A wide variety of schools in New York City and upstate New York offer film or media studies programs that provide training for independent film production careers. These programs are available at the undergraduate level through certificate programs, minors or bachelor's degree options. Students can also find master's degree programs in media arts production, film and animation or related areas. New York schools offer internships, project-based courses and facilities such as screening rooms and production studios to help students acquire hands-on experience in film production. The ten largest public and private non-profit schools with independent film production career training options are summarized below.
At Columbia University's School of the Arts in Manhattan, students can pursue undergraduate and/or graduate programs in film studies, directing and production. Program alumni include director and screenwriter Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart) and director Henry Alex Rubin (Murderball). Graduates of the Master of Fine Arts programs are active in both major studio and independent filmmaking.
The undergraduate program is a writing-intensive plan of study that requires 36 credits of major coursework in film culture, history and theory. Students can also take filmmaking and screenwriting labs, participate in internships and join the Columbia Undergraduate Film Productions group. Graduate programs require a 3-year commitment and include core coursework and electives in cinematography, directing, financing and screenwriting.
Cornell University's College of Arts and Sciences in Ithaca houses the Department of Media and Performing Arts. The department offers an undergraduate major in performing and media arts, as well as undergraduate and graduate minors in film. Faculty work has been featured at the Sundance Film Festival, the New Directors/New Films series at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art.
Undergraduates who specialize in film and media production can take courses in 16mm and digital film production, acting, digital audio and sound design, to name a few. Through upper-level courses in cinematography and film production, students have the opportunity to work as members of film crews and to direct and produce their own shorts, documentaries and narrative projects. In addition to internships, departmental features include film exhibitions at Cornell Cinema.
CUNY Brooklyn College
This Brooklyn-based college is one of 11 senior institutions in the City University of New York (CUNY) system. Through the School of Visual, Media and Performing Arts, undergraduates can earn a certificate in film production, as well as a bachelor's degree with a concentration in film or industry studies, documentary filmmaking, production or screenwriting.
Coursework relevant to independent filmmaking includes topics and workshops in film aesthetics and technology, avant-garde and experimental films, directing and general production. Aspiring filmmakers can also study film scoring, location, sound and postproduction. Through the Brooklyn College Film Society, future professionals can attend workshops, interact with independent filmmakers and participate in the annual student film festival.
CUNY City College
City College in Manhattan is the only school in the university network that offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Video, and it is one of the oldest programs of this type in the United States. At this flagship university, students can also pursue a 2-year graduate program that culminates in a 2-day film festival and showcase; guest speakers have included Peter Bogdanovich and Sigourney Weaver.
The bachelor's program requires 54 credits of major coursework and includes a course in independent film, as well as workshops in motion picture production. To fulfill the thesis requirement, students complete a 10-minute film or video, a 30-page screenplay or a research paper.
Graduate students in the 2-year Master of Fine Arts program have the opportunity to work with award-winning indie film professionals and specialize in documentary or fiction film. First-year studies include topics in advanced production, aesthetics, business and screenwriting.
CUNY Hunter College
Hunter College is also located in Manhattan, and through the Department of Film and Media Studies (School of Arts and Sciences), students can pursue a bachelor's program in film or a film minor. Training relevant to independent filmmaking includes directing and writing for narrative productions.
The undergraduate film program requires 30 credits of major coursework, including core studies in film analysis and style, film history and production. Students can also participate in an internship or choose electives in, among other topics, contemporary film theory and screen directing. Undergraduates also might be interested in the college's Muse Scholar program, which provides film and media students with the chance to attend panel discussions and screenings with industry professionals.
CUNY Queens College
The Division of Arts and Humanities at Queens College in Flushing includes both the film studies and the media studies departments, which allow undergraduates to major and minor in both areas of study. In addition to academics, the film faculty currently includes two award-winning filmmakers and a feature film screenwriter. Internship opportunities for film studies majors are available at the Museum of the Moving Image, and students can work on a full-time (paid) or part-time (unpaid) basis.
The film studies program takes an art-based, interdisciplinary approach to cinema and includes courses in film criticism, history and theory. Students in the media studies program receive field training, as well as multimedia and studio production experience. In particular, undergraduates can take a project-based elective in independent film production that teaches them to research and write a treatment, pitch a project and raise funds.
New York University
The largest school on the list is based in Manhattan, and notable alumni of the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television (Tisch School of the Arts) include directors Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone. In addition to internships, students in the undergraduate program have access to a number of special events, such as a sight and sound showcase, first-run festivals and an international film festival.
The bachelor's program requires 54 credits of major coursework in history and criticism, production and screenwriting. Topics in craft production include film marketing and distribution, set decoration and special effects. Students also have the chance to complete core production training at the BBC in London, study documentary filmmaking in Havana, Cuba, or take 35mm cinematography in Prague.
Spike Lee serves as the artistic director for the graduate programs, including a combined curriculum in business and production, with coursework in film financing. The 3-year Master of Fine Arts program admits just 36 applicants per year, and, in addition to taking courses in independent production and company management, students have the opportunity to make a minimum of five films.
Rochester Institute of Technology
The Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester is composed of nine colleges, including the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. Through the School of Film and Animation, one of six in the institute, students can acquire the training they need to pursue careers in feature and independent filmmaking, non-broadcast productions or television. Unique to the school is the Bachelor of Science in Motion Picture Science, one of the earliest programs of this type in the United States.
The undergraduate production program includes specialized tracks in over six areas, including directing and writing, cinematography and producing. Approximately two-thirds of the coursework for the motion picture science curriculum is related to engineering, though students also take core courses in filmmaking. At the graduate level, the 3-year program in film and animation offers seven specialized tracks, some of which include 2-D and 3-D animation, production and screenwriting. The program culminates in a thesis project or completed script.
The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications is part of Syracuse University in Syracuse. The Newhouse School offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in several fields of study, including a major in television, radio and film. Students have access to the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, and the program also provides them with opportunities to spend a semester in Los Angeles or study abroad.
The undergraduate program includes 36 credits of major coursework, as well as an advanced filmmaking experience, where students propose and produce documentary or fiction-based independent film projects. The 1-year graduate program in television, radio and film was the earliest of its kind in the United States. In addition to the advanced filmmaking practicum, it includes electives in business, feature film writing, script development and short-form production.
University at Buffalo
Located in Buffalo, the flagship of the state university system is a research-based institution that includes the Department of Media Study (College of Arts and Sciences), an experimental community for both undergraduate and graduate students. Special guests have included independent filmmaker John Terry, and the department has also sponsored an international women's film festival, featuring the work of under-funded female filmmakers.
Undergraduate students can specialize in critical studies or production, and the former is especially relevant for those who would like to become writers and producers. Facilities include both small and large screening rooms, editing rooms, a sound stage, a robotics lab and a production studio.
Although the undergraduate program in film studies emphasizes topics in analysis, criticism and world cinema, students can pursue a limited number of electives in areas such as documentary, filmmaking and video.
Aspiring experimental and independent filmmakers also might be interested in the 60-credit graduate production program, which provides students the chance to participate in research groups that study independent documentaries, films and videos.
School Comparison: At a Glance
|School Name||School Type & Setting||Film Production Programs Offered||Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (2018-2019)|
|Columbia University||4-year, private not-for-profit; large city||Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies,
Master of Fine Arts in Creative Producing,
Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting and Directing
|Cornell University||4-year, private not-for-profit; small city|| Bachelor of Arts in Performing and Media Arts,
Undergraduate or graduate minor in film
|CUNY Brooklyn College||4-year, public; large city||Certificate in Film Production,
Bachelor of Arts in Film,
Minor in Film
|$7,240 in-state; $14,910 out-of-state*|
|CUNY City College of New York||4-year, public; large city||Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Video,
Master of Fine Arts in Media Arts Production
|$7,140 in-state; $14,810 out-of-state*|
|CUNY Hunter College||4-year, public; large city||Bachelor of Arts in Film,
Minor in Film
|$7,182 in-state; $14,852 out-of-state*|
|CUNY Queens College||4-year, public; large city||Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies,
Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies,
Minor in Film Studies,
Minor in Media Studies
|$7,338 in-state; $15,008 out-of-state*|
|New York University||4-year, private not-for-profit; large city||Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Television,
Master of Fine Arts in Filmmaking,
Combined Master of Business Administration/Master of Fine Arts in Producing
|Rochester Institute of Technology||4-year, private not-for-profit; large suburb||Bachelor of Fine Arts in Production,
Bachelor of Science in Motion Picture Science,
Master of Fine Arts in Film and Animation
|Syracuse University||4-year, private not-for-profit; midsized city||Bachelor of Science in Television-Radio-Film,
Master of Arts in Television-Radio-Film
|University at Buffalo||4-year, public; large suburb||Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies,
Bachelor of Arts in Media Study,
Master of Fine Arts in Media Arts Production,
Minor in Media Study
|$10,099 in-state; $27,769 out-of-state*|
Source: *NCES College Navigator.