StudyLink logoHome
Students on a university campus

Where did Famous Filmmakers go to School?

Image of a person holding a film end slate in front of a camera

There are many different ways to become involved in the film industry. Some of the greats will go through film schools, and others will forge their path in a less traditional way. There are fantastic representatives of both of these processes involved in films, both historically and in today’s day and age.

Below we will go through some of the most famous film directors and see if they were educated at a film school, or if they ‘learned on the job’.

Film directors that did go to film school

Martin Scorsese

New York University’s School of Film
Famous Films: Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Killers of the Flower Moon

An Academy Award, BAFTA, Emmy Award and Golden Globe winning filmmaker, Martin Scorsese is a world renowned director who came up through the industry in the 1960’s. After his directorial debut in 1967, Scorsese went on to direct and be involved in many famous films.

NYU’s School of Film is located in New York City. It offers a blend of cultural diversity, world famous teaching staff, and global networking opportunities. This means that it draws the best film students from all around the world.

Kathryn Bigelow

Columbia University
Famous Films: The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, Strange Days

While she earned her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts, Kathryn Bigelow went on to study for her masters degree in film at Columbia University. As a director, Bigelow has worked alongside actors such as Willem Defoe (The Loveless), Jamie Lee Curtis (Blue Steel), Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves (Point Break). In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker.

Columbia University is an Ivy League school located in New York City. Its league table positions and geographic location make it an appealing option for international students. Columbia is home to a diverse community, and provides students with access to industry networks and cultural experiences that will enhance their creative and professional growth.

Bong Joon-Ho

Korean Academy of Film Arts
Famous Films: Parasite, Snowpiercer, Okja

Born in South Korea, Bong Joon-Ho comes from a creative family. While majoring in sociology at Yonsei University, he was an active participant in student demonstrations, mostly protesting with pro-democracy groups. Joon-Ho then went on to complete a two year program at the Korean Academy of Film Arts. Once he had graduated, Joon-Ho began to work in the film industry, before taking the step to become a film director.

The Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA) is a prestigious film school located in South Korea. It is known for nurturing filmmaking talent, including directors, producers, and technicians. It provides both theoretical and practical education, and is a significant contributor to the Korean film industry.

Spike Lee

New York University: Tisch School of the Arts
Famous Films: Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, BlacKkKlansman

While studying mass communications at Morehouse College, Spike Lee was also taking film courses at Clark Atlanta University and dipping his toes into the world of student films. He then went on to complete a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in film and television at NYU’s Tisch School of Arts before beginning his professional career in film directing.

Although it is part of New York University, Tisch School of the Arts is well known as a standalone department. It delivers programs in performing arts and media studies, and is renowned for its commitment to emerging media, fostering creativity and innovation.

Film directors that didn’t go to film school

Wes Anderson

Famous Films: The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom

As a child, Wes Anderson wanted to be a writer, but enjoyed making films with his father’s Super 8 camera. He worked as a cinema projectionist whilst studying at the University of Texas at Austin, developing his love for films. He graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1991.

In 1996, Anderson directed his first feature-length film Bottle Rocket. It got good reviews, but didn’t perform well at the box office. His next film, Rushmore, was much more successful in terms of its reception from cinema-goers. This was the start of Anderson’s status as a cult independent film director.

Wes Anderson then went on to direct more famous films, all of a similar filming and editing style, a style that is now synonymous with Anderson himself. These have all been well-received by audiences and critics, cementing Anderson’s standing in the film industry.

Greta Gerwig

Famous Films: Barbie, Lady Bird, Little Women

Greta Gerwig showed an early interest in dancing and fencing, and intended to complete a degree in musical theatre in New York City. Instead, she graduated with a degree in English and Philosophy from Barnard College, Columbia University. Whilst studying at university, she performed in a varsity show with Kate McKinnon, who later went on to star in Gerwig’s Barbie film.

Gerwig wanted to become a playwright, but didn’t get into the MFA programs she applied for. This led to her pursuing acting for a short while, with a few small credits to her name. After starring in Noah Baumbach’s film Greenburg, she co-wrote his next film, which was her first exposure to being on the other side of the camera.

In 2017, Gerwig made her directorial debut with Lady Bird, which signalled her focus switch to directing. This was received very well by audiences and critics, leading her to direct more films over the next few years, including Barbie, which came out in 2023.

Steven Spielberg

Famous Films: Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Jaws

Steven Spielberg was interested in films from a very young age, and set his sights on becoming a filmmaker. He applied to the University of Southern California’s film school, but was rejected due to his grades. He did enrol at California State University, Long Beach, but dropped out before completing his degree.

In the late 1960’s, Spielberg began to work in the film industry, starting at Universal Studios as a summer apprentice. Universal then gave him the opportunity to write and direct a short film. They were so impressed with his work that they offered him a seven year directing contract, catapulting him into the work of professional filmmaking.

Although Spielberg became an acclaimed director of many famous films before completing his film degree, he did go back to CalState, Long Beach and graduate with a BA in Film and Electronic Media in 2002. Fun fact – he presented his own film Schindler’s List as his final project!

Alfred Hitchcock

Famous Films: Psycho, The Birds, The 39 Steps

As he was born in 19th Century Britain, it is probably no surprise that Alfred Hitchcock didn’t go to a film school. However, this didn’t stop him from developing an interest in films and filmmaking. Hitchcock enjoyed films as a young boy, and went on to gain employment as a title card illustrator in 1919 for Paramount Pictures.

Hitchcock worked in various positions until he was invited to direct a film in 1925, which was filmed in Germany. During his time in Germany, he observed German cinema, which he cited as an influence on his filmmaking work.

Hitchcock continued to direct various films throughout the rest of the 1920’s, but started to find fame in the 1930’s, the decade in which many of his most famous films were released. In 1939, he moved to America to work on Hollywood films, continuing his career in the film industry well into his 70’s.

Quentin Tarantino

Famous Films: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino was born into a creative family, and was partly named after a Burt Reynolds character, Quint Asper (Gunsmoke). He showed an interest in films and filmmaking as a young boy, and wrote one of his first screenplays when he was just 14 years old.

At 15, Tarantino dropped out of school and began taking on jobs, working as an usher at a movie theatre and in a video rental shop called Video Archives. During his time at the video rental shop, he gained a reputation in the community for giving great movie recommendations.

At the age of 23, Tarantino got his first job in Hollywood, working as a production assistant on a celebrity exercise video. This led to some small jobs in the industry, before he got his big break in the 1990’s, starting with his first big directing credit – Reservoir Dogs. Since then, he has found success in the film industry, directing many well-received films.

Stanley Kubrick

Famous Films: 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket

Born and raised in New York City, Stanley Kubrick enjoyed reading and baseball as a young boy. His father gave him a camera when he was 13, which fostered a passion for photography and capturing moments. He became an apprentice photographer for a magazine soon after he graduated high school, which then led to a full-time role.

Starting in 1951, Kubrick began experimenting with making short films and documentaries. He made a documentary about boxer Walter Cartier, which was so well received that he decided to quite his photography job and start making films full-time.

After some early feature-length work, Kubrick started to find mainstream success with his films in the mid to late 1950’s. People such as Kirk Douglas and Marlon Brando were reaching out to ask him to direct films they were going to star in, including Paths of Glory and Spartacus. From here, his career only became more illustrious, with Kubrick’s name appearing as director on many famous films.

Danny Boyle

Famous Films: Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours

Born into a working class family in Manchester, Danny Boyle thought he was going to pursue the priesthood, but instead went to Bangor University to study English and Drama. During his time at university, he directed several productions for the student drama society.

Once he had graduated from university, Boyle started working in the theatre industry as a director, including five productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Alongside his theatre work, he was also involved in television projects, before starting work in the film industry.

In 1995, Boyle directed his first film, Shallow Grave. The positive reception it received led him to make Trainspotting in 1996, which is regarded as one of the greatest British films of the 20th Century. This early success was only the beginning of Boyle’s career, which continued with more big films, and is still going on today.

Jean-Luc Godard

Famous Films: Breathless. Vivre sa vie, Contempt

Born in Paris in 1930, Jean-Luc Godard is one of the most famous European directors. He was born into a wealthy family and grew up in both France and Switzerland. He didn’t have an early interest in films like some of the other directors on this list, but did enjoy what little exposure to cinema he did have.

In the 1950’s, Godard started to attend ciné-clubs (film societies) in Paris, which served as opportunities for him to network with people who were involved in the French film industry. It is here that he considered a career in film, and made his first steps as a film critic.

In the late 1950’s, Jean-Luc Godard started to direct short films and feature length films, which lead him into his most lucrative stage, the New Wave period (1960-1967). It is during this period that he made some of his most successful and celebrated films. Throughout his career, he worked with actors such as Anna Karina, Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot.


This list displays that there really isn’t just one way to become a successful film director, many of the people above have approached their careers in very different ways. While attending a film school can give you a chance to develop your skills in an academic setting, going straight into the industry can allow you to grow as a filmmaker in a real world setting.

The only person who can decide if going to a film school is worth it is you! Do your research, understand your options, and make your decision with confidence. Don’t forget that whichever path you choose to take, you have many world-renowned directors to look up to.

You can use to find and compare film schools and university programs around the world.

Related topics

Search for courses now

International study advice

Read our key advice article to help you make the best decision for your education and start your International study adventure.

Person holding a compass
How to choose the ideal study destination for you

In this article we look at how to approach choosing where in the world you would like to study.

World map on a blackboard
Deciding to study abroad: The first steps

Read StudyLink's suggestions on your first steps when deciding where to study abroad, with helpful tips to make your decision easier.

Students reading a book
English Language Testing for International Students

Find out more about English language tests, your options and what is required as an overseas student.

Lady holding bank notes
How much does it really cost to study abroad in 2024? take a detailed look into the costs of studying abroad and all the aspects that you should budget for when embarking on your studies.

A visa document
10 Common Student Visa Question

We answer 10 common questions about applying for a student visa to help make your visa application quick and easy.

A visa document and a world map
International Study Visas

Find out more about international student visas for studying abroad, as well as how, where and when to apply for yours.

A piggy bank with coins
Funding and Scholarships for International Students

Find out more about funding and scholarships for international students, and what financial assistance might be available to you.

Person selecting a book from a shelf
How to choose the right course for you

How to choose a course that fits you? Check our top tips on choosing which course is best for you to help you make an informed decision.

See more international study advice

Sign up to

Sign up to, the home of quality study abroad advice.

Sign up now
Students with books and test tubes
Search for courses