How To Choose a Film Program

If you've always loved movies - going to see them, making them in your backyard with friends, writing down ideas for future blockbusters - maybe film school is for you. If you're really interested in finding the right film program to meet your needs and interests, there are certain things you should consider during your search.

  1. Narrow your focus. Most film programs, graduate and undergraduate, offer a variety of special "tracks" for their students to follow. If you're interested in actually making the films - editing, cinematography, directing - you would likely want to take a production track. If you're an aspiring screenwriter, there are programs allowing that specialty, too. Some film programs also allow specialties in film theory or criticism. Whatever your personal interest in film, rest assured most film programs require students to have a working knowledge of the other elements as well and offer a well-rounded film curriculum.
  2. Know the requirements. Since you will, as noted above, probably have to take some courses outside your specific area of interest, spend some time looking at what those outside courses may be. Any undergrad will have to take core classes like writing, math, and science, etc. in some variety as they work toward their major. However, you can still look at the variety of courses required inside the film program and whether they meet your needs and interest. For example, if you're planning on focusing on screenwriting but also would like to try a class in animation, you can check to see if a program offers that type of class. Of course, also check out what classes are required for your specific track.
  3. Look at the faculty. Good film teachers don't always have to have Oscars on their desks; in fact, most don't. As with most academic disciplines, film program instructors will usually offer a combination of practical experience and academic knowledge. As you search for programs, take a look at what the professors are offering, what other industry professionals they might be able to connect students with through seminars, workshops, or even individual hook-ups. Know who you'll be learning from - it's very important.
  4. Look at additional opportunities. Many film schools offer students opportunities that enhance the educational experience. Such opportunities may include sponsorship of student film festivals and workshops where students can present their work, study abroad and summer workshops providing hands-on experiences off campus, internships and shadowing programs with professionals, on-campus film clubs and student publications. These "extras" are important things to consider as you look into programs. Hands-on experiences and networking opportunities are very important in any business, and the film business is no exception.
  5. Consider reputation. Hear what alumni have to say, see (literally or figuratively) what they've done. If possible, talk to people who have gone through the program you are considering. Also, check out how well the program's alumni have done. Alumni success is just another of the many factors to consider when you're considering applying to a film program. And consider reputation. Some of the top film schools - USC, UCLA, NYU - are top schools not just because of their curriculum, but because people who've graduated from there have put their education to great use. Going to a school with a lot of successful alumni may make you a better draw or at least give you a bunch of people to network with at alumni socials.
  6. Look at the logistics. Of course, L.A. is the place to be for the film "biz," with New York in second. Or is it Vancouver? There are definite advantages to going to a film school in a film city. It may also be well worth it to shell out the bucks for a top-ranked film school. However, there are a lot of reasons why doing so might not be a good idea, too, such as the expense of travel, living expenses, the possible stress of being a distance from home your first time on your own, giving up scholarships or financial aid coming from other schools, as well as perhaps your own personal reasons. Remember, if you're an undergrad, you're talking about 4 years of your life. Look at the big picture including price and location. If you're a graduate student, perhaps you have more leeway with what you're willing and able to do. But consider the logistics as you make your choice.

Many great filmmakers and screenwriters begin their work at film school. They learn things there that benefit them throughout their careers. The same may be true for you one day. All the more reason to start off with the best film program you can find.


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