Film & Television Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's degree or PhD in film & television? Find out degree requirements, online options and info on courses for film & television programs.
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Studying Film & Television: Degrees at a Glance

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that to obtain a higher-level position in the film & television industry, such as director, writer or producer, you may need to have a bachelor's degree. Even with an undergraduate degree, you will likely need to start in assistant positions and gain several years of professional experience to move up the ranks in this field. Earning a graduate degree in film & television studies can provide you with time to hone your skills, build a portfolio and make connections with industry professionals. Doctoral degrees in film & television studies might appeal to you if you want to teach at the collegiate level.

The BLS predicted that producers and directors would see an 11% employment growth rate (about average) over the 2010-2020 decade, while screenwriters would see a slower-than-average 6% growth during that time. Postsecondary teachers were expected to see a job rate increase of 17% during the same decade.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want an advanced overview of the film & television industry so that they might find jobs in production, editing or similar fields Individuals who want to teach film & television at the postsecondary level or act as consultants
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Director or producer ($71,000)*
- Film editor ($53,000)*
- Screenwriter (includes all writers and authors - $56,000)*
Postsecondary teacher ($64,000)*
Time to Completion About 2 years 2-4 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Core film courses
- Thesis or graduate project
- Core courses
- Possible foreign language requirement
- Dissertation
- PhD exam
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Portfolio or resume
Bachelor's or master's degree
Online Availability No No

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Film & Television

A graduate degree alone cannot necessarily guarantee you a position in the film & television industry. According to the BLS, you will likely need to either work as an assistant to producers and directors or create your own low-budget projects to gain a reputation for your work. However, a Master of Fine Arts, Master of Science or Master of Arts degree in film & television, film studies, production or a similar area can provide you with the technical, hands-on skills needed to secure those assistant positions and create your own projects. Some degrees in the field are broader in nature, covering all aspects of filmmaking, from screenwriting to post-production. Others allow you to choose a particular area on which to focus.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Graduate programs in film & television can often be tailored to your particular interest.
  • You are often required to complete student films or similar projects that can be used in your portfolio.
  • Going to graduate school in Los Angeles or New York City can provide you with networking opportunities and access to hands-on training in the film & television industries.

Cons

  • The film & television industry is very competitive, and no degree can guarantee you a steady career.
  • Graduate programs in film & television are often expensive.
  • You will still need to gain hands-on experience before you can move up to senior-level positions in the film & television industry.

Common Courses and Requirements

Your courses will vary depending on the area of emphasis you choose in your master's degree program. If you choose to study film theory, your courses will involve more independent research. If you choose to study a track like production, you will have more hands-on courses. Some examples of courses you might find in these programs include:

  • Screenwriting
  • Advanced film production
  • Line producing
  • Film styles
  • American cinema
  • Producing a short film
  • Television development

Online Degree Options

You are unlikely to find online graduate programs in film & television offered by accredited schools. Most online programs include hands-on training components or intensive classroom lectures, requiring some in-person instruction.

Stand Out with This Degree

As graduate degree programs can be expensive, you'll want to get the most out of yours as possible. You should take advantage of school camera equipment and opportunities to collaborate with fellow student filmmakers to work on your own projects while in school. You should also consider submitting your works to student film competitions to start building your name. While in graduate school, you can also participate in internships on movie and television sets or with production companies to gain hands-on experience and make connections with working professionals. All of these avenues can help you to secure work upon graduation.

PhD in Film & Television

Some universities offer Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs in cinema and media, cinema studies or screen cultures. These programs often allow you to develop your own individualized plan of study in a particular area of interest. They also allow you to carry out research and learn how to analyze different aspects of film and television. The primary goal of these programs is to prepare you for academic research and teaching positions at the postsecondary level.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Many PhD programs can provide you with access to visiting filmmakers and researchers.
  • Required student teaching experiences can prepare you to obtain a job in academia.
  • Postsecondary teachers enjoy flexible schedules and have the option to work part-time (29% worked part-time in 2010).*

Cons

  • Programs offer little hands-on training in production and post-production, which is not ideal if you want to work in the entertainment industry.
  • As universities offer more part-time positions and fewer tenure-track positions, competition for tenure-track jobs will grow.
  • Postsecondary teachers working in the humanities (a subject that includes film studies) will likely have a harder time finding jobs than those working in science-based areas.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

Courses in PhD programs in film & television vary widely depending on your chosen area of focus. However, some require you to fulfill common research design and film theory courses. Other common courses you might find include:

  • Contemporary film studies
  • Media and culture
  • Film theory
  • American film and television
  • Historiography

Online Degree Options

Much like master's degree programs in film & television, PhD programs in the field are rarely offered online by accredited universities. However, most that you'll find require you to attend in-person seminars and complete a dissertation review before a committee.

Stand Out with This Degree

According to the BLS, many universities and colleges prefer to hire postsecondary teachers who already have some teaching experience. For this reason, you might want to consider enrolling in a PhD program that allows or even requires you to work as a student teacher. You might also want to consider having your dissertation or other works published in scholarly journals, as this might increase your chances of securing employment.

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Johns Hopkins University

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