PhD in Film: Information on Doctoral Programs in Film

Oct 13, 2019

Doctoral programs in film cover all aspects of the subject, giving graduates advanced knowledge that prepares them for film production careers as well as research or teaching positions.

Essential Information

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in film typically lead to an academic career in research or teaching. However, additional career options are available with such degrees as a Ph.D. in Critical Studies, a Ph.D. in Media Arts and Practice and a Ph.D. in Film History and Theory. Through a combination of classes, research and hands-on experience, students can explore topics that include the actual film-making process, the history of film, film theory and critical viewing. Many programs call for a dissertation or written research project.

General application requirements to these programs include a bachelor's degree and GRE test results. TOEFL exam scores are required for non-English speakers. Completion of a Ph.D. generally takes between four and six years.

Ph.D. in Film History and Theory

This doctoral program in the visual arts takes a critical and analytical approach to the history, theory and development of film and media. For the first two years, candidates take courses in film theory and historiography. In their third year, they prepare for dissertation research. Candidates also form mentorships with faculty as they further intensify their study of the medium of film. A bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university is required for admission, as is proficiency in a second language of the student's choosing. Some common course topics include:

  • Visual studies
  • Trash, cult and camp
  • Foreign language study
  • Film theory, origins to 1965
  • Documentary cinema
  • Animation

Ph.D. in Critical Studies

A doctoral degree in critical studies encompasses historical, critical and analytical perspectives in studying all forms of the moving image and media. By studying the impact on human culture, students learn to question what is presented in the media. Candidates decipher the possible implications of the underlying history, economics and relationships between different forms of media and how they all intertwine - not just as entertainment, but how they interact with daily life. Potential candidates seeking admission to this program are required to have a bachelor's or master's degree in film or a closely related subject. Students with bachelor's degrees are required to complete master's degree program requirements in addition to the Ph.D. program. Some common course topics include:

  • Production
  • Cinema-television
  • Spectatorship and reception
  • Commercialism in America
  • European cinema
  • Visual studies: theories and methods

Ph.D. in Media Arts and Practice

A doctoral degree program in media arts and practice utilizes the elements of production and technology and combines them with the history and theory of film. Students in this program receive hands-on practice as they work to discover new and emerging movements and innovative modes of production and research in media. Applicants should express an interest in exploring the newest trends in academic research and creativity. A bachelor's or master's degree is required, preferably in the field of media, but other related subjects will be considered.

Once admitted, students' core curricula consist of design, theory and media. Students attend required courses in the cinematic arts and work to complete their dissertations with the close assistance of a faculty advisor. Some common course topics include:

  • Film, technology and new media
  • Research design
  • Computer applications for film study
  • Issues in electronic culture
  • Experimental film
  • Visual perception

Employment Outlook

Employment levels for postsecondary teachers may rise 11% between the years 2018 and 2028, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( Salary expectations for a graduate with a Ph.D. in Film History and Theory vary greatly, depending on the career field chosen.

Popular Careers

The primary career for a Ph.D. graduate in critical studies is to teach. However, there is a variety of other diverse choices. From writing and directing to producing or documentary filmmaking, the choice of job field is entirely up to the individual. Some career choices include:

  • Film Critic
  • Cinematographer
  • Professor
  • Writer
  • Director

Whether it is contributing to a box office blockbuster or devising new media, Ph.D. graduates in media arts and practice may choose a career that provides the opportunity to become a pioneer. They may work in the latest technology of the art of film, television, digital media or make the next greatest discovery in the realm of the moving images. Here are some possible future careers:

  • Digital editor
  • Production designer
  • Cinematographer
  • Electrical engineer in film
  • Technical director

Like many other doctoral programs, a Ph.D. in film, critical studies or media arts naturally lends itself to a career in academic research, although the technical knowledge involved in these programs means that graduates can also find jobs within the film industry. Students learn about the culture and context of film, applying criticism and analysis with more precision and insight than at lower levels of study.

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