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Directing Colleges for a Career in Movie Directing

Aspiring movie directors may pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees in arts or communications with concentrations in film production or film studies. Selecting a directing degree program should be based on acquiring the vital career skills needed for the job.

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Directors audition, hire, oversee, and guide casts and crews in the production of movies, as well as make design decisions regarding costumes, sets, music, and any other components necessary to make the film production successful. Those who wish to enter the field of film directing need to consider several aspects of the industry when selecting the appropriate degree program.

10 Directing Schools

These ten directing schools are considered some of the best in the United States in 2016. Below, find information about each school, including tuition rates from the 2015-2016 school year.

College/University Location Institution Type Degrees Offered Tuition (2015-2016)*
American Film Institute Conservatory Los Angeles, CA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Certificate, Master's degree $47,030
University of Southern California Los Angeles 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's degree, Master's degree, Doctoral degree $50,277 (undergraduate), $40,670 (graduate)
New York University New York, NY 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's degree, Master's degree $47,750 (undergraduate), $56,804 (graduate)**
California Institute of the Arts Valencia, CA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Master's degree $43,986
University of Chicago Chicago, IL 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's degree, Doctoral degree $51,351 (undergraduate), $52,713 (graduate)
University of California - San Diego San Diego, CA 4-year, Public Bachelor's degree, Master's degree, Doctoral degree $13,530 for in-state/$38,238 for out-of-state (undergraduate), $13,021 for in-state/$28,123 for out-of-state (graduate)
Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's degree $44,712
University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX 4-year, Public Bachelor's degree, Master's degree $9,806 for in-state/$34,676 for out-of-state (undergraduate), $10,934 for in-state/$20,762 for out-of-state (graduate)
University of California - Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA 4-year, Public Bachelor's degree, Master's degree, Doctoral degree $12,763 for in-state/$37,471 for out-of-state (undergraduate), $12,629 for in-state/$27,731 for out-of-state (graduate)
Emerson College Boston, MA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's degree, Master's degree $41,052 (undergraduate), $29,324 (graduate)

Sources: *National Center for Education Statistics

School Selection Criteria

When choosing a program, a candidate should consider where they can gain the most experience needed. Some considerations to keep in mind include:

  • Students may want to seek out schools that sponsor enrichment opportunities, such as film festivals for student work and scheduled screenings with visiting filmmakers.
  • Students should consider the courses available at particular schools. For instance, courses that allow aspiring directors to work in conjunction with actors can help students understand how scripts or screenplays will actually work in production. Critical studies courses allow directing students to actually use the camera and editing equipment to make their own movies.
  • For students who want to specialize in a particular type of directing, such as episodic and reality television, documentaries or music videos, it is important to explore the school's offerings in that particular topic.
  • It can be helpful to find out what kind of movie production equipment students have access to, as well as whether they have the chance to work closely with experienced faculty members who can share their knowledge of the film industry.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

At the bachelor's degree level, it is not usually possible to major in movie directing, but students can gain experience within broader Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) programs in film or cinema and media studies. These programs generally cover every aspect of the film production process, including directing. Courses may be offered in directing actors or directing image and sound. Students can also build their production management skills in order to prepare for leadership positions on set in the future.

Master's Degree Programs

At the master's degree level, aspiring movie directors can choose directing as a major or concentration within a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program. These programs typically include extensive hands-on filmmaking training as well as advanced coursework in the theory and analysis of film. They last for three years and culminate with a final thesis film.

Doctoral Degree Programs

For students who are more interested in the theoretical and critical aspects of movie directing and film, Ph.D. programs are available in cinema and media arts. These programs are highly interdisciplinary, combining advanced dissertation research with classes in culture, history, fine arts and technology, which provide the necessary context for film analysis. Students may also be required to demonstrate foreign language proficiency, pass qualifying exams and teach undergraduates.

Film degrees are varied and offered at virtually every level of education, with many avenues students can take to become directors. These programs often include hands-on work, such as an internship or student film project, to help build practical skills within the medium of film and increase a student's chances of finding work after graduation.

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