Each year, Variety cultivates a list of the top film school programs and film school educators both in the United States and abroad. This year, the COVID-19 crisis has beset the world, forcing the temporary closure of colleges and universities, and that includes film and digital arts programs globalwide. But in the midst of this ravaging crisis, centers of higher education are implementing remote learning techniques to keep their students on track. Now, more than ever, it’s a time for creatively to reign supreme, a time for artistry to thrive and a time for aspiring filmmakers of stripes and solids—be it screenwriters or directors—to harness this time of solitude and draft what could become the blockbusters, TV series and indie films of tomorrow.
Not only are these film schools and their faculty prepping their students for successful careers in the entertainment biz, but they are guiding them with structure and encouragement and artistic expertise through one of the most turbulent eras in modern-day society.
Producing Discipline Head
American Film Institute
At AFI, Halfon’s focus has been to design a program that teaches students the hard skills that producers need to know, from identifying material, story development, production and post-production, with a concrete understanding of each process. “My favorite thing is to be in an intensive dialogue with the whole class, about something we’ve read, where it’s part analysis and part on-the-spot discovery,” Halfon says.
New strategies are being implemented. “I added the first workshop on documentaries last year, and we’re going to continue to expand our focus on television and new media,” she says.
Halfon’s producing credits include “Juno” and “Ghost World.”
Department Chair, Entertainment Design
ArtCenter College of Design
Aretos has helped to put an emphasis on the school’s much-buzzed game design track. “Our students work together to create stories, and then tell them visually for animation, live-action movies, or games, mimicking the work environment they will encounter in the industry,” he says.
He’s very excited about the technological progression of his department. “We use VR and motion- capture to design and build worlds that do not exist.”
Aretos carries more than 20 years of experience as a concept artist, art director, and production designer in the film and animation industries, with credits including “Shrek” and “Puss in Boots.”
Beijing Film Academy
The sole film academy in China and the largest school of its kind in Asia, the Beijing Film Academy has trained directors like Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige over the course of its 65-year history. Students utilize the academy’s four professional film studios and the latest film and production equipment as part of their studies; the school also hosts many of Asia’s most important film festivals, including the International Student Film and Video Festival.
In Belmont’s motion pictures department, students will shoot and edit their first film immediately after the semester starts. The school boasts a 250-seat theater and sound mixing stage and it’s one of those rare film school programs in which students have access to cutting-edge Dolby Atmos sound-mixing equipment. Classes are offered in directing, writing, creative producing, screenplay analysis, cinematography, set management, film history and genre studies, among others.
UC Berkeley’s Department of Film and Media emphasizes both film history and theory. Undergraduates can discover global genres and the history of avant-garde film, while graduate students can tackle Freud and Lacan and the intersections of film and architecture. The campus is home to the Pacific Film Archive, making Berkeley a year-round hub for visiting filmmakers and essential international programming, which recently included retrospectives of David Lynch and Agnes Varda.
Located a short 20-minute drive from Los Angeles, Biola’s School of Cinema and Media Arts offers its graduating students ample opportunities to break into the biz. With over $3 million in state-of-the-art technology and equipment and with a staff comprising such industry professionals as screenwriter Chris Masi (“Being Mary Jane,” “Graceland”) and veteran TV writer-producer Michael Warren, Biola offers courses in both technical and creative aspects of filmmaking, with overall concentrations in entertainment producing, game design and interactive media and production. Students also have 24-hour access to the 10,000-sq.-ft. Studio.
Boston University Department of Film and Television
Students who want practical experience in creating film and television content will get first-hand access to a wealth of media studies and skills through BU’s Film & Television Program. As part of the school’s College of Communication (COM), they’ll learn both theory and technique through small classes with media professionals in ever field, and apply that knowledge using the latest tech on faculty productions or through BU’s student-produced content distribution network, butv10.
Lecturer and Advisor
UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
For 26 years, Nunan has taught the Graduate Producers Program, focusing on showing how the industry works. “Students are so eager and excited about their projects and their enthusiasm and energy is one-of-a-kind,” he says.
There’s been a robust addition of TV courses in the program, especially in the writing and producing arenas. “When I graduated from UCLA TFT in 1984, most students were interested in breaking into the movies,” he says. “Today, the majority of students see more opportunities in TV, streaming in particular.”
Nunan is founder and partner of film-TV production company Bull’s Eye Entertainment, and produced Oscar-winning drama “Crash.”
California Institute of the Arts
Students and alumni of CalArts’ School of Film/Video (“Calartians”) have been at the helm of 12 Academy Award winners for Best Animated Feature, including the last seven consecutive Oscars in that category, while animated features directed by CalArts alumni netted more than $48 billion in box office grosses between 1985 and 2019. Netflix has recently tapped CalArts alumni to direct features and series for their animation studio, including the 2019 Oscar nominee “Klaus.”
California State University Northridge
CSUN’s Department of Cinema and Television Arts has recently completed a three-year cycle of production facility updates that will give students access to cutting-edge technology in nearly every medium. The update, made possible by a grant from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), includes a state-of-the-art mixing console, new equipment, upgraded lab facilities and a motion capture room. The HFPA also gave a $60,000 grant for student filmmakers to complete their senior thesis projects.
Centro De Capacitacion Cinematografica
Founded in 1975, the Centro De Capacitacion Cinematografica is a public federal film school that takes a deliberately broad approach to the study of the moving image, linking it with other disciplines and artistic practices. The school offers two primary programs of study — one in general film studies, the other in screenwriting. The CCC’s Opera Prima project is an internal competition that gives young filmmakers the ability to produce a professional debut feature with significant institutional support. Alums include Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (“Brokeback Mountain,” “The Irishman”).
Chapman University, Dodge College of Film & Media
Newly appointed dean Stephen Galloway aims to build more connections between Hollywood and the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts by providing students with professional-level experience that they can later apply to industry jobs. Currently, students have day-one access to cameras and can utilize three industry-standard soundstages, a 6000-square foot scene shop and 7,000-square foot prop and set warehouse to bring their ideas to life.
Colorado Film School Denver
Providing students with hands-on experience is key to the Colorado Film School’s approach to education. Students begin utilizing equipment in their first week, and have access to professional gear and a virtual studio system, FS Greenlight, which teaches budget management and story development. They can also work on documentaries for the state government or television advertisements for local businesses. Graduates have gone on to productions like “Avatar 2” and “The Walking Dead.”
Columbia College Chicago
Students can pursue a BA in Filmmaking or a BFA in Cinema Art and Science from Columbia College Chicago. A wealth of facilities, from camera and lighting equipment centers to post-production suites and screening rooms, are available for use, and students can also participate in internships with numerous media entities (recent opportunities have included Showtime Networks) or have the opportunity to connect with industry professionals through the Semester in LA program.
Columbia University School of the Arts
Kathryn Bigelow, James Mangold, Lisa Cholodenko and Kimberly Peirce are among the celebrated filmmakers who took part in the Columbia University School of the Arts’ rigorous graduate and undergraduate programs. The school offers MFAs in screenwriting, directing and creative producing, as well as an MA and undergraduate degrees in film and media studies. The faculty includes such industry notables as writer/producer/director James Schamus, distributor-producer Ira Deutchman, filmmakers Katherine Dieckmann and Bette Gordon, and Emmy-winning screenwriter Trey Ellis.
Professional-level facilities, including three soundstages, motion capture stages and a 32,000 square foot production space, are part of the undergraduate and graduate film program at DePaul. The school offers both graduate and undergraduate tracks in animation, film and television; DePaul also offers a 10-week immersion program in Los Angeles and collaborations with the celebrated Second City improv school for one-of-a-kind undergrad and graduate degrees in comedy filmmaking.
Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology
The only institute of its kind in Ireland, IADT offers undergraduate degrees in an array of film and television disciplines, including production, animation and design (as well as a postgraduate degree in screenwriting). Small class sizes focusing on projects, interaction between the creative, business and tech schools and exceptional facilities – including a Digital Media Incubation Centre on campus – are among the highlights of the IADT experience. Graduates include Oscar-nominated cinematographer Robbie Ryan (“Fish Tank”).
Emerson College, Boston and Los Angeles
Approximately 1,700 students explore a diverse array of disciplines in Emerson’s Visual and Media Arts program, including Film and Video Production and Writing for Film and Television. The college recently initiated a three-year BFA program in Film Arts in partnership with the Paris College of Arts, as well as an Emerging Media Lab that allows students to attend classes in both the Boston and Los Angeles campuses and work on animation, photography and design projects.
The admissions process for the French state film school is so rigorous that it was the subject of an entire documentary, 2019’s “The Competition.” For those who make the cut, La Femis offers training in not just directing, screenwriting, and producing, but also distribution and theater management. La Femis doesn’t maintain a permanent faculty, so students receive support from 500 professional tutors. Famous alums include directors Claire Denis (“High Life”) and Celine Sciamma (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”).
Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts
Before he was named dean of the College of Motion Picture Arts in 2016, Reb Braddock served twice as the college’s interim dean, as associate dean and as a member of the faculty, teaching various courses, including a film directing class. A main architect of the college’s production programs, Braddock has been with the school since it was created in1989 when he was admitted to the very first MFA class. As dean, he also teaches one-on-one pitching and film marketing workshops.
“Our focus is on how filmmakers work together collaboratively,” says Barddock of FSU’s education model. “We take a group of diverse students, we put them together in teams and we have them do practical work solving problems that come along to make their movies. We teach them how to work together as artists and leaders, but also how to work together with film crews.”
Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography
Founded in 1919, the world’s oldest film school has trained some of the pioneering figures in the history of cinema, including Sergei Eisenstein, and leading Russian directors like Andrei Tarkovsky. Students explore all areas of film and television production as part of a humanities-based curriculum; foreign students with a previous university degree can take part in a shorter, three-year program or take part in extended education in various media disciplines.
Russell Harbaugh, Assistant Professor
Geoff Tarson, Assistant Professor
Hofstra University, The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication
This tag-team of Harbaugh and Tarson headline Hofstra’s film and TV writing department. Harbaugh leads several screenwriting workshops and a script analysis course, while industry veteran Tarson teaches various television writing classes. “Just recently, there was a substantial renovation and modernization to one of our TV studios in the building,” says Tarson, with Harbaugh adding that they’ve “developed a BFA program in Writing for the Screen, which we hope will offer our students deeper study in writing for film, television, and the spaces between.”
Harbaugh’s feature credits include the 2018 critically acclaimed indie “Love After Love,” while Tarson worked as an accomplished television writer for many years at The Disney Channel and NBC.
Italian National Film School
Located near Cinecitta Studios in Rome, the National Film School – part of the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia – is not only the oldest film school in Western Europe, but also one of the most competitive in Italy. Students are selected through a rigorous audition process to enroll in such courses as production, direction, animation, screenwriting and other disciplines taught by top figures in international cinema. Among its graduates are director Michelangelo Antonioni and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, both Oscar winners.
Assistant Professor, Media Arts, Sciences, and Studies, Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College
At Park school, 6 overlapping programs offer a solid hands-on filmmaking education to acquaint them with all the different aspects of production. Assistant Professor Idrissou Mora-Kpai is developing a new program to take some students to Cannes to participate in the annual global film event from the inside. “International festivals like Cannes can expose American students to a diversity of voices from our heterogeneous world,” Mora-Kpai says. “Good cinema education must go hand in hand with an education in critical thinking and an open mind. Cinema is a vision, a certain way of conceiving the world. The more we know about this world, the more equipped we are.”
Lodz Film School
Poland’s national film school offers full-time studies in four departments – film and television direction, cinematography/TV production, acting and production organization – as well as part-time, post-graduate studies and doctorates in specific disciplines. Nearly 300 student film projects are produced each year with the assistance of artistic supervisors and professional post-production facilities. The school can also count such leading world cinema figures as Krzysztof Kieslowski count Lodz and Andrzej Wajda among its alumni.
The Los Angeles Film School
Located in the heart of Hollywood, Los Angeles Film School has offered students entertainment-focused degrees in film production, digital filmmaking, animation, music production, entertainment business and Writing for Film & TV, among others, since 1999. Its alumni include Oscar-nominated film editor Martin Pensa (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and film and music video director Hannah Lux Davis, who has worked with Ariana Grande, Halsey, and Demi Lovato.
Michelle Amor Gillie
Clinical Professor of Screenwriting, School of Film and Television
Loyola Marymount University
Gillie serves as a faculty advisor for the school’s Storytellers of Color Organization, and is excited about the construction of the new Howard B. Fitzpatrick Pavilion, which opens in 2021.
The recent trend in students shifting from film to TV is noticeable. “While I understand it from a practical standpoint, it’s sad that we’re not getting as many original feature film script ideas,” she says.
She’s serving her third elected term as co-chair of the WGAW Committee of Black Writers, and offers encouraging words to students. “You’re good enough,” she tells them. “Your art is good enough. No need to run from it.”
University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Michigan’s Department of Film, Television and Media, formerly known as Screen Arts and Cultures, is focused on both critical studies and creative production. The FTVM major offers a wide array of course options, covering films, television, and media from across the globe, and media production training for screens of every size. The PhD program is interdisciplinary in emphasis, but begins with coursework covering the historical and theoretical foundations of cinema and media. The school’s archival holdings include materials from Robert Altman and Orson Welles.
Mount Saint Mary’s University
After decades as a go-to location for film and television production from “Beverly Hills, 90210” to “Veep,” Mount Saint Mary’s appeals to creative hopefuls as much for its proximity as its educational pathways to Hollywood. Concentrations in acting, screenwriting, cinematography, directing, editing, producing, visual effects and more offer a thorough overview of the contemporary entertainment industry disciplines. Meanwhile, a longstanding relationship with Sunset Gower Studios offers production space for students to put their studies into practical use.
National Film and Television School
Opened in 1971, the NFTS claims to offer more “behind the camera courses” than any other film school, with hands-on instruction in not just directing and cinematography, but also script supervision and production accounting. Courses are designed for students with at least a little experience — the school says most students are in their early-20s to mid-30s when they arrive. Senior teaching staff includes directors like Alex Garland, and the school hosts dozens of exclusive, star-studded masterclasses each year. Successful alums include Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, Oscar winning animator Nick Park and acclaimed directors Lynne Ramsay and David Yates.
Assistant Professor of Emerging Media Arts
University of Nebraska Lincoln
Smith’s background as a speculative artist, designer, and researcher ties heavily into her role as a professor focusing on filmmaking and storytelling on new platforms. “There are so many important stories that need to be told from so many different perspectives from across the world,” she says.
The school’s new center for emerging media arts will emphasize elements of virtual reality and mixed media. “I’m drawn to immersive storytelling and the idea that you can create content through world building, which is one of the biggest trends we’re seeing,” says Smith.
New York Film Academy
Combining state-of-the-art facilities and equipment with international locations and interactive learning opportunities, NYFA immerses students from day one in a curriculum designed and taught by industry professionals. Utilizing satellite programs from Australia to Beijing, faculty focus on disciplines spanning all forms – and platforms – of the moving image, emphasizing everything from production to preservation. Featuring youth programs, fine arts degrees and graduate opportunities, NYFA serves creatives through all stages of their entertainment education and growth.
New York U. Tisch School of the Arts
Founded on the principle of creating work for critique, NYU’s Tisch School and the Kanbar Film Institute enable students to create numerous short films during their time in the program – the more work they make, the better. Maintaining the internationalism of its program in a city with a rich history of cultural diversity, NYU brings together people from around the world while upholding the voices that define the film marketplace with influences from many traditions.
Joy Goodwin, Director of Graduate Screenwriting
University of North Carolina School of the Arts
For almost 50 years, the Winston-Salem based UNC School of the Arts has generated numbers of now-famous alumni that compete with top programs in New York and Los Angeles. Joy Goodwin, who leads its new screenwriting graduate program, credits inclusivity, and intimacy, for the high percentage of students who advance professionally. “Because of our location, we really form a tight-knit artistic community,” Goodwin says. “Our faculty have amazing credentials, yet they also have the time and the inclination to be truly dedicated mentors. So while they’re here, our MFA writers and producers not only build a substantial portfolio of work, but often form lifelong creative partnerships.”
After launching an Open Television distribution platform in 2015 to create and distribute programming outside of the Los Angeles bubble, Northwestern’s School of Communication wraps plans this year for a state-of- the-art 24,000-square-foot creative hub for MFA programs including four multi-use black box spaces outfitted with A/V equipment for film screenings, a gallery space, and teaching and administrative offices. The center fulfills ambitions to expand interdisciplinary graduate programming with innovative curricula in playwriting, television writing, and comedy while developing partnerships with established Chicago arts stalwarts and audiences.
Relocated from South Los Angeles to Malibu in 1972, the campus of this private research university offers students a uniquely beautiful and picturesque backdrop for study, regardless of their field. But girded by Christian principles, undergraduate Communications and Film Studies programs teach form, technique, history and criticism while posing moral, aesthetic, and ideological questions essential to a modern humanities education. Seaver College promotes understanding of communication methods and systems while cultivating attitudes of intersectionality and interconnectedness.
With a location“in the most innovative part of the most interesting part of the most important city in the world,” Pratt promotes its educational boundaries well outside its campuses in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Built on a foundation of inclusivity, curriculum and admissions programs emphasize both local communities around the school and the diverse cultures of students and faculty. Undergraduate film and fine art programs teach students the basics in production and theory with an eye on current standards while encouraging creative exploration, boundary-pushing and personal discovery.
San Francisco State University
Featuring one of the most diverse student bodies in the country, it’s no surprise that one of the core principles for its college of liberal and creative arts is social engagement. But paired with creative expression and critical thinking, faculty offer an in-depth education covering the language and mechanics of cinema as a medium and art form across all platforms in order to nurture authentic, individual voices for and from each student. Meanwhile, graduate programs encourage mastery, critical examination and experimentation in cinema production and history.
Savannah College of Art and Design
SCAD’s film and TV programs train students in both the technical and conceptual aspects of filmmaking, with a focus on career preparation. The school offers a B.F.A., an M.A., or an M.F.A., which can be completed either in Savannah or Atlanta. In Atlanta, students have access to a 60,000-square-foot digital media center, and on the main campus, there’s the Savannah Film Studios, a 22,000-square-foot production facility. SCAD’s GradPath also enables students to complete an accelerated B.F.A. and M.A. in as few as four years or a B.F.A. and M.F.A. in as few as five years.
Sarah Lawrence College
This tiny liberal arts college is well-stocked with the tools any undergraduate film student needs, including a sound stage, editing lab, and animation studio. In addition, the Cinema Sarah Lawrence program offers a unique semester-long “study away” intensive on the Bronxville, NY campus that immerses students in every aspect of making a feature film. Directors J.J. Abrams and Brian De Palma are among the school’s most famous alums; the latter taught at the school and filmed his 1980 comedy “Home Movies” with a crew of Sarah Lawrence students.
USC School of Cinematic Arts
Admission is highly competitive at the oldest and largest film school in the U.S., which has seven divisions that cover the entire spectrum of media-making. The B.A., B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees are focused on both the craft and the business of Hollywood, training students not just for careers in filmmaking, but also at talent agencies, management firms, and international distributors. The production facilities, archives, and libraries are vast and comprehensive, and the alumni network is a who’s-who of industry movers and shakers.
The Studio School Los Angeles
After rebranding from the Relativity School in 2017, the Studio School has grown into one of Los Angeles’ leading institutions for aspiring entertainment professionals. Inspired by feedback and guidance from artists, industry insiders and thought leaders, the school’s curriculum evolved organically not from top-down academic structures but cross-disciplinary collaboration to generate real-world insights and practical experience. Career-focused programs and college-level learning objectives taught by industry professionals prepare students for diverse, ever-evolving workplace challenges.
A film and media B.A. from Stanford grounds students in a global history of cinema. One popular course offers a comparative approach to Hollywood and Bollywood musicals, and other spring seminars focus on Stanley Kubrick and Howard Hawks. The documentary film and video MFA program, which admits only 8 students per year, emphasizes formally bold approaches to stories about social change. Several recent MFA thesis films have been showcased by the New York Times’ Op-Docs series.
Sydney Film School
Australia’s Sydney Film School is based at Waterloo Studios, a full-fledged production facility in New South Wales, and the emphasis is on honing your craft as soon as possible. The school offers a 1-Year Diploma, a 1-Year Advanced Diploma and a Certificate III in Screen and Media, all geared towards entry into the film/TV industry. One benefit for student filmmakers: Sydney Film School shares its studio with the prestigious Sydney Actors School, and collaborations between directors and actors are encouraged.
Considered one of the top journalism schools in the country, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications maintains stellar programs in broadcasting as well as film and television. Partnered with the College of the Visual Arts, Syracuse first teaches undergraduates about media in both technique and theory – how audio and video are used to tell stories. Subsequent years focus more intently on individual student interests and goals, with a wide variety of extracurricular activities to gain experience in their chosen field.
Associate Professor & Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
University of Texas at Austin, Moody College of Communication, Radio-Television-Film Department
Smith teaches directing workshops which concentration on the relationship between the director and their performers, while also serving as the first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leader. “Our goal is to support students who felt marginalized in the past. It’s been challenging doing production classes by remote-learning because of Covid-19, but part of our job is preparing for the unexpected,” he says.
The school has an emerging program revolving around 3-D animation and visual effects and black sitcoms. “We’re always trying to stay in tune with the larger areas of the industry,” he says. Smith is also an award-winning filmmaker.
Vancouver Film School
The premier post-secondary entertainment arts institution in Canada for more than 30 years, the Vancouver Film School offers prospective students an intensive one-year film production program taught by industry professionals. The program has yielded alumni who were credited on 17 of the 20 highest-grossing films worldwide in 2019 alone. Among the VFS grads currently making an impact in the entertainment industry are Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”) and filmmaker-author-podcaster Kevin Smith.
The College of Film and the Moving Image at this liberal arts school offers an undergraduate major and minor focused on both the study and practice of filmmaking. The learning happens not just in the classroom, but all over campus. A student-run film series programs classic and contemporary movies 4 nights a week, and the Reid Cinema Archive contains primary materials from the careers of Frank Capra, Ingrid Bergman, and others. Recent graduates include Benh Zeitlin, who directed “Beasts of the Southern Wild” with a crew including several fellow Wesleyan alums.
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Peck School of the Arts
The filmmaking programs at the Peck School include undergraduate degrees in film and animation, and an interdisciplinary graduate degree in film that focuses on non-commercial time-based art. The curriculum offers a mixture of the practical and the theoretical, with an emphasis on flexibility and collaboration. The school’s UWM Union Cinema offers a wide range of adventurous programming, including weekly Experimental Tuesdays and a Documentary Frontiers program that takes an expansive view of nonfiction cinema.
Yale’s Film and Media Studies program is oriented around the history, theory, criticism, and production of cinema and other moving-image media, with an undergraduate major and a graduate degree. Coursework might include a seminar on black media and poetics centered around the FX show “Atlanta,” or a survey of East Asian Martial Arts films from Kurosawa to Wong Kar-Wai. Resources include the Yale Film Study Center, which regularly screens classic and contemporary 35mm prints from the archive.