RENOWNED British film producer David Puttnam wrote in his book Movies and Money that to start a film company 100 years ago, “all you needed was fifty dollars, a broad and a camera”. Today, with cheap digital cameras, editing equipment and the ability to broadcast online, it feels like we have almost come full circle. Almost, but not quite.
The talents, technologies, practices and theories involved in modern filmmaking have all become much more sophisticated and specialized training is a must for anyone seeking a successful career in the industry. There are many practical reasons to study film these days, especially for Asian students. The American motion picture and video industries, which remain the world’s biggest players in the entertainment world, are projected to continue growing significantly in the next decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast a 14 percent increase in employment from 2008 to 2018, and there is a constant demand for foreign talent.
Furthermore, three of the biggest film industries in the world are in Asia – India, Hong Kong and Indonesia – and many Western film students are traveling to study in top Asian film schools. This two-way traffic promotes the exchange of ideas and exposes students to a world of new possibilities. International students can benefit tremendously from a film education in North America, Europe or Asia. If and when they return to their home countries, they may employ the skills learned in building their native film industries.
So let’s take a closer look at what students should look for in a top film program.
Film schools typically offer three types of programs – screenwriting, film production, and cinema studies. At the undergraduate level, colleges and universities often offer a comprehensive education that expects film students to fulfill certain liberal arts requirements along with their major-specific film courses. Though some schools stream incoming film freshmen into the three different areas right from the start, other schools leave such options open at the application stage, allowing their students to explore and determine which field or fields best suit their needs and interests. Upon completion, students may earn bachelors’ degrees in science, bachelors’ degrees in arts, and bachelors’ degrees in fine arts, according to the nature of their programs.
At the graduate level, screenwriting and cinema studies stay as independent disciplines, but film production branches out into more specialized fields. The major fields are producing, animation and digital art, and filmmaking. In production-intensive film schools, filmmaking may be further divided into editing, cinematography, production design, directing, etc. Graduate film students completing the aforementioned programs will have either Master of Arts or Master of Fine Arts degrees. Those who obtain Master of Arts degrees in cinema studies also have the option of pursuing doctorate degrees in cinema studies and other related fields in the humanities, such as visual, media, and cultural studies, and even history.
Generally speaking, more than half of those apply for graduate film programs have had some level of work experience in their field, especially for the good schools. Due to the rising demand for highly skilled workers in the job market today, dual-degree graduate programs that combine film programs with other graduate-level programs seem to have become especially popular. There are joint MFA/MBA programs that teach students both the nuts and bolts of film producing and the business aspect of film industries. There are also joint MFA/JD programs that give graduate film producing students a thorough understanding of the laws in the film world. Many of these joint programs are small and exceptionally competitive; often they only have space reserved for the cream of the crop.
No matter which film program or programs a person is interested in, location is always an additional factor to be considered carefully. There are excellent film programs in Europe, Asia, as well as North America. But note which language is used for instruction in a particular film school, and see if it is manageable for you. Other than that, try to work out what kind of a career is more appealing to you before applying. Skills are often not transferrable, and jobs in the industry vary greatly from one to another. A film historian works in an entirely different world from a film producer, and a script consultant is responsible for drastically different things from a sound engineer.
Finally, applicants can significantly increase their chances of acceptance to a top film school by putting together a good portfolio. It is never too early to start building a portfolio and it should be tailored to your areas of interest. Film production students should have videos and still photographs that showcase their visual styles, while screenwriting students should have at least one or a few stories that they are ready to develop into films.
Below we have listed 10 of the top film schools around the world for international students:
YORK UNIVERSITY, CANADA
York University’s Department of Film is Canada’s first, largest and most comprehensive university-based film school. Film programs are taught by 40 award-winning filmmakers and prominent scholars, all active in their field. Students benefit from comprehensive, professional training that blends theory and practice in a free-thinking and creative environment. Five hundred-plus students work in modern learning, production and screening facilities in Toronto, one of the world’s leading film capitals. York University offers a mix of graduate and undergraduate programs covering a range of topics. Students explore everything from the role that film and television play in society to genre-specific topics such as the vampire in cinema or crime film. Read the full profile…
HONG KONG BAPTIST UNIVERSITY
For decades, Hong Kong has been the film hub of Asia. It has the third largest film industry in the world (after the US and India) and is the second largest film exporter in the world after the US. The Academy of Film at Hong Kong Baptist University has been educating and nurturing the talent that drives this success for over 40 years. Part of the University’s School of Communication, the Academy has been the leading centre for cinema and TV education in Hong Kong since 1970. It has produced a string of successful alumni over the years, such as Felix Chong of Infernal Affairs fame. Students also get to learn from the greats, with guest lecturers such as John Woo and Hou Hsaio Hsien sharing their knowledge with Hong Kong’s next generation of filmmakers. Read the full profile…
BATH SPA UNIVERSITY, ENGLAND
Bath Spa University is located in the World Heritage City of Bath, in a region of unrivalled beauty and historic interest in the southwest of England. It offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses that teach students how to work on a low budget in an environment that encourages competing with Hollywood rather than succumbing to its pressures. Bath Spa University’s MA in Feature Filmmaking is offered through a series of workshop modules that introduce students to industry insights, filming techniques and strategies for marketing and distributing a finished project. Full-time students can complete the programme in a year, while part-time students take twice as long. A BA in Film and Screen Studies from Bath Spa University is industry focused, and it guides students through the practical and creative aspects of getting a film made on their own terms. Read the full profile…
UNIVERSITY FOR THE CREATIVE ARTS, ENGLAND
For Asian students looking to study film in the UK, the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) offers an exciting choice of programmes and a unique student experience. A highly acclaimed university singularly devoted to the creative industries, UCA is one of the leading institutes in the UK. Film programmes at UCA equip students with the creative and technical skills required to break into this competitive industry. Students are given the opportunity to work with various formats while learning specialist techniques such as directing, multi-camera shooting, production design, special effects, lighting, and scriptwriting. The School invests in cutting-edge technology for the benefit of its students, hosting enviable film-production equipment including high-spec cameras, extensive editing suites and pre and post production facilities. Read the full profile…
NEW YORK FILM ACADEMY
The Film School at the New York Film Academy is designed for a new generation of storytellers. The School provides artists with hands-on practical training to help them break into the industry. Students of this School represent countries across the world, whether attending the short-term workshops on offer or the longer full-time degrees. New York Film Academy has two campuses, one in the heart of New York and the other at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. Programs include an MFA in Filmmaking, BFA in Filmmaking, one- and two-year Film Programs, and Film Workshops ranging from 3-8 weeks. The School also offers a 1-4 week Digital Film Workshop, and a 1-week Music Video Workshop.
BEIJING FILM ACADEMY, CHINA
The Beijing Film Academy (BFA) is globally recognized as one of the most respected higher education institutes in this field. This is home to a vast portion of Chinese talent and is also the only institute that specializes in film in China. BFA’s advanced cinematic teaching facilities, comprehensive specialties and experienced faculty make it a world-leader in the field of film education. It hosts numerous schools and departments, including the Directing Department, the Cinematography Department, the Animation School of Beijing Film Academy, and the Film and TV Technology Department.
FILM AND TELEVISION INSTITUTE OF INDIA
Popularly known as FTII, this prestigious film institute is located in the Indian city of Pune and is an education destination of choice for aspiring filmmakers and artists. Films made by students and graduates from this institute are not only featured at national and international festivals, but win accolades from all sectors of the industry. With a string of famous alumni such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Bollywood director: Black, Devdas) and Vidhu Vinod Chopra (Bollywood director: 3 Idiots, Munna Bhai), this institute is often the starting point to many an illustrious career. Postgraduate programs are available in all aspects of filmmaking such as direction, editing, cinematography and audiography. There are courses available in acting and scriptwriting as well.
LONDON METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY, ENGLAND
Located in the heart of London, this university offers excellent academic training at an affordable price – perfect for students from Asia looking to study in the UK without spending a fortune. The university provides a high quality education while maintaining rich diversity within its campus to ensure an international experience for students. The university offers a selection of film programs, including the MA in Film Studies, a one-year full-time course providing students the exciting opportunity to study international film from historical and cultural perspectives. Alternatively, the MA in Film Production enriches the filmmaking skills of students who already have experience in the visual arts.
CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY, CANADA
Canada’s Concordia University hosts the prestigious Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. The School is highly regarded in international circles as a university-based centre for the study of film animation, film production and film studies. It offers a range of undergraduate programs in these fields along with Art History and Film Studies. Postgraduate programs on offer include MFA in Studio Arts with an option for Film Production; PhD in Film and Moving Image Studies; and an MA in Film Studies.
CITY UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG
The School of Creative Arts at the City University of Hong Kong is another institute of repute in the Asia region. Students are extensively trained in innovation, critical thinking, creativity and adaptability. Providing a range of programs in animation, direction and photography, this is a sought-after institute among aspiring filmmakers in Hong Kong, China and other Asian countries. It is also popular among students form the West who want to get the inside track on the Asian film industry.