Ok, so what do you learn in film studies? If you’re a student considering a film studies program, then it’s incredibly important that you get an accurate answer to this question.
For a very thorough look at film studies programs and how they can potentially vary based on school and geographical location, we recommend this Wikipedia article that contains quite a bit of useful information.
This article will be a brief overview of the common elements of film studies programs, and it will strike a much more friendly tone than the Wikipedia article, so if you’re into that, stick around.
Something we need to make clear at the start is that a film studies major isn’t necessarily a film production major. There are some important differences between the two.
There’s a huge amount of variation between different schools, programs, and minors that can be added to certain programs, so it’s difficult to generalize without inviting some kind of error.
In most cases, film studies focuses more on film theory and history, as opposed to a dedicated production degree, which would most likely have a primary emphasis on how to actually make films, especially with regards to production and post-production: cameras, lighting, sound, blocking, shot types, storyboarding, etc.
As we’ll explain later, film studies can include film production courses and study, but this probably wouldn’t be the core focus of the program.
Ok, let’s get started.
Film history is often a key component of a film studies program. Understanding any medium depends heavily on looking at the history of that medium.
Learning about the history of film can really open your eyes to different trends and techniques throughout the decades, and you’ll also have a better understanding of which filmmakers ended up influencing other filmmakers, including contemporary filmmakers.
As part of this, you’ll definitely be watching a lot of movies, both in and out of class. Just remember that even if you don’t happen to care for a particular movie, there’s a reason you’re being shown this movie, and it definitely has something to teach you about the art and history of film. So don’t shrug off a movie that you don’t like without taking a closer look.
You’ll even see the origins of certain techniques and images that are now standard and common.
It can be really fascinating learning about how we arrived at our current destination when it comes to the art of film. There are so many incredible movies out there, many of which aren’t being actively preserved for future generations.
You may even decide to focus on film history in your career as a result of these courses.
Perhaps the most important component of a film studies program is the study of film analysis.
Analysis is a complex activity, and it can vary quite a bit from person to person.
Have you ever wondered why film critics have such drastically different opinions of the same film? Well, almost all critics have been trained in film analysis.
Understanding the techniques used to achieve certain effects and understanding the meaning of specific imagery, both inside and outside the context of the film in question, can really help you to form your own analysis of a film.
Film theory really comes into play here, and this can get quite abstract. You’ll be hearing a lot of commentary and discussion on the nature of images and their relation to the viewer, as well as theories regarding some of the most well-regarded movies of all-time.
While there are certainly standards for film analysis and common symbolism that is understood to be fairly consistent across most films, this is an abstract field to be sure, which means that there’s an enormous amount of room for interpretation.
At an advanced level, you’ll probably be graded on how successfully one of your analyses makes an argument, rather than on how those analyses adhere to common interpretations of each movie.
As long as you can back up your claims, there are no wrong answers here, just answers that don’t hold up under close scrutiny.
Learning about film production is obviously an important part of film studies, but as we touched on earlier, how heavily your specific film studies program will focus on production is up in the air.
Some programs might allow students to choose which aspect of the program they really want to focus on, and other schools might split film studies and film production into two completely different majors.
In other words, it’s very important to get a taste of both of these and decide which you want to focus on. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a program that isn’t exploring what you wanted to learn about, what you want to become your career after you graduate.
Still, most film studies programs will include some level of film production study.
Film production, of course, is all about how films actually get made, the nitty-gritty details of how to create certain shots and achieve certain effects.
There are many rules to filmmaking, most of which have the aim of communicating clearly with the audience and providing them with a comfortable viewing experience.
Of course, every rule can be broken if the artist knows exactly what they want to achieve, but early on in your own studies, these rules can be very important. You can experiment with different techniques as well, but you’ll soon realize why those rules exist in the first place.
Is Film Studies for You?
So now that you’ve gotten a brief overview of what film studies actually involves, does it sound like the right major for you? Does this major cover everything you want to learn about film?
If you’re still up in the air about this, we highly recommend reaching out to schools you want to apply to and ask questions about the program in question.
They will gladly give you the information you want, and they might even be able to recommend another major that might be a better fit for your interests and your career goals.