Online Master's Programs in Film Studies

Students may pursue a master's in film studies to deepen and specialize their film knowledge or increase their salary potential. The degree often involves leadership roles in the field, allowing graduates to advance their careers. This guide covers important information about earning a master's in film studies, including common courses, specializations, program considerations, career opportunities, and financial aid options.

What to Know About Online Master's in Film Studies Coursework

Completing a master's in film studies online can lead to multiple outcomes depending on the school and program. Master of fine arts (MFAs) in film studies programs emphasize the more creative components of film, such as acting, set design, and music supervision. Master of arts (MA) degrees in film studies focus on film theory, historical relevance, and research skills. Learners should identify which path speaks to their personal and career interests.

Most programs require 1-3 years of study, depending on program style, delivery method, thesis requirements, and enrollment status. Many online programs allow students to advance through coursework at their own pace, affording them the flexibility to balance school with work and family obligations.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Film Studies Program?

Master's in film studies curricula vary by institution, but students can get a sense of what to expect by reading about common courses below.

Film Theory and Criticism
Typically taken in the first semester, this foundational course covers classical and modern film theories. Students consider how structuralism, narratology, and semiotics influence filmmaking practices and movements and how these shape cinematic culture.
American Cinema Survey
This class covers American cinema across the decades. Learners begin in the 1920s before progressing through the golden era of Hollywood in the 1940-50s. They then study the emergence of a new Hollywood in the 1970s.
Narration Strategies
This course covers different modes of narrative for prospective film writers. Students watch various films and shows before exploring how the filmmaker told the narrative in creative or traditional ways.
Production Design
A great fit for individuals who want to work on the aesthetic side of the industry, this class covers how to create sets, models, costumes, and other visual elements. Students also learn how to develop sketches and budgets.
Dialogue Writing
This course covers how to craft and write effective and realistic dialogue for a variety of characters and personalities.

What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Film Studies Program?

Many master's in film studies programs offer specializations. The following section reviews common specializations that may be available to learners.

  • Documentary Filmmaking: This specialization provides graduates with the tools and competencies needed to create documentary films and programming. Courses cover the history of documentary filmmaking, production, cross-cultural communications, investigative techniques, and contemporary issues in the field.
  • Film Arts: Designed for students who want to work on the research and analysis side of the industry, this specialization covers film theory and criticism, historical context and historiography, written critiques, and world cinema.
  • Screenwriting: This specialization covers various types of screenwriting, including sketch comedy, drama, and other genres. Students study character development, conflict, dialogue, dramatic structure, and script formatting.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

In addition to coursework, master's in film studies students typically must participate in projects and experiential learning programs. Students can usually opt to write a thesis or complete a culminating project that showcases what they learned during the degree. Some programs may require learners to participate in an internship to build practical skills.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Film Studies Program?

Students should consider several factors when seeking quality online master's in film studies programs. For example, students should seek programs with regional accreditation, which indicates that the school meets high academic standards in terms of curricula, career preparation, and student support. Students should also read the faculty profiles of each prospective school to ascertain how much experience and education they bring to the department. Additional quality indications include the school's graduation rates and how often students secure employment after graduation.

Career Opportunities With a Master's in Film Studies Degree

Master's in film studies graduates enjoy many career opportunities in fields like screenwriting, set design, television show production, and film analysis and criticism. This section covers prospective careers for graduates. Students should note that some of the following careers may require additional education or experience, depending on the industry.

Producers and Directors

These professionals work on the sets of television shows, films, commercials, documentaries, and theatre productions. Some of their responsibilities include auditioning and casting actors, hiring crew members, managing production finances, overseeing staff, and maintaining schedules.

  • Median Salary: $71,680
  • Currently Employed: 134,700
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +12%
Art Director

Art directors work both inside and outside of the film industry to create visual styles for projects. Some work in print, lending their creative eye to layouts for magazines and newspapers; others work on television shows and movies, creating styles for the set. They may manage set designers, confer with costumers, and liaise with producers and directors to ensure their stylistic vision is realized.

  • Median Salary: $92,780
  • Currently Employed: 90,300
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +5%
Multimedia Artists and Animators

Whether working on a TV show, film, cartoon, or video game, artists and animators use their design skills to illustrate animated images. They work closely with directors on set to ascertain project needs before creating models and graphics. Some may design computer-generated character images, while others design backgrounds and scenery.

  • Median Salary: $72,520
  • Currently Employed: 73,700
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +8%
Writers

Film writers can work as script writers or editors. They may liaise with producers, directors, and adaptation specialists to ensure language, tone, and genre effectively convey the overarching message. They may also work with dialect professionals to write for characters from specific regions or countries.

  • Median Salary: $62,170
  • Currently Employed: 131,200
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +8%
Interior Designers

Interior designers can work on sets for television shows, movies, and commercials. They work with directors and producers to identify the desired look and feel, hire contractors and design specialists, scout shooting locations, and purchase appropriate furniture and decor.

  • Median Salary: $53,370
  • Currently Employed: 66,500
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +4%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

What's the Expected Job Growth for Film Studies Careers?

The BLS projects roles for producers and directors to grow 12% by 2026, much faster than the national average for all occupations. The rise of internet streaming platforms (e.g., Hulu, Netflix, and Prime TV) has created more space for additional programming, contributing to the industry's growth potential.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Film Studies

Master's in film studies students and graduates benefit from joining professional organizations. These organizations offer professional development, networking, and continuing education opportunities. They also provide scholarship opportunities and industry news and information.

Producers Guild of America
Members of the PGA gain access to benefits like annual conferences, workshops, job boards, mentoring opportunities, fellowships, and competitions.


Motion Picture Association of America
MPAA supports members through advice, professional opportunities, and advocacy. The group provides job postings, research and policy information, and credits.


Set Decorators Society of America
SDSA members gain access to awards, industry best practices, a decorator database, business directories, regional and national events, and decorator spotlights.


Writers Guild of America
Members of this organization gain access to support for contracts and enforcement, an interactive writers' room, online and in-person events, workshops, and a member directory.


Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
AMPAS supports members through events, workshops, access to film and television archives at the Margaret Herrick Library, student awards, continuing education programs, and fellowships.

How to Pay for a Master's in Film Studies Degree

Many financial aid options exist for master's in film studies students, including scholarships, grants, and federal and private loans. The following section outlines several financial aid opportunities for film students.

Federal Financial Aid
The U.S. Department of Education awards grants, work-study funds, and loans to qualified applicants. To receive consideration, students must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year of enrollment.
Professional Organization Funding
Some professional organizations provide grants and scholarships to students pursuing related degrees. One such example is the Academy Film Scholars program, a $25,000 academic grant for students currently working toward filmmaking as a vocation.
Program Scholarships
Many colleges and universities offer scholarships to offset the cost of degrees. For example, the University of Southern California's Cinematic Arts Department provides several scholarships to eligible film students.
Assistantships and Fellowships
Many programs provide tuition waivers and stipends to exceptional students. These opportunities usually require students to commit to a certain number of hours per semester assisting with faculty teaching and research. The City University of New York offers several fellowships for master's in film studies students.