The magic of movies is powerful stuff, and it can have lasting impacts in the real world.
Although a day at the movies may just be popcorn, soda, and high drama or laughs for most viewers, deconstructing the impact of films on both individuals and on the cultural gestalt is heady stuff for students who want to know how to work that magic themselves.
Exploring even controversial subjects offers insight into how to make powerful and affecting films.
D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation attempted to recast the Civil War and Reconstruction in American minds. It’s hard to say it was just a movie, when it had such lasting effects in the real world, actually setting-back societal progress and leading to the deepening of racial prejudice in American society.
Decades later, at the peak of the civil rights movement, films like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Raisin in the Sun, both starring Sidney Poitier, would begin the work of undoing some of that regress by shining a light on the racist attitudes that were still festering at all levels of American society
Traditional or online liberal arts degree programs that concentrate on film studies give you the opportunity to decipher the mysteries of moving pictures yourself. Whether you are bound for Hollywood or corporate work in public relations, it’s a concentration that polishes up your skills at analyzing and crafting films with meaning and impact.
A Star-Studded Curriculum Showcases Art and History in Film Studies Concentrations
If you are thinking of enrolling in a film studies concentration just as an excuse to watch a lot of movies, you’re going to be disappointed. Oh, you will definitely watch a lot of movies, but the curriculum you will find is going to be just as eclectic and varied as any other liberal arts degree. Your coursework may center on film and visual media, but you will get plenty of classes in areas where the impact of film is measured, including:
Cultural and Social Studies
If art is a mirror for society, then film is one of the most reflective media available. Movies reveal the cultural touchstones of their time. The subject and storytelling reveal broader social perspectives from when they were made. The film itself may showcase not just the technological and physical artifacts of the era it was made in, but patterns of speech, styles of dress, and other valuable insights into both past and present.
Film isn’t the only way that stories have been told through human history. Instead, it’s just the latest expression of what seems to be an inherent need to record and dramatize tales both classic and novel. You’ll learn how film fits into larger patterns of human storytelling, and how the history of filmmaking itself has evolved and affected the stories being told today.
Acting and Drama
Not all filmmaking requires actors, but the acting process is important to understand to analyze the great library of classic movies. The elements of drama, what makes a story tick, and how they fit in the visual realm are all subjects of interest to film studies students.
The word film itself is already an anachronism in the world of moving visual arts, reflecting the use of a technology that has been outmoded in many cases by digital recording and distribution. But the technologies used to create films themselves impact both the filmmaking process and the subjects that filmmakers can engage with. You’ll study both modern audiovisual systems and reflect on the history of filmmaking equipment and how it influenced movies from the past.
You’ll also work on your analytical skills in courses focusing on film analysis, and on writing and communication. Visual design and literature studies might also help you take on some of the specific qualities that go into movie making, showing you how scenes and stories are crafted.
Film Studies As Part of an Undergraduate or Master’s Curriculum
Most film studies concentrations also include a culminating experience that involves practical, applied work in the field. A capstone project is designed to tie together all of your education and independent ideas into a culminating representation of your experience in the program. More frequently than in other liberal arts degree final projects, film studies concentrations tend to demand some practical work in a visual arts medium.
Bachelor Liberal Studies Degrees with a Concentration in Film Studies Get You in on The Ground Floor
Bachelor’s programs in film studies are often seen as entry-level programs designed to give you the credentials to work as a production assistant or to offer a foundation for creative work in screenwriting, acting, or the technical side of theater and film.
The four years you spend in these degree programs will have a far larger portion of coursework dedicated to liberal studies themselves, with only 30 or so of your 120 total credits falling directly into film studies. But as an interdisciplinary program, you’ll find that just about everything you study will apply to your focus on film at some level.
Masters and Doctoral Liberal Studies Degrees with a Concentration in Film Studies
Master’s and doctoral level degrees in film are aimed mostly at working professionals who have already launched a career in filmmaking, critique, or related areas and want to investigate the field in more depth from an academic angle.
The coursework at this level is both more complex and more self-directed, with your requirement for choosing a focused thesis or dissertation topic letting you call more of the shots in your course load. You can expect to put more time into both theory and research than you did at the undergrad level. You will have relatively few required courses and more elective work, but your culminating project can take as much as half the total time you spend in these programs.
How a Film Studies Education Translates to Life in the Real World
The film industry is one of those places where liberal arts degrees are actively celebrated, so in one sense, earning a liberal studies degree with a concentration in film studies gives you one of the most marketable of liberal arts educations. You won’t stand out among the crowds of other graduates applying for work in writer’s rooms, as film editors, or trying your hand as an independent film producer or director.
But Hollywood isn’t the only place that makes good use of the visual medium. Corporations of all shapes and sizes market themselves and communicate with the public through film. Film studies grads can find jobs as public relations specialists, market research analysts, editors for commercials and promotional work, or even as film archivists in corporate roles.
And movies are big business, so the paychecks aren’t too shabby, either. It’s true that working your way up the ladder can be grueling. But that’s exactly where a liberal studies program offers an edge. Your skills aren’t just relegated to film. You will have picked up a lot of key business and communication skills through your studies, too. That’s going to make you an asset in almost any position, with solid prospects for promotion.
2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators, Public Relations Specialists, and Producers and Directors occupations reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed October 2021.