What Is the UK’s National Film and Television School?

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Photo Source: Universal Pictures. Pictured – 1917

Welcome to Decoded, a series that deciphers different corners of the UK performance landscape. This week, Backstage examines the National Film and Television School (NFTS). It’s been around since 1971 and is considered one of the top 15 film schools in the world. We take a look at why that is and how you can get involved.

Dont Say: “Is Beaconsfield even on the tube?”
Do Say: “Yes, I’m off to LA next week, so dull…”

What is it?
Based in Beaconsfield, 90 minutes from central London, the National Film and Television School (NFTS) is a big player – the Hollywood Reporter named it top of its international film schools list and the Guardian has described it as the “World’s Best Film School.” Starry alumni include recent Oscar-winning 1917 cinematographer Roger Deakins, animator Nick Park, as well as directors such as Lynne Ramsay, Nick Broomfield, and David Yates.

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Why should I care?
Studying at NFTS brings expertise and prestige to any CV. The school’s motto – Our credits tell the story – comes from their high success rate in students finding work directly after graduation, and the list of successful alumni is hard to argue with. At the 2020 Academy Awards, NFTS alumni had two wins and four nominations, and there were over 50 graduate credits on nominated films. Fancy a bit of that?

How do I get involved?
NFTS runs more than 30 MA, diploma, and certificate courses taught by industry professionals in a fully working studio complete with dubbing theatres, edit suites, and three cinemas. They run more behind-the-camera courses than any other film school – from directing to production-accounting.

The school regularly attracts top names like Christopher Nolan to give student masterclasses, and at the end of last year, director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) was named as the school’s Associate Director, a creative figurehead for the NFTS student body.

MAs and most diploma courses start in January each year, though some diplomas do start in September, and certificate courses run throughout the year. They hold two general open days each year, typically in February and October, as well as course-specific open days throughout the spring.

Unsurprisingly, NFTS isn’t easy to get into, and the Masters courses take on just eight students annually. Students are often required to interview, provide showreel material, and attend week-long workshops for a shot at entry, and like many other film schools, it’s not cheap – MA courses can cost around £14,300 a year for UK students and £30,000 for overseas students. Before you start crying into your overdraft, it’s worth noting that bursaries and scholarships are available.  

That said, there are other – and cheaper – ways to get involved, which might be a good first step before deciding if NFTS is for you. Firstly, if you’re an actor you can email them with your CV and headshot to be considered for a role in one of their projects: contact details are here. Or if you want to volunteer on a NFTS production, fill in the contact form on their website. Your name and details will then be added to the volunteer database.

What else do I need to know?
Shrewd staff choices, decades of investment, a selective student policy, and a commitment to excellence are just some of the reasons behind the school’s long-standing success. They have the largest production facilities of any UK school and it’s the only one to boast their own industry-standard film studios. But also, NFTS is committed to diversity – 43.22% of their MA students are female and 16.85% are BAME. And if Beaconsfield is too far south for you, NFTS Scotland opened in 2018, offering over 50 courses from their base in Glasgow.

More in our Decoded series:

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