10 Best Film Schools for Aspiring Filmmakers (2020)
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Female Cinematographer examines her shotAn actress in front of the cameraA writer works in a coffee shopFilm Producer works with teamA woman and a man edit a film in the studioPeople on an action film set
Female Cinematographer examines her shotAn actress in front of the cameraA writer works in a coffee shopFilm Producer works with teamA woman and a man edit a film in the studioPeople on an action film set

10 Best Film Schools for Aspiring Filmmakers (2020)

Author: Anna Keizer

Last updated: Jul 17, 2020

Reads: 17,448

Anna Keizer is a Los Angeles-based Screenwriter and filmmaker. She has been writing for film and television for 15 years. She holds a B.A. in Film/Video from Columbia College Chicago and an M.A. in Film Studies from Chapman University. She has been an Academy Nicholl Fellowships Quarterfinalist and an Austin Film Festival Script Competition Second Rounder.

The nation’s best film schools represent more than just a compilation of the most highly ranked cinematic programs across the country. For an aspiring filmmaker, they each offer an opportunity for artistic growth, as well as a springboard for future professional success.

Given the excellent reputations of the following colleges and universities, a solid foundation of knowledge and experience could be gained at any one of them. That being said, the best film schools all have their own distinct qualities and areas of expertise that prospective students should research thoroughly before committing to one.

The following provides a brief overview of what future filmmakers enrolling in any one of these film schools might learn and expect during their time there.

In alphabetical order, our list of the best film schools includes:

  • American Film Institute (AFI)
  • California Institute of the Arts
  • Chapman University
  • Columbia University
  • Emerson College
  • Loyola Marymount University
  • New York University (NYU)
  • University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • University of Southern California (USC)
  • Wesleyan University

The 10 Best Film Schools

American Film Institute (AFI)

The American Film Institute is a highly regarded film school based out of Los Angeles and an option for those who have already completed an undergraduate degree. The school offers six different MFA programs in Screenwriting, Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Producing and Production Design.

AFI programs are rigorous, as students collaborate with their peers over their two years at the school to produce between four to 10 films, but they also get to leave with several projects under their belt and valuable real-world filmmaking experience.

Notable alumni include Darren Aronofsky, Susannah Grant, Amy Heckerling, Patty Jenkins, David Lynch, and Terrence Malick.

California Institute of the Arts

Located about 30 miles north of Los Angeles, the California Institute of the Arts, or CalArts, offers more than five-dozen different degree programs across the media, literary, performing and visual arts.

Among those most closely related to film, the school has both undergraduate and graduate options, including a BFA and MFA in Film and Video, a BFA in Character Animation and MFA in Film Directing. Given CalArts’ close proximity to LA, students can take advantage of internships and networking to hit the ground running in the industry upon graduation.

Notable alumni include Brad Bird, Alison Brie, Tim Burton, Don Cheadle, Sofia Coppola, and Dustin Hoffman.

Chapman University

Unlike AFI and CalArts, Chapman University’s areas of expertise extend beyond the arts. Located about 30 miles south of Los Angeles, Chapman is made up of ten different schools across a spectrum of fields, one of them being the reputable Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.

This highly regarded school offers multiple undergraduate and graduate options, such as:

  • BFA in Film Production
  • BFA in Creative Producing
  • BFA in Animation and Visual Effects
  • BFA in Screenwriting
  • BFA in Television Writing and Production
  • BFA in Screen Acting
  • BA in Film Studies
  • MFA in Film Production
  • MFA in Film and TV Producing
  • MFA in Screenwriting
  • MFA in Television Writing and Producing
  • MFA in Production Design
  • MFA in Documentary Filmmaking
  • MA in Film Studies, as well as a combined JD/MFA in Film and TV Producing
  • MBA/MFA in Film and TV Producing.

Notable alumni include Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Colin Hanks, Leslie Jones, Kellan Lutz, and Justin Simien.

Columbia University

On the other coast sits Columbia University in New York City. Established more than 250 years ago, Columbia is New York State’s oldest institution of higher learning, and like Chapman University, offers students many options in different fields of study.

For those interested in film, Columbia’s School of the Arts has both undergraduate and several graduate programs. Students can elect to pursue a BA in Film and Media Studies, MA in Film and Media Studies, MFA in Screenwriting/Directing or MFA in Creative Producing.

Moreover, like Los Angeles, New York City is a hub of entertainment industry activity where students can earn in-the-field experience as they finish their studies.

Notable alumni include Kathryn Bigelow, James Gunn, Jim Jarmusch, Kate McKinnon, Kimberly Peirce, and Julia Stiles.

Emerson College

Though not located in either Los Angeles or New York City, Boston’s Emerson College has built an earned reputation as one of the best film schools in the nation. And like most of the film schools already mentioned, prospective students can enroll in its Visual & Media Arts department as either an undergraduate or graduate student.

Emerson offers multiple competitive programs, such as a BA or BFA in Film, BA in Production, BFA in Film Art, BFA in Stage & Screen Design/Technology, MFA in Writing for Film and Television and MFA in Film and Media Art.

The school also provides students with options to study for a semester at its LA campus or its international Global Pathways Program.

Notable alumni include Vin Di Bona, Joely Fisher, Norman Lear, Stefani Robinson, Alex Tse, and Henry Winkler.

Loyola Marymount University

Like the American Film Institute, Loyola Marymount University is located in Los Angeles and offers a wide selection of undergraduate and graduate programs for aspiring filmmakers.

Prospective students can pursue a BA in Film, Television, and Media Studies, BA in Film and Television Production, BA in Screenwriting, BA in Animation, BA in Recording Arts, MFA in Film and Television Production, MFA in Writing and Producing for Television and MFA in Writing for the Screen.

Outside of the school’s highly regarded film programs, students are drawn to Loyola Marymount University for its proximity to Los Angeles and the film networking and internship opportunities afforded to them during their time at school.

Notable alumni include Clark Duke, Brian Helgeland, Gloria Calderón Kellet, Kate Micucci, and Busy Philipps.

New York University (NYU)

New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts is often regarded as one of the best film schools across the globe, having played a role in the education of the some of the filmmaking world’s most renowned artists.

And like virtually all of the other film schools already mentioned, prospective students just beginning their collegiate careers, as well as those interested in building upon their bachelor work, can grow their filmmaking expertise at NYU.

Undergraduate programs in Cinema Studies, Dramatic Writing and Film & Television and graduate programs in Cinema Studies, Dramatic Writing and Film are offered through Tisch.

Notable alumni include Donald Glover, Spike Lee, Adam Sandler, Martin Scorsese, M. Night Shyamalan, and Oliver Stone.

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

On the west side of Los Angeles sits the University of California, Los Angeles, better known as UCLA. Over its 100-year history, UCLA has created a name for itself as a highly regarded and competitive school for aspiring filmmakers, and through its School of Theater, Film and Television, students can pursue a degree in any one of its many specialized programs.

Currently, UCLA has an undergraduate program for Film, Television and Digital Media, as well as graduate programs in Screenwriting, Cinema and Media Studies, Cinematography, Animation, Production/Directing and the Producers Program.

The school also provides a Ph.D. option in Cinema and Media Studies and its Professional Program in various film and TV-related specialties for students interested in a more abbreviated certificate program.

Notable alumni include Carol Burnett, Francis Ford Coppola, Alexander Payne, Rob Reiner, Tim Robbins, and John Williams.

University of Southern California (USC)

Across the city from UCLA stands the University of Southern California and its School of Cinematic Arts. The highly competitive and world-renowned USC has long been the backdrop for the burgeoning careers of many talented and famous filmmakers.

For those looking to begin their training at USC, they can select from several undergraduate and graduate options, such as a BA in Cinema & Media Studies, BA in Animation & Digital Arts, BA or BFA in Cinematic Arts, Film & Television Production, BFA in Writing for Screen & Television, MA in Cinema & Media Studies, MFA in Animation & Digital Arts, MFA in Writing for Screen & Television, MFA in Producing, Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design or Sound and MFA in the Peter Stark Producing Program.

Like UCLA, USC too provides interested students in a Ph.D. option in Cinema & Media Studies.

Notable alumni include Judd Apatow, Ryan Coogler, Paul Feig, Nahnatchka Khan, George Lucas, and Shonda Rhimes.

Wesleyan University

Last but certainly not least is Wesleyan University located in Connecticut. With Emerson College, Wesleyan University is only one of two film schools on this list not located in the greater Los Angeles or New York City area, but that has hardly prevented WU from becoming a prestigious center for aspiring filmmakers.

Its College of Film and the Moving Image is comprised of several smaller departments, which are the Center for Film Studies, the Ogden and Mary Louise Reid Cinema Archives and the Department of Film Studies.

What largely sets this school apart from other colleges and universities is its specific focus on undergraduate study for those interested in “image making, history and studies.”

Notable alumni include Michael Bay, Toby Emmerich, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jon Turteltaub, Joss Whedon, and Bradley Whitford.

A Final Word

The above information on the best film schools is a great starting point for aspiring film students to consider not only the type of program that might best suit them but also in which part of the country they want to pursue their undergraduate or graduate experience.

But to come to a confident decision, students should reach out to each prospective school and inquire further about what that particular college or university has to offer, as each will have a different style of teaching and perspective on the filmmaking world.

Though competitive and rigorous, film school also can be a period of great creative exploration. And as with most experiences, those years will largely be what each student makes of them.

For future filmmakers, it’s the time, focus and energy they put into film school that will ultimately determine what they get out of their time there.

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Community Question

Is a film degree worth it?

Yes, film school is absolutely worth it. Sure, you can teach yourself a lot from buying a camera and watching classic films…but you’re not going to get the well-rounded education you’d receive in film school, where you’ll take coursework in directing, producing, screenwriting, and acting.

Film school gives you the time and space necessary to create your first films — something you might struggle with if you’re working full-time and attempting to write/direct/produce a movie, all of which are full-time jobs in and of themselves. You may be thinking you’ll power through and do all those things regardless so consider this: film school is where most people create the professional and creative networks that will power them into their first successes as a filmmaker.

Community Question

Is UCLA a good film school?

UCLA is on our list for a reason. The UCLA film program is one of the most well-known study options in the world simply because it’s one of the best film schools in the world. UCLA students learn from instructors with a reputation in the film industry. They learn their craft on top-notch sound stages with top-of-the-line gear.

The opportunities for mentorship and work experience are also incredible. The school’s proximity to Hollywood means students learn from Emmy and Oscar winners and have a better chance of getting a foot in the door through the connections they make at school and via internships.

In addition to the alumni listed above, famous UCLA graduates include Darren Star, Jack Black, James Dean, and Ben Stiller.

Community Question

Is a film degree useless?

Anyone who tells you a film degree is useless is either bitter, not living in a major film industry hub, or a combination of both. Fair enough. Film is not an easy industry to break into, which everyone should know going in. A film degree does not guarantee you’ll have a career in the industry.

It can, though, open doors for you. Especially if you earn a degree in a major center of filmmaking (or attend a school that has a Hollywood or New York semester option), you’ll build professional and creative connections that can serve you your whole life. You’ll learn many elements of filmmaking quicker and more in-depth than you’d probably learn on your own. And you’ll get access to filmmaking gear like professional-level camera and editing software to which you might not otherwise have access.

When you’re contemplating getting a film degree, please consider the costs of education, your commitment to your future field, where you want to live, and how soon you need to be raking in a steady salary. Then you’ll know if film school is right for you.

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