When most people think about film, it's usually the on-screen talent that comes to mind. The truth is, though, that every piece of multimedia we see -- whether it's a big-time summer blockbuster or a low-budget educational film -- requires the contributions of dozens (or even hundreds) of trained professionals, most of whom likely earned their place in the industry by attending programs at an accredited film making school. Graduates of film and television schools may find work in any one of the range of jobs required to produce an audiovisual project, including video editors, camera operators, cinematographers, directors, producers, screenwriters and more.
What do film and television professionals do?
The list of specific duties that graduates of filmmaking programs perform on the job tends to vary quite a bit from position to position and from one industry sector to another, but there are a few general responsibilities that are shared among many directors, camera operators, editors and videographers:
- Choosing the appropriate equipment to capture, edit and post-produce images and sound
- Collaborating with other specialists in film disciplines to determine the overall direction of a project
- Organizing footage to be cut together with video editing software
- Ensuring that all necessary work for a project can be completed on time and under budget
Directors or cinematographers may do a fair portion of their work independently, but most film making school graduates work as part of a team. A healthy portion of these jobs are in the entertainment industry, although camera operators, video editors and directors are also employed in industries such as news media and higher education.
Film and television specializations
The media industry has relatively few generalists, so many degree programs at film and television schools offer a range of specializations to help students tailor their degree to a specific role. Here's a short list of specializations you might see as you browse filmmaking programs:
- Film production
- Television production
- Video editing
- Mass communication
How to become a film director, editor, camera operator and more
Film production schools are an important part of the journey to a career in film and television. There have been a few famous exceptions to this rule over the years, but even they don't deny the value of a formal education -- even notoriously successful college dropout Steven Spielberg returned to school to complete his bachelor's degree in film in 2002.
Here's a quick rundown of the steps to follow on your way to a film and television career:
- Earn a high school diploma or equivalent. There may be a few film schools in the U.S. that accept candidates who haven't finished high school, but you're unlikely to get into a top program if you haven't.
- Enroll in a college program that matches your professional interest. It might go without saying, but the skillset necessary for one film or television career may not overlap much with others. Make sure your chosen college offers sufficient training in the role you're hoping to fill.
- Assemble a reel of your work to show potential employers. Just having your college degree won't tell the whole story of what you can bring to a given position. Your reel will serve as visual proof of the skills you've gained while in school.
Most programs at film and television schools provide a broad-based overview of multiple positions within the industry before students are asked to specialize. Here's a short list of courses you're likely to see during that introductory period:
- History of film
- Introduction to screenwriting
- Visual design and composition
- Fundamentals of production
- New media formats
- Introduction to editing
- Broadcasting technology
- Sound design
Film and television degree and certificate programs
As is the case with many creative professions, programs at film and television schools tend to vary in length:
- Undergraduate certificates are comparatively brief programs that train students in one specific aspect of the multimedia industry. They may require as little as one year of full-time study and typically don't contain many transferrable general education credits.
- Associate degrees tend to take at least two years of full-time study, go into greater detail about theory and history of the profession and include general education courses that can provide a foundation for continued education in the future.
- Bachelor's degrees in film and television take at least four years of full-time study to complete. Master's degrees are available as well, although they are typically most useful to students who already have some experience working in their field.
There may not be any standardized education requirements for a film director, cinematographer, editor or other roles in the industry, but longer programs tend to provide greater opportunity for the hands-on experience necessary to build your reel. If you don't have filmmaking opportunities in your everyday life, an associate degree might be the right choice.
Hands-on training at film production schools
Some programs may offer internship sections that provide firsthand experience of the film and television industry. These hands-on opportunities can add a great deal of value to programs at the certificate level, which may otherwise provide few chances to put your new knowledge and skills to the test.
Online film production schools
Online film and television degrees are also available to students in most locations. The flexible nature of online study can be a great help if you would find it difficult to take enough time away from your work and family life to attend a traditional college program.
It's important to note, however, that online degrees are not an easier alternative to the campus-based variety. If anything, it requires an elevated level of self-discipline and internal motivation to successfully complete a degree in the virtual classroom. Reach out to an adviser at an online school if you think distance education might be right for you.
Film and television certifications
Formal certifications aren't typically necessary for film and television professionals, but certain occupations may have nuances that require additional training. Video editors, for example, can become certified in editing software applications like Apple's Final Cut Pro by passing an exam at an authorized training provider.
Actors, screenwriters, producers and other industry roles may be expected to join a specific guild, association or union in order to work on big-name projects, but these credentials aren't typically earned in a higher education environment.
Career advancement options in film and television
In most cases, career advancement in film and television occupations is tied to the reputation you build for yourself by doing quality work. If you're known for being an excellent editor, for example, you're more likely to get the attention of producers or directors working on large or prestigious projects.
It's also not uncommon for cinematographers, screenwriters or even editors to combine their experience in the industry with their personal creative vision and move up into the director's or producer's seat after working in the field for several years. Film school certificate programs in producing or directing can be a big help if you're thinking about making this type of career move.
Skills and abilities for film and television workers
A few specific skills and abilities tend to be more highly valued than others for particular roles in the film and television industry. Here are a few top-tier qualities for film and television workers, according to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET):
- Critical thinking can help you make the right decision when the project is on the line
- Active listening provides a strong foundation for teamwork, whether you're part of the team or in the lead
- Originality helps not only when conceiving camera shots and story elements but also when dealing with unexpected circumstances on set
- Oral expression makes it possible for you to communicate your ideas effectively to other members of your team
- Time management is a crucial part of most film and television projects -- everyone involved has a schedule to keep
Film and television salary and career outlook
How much do film editors make? How about directors, producers or camera operators? As you may have guessed, the answers to those questions aren't exactly straightforward.
A film director salary can depend on the size of the project, the budget provided by the studio and the prestige of their reputation. Similarly, an editor's salary can vary based on the city or state where they're employed and the type of media they're tasked with editing. That said, though, these national salary averages and career outlook figures can give you some idea of what to expect:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Film and Video Editors||28,160||$86,830||16.3%|
|Producers and Directors||118,630||$89,840||12%|
Professional resources for the film and television industry
There are numerous associations and organizations that can provide opportunity for film and television pros to grow their professional networks and take advantage of special perks. Here's a short list:
- American Society of Cinematographers
- Motion Picture Editors Guild
- Society of Camera Operators
- Association of Independent Commercial Producers
- Women in Film
- Music Video Production Association
Just about every segment of the film and television industry has at least one professional association -- reach out to an adviser or professor if you're looking for one that's right for you.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed November 29, 2018: Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/film-and-video-editors-and-camera-operators.htm; Producers and Directors, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Entertainment-and-Sports/Producers-and-directors.htm;
- School pages, accessed November 29, 2018: The Conservatory Program, American Film Institute, http://www.afi.com/conservatory/conservatoryprogram/default.aspx; Film & Television School, Full Sail University, https://www.fullsail.edu/area-of-study/film-television; Requirements, BA in Film and Television, DePaul University, https://www.cdm.depaul.edu/academics/Pages/current/Requirements-BA-in-Film-and-Television.aspx; Courses: Film, Full Sail University, https://www.fullsail.edu/degrees/film-bachelor/courses; Film and Television (BFA), Lynn University, https://www.lynn.edu/catalog/educational-programs/undergraduate/communication-and-design/film-and-television-bfa-1; Film & TV Certificates, University of California, Los Angeles Extension, https://www.uclaextension.edu/entertainment/film-tv/certificates; Film and Television Internship, University of California, Los Angeles Extension, https://www.uclaextension.edu/entertainment/film-tv/course/film-and-television-internship-film-tv-x-4992;
- Steven Spielberg a Drop-Out No More, People Magazine, June 3, 2002, Stephen M. Silverman, accessed November 29, 2018, https://people.com/celebrity/steven-spielberg-a-drop-out-no-more/
- Final Cut Pro X, Training and Resources, Apple, accessed November 29, 2018, https://www.apple.com/final-cut-pro/resources/
- Occupational Information Network, accessed November 29, 2018: Directors- Stage, Motion Pictures, Television, and Radio, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/27-2012.02; Film and Video Editors, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/27-4032.00