LA Film Schools 2015: Los Angeles' 10 Best Schools

3:21 PM 10/7/2015

by THR staff

If you're looking to break into the film industry turn your attention to Southern California.

Top 25 Films Schools: University of Southern California - H 2015

Los Angeles’ roots in the film industry run deep so it is no wonder that the area is home to some of the best film programs in the country. Film schools in Southern California have a history of producing the best and brightest from University of Southern California’s Judd Apatow to California Institute of the Arts’ Tim Burton.

The Hollywood Reporter rounded up the top film schools in the area, take a look below to see who made the cut.

See the 2015 National List The Top 25 Film Schools in the United States 2015

See the 2014 National List The Top 25 Film Schools in the United States 2014

See the 2013 National List The Top 25 Film Schools in the United States 2013

See the 2012 National List The Top 25 Film Schools in the United States 2012

See the 2011 National List The Top 25 Film Schools in the United States 2011


  1. 10

    California State University, Northridge

    The Department of Cinema and Television Arts at CSUN is no longer Hollywood's best-kept secret.

    CSUN-ites write, direct, shoot, edit and produce TV shows and films as well as hold down executive positions — like Intuition Productions' Keri Selig, and Screen Gems' Glenn Gainor. And pros such as Robert Townsend, James Burrows, Darren Star and Robin Swicord have spoken at the school.

    Director and alumnus Donald Petrie (Miss Congeniality) has served as artist-in-residence and continues to advise all senior project film directors.

    The school has its own film series, CSUN Cinematheque, and holds classes on nearby studio lots. "Our undergrads create productions that compete successfully with graduate-level work done by students at the well-known film schools," says Jon Stahl, chair of the CTVA department.

    "One of my former comedy writing students emailed to let me know that, after working for a few years as a writers room assistant, she's just been asked by the EP of a new NBC show to write an episode."

    The school offers BAs in film production, TV production, multimedia production, screenwriting, electronic media management, media theory and criticism; the first class of screenwriting MFAs just matriculated.

    "We've been offering a screenwriting MA for years, and now we're offering a terminal degree at the Cal State price point," says Stahl. "We often refer to ourselves as 'the people's film school.' "

    Notable Alumni: Screenwriter Dale Launer, Joan Chen, directors Paul Hunter and Darren Grant

  2. 9

    Art Center College of Design, Pasadena

    This small Southern California school is best known for turning out top-flight commercial directors, but its alumni include some big-name Hollywood filmmakers, such as Michael Bay (MFA, '88) and Zack Snyder (MFA, '89).

    "I was in London studying to be a painter, thinking about trying something else, when my dad sent me catalogs for film schools," says Snyder.

    "The Art Center was by far the best-looking. But the school encouraged a real-world attitude. They had a course called The Psychology of Success, which taught, 'If you have a job, you're going to lose it.' That's what I'm talking about!"

    Notable Alumni: Cinematographer Larry Fong, director Tarsem Singh

  3. 8

    Boston University

    This fall, BU will add another MFA — in Cinema and Media Production — to its roster of film and TV MFAs in addition to its undergraduate film studies program.

    But it's the school's L.A. outpost, where every year 200 students attend lectures by industry bigwigs (from Jason Alexander to Jim Gianopulos) that's propelling its reputation as a serious place to learn about filmmaking.

    "I'm one of those who believes in film school," says Lauren Shuler Donner (MFA, '71). "My time at BU served me well. It provided me connections and gave me my start."

    Notable Alumni: Joe Roth, Howard Stern, Nina Tassler

  4. 7

    Emerson College

    Boston's Emerson was one of the first northeastern schools to open a satellite campus in L.A. — it started sending students west in 1988, holding classes in leased spaces in Burbank.

    But now it's doing it with style, in a new $110 million super-futuristic glass and aluminum complex on Sunset Boulevard designed by prize- winning architect Thom Mayne (the guy who built the Caltrans headquarters downtown, nicknamed the "Death Star").

    "It's a relatively small school, and we have an underdog mentality that tends to follow us into our careers," says Seth Grahame-Smith (BFA, '98), writer of the upcoming Batman Lego Movie.

    "It makes us look out for each other more than alums from the bigger schools. The term 'Emerson Mafia' gets thrown around a lot."

    Notable Alumni: New Regency's Pam Abdy, DreamWorks' Holly Bario, Sony's Andrea Giannetti, Viacom's Doug Herzog

  5. 6

    Loyola Marymount University

    "I applied to a couple of schools, but after I toured Loyola, I actually canceled my applications to the others," recalls The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 and 2 director Francis Lawrence ('91) of his time at this picturesque campus nestled in the bluffs over West L.A.

    But there's more to Loyola than a pretty setting; the school is wired into the industry like few others, with more than 400 partner companies (including Disney, Sony, NBCUniversal and Paramount) that provide internships to about 100 students a year.

    In June, Loyola launched a partnership with Ghetto Film School, starting a four-week summer workshop for low-income high school students.

    Notable Alumni: James Bond franchise producer Barbara Broccoli, The Simpsons producer David Mirkin, American Horror Story writer-producer James Wong

  6. 5

    Chapman University

    The paint is barely dry on Chapman's $45 million, 76,000-square-foot Marion Knott Studios (complete with soundstages, high-def broadcast equipment, Foley stages and motion-capture studios) and already the Orange, Calif., school is getting ready to unveil another new facility.

    In fall 2016, the doors will open on Chapman Studios West, a 38,000-square-foot production center. With all that space, it's not surprising the school has created its own production company, Chapman Filmed Entertainment, designed to give students true hands-on experience in making, marketing and distributing films.

    Says Tristen Tuckfield (MFA, '06), now an agent at CAA, "The adage 'you get what you put in' was never more clear to me than when I was at Chapman. You had a lot of great tools at your disposal, and great mentors, but at the end of the day, it all came back to how much time and effort you put toward your goal."

    Notable Alumni: The Amazing Race producer Darren Bunkley, Masters of Sex editor Rebekah Parmer, Dear White People director Justin Simien

  7. 4

    California Institute of the Arts

    You don't have to go to USC to have James Franco as a teacher.

    This fall, the actor returns to CalArts' Valencia campus for his fourth One Act to Cinematic Event, a class in which students will adapt Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie into a live multimedia performance.

    Of course, CalArts — founded in 1961 by Walt Disney — is most famous for producing A-list animators (John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt's company, studied here).

    But even filmmakers who prefer live action can learn a lot at CalArts. "When I was there in the 1980s, it reminded me of the high school in Fame," says Wolverine director James Mangold ('85). "There was a kind of electric energy."

    Notable Alumni: Frozen co-director Chris Buck, Tim Burton, Big Hero 6 director Don Hall, Inside Out director Pete Docter

  8. 3

    University of California Los Angeles

    When Alexander Payne ('90) was a young college grad trying to decide where to go for his MFA, he spent a couple of days in L.A. visiting UCLA and USC.

    "At USC they told me, 'You have to come to USC — it's just like Hollywood,' " recalls Payne. "And at UCLA they told me: 'Why would you go to USC? It's just like Hollywood.' "

    While USC is known for a pragmatic approach to teaching — encouraging students to specialize — UCLA is a more free-range campus, immersing students in every aspect of filmmaking, from lighting to sound.

    Lately, UCLA has been focusing more on socially active filmmaking. This year, it sent a graduate student on the International Antarctic Expedition to shoot a doc on climate change.

    In November, it inaugurated UCLA's Skoll Center for Social Impact Entertainment, which — with a $10 million endowment from Participant Media's Jeff Skoll — will conduct research on socially minded media.

    Notable Alumni: Jack Black, David Koepp, Mike Medavoy, Rob Reiner, Tim Robbins, Darren Star

  9. 2

    American Film Institute

    Years of improvements to the 8-acre enclave overlooking Hollywood — including renovations to the library and screening room — finally are complete. And the new dean, former German Film and Television Academy director Jan Schuette, already has made one big change: For the first time, this year's incoming class in the directors program — 28 students in total — includes more females than males.

    As with USC, one of AFI's big draws always has been its proximity to the industry, with local talent driving up the hill for guest lectures (in February, Bennett Miller held a directing workshop). But AFI's tradition of "narrative workshops," during which students sit silently as their classmates tear their film projects to shreds, has been known to send some aspiring filmmakers fleeing for law school.

    "The first year, you make several short films and bring them to the narrative workshop, where everyone responds to them and you're not allowed to talk," recalls Ed Zwick ('75).

    "That is a very interesting moment for anyone who's been coddled by a sweet, touchy-feely liberal arts education. My first project was roundly savaged, and my second project was only slightly less reviled."

    Notable Alumni: Darren Aronofsky, David Lynch, Terrence Malick

  10. 1

    University of Southern California

    When USC School of Cinematic Arts production design professor Alex McDowell unveiled the Leviathan project at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, it appeared as if a real whale was floating over viewers' heads.

    Think of USC SCA as the uncatchable Moby Dick of film schools. Says one envious educator, "It is the patriarch: passionate, perennial, always turning out the best films." It also pulls in the most millions from supporters like George Lucas.

    In June, it opened the Michelle and Kevin Douglas IMAX Theatre and Immersive Lab, donated by IMAX's largest shareholders, with a screening room and research lab capable of streaming events from all over the globe in real time.

    And if you want to see the next generation of Hollywood winners, just glance around campus. "I always tell new students, 'Look to your right and your left, because you're going to be working with these people for the rest of your lives,' " says USC SCA dean Elizabeth M. Daley, who notes that hers is the first major school to offer a minor in comedy.

    From James Gray's The Immigrant to Godzilla (edited by alum Bob Ducsay) to the Marvel empire, over which alum Kevin Feige presides, USC grads make entertainment happen.

    Notable Alumni: Judd Apatow, Stacey Sher, Ron Howard