direction of the project from start to finish. It’s the director’s responsibility to corral all of the other members of the production crew, to coordinate their activities, and to oversee the day-to-day work of creating the film, with one eye on the camera and the other on the budget. A good director has that rare combination of organizational and communications skills, technical filmmaking knowledge, and a well-defined aesthetic sensibility.
The standard Hollywood filmmaking model begins and ends with a producer, who finds a promising script, recruits a director, perhaps cajoles several key actors into signing onto the project, and then raises the money to get the film made. In that sense, the job of the producer was to overcome all potential obstacles and contingencies in and effort to get the film done on time and on budget, while providing the director and his or her staff with the resources, motivation, and support to accomplish all of that. However, producers can play many different roles, from simply raising money, to attending to the various off-set logistical issues that a part of filmmaking, to participating with the director or even as the director in the creative process of bringing the project to life.
Actors may have the most clearly defined and wide ranging roles in the realm of filmmaking. They are, quite simply, the on-screen talent, the people who read the lines, portray the characters, and inhabit the roles that are laid out in the script as instructed by the director. There are lead actors, supporting actors, character actors, and extras, all of which have designated parts to play in a film project.
Screenwriters create treatments and scripts that, if all goes well, find their way into the hands of producers and directors willing to turn their ideas into films. In that sense, they are the novelists, short story writers, and playwrights of the film world, crafting compelling narratives in a form is designed to be acted out on film. Screenwriters may also be hired by producers and/or directors to provide rewrites to existing scripts, to add additional dialogue to specific scenes, or to flesh out someone else’s idea.
Traditionally, film editors have been post-production specialists who primary job is to work with the director to realize his or her creative vision after the film has been shot, through cutting and pasting together the best footage and leaving the rest on the proverbial cutting room floor. The emergence of digital editing software that is fast, portable, and powerful in its applications has changed the nature of film editing. Now, it’s possible for film editors to be on set, editing footage very nearly in real time in preparation for the final, end-of-shoot edit, when music and other sound effects may be added.
Producers and directors may have a lot to say about who gets the staring roles in big-budget films, but it’s the job of the casting director to pull together the complete cast for most films. Working in concert with the director and perhaps a producer and/or a screenwriter, the casting director puts out a call for talent, pre-screens that talent, and then sets up and oversees auditions, on the way to selecting the best cast, with or without the assistance of a director or a producer.
Some films are shot on location, and some on pre-constructed sets. But, in most cases, some degree of set design is necessary, whether its building or removing a wall or a doorway from an existing room, or constructing an elaborate artificial environment in which filming will take place. A set designer works with the directors to help realize the full vision of a film, creating drawing and mock-ups that can then be turned into complete structures for the actual filming.
The cinematographer, also often called a director of photography or DP for short, is often the person entrusted by the director to stand behind the camera and take the actual shots. On bigger shoots, the cinematographer may be tasked with coordinating a larger group of camera operators, lighting technicians, and other essential personnel. So, typically, the DP or cinematographer is essentially the director’s right-hand man or woman, a technically proficient camera specialist who shares the director’s artistic vision and brings his or her own creativity to the job as well.
Components of a Successful Film Career: Skills, Tools, and Technology
Because there are so many different kinds of careers in film, there isn’t any one particular skill set that covers each and every job description. Cinematographers, videographers, and other camera operators need to be detail oriented. The require good visual acumen and hand-eye coordination, as well as the communication and interpersonal skills necessary to work with directors, producers, actors, and the other members of a film production crew. Producers and directors need to develop solid leadership and organizational skills, to go along with a creative vision and technical knowledge of filmmaking. Screenwriters benefit from having well developed social perceptiveness, to go along with the creativity and literary abilities required to be a writer. And, actors can benefit from a variety of abilities, including reading and public speaking skills, physical and mental stamina, and the same kind of attunement with social interactions that is a help to screenwriters.
Tools and Technology
The tools and technology used in filmmaking vary great depending upon the specific job description. Casting directors may have to maintain and access databases of actors, and be proficient in performing online searches. Music consultants and supervisors, whose job it is to put together soundtracks and other musical accompaniments to films, need to have a high-level working knowledge of copyright laws, fair use, royalties, publishing, and other legal issues involved in securing music for films. Lighting and set designers, as well as artistic directors, work with particular equipment that is unique their jobs. And, directors and producers may or may not require a working knowledge of how to operate camera, lighting, and audio equipment, although it can be a distinct advantage. Below are a number of tools and technological assets that are commonly used in filmmaking, and that can be helpful to those seeking to pursue a career in film.
Graphics and Photo Editing Software
including Adobe Systems Adobe After Effects and Photoshop.
Sound Editing Software
like Adobe Systems Adobe Audition, Avid Audio Pro Tools, Sony Sound Forge software, and Sony Vegas Pro.
Video Editing Software
including Apple Final Cut Pro and Avid Media Composer.
including robotic camera controllers, electronic viewfinders, and Canon and GoPro HD professional cameras.
Audio and Lighting Equipment
including control and mixing boards.
Desktop Design and Publishing Software
like Adobe InDesign and Quark.
like Adobe Illustrator, ImageReady, and Photoshop.
including microphones, digital mixers, lens filters, noise reduction systems, and special effects equipment.
Film Career Salaries
The range of likely salaries in a field like filmmaking ranges widely, depending on a person’s talent level, experience, and a host of intangibles that some would consider the equivalent of plain of luck. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does maintain data for a number of professions related to the film industry, and the chart below offers a glimpse of what’s typical in terms of salary, job growth, and entry level education in the these careers.
$71,350Producers and Directors
$61,370Multimedia Artists and Animators
$55,940Writers and Authors
$46,280Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators
$41,200Broadcast and Sound Engineers and Technicians
Source: BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/home.htm
Job Growth, Prospects, and Outlook for Careers in Film
The global film industry is a behemoth, with lucrative tentacles reaching far and wide in many different directions. To put the scale of the film industry in perspective, the Motion Picture Association of America reported that profits were up a mere 1 percent in 2014 global box office revenues from the year before, but that number was $36.4 billion. In keeping with that, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2012 Occupational Outlook Handbook projected modest growth in the range of 3-5 percent for most film professions through the year 2022, slower than the national average of 11-12 percent for all professions, but still respectable.
What Do Related Occupations Make?
The film business is considered to be part of the larger entertainment industry, which includes television, music, video games, and other cultural sectors of the economy. It’s also closely related to the telecom industry, through its use of communications technologies and digital platforms like cable television, Internet streaming, and mobile device applications. To get a sense of what careers in these related fields earn, take a look at the BLS data for median salaries in the graphic below.
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statists, 2014 Occupational Employment Statistics
Related Occupations: What You Need to Know
To put careers in film into a broader perspective, we’ve surveyed a number of occupations that are broadly related in terms of bringing together creativity and technical know-how. Below is Bureau of Labor Statistics data on average salaries in related professions, along with project job growth and entry-level educational requirements.
Typical Entry Level Education:
Typical Entry Level Education:
Typical Entry Level Education:
Typical Entry Level Education:
Typical Entry Level Education:
Typical Entry Level Education:
Typical Entry Level Education:
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012
Film School & Career Resources
Directors’ Guild of America
The DGA is the leading membership organization for those working in the field or actively training to become directors.
International Documentary Association
Students who want to work specifically in the creation of documentary filmmaking can find many resources and benefits from membership with the IDA.
The American Society of Cinematographers
This membership based society provides numerous benefits for cinematographers, including students aspiring to work in the field.
The International Screenwriters’ Association
Whether seeing specific classes to hone skills or job opportunities, the ISA is a valuable resource for screenwriters across the globe.
University Film and Video Association
The UFVA is made up of filmmakers and artists studying or working in the industry. Members may be teachers, students, directors, screenwriters or other cinematographic professionals.
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