Online film school is one way you can learn about the art of film making, but is it worth it?

And do you need a certification from film school to have a career in movies or television?

In this article, we will go over the pros and cons of film school, especially the online variety, and then give you seven recommendations on top online film schools or online courses to explore and try.

What Exactly is Film School?

“Film school” is a broad term that can apply to any sort of educational program designed to teach various aspects of film making.

Some film schools go so far as to offer a full bachelor’s degree or even a master’s in something like film production. These might include some universities. Other film school programs are more like career schools or technical institutes that give you a film school “certification.”

Since making a film requires a lot of different moving pieces and parts, “film school” is in some respects a generic term, because it doesn’t speak specifically to the actual job being trained for.

For example, to make a film, you need directors, actors, film editors, screenwriters, production assistants, make-up artists, cameramen (the more “inclusive” term is camera operators), sound people, and all sorts of ancillary staff.

However, in the most general sense of the term “film school” is often about learning how to be a film director. You will learn about camera angles and how to frame shots and all those things a director needs to know to make a good film.

That said, you can certainly go to film school to learn other disciplines, but it depends on the school and how many specialties they offer.

Online Film School

With online film school, the choices are somewhat limited at this time. A generic online film school will most likely be designed for people who want to direct and make films.

If you are interested in screenwriting, acting, film editing, or sound production, you should instead look for specific courses in these fields.

However, learning all sides of the film industry could potentially be helpful for an actor or a screenwriter, so you may still want to go to online film school.

Who knows, maybe you will also want to direct too some day!

students doing film making

The Pros and Cons of Going to Film School

What are the pros and cons of going to film school?

You should consider carefully what you actually need before putting a wad of cash on film education.

The Cons of Going to Film School

Here is the thing: You absolutely do not need a film school “certification” to succeed in Hollywood. In fact, many of the most famous and successful film directors never went to film school at all.

Here is a list of famous directors who did not go to film school:

  • James Cameron
  • Steven Spielberg (technically, he dropped out of film school)
  • Stanley Kubrick
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • Peter Jackson

If you have spent any significant amount of time in Hollywood, even if you were not in “The Industry” as the Entertainment Industry is known there, you know that degrees are not important.

It’s all about who you know.

It’s also about what your reel looks like.

Your reel, whether you are an actor, film editor, or director, is your resume. It’s a brief video that showcases your best stuff.

No one in Hollywood is going to care about whether you went to film school if they are hiring a director.

You need to have good films under your belt, films that you did.

This is why some of the best young directors are break-out directors who got their start launching their own successful independent film.

One film industry blogger emphatically rejects film school by saying:

“Film schools vary enormously in reputation, but they all have two things in common: they are scandalously expensive and they all break down the course into units, each one taught by an instructor who gave up on filmmaking a long time ago.”

The Pros of Going to Film School

That said, you can benefit from going to film school, but it probably helps to have realistic expectations of what it will do for you.

It won’t get you a job, nor is it a way to get “in” with the already successful people you would want to network with for a job. Down the line, you may benefit from connections at film school, but it’s not going to get you “in” with the current “in” film crowd.

And remember: You won’t get taken more seriously after film school than you did before film school.

However, on the positive, you might make some friends, and be able to put together a group to collaborate on some film projects that will give you what you really need for a film job: a good reel.

One director advises people to go to film school for the following reasons:

“Have you ever wondered why watching even 10 minutes of someone’s home video feels longer than watching a two-hour Hollywood feature? The answer lies in the techniques professionals use when crafting a visual story. Almost everyone knows about three-point lighting, but that’s only the start.

“At film school you learn the elements of a well-crafted image, from framing to color to composition. You learn how to capture the attention of viewers and guide their eyes from shot to shot. And beyond the moving image, you learn what makes a good visual story and how to write the best possible script. In short, you learn cinematic techniques honed from more than 100 years of film making that are just as valid in the digital age as they were in the silent era.”

And here is one potential “pro” of getting a film degree that is perhaps cynical, but it does have some merit:

If you do get a bachelor’s degree in film production, even if you end up not succeeding in film, you at least have a bachelor’s degree. And today, most hiring managers expect a bachelor’s degree, even if it is in a completely different field.

So, down the line, that bachelor’s degree will help you, even if it is not in film per se.

behind the scenes of making a film/movie

The Benefits of Online Film School

First of all, most online film schools are not offering a full bachelor’s degree, although some do. Many of these schools are just there to teach you the basics of filmmaking, and can vary in subject. You might learn camera angles, lighting, sound editing, screenwriting, film editing, and more. The benefits of online film school include:

1. Online Film School Is Usually Cheaper

You won’t have to pay an arm and a leg for online film school typically. You can find some really great online training for very little compared to in-person film schools.

2.  Online Film School Is Convenient

You can learn on your own schedule wherever you are. Don’t make that big leap and move to Hollywood until you have taken some online film classes and see if you really like it.

3. Online Film School Classes May Be Taken Piecemeal

Depending on the program, you may be able to take some online film school classes piecemeal, meaning, you take what classes are most interesting to you.

The Downsides of Online Film School

Here are a few cons to online film school:

1. You Will Find Fewer Options (Currently)

Right now, you will not find tons of great options for online film school, especially if you want a degree program that is accredited. You can find a lot of courses on subjects relating to film, but not a lot in the way of comprehensive programs.

2. You Won’t Network as Much

Remember, when you go to film school, you will not be networking with successful people in Hollywood. Your teacher is likely to be a has-been or never-was, and your peers are fellow students. However, you will make friends and do a little bit of networking.

3. You Do Not Get That Sense of Immersion

When you are studying online, you do not get that sense of being fully immersed in a community of creative people. It is just not the same as going to an in-person school. (However, if you are an older student, perhaps this is a good thing.)

making a movie of a guy in a yellow suit

7 Online Film Schools for Your Consideration

Now that we have looked at the pros and cons of film school and general, and the benefits and drawbacks of online film school, let us look at some actual programs.

The following online film school options do not all offer certifications, nor are they typically “accredited.” Only one offers an official degree. But they may be good options for your initial or continuing education.

1. Lights Film School

This is a fully online film school dedicated to offering quality, low cost training for film professionals. It has been featured in many publications, including Backstage, Lifehacker, and Huffpost.

As of this writing, Lights Film School was offering a summer special, which is an incredible deal for any online professional training, much less film school.

2. Digital Filmmaking – Online Bachelor of Science Degree Program

The Los Angeles Film School offers a number of degree programs on the Internet. If you want a bachelor’s degree, you can get one with their online Digital Filmmaking program. You do need to fill out an application for this program and need a high school diploma.

Included with the program are some basic gear and software you will need for the course, such as a Sony FS-5 Digital Cinema Camera with a shotgun microphone plus windscreen. You will also get a MacBook laptop with Adobe Creative software available for all your digital video editing needs.

3. Film School Online Complete Filmmaking Program

The Film School Online Complete Filmmaking Program is a super cheap option from a website that looks like it was built in 1995. But hey, the complete program is a great deal and for that amount of money, you can definitely give it a try.

4. Streaming Film School

The Streaming Film School is an online version of a “2-Day Film School” from Dov S-S Simens. It covers shooting, directing, lighting, and editing, as well as the business side of things, such as film financing and securing a distributor.

5. Filmmaking Training and Tutorials

Filmmaking Training and Tutorials is a whole bunch of film production and other film courses offered by Lynda.com, recently bought out by LinkedIn and are now branded as “LinkedIn Learning.” These are ala carte courses where you can focus on particular subjects you want to pursue, such as making documentary videos.

6. Martin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking

Masterclass is a website that offers online courses by really famous people. So if you want to learn from Oscar winner Martin Scorsese, here is your chance.

The Martin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking online course is an amazing bargain. (By the way, Scorsese is one of those well-known, highly successful directors who did go to film school.)

While it is not available as of this writing, coming soon, the Masterclass website will also offer a class with film director Spike Lee.

7. Get into Filmmaking

Get into Filmmaking is actually an online resource from Future Learn that compiles various free online film training programs. Check it out!

a guide on film directing 101: how to plan, shoot and edit

Give Online Film School a Try

While they may not be everything you ever hoped for in a film school, there are a lot of affordable options online when it comes to film education.

With some online film school courses being highly affordable, you may be able to take more than one. You can even combine online film school with in-person courses.  

Of course, film school is no substitute for a good reel, so don’t let all these online classes stop you from just going out there and making a great film!