Should You Become a Film Major? The Pros & Cons of a Filmmaking Degree

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Breaking into entertainment can be difficult even for the most skilled aspiring filmmaker. One way to make the path a little easier is by getting a degree in film, since movie production majors gain valuable insight into just what goes into movie magic. A film degree can also help you make important industry connections and build your portfolio.


What do film majors study?

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Filmmaking majors might earn a B.A. or BFA in subjects including film theory, film production, or film history. They might also cover more technical coursework such as animation, video editing, or illustration.

Specific concentrations include:

  • Motion pictures
  • Movie production
  • Moviemaking aesthetics and cinematography
  • Film studies
  • Media communications

Film majors learn filmmaking theory and practice—or praxis. 

  • Praxis: Filmmaking majors usually include a mix of theoretical instruction and practical application of these ideas.
  • Theory: Classes cover topics including popular culture, cultural studies, screenwriting, film history, and other elements that inform film theory.
  • Application: Film majors usually also give students hands-on learning experiences in the industry. This might include studio experience with camerawork, lighting, framing, sound design, staging, visual effects, and digital and analog media production processes.

What can you do with a film degree?

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The experience and expertise offered by a film degree can open a multitude of doors, including jobs in the entertainment industry that are both above-the-line and below-the-line. Film major jobs and their salaries according to ZipRecruiter include: 

  • Producer: Film production coursework offers deep insight into script development; overseeing writers, directors, and editors; finding financing; and movie marketing and distribution. On average, producers earn $64,123 per year.
  • Director: The ability to visualize a script and its best aesthetic and dramatic elements—a key component of film degree studies—is also key to directorial work. Directors usually make around $71,991 per year.
  • Screenwriter: Since film majors teach the complexities of scripts, they can help those hoping to break into screenwriting. If you want to work transforming ideas into screenplays, you can expect to make around $50,134 per year
  • Cinematographer: A film degree and an artistic eye can lead to work as a cinematographer, the high-ranking position that uses lighting, lenses, and other camerawork to capture the director’s vision—to the tune of $76,745 per year
  • Camera operator: Similarly, learning about cinematography, camerawork, and collaborating with other crew members can give you a leg up as a camera operator. Your annual salary might be approximately $54,799 per year.
  • Film editor: Degrees in film also provide a knowledge base that includes how to assemble and organize footage, add audio to video, do video editing techniques such as cuts and transitions, and create a rough cut. Film editor salaries are around $54,055 per year.

You can also apply your film degree to jobs outside of the industry, such as marketing and advertising, journalism and media, and teaching or education.

Who hires film majors?

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Employers that often hire film majors cover a broad range, such as:

  • Studios
  • Ad and marketing agencies
  • Media companies
  • Institutes of higher education
  • Social media platforms
  • Content creators
  • Journalism networks

Alternatively, many people with film degrees are self-employed, working on their own projects until they make a name for themselves in the industry.

Are there any reasons not to major in film?


While filmmaking degrees can provide ample opportunity for those aspiring to make a name in the entertainment industry, there are several reasons that you might hesitate about embarking on this educational path.

  • Financial strain and time commitment: Earning a degree in film can cost a pretty penny—often, between $50,000 and $100,000. It also usually takes several years to complete. This commitment can be overly strenuous to many. “I didn’t go [the film major] route,” director Saar Klein (“After the Fall”) told Indiewire. “I decided I had enough theoretical learning and wanted to be hands on. The problem with this approach is that you start at the bottom doing things that you may feel you’re overqualified to do after four years of higher education.... But unless you have a family fortune and can convince Daddy to finance your first film, you will probably also be doing the same grunt jobs I did, but doing it after four years of film school and now with student loans.” 
  • Experience and connections may outweigh formal education: While film majors provide valuable hands-on experience and networking opportunities, a stellar creative portfolio and inside connections will get you farther, faster than a degree. Some of the most famous directors and filmmakers didn’t attend a film program. Christopher Nolan, Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, the Wachowski sisters, and Steven Spielberg are just some of the many who didn’t major in film. 

Should you choose not to pursue a filmmaking major, consider bolstering your education and experience by taking free classes online and applying that knowledge as a film apprentice. You can attain experience without going to film school by making your own content (whether low-to-no budget or financed), taking entry-level film jobs such as production or camera assistant, or starting an internship in the industry.

Should you become a film major?


So, are formal film studies necessary to aspiring filmmakers—and should you become a film major? Beyond technical training and a strong theoretical foundation in film, the top reasons to become a film major include: 

  • It can help build confidence:The opportunity to play around and make films for three to four years without the scrutiny of the ‘real’ world may have great value in itself,” Klein said. “It may build you confidence and give you the opportunity to explore and make mistakes in a private arena. I have not seen many good student films, but I’ve seen incredible films from directors after they graduated from film school.” 
  • You’ll make important connections: If you do decide to take the leap of faith into a film major, ensure that your time and money are well-spent by increasing your social capital. “We say the most valuable aspect is collaboration and networking,” says director of student services for the USC School of Cinematic Arts Marcus Anderson. “Form relationships with not just your peers, but the faculty and staff—many of whom are also industry professionals themselves—and really take advantage of the opportunity to build that out while you’re a student. Create lasting relationships.”
  • You’ll start your creative portfolio: Most film degrees require that students make at least one film before graduating. You’ll usually be provided with the equipment needed to create your film, and receive valuable ongoing feedback from your mentors and cohort. This can give you a leg up when you’re on the search for a job or financiers for your next film.

Best schools for film degrees


The film schools and programs that best equip students with the tools they need to tell their story—and the ability to do so—are:

  • Academy of Art University
  • American Film Institute (AFI)
  • ArtCenter College of Design
  • Biola University
  • California State University, Northridge
  • Chapman University
  • Columbia University
  • DePaul University
  • Emerson College
  • Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema
  • Florida State University
  • Loyola Marymount University
  • Montclair State University
  • New York Film Academy (NYFA)
  • New York University (NYU)
  • Pratt Institute
  • Ringling College of Art and Design
  • Rutgers University
  • San Francisco State University
  • Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)
  • School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)
  • School of Visual Arts (SVA)
  • Stony Brook Southampton
  • Temple University
  • University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • University of North Carolina (UNC)
  • University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW)
  • University of Southern California (USC)
  • University of Texas at Arlington
  • University of Texas at Austin