Graduates with a degree in film enter an exciting, competitive field armed with skills that set them apart from other candidates. Film graduates can specialize and pursue careers in directing, producing, acting, editing, animation, or teaching. Many graduates end up taking on varied roles before eventually advancing to leadership and supervisory positions.
To prepare for a film career, students should seek experience through creative projects and by networking with peers, professors, and industry professionals during their studies. Students interested in editing, camera operation, and multimedia should also pursue learn relevant software programs.
Skills Gained in an Film Program
Film industry careers offer a lot of variety, but they are all about visual storytelling. Degree-granting programs, certifications, and individual classes and workshops help students build specialized skill sets. For example, actors take courses in rhetoric and improvisation, while directors study cinematography, production design, and leadership. Editors may take courses and seek certification in relevant software. Often, students pick up several specialties to keep their professional options open. Some of the necessary skills for a film career include:
Actors interpret every line of a script to bring their characters to life, while producers and directors translate words on the page into a visual experience. Editors and camera operators must also understand how each snippet of their work affects the project as a whole. Pursuing a career in film requires creativity.
Directors manage actors, staff, and crew during filming and post-production; so, they must be able to offer a vision for the work and accept input from others. Producers work with directors and investors, overseeing production schedules and managing creative teams; so, they also need leadership skills.
Actors in particular must be able to speak clearly while also remaining in character, but they also need to be direct communicators. This allows them to translate words on the page into an experience the audience can understand.
Directors, producers, and editors work with large teams during production. As such, they must communicate well to prevent delays, adhere to a budget, and ensure that everyone understands the creative vision of the project.
- Computer Skills
Computer skills are essential for editors and other post-production staff who work with advanced software to cut films into their final forms, fix errors, and create special effects. Familiarity with Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Flash also prove key.
Why Pursue a Career in Film?
Careers in film are not limited to the motion picture industry, though many graduates may indeed work on commercial productions. Radio, television, governmental, and corporate environments also offer opportunities for film graduates, and opportunities abound for self-employment in freelance jobs like videography.
Given the creative nature of the film industry, most professionals continually enhance their skills through higher education. Many directors or producers complete graduate work — like an MFA degree — while actors take workshops and hire acting coaches throughout their careers.
How Much Do Film Majors Make?
There are many factors affecting film graduate salaries, including experience level, degrees earned, and work location. With experience, editors may advance to supervisory levels where they oversee a team, which merits higher salaries. A self-employed videographer working in a city might charge more than a videographer who lives in an area with a lower cost of living. The table below provides a starting point for salary comparison for a few example careers in film.
|Job Title||Entry-Level Employees(0-12 months)||Early Career Employees(1-4 years)||Midcareer(5-9 Years)||Experienced(10-19 Years)|
|Film / Video Editor||$38,000||$40,500||$50,000||$60,000|
|Film / TV Producer||$48,500||$50,500||$67,000||$82,000|
|Associate Producer, Film/TV||$40,000||$49,000||$56,000||$60,000|
Interview With a Professional
Dan Mirvish is a director, screenwriter, producer, and author. His award-winning feature "Bernard and Huey" (scripted by Oscar/Pulitzer winner Jules Feiffer and starring Oscar winner Jim Rash and David Koechner) played over 30 film festivals on 5 continents and is available on Amazon Prime. His film "Between Us" (starring David Harbour, Julia Stiles, Taye Diggs, and Melissa George) was distributed in 144 countries and played on Netflix, Showtime, and Starz.
Dan was mentored by Robert Altman on his first film, "Omaha (the movie)," which led him to co-founding the upstart Slamdance Film Festival, which runs concurrent with Sundance. Dan's film "Open House" led the Academy Awards to controversially rewrite their rules on the Best Original Musical category. Mirvish wrote the nonfiction book "The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking" and co-wrote the novel "I Am Martin Eisenstadt." Dan is a member of the Directors Guild of America.
- What are your favorite parts of working in the film industry? What are its greatest challenges?
I really enjoy collaborating with and meeting new people on each project I work on. Film is truly a collaborative art medium, and it takes hundreds (or thousands) of people to make a single feature film. Forging and managing those relationships is fun for me, and being able to come together to create unique moments in our movies is very satisfying creatively.
On the other hand, I also love those quiet moments working alone -- either in screenwriting or editing -- where I don't have to worry about the time or resource demands of anyone else and can just let my own creativity stretch. Some of the biggest challenges also come from working with hundreds of people and having to manage all those relationships. You have to raise money from one set of people and use it to pay another set of people and somehow make a movie in between.
- You have worked as a director, screenwriter, and producer -- is this ability to experiment with different roles common in the film industry?
Yes, definitely. Particularly in the realm of independent film where I work, you're never "just" a director. You've got to be equally adept at screenwriting as you are with producing. You might only spend 16 days on a film set actually directing actors and crew members, but you may have spent five years getting to that point in screenwriting, raising money, and casting, and then spend another five years after in post-production, film festivals, and distribution. If you're not adept at wearing all those hats, you'll never be able to make the film in the first place or get it seen in the second place.
Beyond my own experience, fluidity in roles is becoming increasingly more common throughout the film industry. Cinematographers are expected to know how to edit and do color correction. Editors need to be able to write and shoot. Writers need to be able to become producers. While specialization is still useful for many areas of filmmaking, it's best to hedge your bets by learning at least a little about every facet of the filmmaking process.
- Besides Hollywood, what are other U.S. and international hubs for those working in film?
In the US, you can get work in filmmaking in virtually every state. So many states are offering tax incentives for producers that Hollywood productions are shooting in all sorts of places. Specifically, new hubs for production include Atlanta (affectionately called Y'allywood), Austin, New Mexico, Louisiana, and, of course, New York.
Internationally, almost every country around the globe has its own culture and industry of filmmaking. There are the traditional hubs of Mumbai, London, Paris, Berlin, Sydney, and Hong Kong, where many international and local productions have created sustained film industries. But there are also thriving local filmmaking communities everywhere from Singapore and Manila to Cape Town and Copenhagen. Even small countries like Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Iceland have both cultivated their own local filmmakers and offered great locations for Hollywood productions.
- How do you think the film industry is changing and will continue to change in the future?
- Distinct media labels like "TV" and "film" are getting blended together into "streaming content" every day. The length, format, and exhibition models for all this filmed stuff are constantly changing. People are shooting on everything from iPhones to IMAX and then watching things in movie theaters to gas station pumps. This fluidity is going to continue for years. The trick is to not get too hung up, pretentious, or precious about what it is you do or want to do. The basic tools and structures of storytelling go back to the ancient Greeks. Learn to come up with great ideas, original characters, and interesting stories, and you'll be able to find a way to share them with an audience. Part of it is accepting that what you know now or learned about in film school -- about a particular camera, editing system, distribution model, or exhibition medium -- is going to change, and probably sooner than you think.
- When choosing film programs and/or schools, what qualities should students look for?
If you've already got a solid background in film production from either high school or undergrad programs, or through real-world experience, then you might not need to go to film school. The danger is that you'll get pigeon-holed in that first area of filmmaking you get a job in. What film school -- either grad or undergrad -- can do that's much harder to get in the real world is teach you the full breadth of filmmaking, from history/theory to pre-production (screenwriting and producing) to production (cinematography and directing) to post (editing, sound, VFX, festivals, marketing).
So, look for programs or schools that encourage this broad scope of filmmaking but also give you a chance for specialization so that you come out of school with a specific, marketable skill set. Film school is also a great way to meet fellow cohorts that will wind up being collaborators for years to come.
But don't go to film school just to "make connections" (trust me; I spent three years at USC and don't regret it, but I barely met anyone who later helped my career). You can go to film festivals for a lot less money -- or join Facebook groups for even less -- and make just as good connections there.
That said, it might behoove you to go to a film school in a region of the country or world that already has a lively film scene, both for filmmaking and film watching. Find out if the film school regularly brings in successful filmmakers as guest lecturers, has an active internship program, or works closely with the local film festival. Talk to recent alumni of the programs you're considering. Ask them what they think, but take it all with a grain of salt -- most recent grads have some complaints about their own film school.
I'm also a believer in people learning about non-film things, either majoring in another subject and/or working in another field and then going to grad film school, or at least going to an undergrad film school that's part of a larger liberal arts university. Hollywood will respect you more if you can make films about something, not just know about making films, but on a practical level, it's also going to be useful as a filmmaker to take a broad range of classes from business, accounting, and law to theater, fine arts, history, and comparative literature.
The other advantage to going to a broader university program is you're more likely to meet a future spouse in a non-film field who might actually support you, or at least other friends who will back your crowd-funding campaign in five years when you need it.
All that said, no one is ever going to ask to see your film school degree (unless you ever become an academic), which means that if you're just looking to pick up a particular expertise that you're missing (i.e. screenwriting, cinematography, editing), there are much cheaper individual classes or workshops you can take at places like UCLA Extension or community college that will also allow you to keep working at a day job and just take classes at night.
How to Succeed in Film
Educational requirements for film careers vary by specialization. Actors often seek formal training, but do not necessarily need a degree. Some students may pursue an associate degree in film to work as sound technicians or makeup artists, but a bachelor's in film allows graduates to take on more technical work as multimedia artists and editors. Directors, writers, and editors may pursue a master's in film for further specialization or to prepare for leadership roles. Those who wish to teach film for a college or university may need a doctoral degree.
Many careers in film begin with internships or supervised training. Entry-level multimedia artists can fill specific technical positions, like camera tracking, to learn software and production processes before advancing to animate or rig models. Directors and producers often begin in another area of production, like editing, or they may gain experience working as assistants, business managers, or administrators positions. For actors, education is ongoing, as many participate in trainings, workshops, rehearsals, and individual coaching throughout their careers.
Licensure and Certification
Typically, film careers do not require licenses. Video editors, however, can earn editing software certificates like Adobe Premiere Pro CC or Apple Final Cut Pro X. These certificates, usually offered by software vendors, prove proficiency with each program and may lead to more job opportunities and faster career advancement.
Concentrations Available to Film Majors
Obtaining a film degree means gaining foundational knowledge while also concentrating on a specific subject. Since film careers require varied skill sets, many film degrees allow students to specialize in their particular areas of interest. Available concentrations vary by school and program, but frequent offerings include editing, sound, television, cinematography, screenwriting, analysis, directing, and post-production. Below is a selection of example concentrations.
- Screenwriting: Screenwriting concentrations prepare students to create and develop scripts for motion picture and television productions. Courses cover genres like comedy, documentary, and animation and focus studies on collaborative writing, film history, and literature.
- Cinematography: A cinematography concentration provides the technical skills needed to become an excellent cinematographer. Courses cover lighting, production, color correction, camera operation, and the history and science of cinematography.
- Sound: Students specializing in sound can expect to study both theoretical and practical approaches to sound production in film. Course requirements include topics in mixing, recording, and automatic dialogue, all of which familiarize students with standard software programs. Sound courses also explore sound-related film theory through the analytical study of existing films.
- Post-production: A concentration in post-production studies covers editing, color correction, and visual effects. Courses take a practical approach, preparing students to use relevant software and understand digital workflows in addition to studying film literature through a post-production lens.
What Can You Do with a Film Degree?
Depending on education level, job opportunities in film can be quite lucrative. At minimum, employers expect directors and producers -- some of the highest paid positions in film -- to hold a bachelor's degree. Many hold graduate degrees as well, either in film studies or business.
Multimedia artists, editors, and animators usually hold at least a bachelor's degree and can also make high salaries depending on level of experience, especially when advancing to supervisory positions. Broadcast and sound technicians, however, often hold associate degrees or certificates from organizations like the Society of Broadcast Engineers.
Typical majors for employees in the film industry, aside from a film or cinema degree, may include communications, theater, writing, acting, or graphic design.
Associate Degree in Film
With an associate degree, graduates can become broadcast technicians, sound engineering technicians, or equipment technicians. An associate degree provides the practical experience employers seek by familiarizing students with equipment, computers, camera operation, video editing software, and other production tools.
Associate degree graduates can also take more theory-based courses like cinematography, which help them develop a deeper understanding of the field and prepare for bachelor's-level studies.
- Broadcast Technician
Broadcast technicians operate equipment for television broadcasts. They monitor and adjust signal strength, color, and sound. They usually work on studio sets and may need to climb rigging to adjust antennas or recording equipment. They also assist in editing and clarifying recorded sound. Broadcast technicians may also work in radio.
- Sound Engineering Technician
Sound engineering technicians work with in-studio equipment to ensure sound quality. They operate computers that record and mix sound for a film or television production, though they may also work in theater or music. Sound engineering technicians tend to work full time with tight deadlines.
- Equipment Technicians
Equipment technicians oversee the audio and visual equipment in a studio or on a film set. They set up and maintain sound boards, speakers, recording equipment, and video monitors. They may work in the motion picture industry or operate equipment for private events, corporations, and universities.
Bachelor's Degree in Film
A bachelor's degree in film prepares students for a variety of careers, including director, editor, multimedia artist, animator, technician, and writer. The top colleges that offer film degrees use a combination of theory and practice to teach students how to analyze and understand film history -- while also developing the practical knowledge and skills necessary to producing their own work.
The table below covers a few career options for film school graduates, examining their skill sets and work environments.
Producers oversee the business side of film production. They usually work long hours as they secure funding, hire crew, and manage the schedule and budget. Producers often hold a bachelor's degree in film or a related area. Those wishing to pursue a career in producing benefit from business courses in their studies.
- Camera Operator
Camera operators work in broadcast studios and on film or television sets. They typically work full time and often on location, coordinating with directors to adjust their equipment to fulfill the creative vision of the project. Camera operators typically hold a bachelor's degree in film or a related field.
- Film and Video Editor
Film and video editors use computer software programs to cut and present recorded material according to the director's artistic vision. Editors organize shots in a database, often working in teams to complete assignments. Film and video editors tend to work full time and often put in additional overtime. Some work is tied to particular projects so that when production ends, editors must seek new work.
- Multimedia Artists and Animators
Multimedia artists and animators do technical post-production work, creating both animated movies and special effects. In addition to a bachelor's in film or other fine art, employers require strong computer proficiency and a portfolio or demo reel that showcases the applicant's skills. Students interested in multimedia artist careers should augment their bachelor's degree studies with courses in computer graphics.
Screenwriters draft scripts for film and television productions, sometimes working in teams to create original stories or adapt other media, such as novels, for the screen. Screenwriters may work full or part time. Freelance writers keep their own hours, while writers attached to a specific project coordinate their schedules according to production needs.
Master's Degree in Film
Earning a master's degree in film may make the road to an executive career in film easier. Students in the top film master's degree programs can choose concentrations like screenwriting or directing, preparing them for leadership roles in the industry. In these programs, students gain advanced skills in film aesthetics, storyboarding, and film theory, plus practical knowledge in production technique and business strategy.
The table below summarizes a few careers available to film master's graduates.
- Art Director
Art directors in the motion picture industry work with directors to design the overall style for a production, including sets and costuming. They also hire and manage artistic staff. Art directors work collaboratively and must adhere to deadlines, keeping production on schedule.
Directors decide the creative direction of a project and are ultimately responsible for casting the film and interpreting the script. They oversee rehearsals and run on-set production. Directors may have a bachelor's degree, but a master's degree provides more salary and job options in the competitive film industry.
- Executive Producer
Executive producers manage large productions. They hire and supervise directors, oversee lower-level producers, secure funding, and keep the production on budget. Producers with a master's degree in film are more prepared to make executive decisions and handle all the moving parts of a film production.
- Postsecondary Teacher
Though a Ph.D. would typically be required for tenure-track positions, postsecondary teachers with master's degrees can work in community colleges or as adjunct instructors at universities, teaching film students in their particular areas of expertise.
- Multimedia Artists and Animators
Multimedia artists and animators create CGI characters, animated stories, and special effects. Those who began with a general bachelor's degree in film or started their studies in computer-related subjects, like computer science, may wish to specialize their skills by completing a master's degree.
Doctoral Degree in Film
In some cases, students may wish to procure a doctoral degree in film, particularly if they are interested in film analysis. Tenure-track professorships in colleges and universities almost always require a Ph.D., so those hoping to teach film or publish scholarly research should pursue a doctoral degree.
Like many artists, film professionals are lifelong learners and sometimes choose to add intensive study to their experience. This can mean pursuing a Ph.D. in film specialty areas like directing, cinematography, or acting.
- Professor of Film
Professors of film teach and study the art of film. Their studies and theoretical analyses often appear in scholarly publications. Graduates interested in pursuing tenure-track positions at a college or university usually need a Ph.D.
Cinematographers work with directors to capture their artistic vision on camera. They must consider camera angle and position, equipment choice, and lighting. As artistic leaders, cinematographers may need deep knowledge and understanding of motion picture design, which can come through a Ph.D. program.
What Industries Can You Work in With a Film Degree?
Since career options for film majors are diverse, graduates can find opportunities across many industries. Directors, editors, camera operators, and actors can find work in feature films, independent productions, television broadcasting, advertising and public relations, or government. The table below offers a more detailed glimpse at these exciting options.
- Motion Picture and Video Industries
The motion picture and video industries produce feature-length films and documentaries, and they can include large corporations or smaller, more independent production companies. Film graduates may work on location as directors or videographers, in post-production studios as multimedia artists or editors, or in administrative offices as producers and assistants.
- Radio and Television Broadcasting
The radio and television broadcasting industry produces radio and television programming including news, sports, and scripted entertainment. Work can take place in a studio, in an office environment, or on location, depending on the scope of the project. These professionals can also work in digital media, like podcasting.
- Advertising, Public Relations, and Marketing
The advertising, public relations, and marketing industry makes consumers aware of products and services. Film school graduates in this industry usually work full time in an office environment, collaborating with a team of other creators.
The music industry produces albums, concerts, and music videos for public consumption. A film school graduate working in the music industry might conceptualize, produce, or film music videos or capture live performances.
- Freelance and Independent Artists
Freelance and independent artists may be employed on a project-by-project basis or act as consultants. They usually have experience across several of the above industries. Freelance artists may keep hectic hours during the course of a project, with lulls in between productions while they secure the next job.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
How Do You Find a Job as a Film Graduate?
In order to craft a resume that catches employer interest, film school graduates should pursue internships and build practical skill sets. Technicians may wish to pursue professional certifications to demonstrate their knowledge. Pursuing a career in film requires persistence, and graduates should seek opportunities to build professional experience.
Film school graduates can seek networking opportunities by joining professional organizations and participating in events. For example, the University Film & Video Association offers networking opportunities via its members email listserv, an exclusive job board, and an annual conference. The Scriptwriters Network and the Directors Guild of America offer similar resources, with opportunities to attend social events, participate in pitching boot camps, and join professional committees.
The motion picture and video industries employ the majority of film school graduates, with radio and television broadcasting coming in second. According to the BLS, demand for film and video editors will increase 17% between 2016 and 2026, with the need for directors and producers also on the rise.
Professional Resources for Film Majors
SAG-AFTRA is the labor union that represents professional onscreen talent. The organization's members include actors, announcers, voice performers, stunt actors, and other artists. SAG-AFTRA provides members with a casting database, health and pension plans, contract negotiation resources, and collective bargaining support.
Founded by TV and film director and producer Peter D. Marshall, ActionCutPrint provides a wealth of resources for independent film directors. These include online and in-person workshops on directing and acting, individualized coaching, print resources, and the "Director's Chair" magazine.
Casting Networks is an online database where actors and other performers can create profiles to present resumes, headshots, and video reels, which agents and casting directors use to find talent. Casting Networks also lists open calls for auditions.
AVIXA provides resources for audio-visual professionals. Members can access their mentorship program, job postings, webinars and networking events, and professional development trainings. AVIXA also administers the certified technology specialist program, which validates proficiency in audio-visual services for industry professionals.
SBE offers multiple levels of professional certification for television and radio broadcast engineers, including certified radio operator, certified television operator, and certified professional broadcast engineers. Broadcast engineers can also pursue professional development through SBE via webinars and workshops, attend conferences, and participate in SBE's mentorship program.
Mandy is an online community where actors, performers, and crew members can search for jobs and auditions, create profiles, and network with one another via extensive discussion forums. Casting directors can post jobs through Mandy's notice board, and agents can scout for talent. Mandy also connects performers with service providers like photographers.
FA is a nonprofit professional organization for independent filmmakers. FA holds annual conferences and screenings, distributes grants to support film projects, and hosts workshops and seminars for filmmakers. FA members can attend local chapter meetings, participate in writers groups and workshops, and join online discussions.
VES is a nonprofit professional society for multimedia artists, animators, modelers, studio executives, and others working in visual effects. VES members enjoy access to job postings, networking events, online forums, and discounts on relevant software. VES holds an annual award ceremony to honor excellence in the field of visual effects.
Founded in 1919, ASC is an invitation-only professional and cultural organization. ASC offers free events for cinematographers, including panels, Q&A sessions, and seminars. They also offer master classes for the study of lighting, shooting techniques, greenscreen compositing, and post-production topics.
Designed for both filmmakers and documentary lovers, IDA membership provides access to education programs and online seminars, discounted event admission, and a subscription to "Documentary" magazine. IDA offers a number of grant opportunities for documentary filmmakers, including the Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund and the Enterprise Documentary Fund for journalistic practice in filmmaking.