While some students dream of being an actor, others want to tell a story on film by recording the action and capturing meaningful images. Cinematography is the visual storytelling necessary to set the overall look of a film. On-screen visual elements like lighting, framing, composition, and camera motion are essential aspects of cinematography.
On the other hand, film editors work to assemble the raw footage into visual stories. They must have an appreciation for aesthetics and understand various editing platforms. These two art forms are linked, as cinematographers must supply beautiful footage from which the editor can create an engaging story.
The most talented cinematographers and film editors of today got their start in university. Programs in motion pictures and television, filmmaking, and post-production are available for students interested in creating film. Providing technical training and in-depth classes, undergraduates have plenty of opportunities to practice their craft.
Along with academics, the best cinematography schools will have the necessary equipment, software, and laboratory space to gain hands-on experience. Many programs provide film festivals, internships, or guest lecturers to inspire students and help them improve. Instructor experience, graduate employment, and professional development opportunities are also important factors.
With dozens of cinematography and film editing schools across the nation, it can be difficult to determine which is the right choice.
Here are the top ten programs for cinematography and film editing in the United States.
10. Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX)
At Southern Methodist University, the Meadows Division of Film and Media Arts is passionate about training students to become talented artists in film and media. Graduates go on to work as directors, screenwriters, producers, cinematographers, and artistic directors. Jurassic Park, Supernatural, and The Iron Giant are just some of the notable alumni projects.
As soon as their first year, students gain hands-on access to film equipment and opportunities to hone their craft. Along with class projects, undergraduates work alongside industry-respected faculty to create the Division’s biennial full-length feature film project.
During their junior year, qualified students can pursue internships alongside professionals in the motion picture, television, and other electronic media industries. The school’s Dallas location is home to many production companies and production facilities for students to hone their craft.
9. Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts (Tallahassee, FL)
Students at Florida State University are able to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Motion Picture Arts Production. The degree aims to combine filmmaking education with a solid foundation in liberal studies.
After completing the program, graduates will be well-versed in various techniques required to produce narrative films.
Undergraduates at FSU study a variety of general education requirements and production courses. Major courses span topics including producing, directing, animation, screenwriting, editing, camera and lighting, production management, and film theory.
Throughout their curriculum, students learn the language of film through making short films. Screenwriting, production, and film analysis are viewed as equal parts of an interdisciplinary process. The College of Motion Picture Arts funds the majority of production expenses for the curriculum, including the senior thesis film, so that students can focus on their craft.
8. Massachusetts College of Art (Boston, MA)
Beginning in the sophomore year, undergraduates can begin their Film/Video degree at MassArt. Cinematography and lighting, sound design, hand-made film, and post-production finishing are just some of the electives to choose between. Students at MassArt take six credits of production each semester, choosing their own electives to build their personalized curriculum.
At MassArt, students are exposed to many emerging digital platforms. These unique technologies include video installation, multi-screen projection, and 360° cameras. Along with state-of-the-art equipment, students explore the culture of moving images through viewings and time-based installations.
After graduation, Film/Video alumni go on to excel in industry or top-ranked MFA programs. Graduates go on to become award-winning filmmakers, video artists, cinematographers, and editors. Their work is shown in film festivals around the world.
7. DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts (Chicago, IL)
DePaul University was recently named as one of the country’s top film schools by both the Hollywood Reporter and Variety. This honor was a result of the hands-on opportunities to work on Chicago’s film and television sets.
While at DePaul, filmmaking students study right next door to high-profile series like Chicago PD, Fargo, and Empire.
The School of Cinematics Arts, partnered with Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, created a 32,000 square foot professional production facility for students. This space houses industry-standard equipment, numerous standing sets, a green screen cyclorama, and a scenic shop. For students interested in cinematography, the Camera Vault has an extensive inventory of state-of-the-art camera equipment.
Founded in 2008, the Visiting Artist Series brings innovative practitioners and industry leaders to the DePaul campus. Previous guests include the Wachowskis, Werner Herzog, and Bo Burnham. These events provide meaningful networking opportunities and inspiration for the next generation of filmmakers.
6. New York Film Academy (New York, NY)
The one-year cinematography program at NYFA helps students develop their technical abilities and artistic identities. The curriculum combines classroom experience, workshops, collaborative projects, and productions. At the end of the program, graduates will be proficient with state-of-the-art camera systems and lighting schemes to tell meaningful stories.
While at the New York Film Academy, students learn from distinguished faculty members who remain active in the industry. Their work has been featured in the most prestigious film festivals around the globe, from Cannes to Santa Barbara. Cinematography students have the opportunity to work one-on-one with big names such as Piero Basso, Liz Hinlein, and Jon Foster.
Thanks to the resources provided by NYFA, graduates go on to make incredible career achievements. Working as cinematographers and film editors, alumni work for well-known companies such as the History Channel, Netflix, and Color Force.
5. UCLA School of Theatre, Film, and Television (Los Angeles, CA)
Established in 1997, the Film and Television Production program offers comprehensive training in aesthetic, organizational, and technical components of cinematography. In order to display their creative vision and versatile skills, the department holds an annual film festival. This event celebrates students and their completed works along with the rest of the UCLA community.
Outside of film production, cinematography students at UCLA can also participate in research. The Digital Incubator and Think Tank studies the effects of digital media and technology on traditional media industries. Combining academic research with critical media analysis provides unique insights into the entertainment industry.
Applying hands-on knowledge from the classroom, cinematography students are encouraged to complete internships for credit. The university’s Los Angeles location provides plenty of opportunities for experience within the film and television industries.
4. Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television (Los Angeles, CA)
The Film and Television Production program at Loyola Marymount University prepares students for success in the industry. In the first three semesters, undergraduates complete common-core courses that provide foundational knowledge into film and practice.
Afterward, students personalize their curriculum to an area of specialization, such as creative producing, directing fiction, directing non-fiction, cinematography, or editing.
LMU emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of media and entertainment in the classroom. Many students form teams to work on film projects together, learning how to receive constructive feedback. In addition, undergraduates will develop an appreciation of the work that each discipline does to bring stories to the screen.
Premiere equipment is available at LMU’s Playa Vista and Westchester campuses. Cinematography students will have the opportunity to work with advanced technology, from advanced lighting to grip equipment and digital camera packages. Additionally, undergraduates have the chance to shoot on 35 mm film, the gold standard for shooting film.
3. University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts (Los Angeles, CA)
As one of the only media schools globally teaching all of the major disciplines of the cinematic arts, USC offers a unique interdisciplinary learning environment. Students can follow their passions and take classes across many divisions in the film, television, and interactive media industries. Each undergraduate is constantly interacting with other members of the film community.
While on campus, USC cinematography and film editing students can utilize their talents.
Trojan Vision, the university’s award-winning television station, airs programs that USC students exclusively produce. The creations reach more than 29,000 students and a global audience each day.
In 2019, a cinematography student from USC was named as a 2019 Student Academy Award winner. He cites his hands-on experience and collaborations with other students for his success. Previous winners of this competition include big names like Pete Docter and Trey Parker.
2. New York University (New York, NY)
The Camera Program at NYU is one of the only undergraduate cinematography programs in the United States. Utilizing digital and film sciences, the program brings a broad understanding of the visual cinema arts. Classes in the cinematography program emphasize lighting practices and camera work in the motion picture industry.
Each year, hundreds of film students complete internships throughout the entertainment industry. Cinematography and film editing students have completed internships at exciting places, including Bleecker Street Films, Anonymous Content, and A24 Films.
To recognize student work, NYU hosts many festivals, from the Sight & Sound Showcase to the First Run Film Festival. Faculty members select the best representative works from undergraduates to screen to the larger NYU community.
1. Emerson College (Boston, MA)
Emerson Media Arts Production graduates will benefit from the school’s extensive alumni network. Spanning the entertainment industry from Boston to Los Angeles, students will join the ranks of creative trailblazers. Students gain inspiration from and work alongside influential media makers.
Emerson University is the first US liberal arts college to offer an international program in film art. In collaboration with the Paris College of Art, students spend three years in Paris, where they benefit from the highest standard of film and art education. Undergraduates in the program create experimental films that define the multicultural world.
Undergraduates have the opportunity to practice their craft in the university’s media technologies and production facilities. Complete with a skilled professional staff of 22 members, students have access to a wide array of video, audio, film, and other media equipment.