Whether you want to create the next arthouse classic or pursue a career with one of the major Hollywood studios, a master's degree in film studies offers advanced knowledge and training to help you succeed. A master's degree in film can also prepare you for related careers, such as film critic or teacher. Regardless of what path you pursue, the film industry offers an assortment of lucrative career prospects. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects careers for producers and directors to grow by 12% through 2026. This guide serves as a roadmap to selecting your master's in film degree, offering an overview of the major application requirements and what you can expect academically from most programs.
Should I Get a Master's in Film?
A master's degree in film offers advanced knowledge and skills related to the history, theories, and techniques of film production, preparing you for high-level careers. Depending on your own interests, your program, and its curriculum concentration options, you may focus more on film analysis and interpretation or the technical processes of creating film. More academically oriented programs explore the cultural significance of film, examining the medium from political, philosophical, and aesthetic perspectives. More artistically oriented programs concentrate on the technical aspects of film, such as cinematography, directing, editing, and the theoretical and historical studies that explore major movements and directors.
Many schools offer master's degree in film programs both online and on campus, with different formats accommodating different student needs. If you want a deeper sense of the academic and artistic community, a campus program may serve you best. Campus courses also typically offer more structure and more opportunities for collaborative activities. Online programs provide greater flexibility, which may appeal to working students, but they generally feature a less structured curriculum with more self-directed learning.
Regardless of your program format, a master's in film offers many opportunities to enhance your professional status and elevate your job prospects. Networking with classmates and teachers can create valuable work opportunities before and after graduation, and most programs require or encourage internships that further develop your professional network. The skills gained through your program can also help you distinguish yourself from others when searching for jobs.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Film?
Earning your master's in film prepares you to work in a variety of industries, including entertainment, media, journalism, and academia. Given the varying nature of these fields, there's no typical job description for a film major. However, those who succeed in any of the aforementioned fields are typically versatile, creative thinkers who understand how to communicate effectively and adapt to change. Below, you can find some of the most popular careers for film students, along with salary information and projected job growth over the coming decade.
Producers and directors create motion pictures, television programs, and other media, typically directing most aspects of a production. Working from a script, they make organizational decisions about a production and determine most of the technical and creative aspects of a work, such as lighting, choreography, and editing.
Median Annual Salary: $71,620*
- Film and Video Editor
Editors work alongside directors, producers, camera operators, and other film professionals to organize and edit video footage. Typically working with digital editing software, they may also collaborate with directors to determine effective filming and editing strategies that match up with the director's vision.
Median Annual Salary: $58,210*
Writers produce content for a variety of media, such as newspapers, magazines, websites, television programs, and books. Film majors may find work as film critics or journalists who report on the film industry. Others may write books that explore film history, movements, actors, or particular works.
Median Annual Salary: $61,820*
- Postsecondary Teacher
Instructing students at colleges or community colleges, these teachers cover advanced knowledge that goes beyond the high school level. Graduates of film programs may teach courses in film studies or technical topics such as editing and cinematography, though many tenured positions require teachers to hold a Ph.D.
Median Annual Salary: $76,000*
- Multimedia Artist/Animator
Multimedia artists create graphics, animation, and visual effects for a variety of media, such as movies, television shows, and video games. Film majors who move into this field may create full-length animated works that utilize skills in storyboarding, digital animation, and video editing programs.
Median Annual Salary: $70,530*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Master's Program in Film
Many factors affect your choice of program, including logistical and academic concerns. On the practical front, students need to consider a school's location, program delivery method, length, enrollment options, and cost. If you want take courses while maintaining a full-time job, a program with part-time enrollment options or an online delivery format may serve you best, as it enables you to balance your education with your work. Alternatively, you may want to move to a new city to enroll full time in a campus program, in which case need you to consider location, cost of living, and job prospects. Program length may also affect your decision, especially for those interested in completing a degree quickly.
Most film studies programs offer different concentration options that prepare you to work in different sectors of the industry, and a program's specialization may count as the most important factor in your decision. However, several other academic factors may come into play. Most graduate film programs include an experiential component -- typically an internship or practicum -- that enables you to gain valuable on-the-job experience. An internship often serves as your best connection to career opportunities after graduation, so it's important to determine what options schools offer. A thesis or final project typically forms the other major component of a graduate program, and you should determine each school's thesis requirements when performing your research.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Film
When researching and comparing different film master's degrees, you should always ensure that a program or school possesses proper accreditation. Accreditation assures students of a college's academic quality and reputability, indicating that an institution meets the educational standards dictated by both national and regional accreditation agencies. Accreditation also indicates that credits earned from an institution will transfer to other accredited colleges.
While most film degrees lack specific programmatic accreditation, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) serves as the accrediting agency for many art schools across the country, several of which host film programs.
Master's in Film Program Admissions
Graduate admissions function similarly to undergraduate admissions, though individual applications may take longer. Schools often want to see samples of your work and know more about your interest in their program. Online applications may include even more requirements given the lack of face-to-face interaction. Most students apply to anywhere between 3-8 schools, though you may apply to more or fewer depending on factors such as location, delivery format, and concentration options. Split your applications evenly between less selective, moderately selective, and highly selective programs to increase your chance of acceptance. However, you may only want to apply to schools located in industry hubs with higher employment prospect, such as New York and Los Angeles. The list below outlines the most common elements of the graduate application process.
- Bachelor's Degree: With very few exceptions, master's programs require you to possess a bachelor's degree to apply. Typically, you don't need an undergraduate film degree, though some programs include certain course prerequisites.
- Professional Experience: Professional experience requirements vary between schools, though in general, you don't need industry experience to apply to a film program. However, relevant experience may help your application.
- Minimum GPA: More selective programs often require a GPA of at least 3.0, though many schools offer GPA waivers for applicants with strong qualifications or unique academic circumstances.
- Application: All schools call for a basic application that includes your general information. While graduate schools do not use the CommonApp, many schools do accept Interfolio -- though you often need to include different information for each school.
- Transcripts: Schools also want to see your undergraduate transcripts, which you can obtain by contacting your undergraduate college's registrar office. Many schools accept unofficial transcripts.
- Letters of Recommendation: Nearly all graduate programs call for letters of recommendation from former professors or other professionals who know you. Always ask for your letters of recommendation as early as possible.
- Test Scores: Many schools require you to submit GRE scores, though this varies widely, particularly for arts-based programs. Check with individual programs to determine GRE requirements.
- Application Fee: Most graduate programs require you to pay an application fee, though you may receive a fee waiver if you fill out an additional application or contact the school's enrollment office.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Film?
Given the specialized knowledge of most master's degrees, available courses and curriculum requirements vary widely depending on your concentration or specialization. The chart below offers an overview of five unique film concentrations available, along with some of the careers for which they prepare you.
|Directing||This course trains students to serve as directors in film, television, and other forms of media. Most programs emphasize the technical craft of film along with in-depth studies of the cultural, historical, and theoretical elements of the medium.||Director, cinematographer|
|Production||Emphasizing the development process for media projects, most modern production programs view the discipline from a creative perspective, training students to oversee ideas from inception to completion. Candidates gain an understanding of the media market and what it takes to manage a project to completion, including financing, planning, talent procurement, marketing, and distribution.||Producer|
|Film Studies||Taking an academic approach to the field, most film studies programs situate the medium in a cultural, social, and artistic context. Rather than production and directing techniques, students gain an in-depth critical framework for interpreting and analyzing film, television, and other media with a heavy focus on written analysis.||Professor, writer, journalist|
|Documentary Filmmaking||A documentary concentration explores many of the same topics as a directing concentration, but with a focus on the unique social, political, and cultural qualities that characterize documentary filmmaking. Students gain an understanding of the many forms of documentary filmmaking, including observational, historical, narrated, and mockumentary.||Documentary filmmaker|
|Screenwriting||The screenwriting concentration focuses on the written side of filmmaking, training students in creating scripts for film and television. Courses cover major topics such as story structure, characterization, plot development, dialogue, and scene development.||Screenwriter|
Courses in a Master's in Film Program
While concentration options vary between programs, general curriculum requirements typically cover much of the same ground, introducing the major principles and practices of filmmaking. Exact course titles vary between programs, but the five courses below represent a common cross section of a general master's in film curriculum.
- Video Production
Covering the technical side of filmmaking, this course introduces fundamentals such as camera operation, lighting, and sound. Students typically learn through practice, producing short films that utilize basic principles covered in class. The course often covers some post-production techniques for audio and non-linear video editing.
- Editing Techniques
Covering the range of editing techniques available to filmmakers, this course explores various strategies for organizing film footage, such as spatial montage, discontinuity, and the classic Hollywood style. Students learn to synthesize different techniques to develop their own visual aesthetic for editing.
- Survey of American Cinema
Tracing the evolution of American film from the late 19th through the 20th centuries, this course charts the major developments in national cinema from both a cultural and technical perspective. Coursework typically focuses more on analysis and interpretation, rather than technical practice.
- Survey of World Cinema
The 20th century saw major developments in film across the world, with countries such as France and Russia brining major formal innovations to the medium. This course typically offers an overview of the most important and influential works from the major directors and movements of world cinema.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Film?
You can expect to complete your master's degree in film with about two years of full-time study. Some programs offer accelerated options that take less time to complete but require you to take more classes each semester. You may also take summer courses to complete your degree faster, though students should note that an increase in credit load typically corresponds to an increase in tuition. Conversely, those balancing school with work or other obligations need to take a lighter course load and complete the degree in more than two years. Other programs maintain a more extensive curriculum model that may take up to three years to complete. Credit requirements vary greatly between programs, but most degrees require somewhere between 36-62 credits total.
How Much Is a Master's in Film?
Master's programs rarely come cheap, and you can generally expect to spend between $20,000-$40,000 to earn your degree (if not more). However, several factors affect the total cost of a program, including school location, program prestige, format, and whether you enter a public or private institution. In general, public colleges offer more affordable tuition than private colleges, as public funding enables them to subsidize tuition costs for students. However, private colleges may offer more generous financial aid packages, and they commonly offer unique, specialized program concentrations unavailable at larger public schools. A school's reputation, selectivity, and location can also affect tuition; for example, well-known colleges in industry hubs, such as New York City or Los Angeles, often charge far higher tuition rates than lesser known schools.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Film Prepares For
- Avid Certified Professional Media Composer Certification
One of the oldest and most popular programs for video editing, Avid's software serves the needs of editors, producers, directors, and a variety of other professionals. Avid's Media Composer certification ranks among the most desirable credentials for post-production.
- Documentary Arts and Ethnographic Research Certificate
Combining studies in film and anthropology, this certificate fuses the practices of research and filmmaking, giving students the tools to create documentaries and other investigative media. An increasing emphasis on technology may lead students to explore new modes of presentation, such as interactive media or mobile media.
- Apple Final Cut Pro X Certification
Apple's video editing program serves the needs of an assortment of filmmakers and editors, with independent filmmakers particularly favoring the program. While Apple offers online preparation courses, candidates must take the Final Cut Pro certification exam in-person, available at testing locations around the country.
- Media Arts Certificate
For film professionals looking to widen their professional practice and move into additional fields of media production, a media arts certificate offers specialized knowledge in media development and web technologies. Students gain the skills to bring their filmmaking into innovative, interactive media environments.
- Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2015 Certification
One of the industry standards for filmmaking, Adobe's Premiere Pro software enables users to edit and organize video footage, making certification an obvious choice for film professionals. Adobe offers its certification exam online in a multiple-choice format with 60 questions.
Resources for Graduate Film Students
A massive, entirely free database of stock video footage, motion graphics, music, and sound effects, Videvo serves as a valuable resource for aspiring filmmakers on a budget.
As its name implies, Student Filmmakers serves the needs of film students around the world, offering educational resources, workshops, forums, and a highly useful professional network.
Ideal for emerging filmmakers without access to professional casting services, Casting Networks offers a searchable database of working actors, making it easy to cast a new project cheaply.
A trade publication for filmmakers, Videomaker offers informative articles, video courses, product reviews, and in-depth buying guides for necessities such as cameras, lenses, microphones, and software.
A nonprofit network intended to help emerging filmmakers distribute their work, The Collaborative offers market information, fiscal sponsorship opportunities, and an assortment of education and advocacy services.
Professional Organizations in Film
Filmmakers rely on a strong network of industry organizations and fellow professionals to support their work, whether through financial backing, distribution and marketing opportunities, networking and mentorship, or professional development and education. The list below outlines five prominent professional organizations for filmmakers.
Advocating for women in the media industry, the AWM serves film and television professionals through networking, events, and professional development opportunities.
One of the oldest professional organizations for filmmakers in the country, The ASC offers education and professional development opportunities to members while simultaneously advising the industry at large.
Comprising more than 3,700 members around the world, the VES serves the needs of visual effects practitioners, including artists, directors, producers, and studio executives, offering networking and professional development opportunities.
This Los Angeles-based nonprofit supports the work of independent filmmakers through advocacy, education, events and conferences, networking opportunities, and workshops, along with an annual film festival.
Founded in 1999, NAILIP is the country's premier organization for Latinos media professionals, hosting workshops and advocating for the work of new media creators.