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Cinematography is a very specific field within the professional film and video industry, but it is one of the most important. No film project can exist without a professional cinematographer, called the Director of Photography, and this is a field that tends to have a good rate of pay through private contracted work. Many people who become professional cinematographers went to a more general film school, not a cinematography college or cinematography school specifically. These cinematography schools are few and far between, but many high level film schools will offer cinematography programs specifically that are the best option for those that would like to focus on being a Director of Photography specifically. Here is a look at a few of the best cinematography schools in the United States where you can get a film degree with a focus on cinematography.
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American Film Institute
The American Film Institute is one of the best film schools in the country and only offers Masters of Fine Arts programs in film areas that are discipline specific. Most film schools are more Director specific, and at the American Film Institute you can focus your film MFA on cinematography. In this cinematography school you will focus mainly on filming projects that are developed in workshops and film cycles, which is how all the different discipline's work together. You will also have cinematographer specific technique classes that will help you work on your skills in non-project scenarios. You will end up acting as the Director of Photography for three films your first year and act as the DP for a thesis the second year, as well as producing your own thesis reel of 35mm work.
If you already have an undergraduate degree that has elements of film work with relevant cinematography elements then the AFI will likely be the best cinematography school that you can choose. You will work in the heart of Hollywood with great equipment and you work will be seen by the film industry, but the tuition cost is significant and the admissions process is incredibly difficult. If you have a an undergraduate degree, a good portfolio of work, and enough persuasive experience then this is going to be a great option for a cinematography school.
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An comparable cinematography college to the American Film Institute is the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television, which offers a Master's of Fine Arts program in cinematography as well. The UCLA cinematography program is more involved in that it is a four year program and only two or three students are allowed into the program each year. The program is a film school curriculum with a directed focus on cinematography coursework that students are required to complete. In the third and fourth year the student is required to film at least three thesis films for directing students, and for their own thesis they will do a research project focused around cinematography. This project will combine more complex ideas about cinematography with actual visual elements that will be added to your reel. UCLA is one of the premiere film schools and in state tuition is going to make it a less costly program per year, and this is going to stand out as a cinematography school for those who want to become cinematographers in the Hollywood system.
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Rochester Institute of Technology
If you are trying to go to an undergraduate cinematography school you want to find a program that is also going to provide a broad enough education, which is really important for undergraduate studies. What this means is that it is best to find an undergraduate film school that will then allow you to focus in on a career as a cinematographer rather than a cinematography school that is only focused on that craft, which is the way that the graduate programs tend to work. The Rochester Institute of Technology's School of Film and Animation has an undergraduate Bachelors of Fine Arts program in film production that allows for a more standard Director focus, or what is called a "craft track." This craft track allows you to focus your project work and some of your required course work to be focused on a specific craft in the film production world. You can do this for sound design, different post-production fields, the producer role, or cinematography. Here you will go into production workshops and thesis work where you will act as the cinematographer for several projects rather than Directing your own. There is a very good ratio of people graduating with this craft track from RIT who are working professionally in the industry, which is a good way to jump into your career.