Top 25 Film Schools
For THR's second annual list, it was a close call between USC and AFI as editors, aided by industry insiders, evaluated the ever-shifting landscape at the world's most prestigious programs.
1. University of Southern California
It was a nose-to-nose thoroughbred horse race between USC and AFI, the winner of 2011's inaugural Top 25 Film Schools list in THR, but the narrow consensus of experts consulted -- from indie insiders to academics to industry titans -- was that in 2012, USC was ahead by a whisker. "It's been quite a year," says Elizabeth Daley, dean of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the best-funded, most Hollywood-connected film school. Even by USC standards, the achievements were dramatic. Alums held key creative positions on films grossing more than $7 billion worldwide and on top auteurist TV shows including Mad Men and American Horror Story (17 Emmy noms each). USC added a Comedy@SCA program to train the Paul Feigs of the future as well as a new building for the interactive media division backed by game giants EA and Microsoft that provides 62,500 square feet of new space. Princeton Review has named USC America's top game design program three years running. So why should film students care about visual effects, performance-capture labs or new Microsoft endowed professor Dennis Wixon? "We train people for the future, not the past," says Daley. "You need to take courses in interactive media and animation even if you're never going to do it. If you're a producer or director who doesn't understand VFX, you're in trouble. We're integrating our music editing into the games division." Once balkanized by discipline, students now take an intro course together. "You do learn how to do everything," says Steve Boman, '09, author of the USC memoir Film School. Another tipping point in the road to No. 1: Growing programs offer three levels of degrees, versus AFI's one.
- TUITION $42,000 (plus room and board)
- DEGREES B.A., M.A., MFA and Ph.D. programs in everything from film and TV to animation and interactive media
- NOTABLE ALUMNI George Lucas, Ron Howard, Jon Landau
- "Three DPs I've worked with went to USC, and when we talk about camera blocking and shot design, we easily fall into the shared language we picked up in film school. On a TV pilot, I made a reference to how we did it on the old mixing board at USC, and virtually everyone in the room perked up: sound mixer, editor, music editor, producer, various assistants. We realized that all of us had attended USC film school and had similar experiences. So talking about the work quickly turned into a lot of shorthand and head-nodding -- and grousing about professors. The mix went very smoothly." -- Michael Lehmann, director, True Blood
2. American Film Institute
Did you like The Artist, Bridesmaids, The Tree of Life, Moneyball, War Horse, Hugo, Modern Family, Boardwalk Empire, Justified and The Killing? Thank AFI's Center for Advanced Film and Television Studies for training key talents behind them. "One thing you learn quickly is that good isn't good enough," says Oscar-winning alum Edward Zwick. "In an industry utterly wedded to sequels and presold titles, the ones coming out of AFI push that a little bit." Adds his AFI classmate and collaborator Marshall Herskovitz: "Unless you strive for your own kind of excellence, it's never gonna happen. It's about being the best version of you that you can be." They credit AFI's tough love for propelling them to a 2012 WGA Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award and for making the most horrifying studio notes meetings seem like a breeze. In two years, AFI fellows make four to 10 films, with a little inspiration from visitors like Pedro Almodovar, Luc Besson and AFI alums Brad Falchuk and Rodrigo Garcia. And they make their mark. "Consider that only 125 filmmakers graduate each year," says Dean Bob Gazzale, "and that last year, AFI alumni were honored with three Academy Award nominations, including a second win in a row for best cinematography, more Student Academy Awards than any other school, 12 Emmy nominations and 27 alumni at Sundance." AFI recently relaunched American Film as an e-magazine, upgraded its soundstage and library, and soon it will remodel its screening rooms. "They even have air conditioning now!" marvels Herskovitz.
- TUITION $39,760 for first year; $48,365 for second year (includes thesis tuition of $8,605)
- DEGREES MFA, Certificate of Completion
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky, Wally Pfister
3. Beijing Film Academy
Beijing Film Academy is the cradle of the nation's cinema, which cast a growing shadow this year when China opened its market to more Western films, closed in on Japan as the world's No. 2 film market and released the first $100 million Chinese epic with a Hollywood star, BFA grad Zhang Yimou's The Flowers of War. During the past year, BFA established a partnership with UTA to expand Chinese filmmakers' careers and set up the International Animation Technology Joint Research Centre with Pukeko Pictures, the TV affiliate of New Zealand's Weta Workshop (The Lord of the Rings). In 2013, BFA will open the multimedia Wanhao-Mokko Mediapolis with Beijing's Wanhao Cartoons and Montreal's Mokko Studio. BFA also partners with numerous global schools, including new programs with Columbia College Hollywood and Emerson, and is in talks with USC. But BFA is not open to all Western trends: courses are in Chinese and no tattoos are allowed for acting applicants.
- TUITION $6,700 to $8,000 for overseas students; $8,000 to $9,400 for overseas grad students (plus $1,725 for Chinese language courses; classes not in English).
- DEGREES B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. programs in directing, cinematography, film management, film technology, acting and animation.
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine), Lu Chuan (City of Life and Death)
- "Getting into the Beijing Film Academy was my turning point. If I didn't, I might never have had the chance to enter the film profession." -- Zhang Yuan, director, Beijing Bastards
4. University of California Los Angeles
UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Dean Teri Schwartz is retooling the film program to capitalize on the school's unusual advantage over most other major film schools: its theater department, which in May made the list of THR's 25 best drama programs in the English-speaking world. Schwartz is smart to blend the programs, aiming to produce actors who can perform on camera as well as on stage and directors who can direct actors and become more than mere manipulators of machinery. One example: Oscar winner Bobby Moresco (Crash) recently had UCLA actors, screenwriters, directors, producers, cinematographers, production designers and costume designers spend 11 weeks collaborating on five short films. UCLA often is defined by contrast with rival USC; recent grads say USC is a factory of ambition that favors its most viable commercial prospects, while UCLA heavy hitters lavish more personal attention on students. "It's not a huge puppy mill," says new film TV and digital media chair William McDonald. "Rather than throwing a hundred students a year at the wall and hoping a couple will stick, we invest in 30 to 35 a year. I know them all." USC might have production and editing chops, but UCLA is said to produce grads with stronger storytelling, directing and writing skills. And UCLA grads strike co-workers as happier without being lazier, as proved by 2012 Oscar winners Alexander Payne and Gore Verbinski.
- TUITION B.A.: $14,010 ($36,888 nonresident); MFA: $23,468 ($35,713 nonresident); M.A. or Ph.D.: $14,809 ($29,911 nonresident).
- DEGREES B.A., M.A., MFA and Ph.D.
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Justin Lin, Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine).
- "I learned about directing actors from Delia Salvi; about cultivating a free and poetic sense of film from Ed Brokaw; about embedding visual patterns with thematic resonance into film from Steve Mamber; and a lot about efficient and orderly storytelling from Richard and Barbara Marks." -- Payne (The Descendants)
5. New York University Tisch School of the Arts
NYU proudly still maintains the mean-streetwise filmmaking traditions of alums Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, but it's also keeping up with the times. Now students can learn how to actually get their films made, marketed and seen. They can get a dual MBA/MFA in producing or get advice and connections from such people as Ted Hope and Geoff Gilmore in the new Cinema Research Institute think tank. Because music rights have sunk countless promising student films, NYU innovatively struck an exclusive partnership with Corbis/GreenLight/EMI providing preferred access and pre-approved pricing for quick, easy rights to thousands of tunes.
- TUITION $46,269
- DEGREES B.A., BFA, MFA, MPS, M.A. and Ph.D. programs in moving-image archiving, preservation, performance studies and cinema studies
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Joel Coen, Charlie Kaufman, Todd Phillips
6. La Femis
As the film biz (and THR's coverage) inexorably goes global, foreign schools pop up more and higher on this list -- including La Femis in Paris, up five slots from 2011. Last year, the Paris-based school accepted 44 of more than 1,100 applicants for its four-year program. All instructors are industry pros. All students direct a short film. "It's the same for everyone, so each student can learn all of the different professions," says La Femis head Marc Nicolas. A TV degree program launches in 2013. Classes are taught in French.
- TUITION Free for European Union members (for foreign students, $13,105)
- DEGREES Screenwriter, director, producer, sound engineer, set designer, editor, distributor, theater director
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool), Noemie Lvovsky (Camille Redouble)
7. Wesleyan University
Film Studies chair Jeanine Basinger, auteur of Wesleyan's program, has sent hundreds of students from Middletown, Conn., to Hollywood, including Joss Whedon and Michael Bay. This year, Benh Zeitlin and 27 other Wesleyan grads made Beasts of the Southern Wild, the Sundance and Cannes prize-winning Oscar contender. "In 2012, we cover all the bases -- we've got the art films and we have blockbusters covered with Joss' Captain America," says Basinger. "And we've also got Battleship and People Like Us -- we're the top of the flops! You have to have everything." This cultural trifecta explains Wesleyan zipping up from No. 9 to 7 on this list. Zeitlin has called Wesleyan a "boot camp where they really force you to examine every element of your script and every decision you're making as a director."
- TUITION $59,402 (includes room and board)
- DEGREES B.A. in film studies
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Whedon, Bay, Miguel Arteta
8. California Institute of the Arts
CalArtians (as CalArts alums are known) are glad the L.A. Times called it the "Harvard Business School of animation." Grads have made films grossing $25 billion. Two of the five top-grossing films of 2012, Brave and Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, were CalArtian-directed, and grad James Chinlund's production design gave The Avengers its billion-dollar look. But they wish people knew they make live-action films too, like the indie Only the Young.
- TUITION $38,438
- DEGREES BFA, MFA in film, video and experimental animation; MFA in directing; BFA in character animation
9. Emerson College, Visual & Media Arts School
Boston's Emerson College has a film, TV and media program so eminent that only one in six applicants gets in. But it's getting even more eminent, and so it zoomed from 18 to 9 on THR's list. For 25 years, Emerson has had an internship program in Los Angeles, but this month trustee and alum Vin Di Bona (America's Funniest Home Videos) kicked off the fund-raising campaign for Emerson's new $85 million campus tower on Sunset Boulevard. It opens in 2014, and the glamour can't be bad for current students' career prospects.
- TUITION $33,568 DEGREES B.A. and BFA in media production, B.A. in media studies, MFA in media art
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Denis Leary, Doug Herzog, Seth Grahame-Smith, Norman Lear, Jay Leno
- "Emerson's film program functions as a microcosm of Hollywood. Yes, there's theory and technical training, but there's also an emphasis on how to form lasting partnerships and will your project into being, how to get your script or film into the right hands. Above all, there's a sense of community, that we're the little film school that could, and that we've got each others' backs. And those things make a huge difference after graduation." -- Grahame-Smith, writer, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter
10. Columbia University School of the Arts
Founded by Milos Forman and Frank Daniel, Columbia still looms large under new chair Ira Deutchman, Fine Line's founder. Alum Antonio Mendez Esparza won the Grand Prix at Cannes, Oscar nominee Lisa Cholodenko was elected to the Academy board of governors, and Mark Raso won a student Academy Award. Columbia has won 12 SAAs in the past 10 years, more than any other school, and produced a startling number of major women directors. And besides famous MFA filmmaking teachers like Eric Mendelsohn, winner of the University Teaching Award, there's Annette Insdorf's brilliant undergrad film studies program, with teachers James Schamus and Richard Pena, whose students also make great movies (Half Nelson, Murderball).
- TUITION $49,448 MFA, $42,584 M.A. (not including fees)
- DEGREES MFA in film; M.A. in film
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Kathryn Bigelow, James Mangold, Simon Kinberg, Courtney Hunt (Frozen River), Nicole Holofcener
- "I can't imagine having my present career without the wisdom, support and example of my former professors. The Columbia experience continues to give me the fortitude and passion to try again, to strive for the heights of my filmmaking idols (several of whom have taught at Columbia)." -- Greg Mottola, director, Superbad
11. The Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague
Where can you study film with European living legends if you speak only English or Czech? Prague's FAMU, where classes are taught in both Czech and English. Previous students include Forman, Vaclav Havel, Milan Kundera and 2012 Oscar nominee Agnieszka Holland. FAMU directors revolutionized world cinema in the '60s, including current faculty member Jan Nemec, once the enfant terrible of the Czech New Wave. Insiders say important program changes will be announced next year.
- TUITION $45,674
- DEGREES MFA in cinema and digital media
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Jiri Menzel (Closely Watched Trains), Emir Kusturica (Black Cat, White Cat)
University of Texas at Austin
UT's Department of Radio-Television-Film has been sending talent to Los Angeles and New York for 40 years, but it was Richard Linklater's 1991 Slacker that made Austin's film scene famous (and his 1993 Dazed and Confused that made Matthew McConaughey famous). Now Austin regularly sends films to Sundance and Venice, and big names descend on Austin for the SXSW film (and music) festival and the Austin Film Festival, with its noted screenwriting contest.
- TUITION $4,832 undergraduate in state ($16,331 out of state); $4,528 graduate ($8,524 out of state)
- DEGREES B.S. in radio-television-film, MFA in film and media production, MFA in screenwriting
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Robert Rodriguez, Thomas Schlamme
- "At UT, our godfathers are Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, who made feature films, on film, for under $25,000. That was really the legacy that my brother (Mark Duplass) and I came up with: make art, make it cheap, and keep making it until you find something that you feel is special." -- Jay Duplass, writer-director, Jeff, Who Lives at Home
13. Chapman University
To attract guests and filmmakers in residence like Betty Thomas, William Friedkin, Bong Joon-ho, Robert Zemeckis and Bryan Singer to Orange County, Chapman's Dodge College of Film & Media Arts has to be good, and no school moved up more on THR's list this year -- up from 22 in 2011. "Chapman is quickly becoming the place for industry kids to attend, both for the undergraduate and graduate programs," says Sony Pictures TV president Steve Mosko, who sent two sons there and relies on the school for interns. Big names attend new marketing professor Dawn Taubin's Women in Focus panel. Student films are screened for the DGA in New York and Los Angeles. And unlike at many schools, students own their films, not Chapman.
- TUITION $20,520 undergraduate, $16,050 to $20,680 graduate
- DEGREES B.A., MFA, MBA/MFA, J.D./MFA in screenwriting, film production, screen acting, PR, digital arts and broadcasting,
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Ben York Jones (Like Crazy)
14. The National Film and Television School
The only U.K. film school with its own film and TV studios, the NFTS, 25 miles from London, has the leading lights of British cinema as teachers and links with financiers for development deals. Sean O'Riordan's graduate project Newton's Law won a development deal and entry into the 2012 New York Television Festival in a new program with Warner Bros. International Television Production. Seventy percent of grads find jobs in the industry.
TUITION $15,176 ($32,000 for foreigners).
DEGREES M.A. in film and TV
NOTABLE ALUMNI David Yates (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit)
15. Rhode Island School of Design
For a school founded in Providence in 1877, RISD produces some pretty au courant filmmakers in its Film, Animation and Video program. Grad Seth MacFarlane (Ted) subversively applied VFX to crude comedy. Robert Richardson (who went to AFI after RISD) won his third Oscar for Hugo, a film steeped in the imagery of another era. At RISD, film is seen in the context of an art college, and many students resist the idea of show business as usual.
- TUITION $39,482
- DEGREES BFA in film, animation, video
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Gus Van Sant, David Byrne
- "The most important skill I learned at RISD was the ability to create a film from start to finish. I really learned how to think about all parts of the process -- storytelling, animation, sound, etc." -- Michael Dante DiMartino, writer, The Last Airbender
16. University of Television and Film Munich
Munich's University of Television and Film opened in 1967, training such directors as New German Cinema founder Wim Wenders. Avant-garde and arty, Munich also prides itself on solid technical training in its new campus in Germany's big film town. Courses are in German, though visiting professors sometimes lecture in English.
- TUITION $425 (€342) per semester.
- DEGREES M.A. equivalent in directing, cinematography, screenwriting and producing.
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Roland Emmerich, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others), Bernd Eichinger (Downfall)
- "The HFF Munich had a tremendous influence on my career. I found my own voice and met friends who are still my closest partners in the film industry." -- Dennis Gansel, director, The Wave
17. Florida State University
FSU's College of Motion Picture Arts in Tallahassee is huge news in Hollywood, thanks to its collaboration with VFX titan Digital Domain (Transformers), which gives students actual experience making blockbusters at its West Palm Beach facility. VFX professionals are screaming about the competition from unpaid -- in fact, tuition-paying -- young rivals, but in a down job market, this may be just the ticket for hungry talent trying to break in. FSU students have won as many Student Academy Awards as AFI's have: eight.
- TUITION $6,403 bachelor's in state ($21,569 out of state); $18,935 graduate ($47,348 first year out of state) DEGREES BFA in production, animation, digital arts; MFA in production, writing
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Alan Ball
18. Loyola Marymount University
In the 1920s, Louis B. Mayer and Harry Warner helped raise funds for LMU's Los Angeles campus. They must be smiling in 2012, now that LMU, which began teaching film in 1964 and started its School of Film and Television in 2001, has opened its new virtual cinematography studio so students can make their own Avatars. SFTV offers tapeless production: from the first shot to mixing and VFX to projection in the Mayer Theater, each film lives on hard drive. Dean Stephen Ujilaki started an Incubator Lab, which gives grads industry mentors, and expanded LMU's partnership with Film Independent, jointly sponsoring a $10,000 screenwriting fellowship for LMU alums.
- TUITION $38,917 undergraduate, graduate $1,020 per unit (plus fees)
- DEGREES B.A. in film, TV, animation and recording arts; MFA in film, TV and screenwriting
19. The Polish National Film, Television and Theater School
The Lodz Film Academy, as the Polish National Film, Television and Theater School is commonly known, produced many of the names you know in Polish cinema. It teaches producing, editing, screenwriting, photography, digital technology and broadcast journalism. Classes are taught in Polish.
- TUITION $7,411-$16,058 ($2,471 for Polish-language courses; students of Polish descent get a 30 percent discount)
- DEGREES B.A., M.A., Ph.D., D.Sc NOTABLE ALUMNI Roman Polanski, Andrzej Wajda, Zbigniew Rybczynski
- "The Academy didn't only teach me craft and technique, it gave me a larger perspective on narrative art." -- Krzysztof Zanussi, director, Death of a Provincial
20. Australian Film Television and Radio School
Australia's preeminent film school for 40 years, AFTRS benefits from its relocation to a campus adjacent to Sydney's Fox Studios Australia in 2008, when its student body grew from 32 to 300-500 students a year. The courses cover directing, screenwriting, business, producing, cinematography, editing, design, music and digital media.
- TUITION $11,700 to $19,000 DEGREES Undergraduate foundation diploma, graduate certificate, M.A.
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Philip Noyce, Gillian Armstrong, Jane Campion, Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings).
- "You learned from the staff who were caring and encouraging, and you learned from each other." -- Armstrong
21. Columbia College Chicago
When Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore was asked how to get a foot in the door in the movie industry, he said, "You can start by going to Columbia College." His alma mater in Chicago doesn't have the Ivy League prestige of New York's Columbia University, but in the movie business, it gets respect. Almost 2,000 students strong, CCC has begun a new MFA in creative producing (half its students are returning professionals) and graduated its first class in the $21 million Media Production Center. Seventy-five percent of Semester in L.A. students get internships or jobs.
- TUITION $21,200 DEGREES B.A. in film and video, with concentrations in everything from animation to sound to postproduction; MFA in directing, creative producing
- NOTABLE ALUMNI HBO Films president Len Amato, Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List), Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine), Andy Richter (Conan)
- TUITION $21,200 DEGREES B.A. in film & video, MFA in screen directing, MFA in creative producing
22. Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica
CCC film school in Mexico City is the nation's most prestigious, sending movies to more than 100 international film events a year, winning two Student Academy Awards and Cannes' Palme d'Or. Classes are taught in Spanish. Only two foreigners are accepted each year.
- TUITION $370 enrollment fee, $1,484 annual tuition
- DEGREES Bachelor's degree in directing, screenwriting, sound, editing, cinematography and postproduction
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain), Rodrigo Pla (La Zona), Carlos Carrera (The Crime of Father Amaro)
- "Beyond the technical, the CCC was more of an art school that inspired me to view cinematography as a means to move emotions in the audience through the use of camera and lighting." -- Prieto
23. Art Center College of Design
Pasadena's Art Center is best known as a world-class design school, but its film program makes a mark in indies, and the success of alum Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) broke open doors for talented classmates. In an Art Center talk this year, Snyder recalled his mentor Mike Ahnemann's response to an overambitious film pitch: "He said, 'Listen, Snyder, that's not going to work in the real world. You can get serious or you can just keep doing that.' Mike was able to take that ambition and make it into something real." There are more than 30 instructors, working professionals, for fewer than 100 students.
- TUITION $30,053 undergraduate, $37,044 graduate DEGREES BFA in film, B.S. in entertainment design, MFA in broadcast cinema
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Michael Bay, Tarsem Singh Dhandwar (Mirror, Mirror), Michael Suscy (The Vow)
24. The Italian National Film School
Rome's National Film School is almost synonymous with Italian cinema, spawning everyone from Michelangelo Antonioni to Vittorio Storaro to Claudia Cardinale. It boasts one of Europe's vastest film archives and attracts visitors like Scorsese and Wenders. Classes are taught in Italian.
- TUITION $2,550 per year
- DEGREES Professional certificate
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Dino De Laurentiis, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
25. All-Russian State Institute for Cinema
Moscow's great national film school, known by its acronym VGIK, changed cinema with teachers like Sergei Eisenstein and alums like Frank Daniel, who later ran FAMU, AFI, Sundance and the film schools at Columbia and USC. It substantially upgraded its facilities recently, and 10 percent of its students are foreign. Courses (except for its English-language summer school) are taught in Russian.
- TUITION $1,210 to $8,670 a year ($1,332 to $9,458 for foreigners)
- DEGREES B.A. equivalent in directing, cinematography, screenwriting, producing, acting, set design and film studies
- NOTABLE ALUMNI Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris), Alexander Sokurov (Faust), Nikita Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun)
FILM SCHOOLS TO WATCH: Some of the rest of the best
- Stanford University: An elite, 16-student documentary program with a new facility opening in 2015.
- Syracuse University: About half of junior film students study at FAMU in Prague and other European schools.
- L'Ecole de la Cite: This fall, Luc Besson opens his new film school near Paris. Free tuition and less snooty than La Femis.
- University of North Carolina: "An amazing place," says Mad Men creator Matt Weiner, who used UNC soundstages and alums to make his 2012 film You Are Here.
- Ringling Colelge of Art and Design: Werner Herzog and Ed Burns have taught in the Sarasota, Fla., school's digital program.
- Columbia College Hollywood: By 2017, 20 percent of CCH's 350 students could be from BFA.
- Boston University: 200 students a year get connected in its L.A. program.
- Colorado College: A new $100,000 grant funds the virtual film-budgeting game tSys.
- SCAD: For seven years, Savannah (Ga.) College of Art and Design has been a top-10 Student Academy Award winner, and 40,000 attend the Savannah Film Festival. SCAD's star is rising.
- Cine Institute: Haiti's only film school, in Jacmel, isn't rich -- except in stories.