The film industry is a thriving and exciting field for degree seekers and creative professionals in visual media. Motion pictures inform and entertain consumers, and Hollywood consistently sees increased revenues and record-breaking figures at the box office, according to a recent study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This bodes particularly well for career prospects and potential pay.
An online film degree helps interested learners capitalize on these trends, equipping them for gainful work in the industry. This page provides a basic overview of what learners can expect in a typical course of study, including sample courses, knowledge and skills gained, and overall job outlook.
Overview of Film Degrees
Film professionals work at every level of motion picture development, including screenwriting, pre-production, casting, editing, visual effects, and distribution. An online film degree provides basic, working knowledge of this process and allows degree seekers to explore and practice responsibilities associated with each level. A typical course of study introduces learners to the history and evolution of the field with a particular emphasis on the skills and knowledge necessary for entry-level work and future specialization.
Several occupations in the film industry require at least a bachelor's degree and are especially suited for creative learners with an interest in film, photography, animation, and other forms of visual media. The overall job outlook for working professionals with an online film degree is favorable and strong, due in part to increased interest among consumers and innovations in technology. According to BLS projections, jobs for camera operators, editors, producers, and directors will increase by 12-17% in coming years, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Earning a bachelor's degree in this exciting field is easier than ever. Schools offering an online film degree do not typically stipulate in-person requirements and comfortably accommodate working professionals and busy learners.
Most schools offering an online film degree tend to follow the same general application process with similar admission criteria. However, prospective learners should always consult program admissions departments directly for specifics as schools differ a bit on the details.
A typical application process involves official academic transcripts, standardized test scores like the ACT or SAT, letters of recommendation, an essay or personal statement, and a modest fee. The application fee usually falls in the $50-$100 range and can be waived in some cases based on demonstrated financial need.
A degree seeker who already holds some academic credits (a transfer student, for example) needs to submit copies of all transcripts indicating a minimum cumulative GPA in the 2.0-3.0 range. Learners can obtain transcripts by contacting the registrar at the institution(s) they attended. Each applicant must also provide 1-3 letters of recommendation. These letters should come from previous employers or academic mentors who can speak to the applicant's abilities and readiness for success.
Finally, each prospective learner must craft and submit an essay or personal statement. This document, one of the most important components of the application, should discuss personal and professional goals and address how the program in question is the best way to achieve those goals. Some programs may also outline specific essay questions.
What Will I Learn?
A typical online film degree entails 120 credits split among 34-40 general education credits, 50-60 major credits, and 20-26 elective credits. General education credits provide basic instruction in major areas of study like mathematics, the liberal arts, and the natural and social sciences. Electives can be used to establish further specialization in film or to explore additional areas of interest outside the discipline.
Core major requirements constitute the bulk of an online film degree. These courses provide a foundational understanding of film and visual arts and allow learners to develop, hone, and apply transferable skills specific to the industry. Courses explore the history of motion pictures, screenwriting, directing, cinematography, and overall film production. Each school and program offers different classes that cover these basic areas. The list below represents a sample of common courses in an online film degree.
This course provides an introductory overview of the history of motion picture arts as it pertains to business, cultural memory, and aesthetic expression. Learners study how film emerged as a dominant force in entertainment by examining silent films, the Hollywood Golden Age, French New Wave, and experimental cinema.
Degree seekers in this course learn the basic principles of cinematography, including lighting, set design, camera placement and operation, lens exposure, and aspect ratio. Learners engage with notable examples of innovative cinematography throughout the history of film and work to produce portfolios.
This course examines the fundamentals of screenwriting and script development. Degree seekers can learn to use industry-standard scripting software to craft their scripts. The class also studies classic scripts with special attention to their use of structural techniques, character development, dramatic conflict, and resolution.
Film Production and Management
This class teaches learners how to oversee the full development of a film project, from development and pre-production through shooting, editing, and distribution. With the help of seasoned industry experts, degree seekers develop budgets and attainable production schedules for projects of their choice.
Film Directing and Editing
Learners enrolled in this course can explore the process of directing and editing a motion picture. This includes casting, directing techniques, lighting and sound, and set design. Degree seekers put these skills to use by developing several short film projects subject to peer review and critique.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Film?
This undergraduate degree develops a broad core of transferable skills specific to the film industry, though the skills students develop throughout the program can be used in related job sectors. These abilities, when coupled with a working understanding of film production, prepare learners for employment in visual media and beyond.
The core skills gained with an online film degree prepare learners for fulfilling work as film producers, directors, cinematographers, screenwriters, and other specialized positions like those discussed below. These technical skills require interactive, hands-on engagement in a setting that mimics an actual film set or studio. Most schools offering an online film degree provide this environment, allowing enrolled learners to refine their skills in realistic contexts. These desirable, transferable skills place degree seekers in an excellent position for entry-level employment in a thriving yet competitive workforce.
For example, proficiency with audio-visual and film editing software familiarizes degree seekers with technical conventions shared across the industry, encouraging broader professional opportunities. In a similar vein, working with film cameras and lighting equipment gives learners indispensable skills and experience that closely mirror on the job working conditions. Many producers and film distribution companies hire individuals with this level of experience ahead of their peers. These skills also encourage interest and familiarity with other forms of visual art that depend on the same knowledge and technical acumen.
Potential Careers and Salaries
The film industry employs a variety of different professionals with varying areas of interest and expertise. Obtaining an online film degree equips learners for successful work in positions that encompass every facet of film production and development. The careers listed below rank among the most popular in the field. Working professionals and recent graduates can expect to follow similar trajectories while bearing in mind that this versatile, flexible degree often positions individuals for similar opportunities in visual media and other adjacent fields.
Film and Video Editor and Camera Operator
Annual Median Salary: $58,990
These professionals operate camera equipment to capture and manipulate images that inform and entertain audiences. They typically work as part of a larger film crew in studios, on location sets, and office settings. This position requires a bachelor's degree in a related field.
Multimedia Artist and Animator
Annual Median Salary: $72,520
Artists in this capacity create images, animation sequences, and visual effects for video games, television, film, and other forms of visual media. Most work full time in offices or firms as part of a collaborative team, though some may work independently. They typically possess relevant undergraduate degrees.
Producer or Director
Annual Median Salary: $71,680
Directors and producers create and oversee the development of television shows, major motion pictures, commercials, and other media. They translate written scripts into compelling visual imagery. A professional in this capacity typically holds, at minimum, a bachelor's degree in an appropriate field, as well as several years of work.
Annual Median Salary: $34,000
Photographers use their technical skills and expertise to compose compelling visual images that document an event or support a narrative. Many photographers work independently, though some obtain employment with news organizations and other media outlets. They generally possess bachelor's degrees in photography or a related field, like film.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Film?
Earning an online film degree at the undergraduate level prepares learners for a variety of rewarding careers in the industry. Most entry-level jobs in film and visual media require a bachelor's degree, as the course of study encourages basic knowledge in the field and promotes the core set of hard skills most employers desire.
Degree seekers and working professionals interested in mid-level leadership positions or more specialized roles likely need to consider pursuing additional training and education. Such opportunities allow for more advanced study to further validate their skills and expertise. Professional experience is gained through on-the-job work, so learners holding bachelor's degrees can still advance in the field. They can also pursue other job opportunities in adjacent sectors.
Accreditation for Film Bachelor's Programs
Prospective degree seekers should also consider accreditation as they weigh their options. Accreditation ensures that higher education institutions and the programs they administer meet acceptable standards of quality and excellence. Independent agencies recognized by either the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation carry out this process, granting accreditation at regional, national, and programmatic levels.
Regional accreditation, the most reputable form, legitimizes the programming of nonprofit, academically oriented schools. Technical, vocational, and for-profit institutions receive national accreditation. Programmatic accreditation, an additional credential, validates the standing of a specific program within an already accredited school. Some programs hold this credential, but many do not because it supplements regional or national accreditation.
There is currently no independent agency offering programmatic accreditation in film. However, some programs receive programmatic accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. If the program in question does not possess programmatic accreditation, learners should make sure that the school holds regional or national accreditation.
Film Professional Organizations
Professional guilds and organizations provide online film degree seekers and recent graduates with opportunities for career advancement. The organizations listed below offer support for working professionals in the film industry by facilitating networking opportunities, hosting local events and festivals, and promoting professional development endeavors.
Engaging with these organizations makes for a great way to stay up to date with the most recent developments and technical innovations in the field. They also provide ample possibilities for peer collaboration and can often lead to future creative projects and employment opportunities.
American Film Institute
The AFI supports film professionals and other visual artists, preserving the heritage of the motion picture as an art form. A nonprofit organization founded in 1967, the AFI provides educational resources to working professionals, hosts events and film festivals, and maintains an extensive moving picture archive.
The Directors Guild of America
An entertainment organization and union guild first established in 1936, the DGA represents the interests of film and television directors across the U.S. and throughout the world. The organization hosts events, confers awards, and provides its members with ongoing professional support through continuing education initiatives and contract negotiation.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Informally known as the Academy, this organization is a major institution in the film industry. It hosts the annual Academy Awards ceremony honoring outstanding contributions to the field, supports a variety of branches devoted to specialized areas of service, and often provides fellowships to support qualifying professionals.