You’ve got your heart set on going to film school, but as all good film industry practitioners know, it’s a business that involves your head as well as your heart. That means thinking things through: Can I afford it? Where are the best people working out of? What’s the hit rate when it comes to getting a job after I graduate? Do I want to be near home to cut costs or do I want to be where the action is?
It’s important to weigh up all the options and not just look at the flashy prospectuses. Look at who’s been to the school you’re considering—would you like their career? Study the films students have made—are you impressed? Is it the kind of place where you’ll feel happy and supported? Film school friends now are good contacts for the future, so it’s important to find your tribe.
Choosing to go into the performing arts isn’t an easy path, but for many people, there is no choice—they’re compelled to give it a go. If that’s you and you decide film school is where you’re headed, then here’s a selection of some of the very best this country has to offer.
London and around
First things first: London is expensive, so it’s worth bearing that in mind; but it’s also where most of the industry is based, so there may well be more opportunities if you study here. Most of the UK’s big film studios like Pinewood and Shepperton are also just outside the capital, so if film is where your ambitions lie, a London film school might be worth the extra costs if—and it’s a big if—you can afford it. Let’s take a look….
- National Film and Television School
- London Film School
- Met Film School
- Goldsmiths, the Screen School
- London Film Academy
- University of Westminster
- Ravensbourne University
- Leeds Beckett University, Northern Film School
- Bournemouth Film School at Arts University Bournemouth
- Brighton Film School
- Outside the UK
- And if film school’s not for you…
Based in Beaconsfield, about 90 minutes outside Central London, National Film and Television School has more than 30 MA, diploma, and certificate courses and is definitely one of the big beasts of the UK film school world. Students are taught by industry professionals in a fully working studio complete with dubbing theatres, edit suites, and three cinemas.
Former students include Oscar winners like Nick Park (The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049), and notable directing names such as Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here) and David Yates (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2). Plus, the school regularly attracts top names like Christopher Nolan to give student master classes; and last year, director Alex Garland (Annihilation) was named the school’s associate director, a creative figurehead for the NFTS student body.
NFTS likes to boast that it’s one of the Hollywood Reporter’s top international film schools, and that it’s had “more Oscar nominations than any other film school in the world.” Those accolades are not to be sniffed at, and, unsurprisingly, NFTS isn’t easy to get into. Students are often required to interview, provide showreel material, and attend weeklong workshops for a shot at entry. And remember, film school isn’t cheap—MA courses can cost around £14,300 a year for UK students and £30,000 a year for overseas students. But if prestige matters to you, then NFTS is definitely worth saving up for.
Unlike its big rival NFTS, London Film School couldn’t be more centrally situated. Set slap-bang in the middle of Covent Garden, LFS was founded in 1956 and offers various postgrad degrees, a Ph.D., and short courses focusing on film. The school has a good reputation internationally, with students’ work regularly appearing at film festivals across the world. Also, its student body is overwhelmingly international, with 60% of students coming from countries outside the UK.
Notable alumni include BAFTA-winning director Duncan Jones (Moon), Mike Leigh (Peterloo), Michael Mann (Public Enemies), and producer Iain Smith (Children of Men). Worth considering is that its MA in Filmmaking allows students to get valuable experience in all sorts of departments rather than specialising in just one. The school produces approximately 180 films every year and likes students to feel they are part of a “working unit” participating in colleagues’ films as well as their own.
Before you’re totally swayed by LFS’ glitzy Central London location, it’s important to note that the school will be moving to new, state-of-the-art facilities in not-so-swanky Canning Town in 2020. Also, fees are steep—the two-year MA in Filmmaking costs just over for both British and international students. Then again, Danny Boyle has said that if he was going to film school, he’d go to LFS!
The Met Film School’s HQ is based in the historic (but still fully in operation) Ealing Studios at the end of the Central Line. That means students are very much taught in a professional environment and have access to great facilities and equipment. Ealing is where The Ladykillers, Notting Hill, Downton Abbey, and The Theory of Everything were filmed. Plus, the Met has its own working production company, which recently made Swimming With Men, starring Rob Brydon.
The Met has an enviable selection of courses including acting for camera, editing, cinematography, postproduction, screenwriting, and producing. Course lengths go from a few days to three years for a BA in practical filmmaking. Postgrad MA courses are also available.
Running for the first time from September 2019 is the Met’s two-year BA in Screen Acting. The course promises to teach students about story and script, character and performance, acting methods and techniques, behind-the-camera skills, screen business, and specialist acting skills including automated dialogue replacement (ADR), voiceover, motion capture, and combat techniques.
Its alumni list may not be as star-studded as other schools but the Met is relatively new and prides itself on making graduates “industry ready.” Information about fees can be found here.
Based in New Cross, Goldsmiths already has a great academic reputation as part of the wider University of London; but its Screen School has its own aspirations, challenging bigger film school rivals for the very best students. It markets itself as the “next-generation film school” and wants to produce students ready to work in the industry as it is now, not 20 years ago, so there’s also a focus on a wide variety of media platforms including web drama and video games.
The school operates from a purpose-built media facility within the college’s Department of Media and Communications, focusing on film production rather than acting. It offers a one-year MA in Filmmaking with six distinct paths: Cinematography, Directing Fiction, Editing, Producing, Sound Recording (with Postproduction and Design), and Screen Documentary. There are no short courses, diplomas, or BA degrees, but the university has its own cinema: the newly opened Curzon Goldsmiths.
Directors including Boyle, Asif Kapadia, Stephen Frears, Sally Potter, and Alan Parker have all spoken at Goldsmiths.
Fees are £12,070 for UK students and £23,160 for international students—but, crucially, Screen School students can get relatively cheap accommodation through its university link. A definite bonus in an expensive city!
Another relatively new kid on the film school block, London Film Academy is based in a former Methodist church in Fulham, West London. Set up in 2001, LFA is a film school founded and run by women. It offers MA, BA, and diploma courses in Filmmaking; a diploma and MA in Screenwriting; and assorted short courses and vocational add-ons.
LFA’s facilities may be a little less spacious than other schools, but it has two studios, a floor of editing, and a cinema. It also promises to teach students in a “hands-on, practical production company environment” led by industry professionals. One important stat LFA understandably advertises is that 95% of its graduates go on to work in the industry within three months of completing the course. Definitely worth bearing in mind—especially as the fees are more reasonable than some comparable schools.
Before you go buying a penthouse Soho flat so you can walk to your WC1 film school lessons, know this: The University of Westminster’s film and TV faculty is actually based in Harrow, Zone 5. However, that does mean more space for facilities like two soundstages, a set construction workshop, TV studio, edits, a mastering suite, and more.
Westminster teaches film and TV production rather than acting, offering a three-year BA in Film that it describes as “one of the best-known film courses in the world.” It emphasises group work as well as focusing equally on the academic and vocational sides of the degree. In the third year, students are given the chance to work in a professional setting.
Other BA courses offered include Animation, Contemporary Media Practice, and Television Production—and the school says 80% of students are working in the industry after graduation. Famous alumni include Kapadia, the cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (We Need to Talk About Kevin), and screenwriter Neal Purvis (Skyfall). There’s more about fees and funding here.
Based in Greenwich, Ravensbourne offers BAs in Digital Film Production, Digital TV Production, and Editing and Postproduction among other film-y subjects. Known for its external links to creative industries, Ravensbourne students are often working on professional shoots from their first year on.
Ravensbourne is very keen on plugging “digitally focused work” and its aspiration is to produce students ready for the real-world job market, including work in VFX, marketing, and commercials. To apply, you need to submit a portfolio showcasing your work and meet the school’s academic requirements. It likes students to have a background in—or at least an interest in—art, design, or a relevant creative endeavour. You can see one of its final-year showreels here. Fee information is here.
Outside of London
The Northern Film School is based in Leeds in the impressive Electric Press building on Millennium Square. In 2014, the Hollywood Reporter named NFS one of the world’s film schools “to watch.” Its alumni have won BAFTAs and Oscars—and living in Leeds is a lot cheaper than London.
That also means more space to play with. NFS has two significantly sized studios, allowing students to build substantial film sets. There’s also a dedicated animation studio, edit suites, and access to top camera equipment like Arri and Aaton.
The school offers a BA, MA, and PhD in Filmmaking, among others. The emphasis is practical as well as academic, and fees are significantly cheaper than other schools on the list due to NFS’ location—though Leeds is definitely a city on the up, with a growing profile as a northern hub for TV and film production.
If your idea of Bournemouth is a sleepy southern seaside town occupied by pensioners then think again. It’s also a coastal hub for creativity and the home to AUB. Established more than 50 years ago, Bournemouth Film School is the UK’s largest film school outside London, offering nine main programmes, including Acting, Film Production, VFX, Costume and Performance Design, and Makeup.
The Acting BA lasts for three years and gives students access to five specialist workspaces on campus including a black box theatre and acting, movement, music/voice, and sound recording studios. BA fees start at £9,250 a year for students from the UK.
The sheer range of BA courses offered by Bournemouth allows students to really form their own production teams featuring fellow students who specialise in different areas. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, The Full Monty) and director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) both started here. AUB has a great reputation and it’s not hard to see why.
Another seaside-based institution is Brighton Film School, which alongside the strong draw of Brighton’s nightlife and cosmopolitan nature, has the added benefit of being just over an hour from London. The school has links with Panavision and Panalux—so it’s not short of cameras—and students are taught on both digital and film cameras. It also has two “fully working 18 by 12 feet sets with lighting rigs and flats.”
BFS offers a range of short courses and longer options including a BA in Film Production. Students are encouraged to specialise in their second years, and when they leave it’s hoped they do so with knowledge, contacts, and a professional showreel that can act as a calling card for future employers. There’s more information about fees here.
If studying outside the UK is an option for you then it’s definitely worth considering. There is a huge choice in the USA, so why not check out our Backstage Guide as a first step?
There might be reasons to decide that film school isn’t for you, yet you still want to be part of the industry. Well, don’t give up: Film and television are always looking for new talent, and there are plenty of organisations where you can learn about alternative routes in. Backstage is here for you, and you can also have a cyber pootle round the ScreenSkills website, BAFTA, or the BFI. If you’ve got the drive and the talent, you’ll be in high demand, whatever your formal education. Good luck!
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- Should Actors Make + Star in Their Own Films?
For more from Backstage UK, check out the magazine.