In the years The Hollywood Reporter has been ranking film schools — this is the eighth list, determined by extensive interviewing and research — the magazine has never received a straight answer to one very straightforward question: What is the purpose of film school?
Pretty much every institution on this list sees it differently. For some, like No. 6 Wesleyan (up from No. 9 last year), where cinema scholar Jeanine Basinger is getting her own building on the campus next year, it's all about history, subtext and auteur theory. For others, the focus is hands-on experience, providing students with access to everything from old-fashioned 16mm cameras to state-of-the-art 3D VR labs to the jumbo-size greenscreens at University of Texas (down one place to No. 12 this year). Still, there is one purpose that academics at just about every type of school — from tiny rural colleges to lofty big-city conservatories — agree on. "We can be the sandbox that everybody experiments in," says Susan Ruskin, new dean of No. 4, AFI (down from No. 3 last year). "We can say [to the studios], 'Come play with us, because this is the generation that is going to be creating content.'"