The Best Film Summer Programs for High School Students

Many high school students will log an impressive quantity of hours binging Netflix shows this summer. 

If there’s a particularly exciting summer action feature, some might even trek to a movie theater to don 3D glasses and indulge in copious amounts of buttered popcorn. 

The next best moviemakers, however, will likely be attending one of the top film summer programs for high school students we’re about to discuss. After all – why see a film when you can make one?!

Attending a film summer program puts attendees in the literal director’s chair…and their producer’s chair…and the screenwriter’s chair…okay, a lot of chairs! 

Seeking to expose youth to the realities of bringing an idea to life in the form of a movie, summer film programs prioritize hands-on experiences, and many charge participants with writing and producing at least one film within the time they attend.

Film is one of those fields where it can be challenging to get experience in an academic setting, and another great aspect about some of the top film summer programs is that many do not require previous experience. 

Film programs often take place on college campuses or nonprofit sites and transport students to exciting locations like Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and Atlanta.

Completing a film summer program as a high school student is also advantageous in that your final project can serve as an artifact for your admissions portfolio, should you need to submit one in order to apply for elite institutions known for their excellent film majors. 

We are excited to introduce the top 10 film summer programs for high school students in the United States. While you might not walk away with an Oscar just yet, you’ll emerge with the confidence and experience needed to apply for competitive undergraduate film programs.

Filmmaking Summer Program for High School Students at Interlochen Center for the Arts (Interlochen, MI)

Interlochen Summer Arts Camp
rossograph, The Commons at Interlochen Fine Arts School, CC BY-SA 4.0

Founded in 1963, the Interlochen Center for the Arts is primarily a pre-professional arts boarding school for high school-aged youth. 

That said, you don’t have to be a boarding school student to attend one of Interlochen’s many illustrious summer arts programs. 

Within the Filmmaking Summer Program, students devote their days to generating a “summer blockbuster,” which they will showcase to their peers as a final project.

High school students in grades 9-12 are eligible to apply for one of two three-week sessions. The application process is competitive and will require various submissions on behalf of the applicant, so it’s best to start applying early. 

Workshops will thrust students into the realms of film history, post-production, and screenwriting. 

Dynamic guest speakers make regular appearances on campus. In the past, Emmy Award-winning writer and producer of Mad Men – Janet Leahy – and Breaking Bad writer/director Peter Gould have both visited to offer their insights and feedback on student work.

Pre-College: Digital Filmmakers at Emerson College (Boston, MA)

Highly regarded for its arts programming, Emerson College offers a three-week pre-college experience for aspiring filmmakers. 

By the end of the experience, each student will have the opportunity to showcase an original film to an audience of their friends, family, and fellow filmmakers. 

Scholars have the autonomy to pursue a 24-hour film, short film, or 1-2-minute montage – they can also work independently or as part of a small team. What kind of things can a participant expect to learn? 

They’ll spend time on story structure, cinematography, and lighting. They’ll immerse themselves in the nitty-gritty processes of sound recording and editing. They’ll shoot digital videos in color as well as in black and white. This experience really exposes students to all aspects of digital filmmaking!

Coursework generally takes place from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Saturday, with class formats comprising equipment demos, project pitches, lectures, discussions, and meetings with advisors. 

Some nights, students can expect to spend time in the editing lab or engaging in introductory film coursework. If you live and breathe filmmaking, this type of commitment is right up your alley!

Writing for Film at the School of The New York Times (New York City, NY)

Next on our list of the best summer film programs for high school students is the School of the New York Times, an experience that transports participants to exciting locations like the Museum of the Moving Image, the NYU Production Lab, and various working film sets across the Big Apple. 

The primary goal of the program is to support students in developing a filmmaker mindset – to do this, staff challenges scholars to create an original idea for a short film and turn it into a screenplay. 

Field trips like the ones mentioned above, as well as guest speaker experiences, are interspersed throughout a workshop-driven curriculum. Students will consider scene structure, dialogue, character development, and other important aspects as they bring their works to life.

No prior experience in film study? No worries! The Summer Academy meets students where they are, compelling them to lean into a specific genre or technique of interest. Participants are guided by constructive feedback from staff and film industry guest teachers throughout the program.

The University of Chicago Summer Session: Cinema, Media & Society – A Global Survey (Chicago, IL)

University of Chicago
Ndshankar, University of Chicago main quadrangles, CC BY-SA 4.0

Positioned #6 out of all U.S. universities by the U.S. News, the University of Chicago is gradually climbing the ranks of schools with the best film programs. 

Its summer session – Cinema, Media, and Society – is a 2.5-week residential experience for 9th, 10th, and 11th-grade high school students. 

Throughout the immersion, participants can expect a collegiate-level introduction to the film studies domain. They will encounter various industries and formats, from Bollywood features to independent documentaries. 

Often, they will analyze different genres through a comparative lens. Of course, there will be plenty of hands-on opportunities, with unfettered access to UChicago’s VR platforms, video installations, and screening rooms.

What kind of activities will scholars engage in? They’ll become well-versed in cinematic language and the lingo of film analysis, recognize different compositing techniques, and complete video essays related to moving image topics. 

For a final project, each participant will make a 56-minute video essay proving their skill in constructing an argument using visual images. Young cinephiles will gravitate to this type of high-level challenge!

Camp Flix at Emory University (Atlanta, GA)

Having gained a reputation as the “Hollywood of the South,” Atlanta is an ideal location for youth (ages 11-17) to dip their toes in the world of filmmaking. 

Camp Flix is optimal for those with little experience or background in filmmaking or acting. Regardless, they’ll collaborate with same-aged (and level of expertise) peers to create a short film within one week. 

There are two sessions offered on Emory’s campus and one at Kennesaw State University. Participants can opt for the day or overnight format, making Camp Flix one of the most flexible programs on our list. 

Industry professionals lead participants in everything from developing their projects to working as part of film crews and marketing their work. 

To start, participants will gain proficiency in the “core elements” before moving on to pre-production, which involves script development, storyboard creation, location scouting, set design, and casting. 

In production, students experience what it’s like to be the director, cinematographer, lighting supervisor, and sound supervisor. The red carpet will roll out on a Friday night culminating event – a Hollywood-style premiere gala.

Austin School of Film Teen Summer Film Intensive (Austin, TX)

Founded in 2002, the Motion Media Arts Center at the Austin School of Film has received worldwide accolades for its media arts programming. Like the previous offering, the Teen Summer Film Intensive is a one-week program that guides students through the endeavor of transforming an idea into a script and then into an on-screen reality. 

How does it differ? Students get to experience more on-set roles like editors, gaffers, boom operators, and producers. Participants will design the entire set for their production by hand, paying special attention to which lightning techniques will elicit desired emotions and moods.

Expect the application process to be competitive, as only 20 students are selected for enrollment each summer. The age demographic will be higher than Camp Flix’s, limiting participation to students ages 13-17.

SOCAPA Film Core Filmmaking (Los Angeles, CA; New York City, NY; Burlington, VT)

SOCAPA’s more popular summer film camp intensive – Film Core Filmmaking – is open to youth ages 14-18. Choose a two-, three-, or four-week experience at one of the three locations noted above. 

LA’s sessions take place at Occidental College, while NYC participants will reside at the Astor Place, and Burlington scholars will learn at Champlain College and the Burke Mountain Hotel.

Each session length challenges scholars to create a “Porter” and “Lumiere” project; the difference is that the three-week option includes a “Kubrick” project. 

Regardless of your choice, you can expect to have learned core fundamentals within the first two days and to have progressed to the pre-production stage by the middle of the first week!

We won’t spill too many details on the meaning of the three different projects – just know that they will each challenge participants to apply and build upon their newly harnessed skills. 

Those who select the more extended program options additionally collaborate on a group screenwriting project where members of the entire cohort write, direct, star, and edit. Yes, you can expect a fast-paced, enthralling program at SOCAPA!

Yale Summer Sessions (New Haven, CT)

Yale Summer Sessions is unique in that it is primarily focused on equipping participants with the mindset and work ethic necessary to thrive within a competitive collegiate film major environment. 

Yale faculty play a pivotal role in offering feedback and providing guidance throughout the various courses available for future moviemakers. Let’s highlight several of the exceptional in-person and online experiences.

In World Cinema, in-person attendees consider higher-level questions like “what is world cinema?” and “what is a world?” 

Participants can expect to view and discuss many films, including who pays for filmmaking, how films are made and marketed, and how film exists within the larger context of imperialism and globalization. 

Film, Video, and American History is another in-person offering, challenging students to analyze films across different American eras like the Great Depression, World War II, and Jazz Age.

If online classes are more feasible for your summer, consider Hallyu: Korean Film, Music, and Pop Culture. 

Each week is guided by a new theme, where participants analyze music, movies, and games within that theme or essential question. 

In Money and Media – the Business of Hollywood – special emphasis is placed on how the film industry has responded to innovations in technology, marketing, and competition.

USC Cinematic Arts Summer Program (Los Angeles, CA)

In addition to its proximity to Hollywood, USC boasts a reputation as one of the top undergraduate institutions for film majors. Attendance at the Cinematic Arts Summer Program means you’ll learn from working industry professionals at the oldest film school in the country. 

High school youth ages 16 and up can participate in one of two six-week sessions, and admission is granted on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Here, we have a program where participants can earn college credit for their work! Even better? These elective credits are transferable to any university. Regarding classes, students tend to specialize in one of six areas. 

Outside of filmmaking and screenwriting, concentrations include gaming, animation, or film and television business.

We think USC’s course offerings are some of the best and most diverse this list has to offer. In Documentary Filmmaking, scholars ideate, write, produce, direct, and edit their own non-fiction documentaries. 

Interested in a particular genre? Horror Filmmaking positions students next to some of the best professionals in the horror industry via field trips, panels, and guest lectures. Each scholar will create not one but two horror short films within six weeks!

Wake Forest University Summer Immersion Program Filmmaking Institute (Winston-Salem, NC)

Wake Forest University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps one of the most underrated options on our list, Wake Forest’s one-week-long SIP Filmmaking Institute is open to current 9th through 12th graders. 

The institute is led by Thomas Southerland, a Wake Forest film professor who has written and directed two award-winning works: Proud Citizen and Fort Maria, among other documentaries.

The week-long immersion will cover topics like how to interview for documentaries, camera and sound basics, and the basics of screenwriting. 

Exciting experiential learning opportunities task participants to create two short films and engage in high-level discussions with filmmaking professionals.

A typical day in the program starts with breakfast and a morning meeting at 8 AM before the youth attendees devote time to acquiring technical skills, previewing and analyzing films, and collaborating with their film team. 

Evening activities focus on team-building throughout the week, and this program is considerably less time-intensive after hours when compared to others on this list.

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