There are world famous film schools whose names are synonymous with award-winning directors, producers, actors, screenwriters and cinematographers — to mention just a few filmmaking disciplines. Martin Scorsese graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Francis Ford Coppola earned an MFA in film from UCLA, and USC’s School of Cinematic Arts can claim George Lucas as one its most storied alums. But film education is a fast-growing and widely expanding focus and there are schools throughout North America offering top-ranked, competitive degrees in all areas of filmmaking. Remember, Steven Spielberg went to California State U. Long Beach. For this year’s feature, Variety curated a list of film schools that are definitely worth a good look.
Art Center College of Design
With core principles revolving around a learn-by-making attitude, Art Center provides students with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities located in Los Angeles, with the film and television world a moment away from campus. Film students utilize the latest in production and post-production tools and are encouraged to begin shooting immediately. “Consumer-grade technology can indeed capture professional-grade motion images. But trying to make a film or TV show without the real-world, essential skills our students learn will likely be an exercise in futility,” says Ross LaManna, department chair, Art Center Film. Specific course tracks include cinematography, editing and directing. Upon completing the program, graduates will have had the opportunity to write and direct a film and develop a reel of individual work. Notable alumni include directors Zack Snyder (“Army of the Dead”) and Michael Bay (“Ambulance”), and veteran cinematographer Don Burgess (“Spider-Man”).
The motion pictures program utilizes a 250-seat theater, a state-of-the-art sound mixing stage. Its the only school in the world whose students learn to mix in Dolby Atmos on a feature film-sized mixing stage. Top-of-the-line cameras, including the Arri Alexa LF, are on offer to budding filmmakers, who can take advantage of superb lighting and grip gear. “We can all be content creators, but the ability to make work that’s so meaningful that it can’t be ignored requires another level of effort entirely. Our program teaches work ethic and provides the hands-on experiences necessary to develop the skills one needs to thrive in this business,” says Will Akers, chair of motion pictures. There’s also a 50-seat theater, a 15-seat 7.1 mixing stage, a color correction suite, and multiple 4K edit bays.
The department of film & media offers innovative, interdisciplinary programs leading to a B.A. in Film and doctorates in film & media. It also provides curricular support for the designated emphasis in film studies for doctoral students in other departments. The department teaches students to think historically, theoretically, and analytically about film and media within the broad context of humanistic studies. Students and faculty engage with all forms of moving-image culture, including film, still photography, television, and digital media. Courses are offered in screenwriting, curating, and digital video production. Also on offer is an intense, three-course summer sessions program, which introduces students to the various filmmaking and storytelling processes entailed in developing, pitching and producing media content, while providing an understanding of the roles played by various artists and professionals in the production, distribution, and exhibition of content.
La Mirada, Calif.
Focusing on collaboration over competition, students learn the technical and creative skills necessary to enter the world of filmed media. Biola has abundant opportunities for students, including off-campus programs and an on-campus production center with over $3 million worth of state-of-the-art equipment. “The School of Cinema & Media Arts endeavors to be more than just a film school. We’re a four-screen media program, teaching students how to tell stories across all screens we use in everyday life: the movie screen, TV screen, computer screen, and your device’s screen,” says Tom Halleen, founding dean, and former exec VP of programming strategy at AMC Networks. Last year, students participated in 500 independent productions, and plans are in place for an upcoming $76 million studio facility designed to house all aspects of the production process, from ideation, pre-production, production, post-production, and through final presentation.
Showcasing multiple areas of focus, including production, screenwriting, film and television studies, and management/producing, the department of film and television has the advantage of being located within a booming environment for professionally mounted, on-location productions. High-profile alumni include “Uncut Gems” filmmakers the Safdie brothers and recent Oscar- winning producer David Dinerstein (“Summer of Soul”). “The fact that anyone can make a movie on their phone makes film school even more necessary. In a world where everyone carries production capability in their pocket, people who have the experience of honing their skills with film and television professionals, who have mastered these numerous disciplines over many years, will always have a natural advantage,” says Paul Schneider, chair, department of film and television. Recent graduate Paul Coleman’s feature-length script, “Odds,” won the 2021 Humanitas Prize College Drama Fellowship, complete with a $20,000 grant.
California Institute of the Arts
The school of film and video offers BFA and MFA tracks, and works in all modes of moving image and sound based artwork, including story and character driven narratives in live-action and animated form. Documentary projects in all forms are fostered at CalArts, as well as experimental cinema that is born out of personal connections between the filmmaker and the subject matter. The extended studies program offers summer courses, as well as classes in character animation and film directing, The center for integrated media concentration is designed specifically for MFA students whose creative use of technology, in particular digital media, goes beyond their primary areas of study. CalArts graduates Michael Rianda and Jeffrey Rowe won the feature prize at the 2022 Annie Awards for their critically acclaimed Netflix hit “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” which they co-wrote and co-directed.
California State University Northridge
Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica
CCC is the premier destination in Mexico for emerging filmmakers, with more than 30 generations of cinematic graduates, and more than 700 national and international awards won. CCC offers camera, sound, lighting and stage equipment, and allows for the simultaneous operation of three film shooting groups in 16mm, S16mm and 35mm, as well as four video units. Complete post-production facilities are also offered in multiple formats, with an emphasis placed on collaboration. “Working in a combined space with teachers and fellow students offers opportunities not only for shared learning, but also a space for questioning our techniques, subjects, and motivations. Contact with colleagues and teachers can give us clues to find our path,” says CCC director Alfredo Loaeza. Gender parity in all academic programs and sustainable environmental production workshops for emerging filmmakers are significant accomplishments that started in 2021.
Colorado Film School
The film and media studies program mixes critical studies with creative practice, preparing students to understand moving images while harnessing media technology. Offering a world-class education at a community college price, the school utilizes top-flight tools, facilities, and instruction, without saddling students with crippling debt. “We provide you with the type of high-end equipment you’ll be working with on professional sets, from cameras, rigs, lights, sound gear, and stages. You’ll learn the fine points of writing a good story, and skills for acting and directing so that you’ll get wonderful performances from your actors,” says associate professor Geoff Chadwick. Being developed is a four-year bachelor’s degree to go along with the school’s three-year AAS. Robert Brogden’s film “Six Nights” was a Student Academy Award semi-finalist, and won the Student Visionary Award at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
Columbia College Chicago
Columbia offers concentrations on film, television, and emerging media, along with a comprehensive digital cinematography platform that aligns with current industry practices, while students can also take advantage of multiple guest lecturers throughout the year, as well as the school’s Semester in L.A. multidisciplinary program. Recent shifts in the modes of filmmaking may be ultra-modern, but the school’s core educational values remain constant. “Anyone can make films using iPhones and iPads, but an education at Columbia College Chicago goes beyond the mechanics of shooting and creating something by yourself: it promotes collaboration, critical thinking, and great storytelling taught by industry professionals — essential tools for working in film and television,” says Thelma Vickroy, chair of the cinema and televisions arts department. Situated in the heart of one of the country’s largest media markets, various internship programs are available for students.
DePaul offers in-depth narrative and animated filmmaking courses, and uses greenscreen cycloramas, a scenic shop, Arri and RED cameras, a three-ton grip truck, top-flight stop-motion and motion-capture stages, and high-end editing suites and mixing studios. The school has started offering fully immersive courses in virtual production on its stages at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, and the MFA in Creative Producing at Sunset Las Palmas Studios in Los Angeles. “Our students are taught by award-winning faculty and have access to state-of-the-art equipment and professional sound stages at our 32,000-sq.-ft. facility. And over 200 alumni are currently working on the shows that shoot at Cinespace,” says Gary Novak, director of the School of Cinematic Arts. The university recently teamed up with Second City, and offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in comedy filmmaking.
Florida State University
The past year saw the addition of a 180-degree LED virtual production stage at FSU’s College of Motion Picture Arts, which will launch a specialized track in virtual production in the next admission cycle. Beyond the tech, though, the school remains dedicated to cultivating relationships between students and alumni. People might be able to make movies with the tech in their pocket now, but the college emphasizes team work that’s needed to make successful stories in the industry. “We stress industry practices with a focus on creative collaboration,” says dean Reb Braddock. “This intense work they do together makes for strong bonds of friendship and future creative teams that last for lifetime.” Alumni tend to hire most recent graduates right out of school because of the tight network created. “They know our students know how to work in teams and deliver on the creative vision,” says Braddock.
Established in 1995, the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra features one of the biggest film programs in the country, with about 90 students in the current freshman class and 250 majors overall. The department offers students both BA programs in production and film studies, and in the last year has introduced BFA programs for filmmaking and screenwriting. “We’re a school of storytelling embedded in a wonderful liberal arts university,” says Herbert School dean Mark Lukasiewicz. “The skill is how to create the arc of the story and draw an audience in and really communicate to a wide audience on the screen, and that’s what connects everything we do with the school and why the liberal arts piece of it is so important. The students get a well-rounded view of the world and a sense of inquiry and curiosity that helps them become storytellers.”
The Roy H. Park School at Ithaca features six B.A. film and media majors, from screenwriting to digital media production. The school offers students several internship programs for hands-on experience, including a semester program where students spend a semester at the school’s Los Angeles campus working at a local production company. In addition, Ithaca College keeps pace with competing schools in offering students state of the art facilities and equipment, and is in the process of developing the Cube, a state-of-the-art production facility. “We spend $400,000 or more per year thanks to our endowment of upgrading our filmmaking equipment,” interim Park School dean Jack Powers says. “And that means our students are always working with the best and most recent equipment available, which is in many cases the same thing that’s being used by movies that are being made with $400 million budgets.”
Los Angeles Film School
Established in 1999, L.A. Film School offers bachelor and associate degrees in entertainment fields, both on its Hollywood campus and through online programs. The film degree allows students to pursue concentrations in production, directing, or cinematography. The school partners with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for the Gold Rising Intern Track, which allows students to receive hands-on experience on active film productions. The school hosts program advisory committee meetings twice a year, in which employers and educators advise school leadership on curriculum and preparing students for the industry. “That’s the biggest thing, how can an entertainment school remain in line with where tech is going and how can we continue to do that,” says Jessica Young, the program manager for entertainment business programs. “So that’s really one of the biggest things that we are, you know, pride ourselves in, we make sure that students are receiving the best.”
Loyola Marymount University
Loyola Marymount’s School of Television and Film offers B.A. programs in film, as well as MFA programs for graduate students. Last fall the prestigious film school opened the Howard P. Fitzpatrick Pavilion, a new-media and technology center with a post-production center, an immersive media lab and a motion-capture area. As a Jesuit university, LMU has a mission statement regarding how it teaches its students that carries over into its film program. “Our program is undergirded by the powerful mission statement of the university, which includes the encouragement of learning, the education of the whole person, and service of faith and the promotion of justice,” says Bryant Alexander, interim dean of the LMU School of Film and Television. “Which is made manifest in all that we do in working with young individuals seeking entry into the film and television and media industry to engage that work with a kind of a commitment to ethics, of commitment to social justice, and to telling stories that matter.”
University of Michigan
The department of film, television and media has earned a reputation as a standout program in the Midwest and one of the most prestigious public universities in the U.S. Here students can pursue an “integrated major” that brings together critical studies along with hands-on production experiences. There’s also a lauded student-run television production program, where students have the opportunity to become editors, field producers and serve in dozens of other roles. “In classes, you learn collaboration,” says Yeidy M. Rivero, professor and department chair. “You learn from your professors but you also learn from your peers. In terms of our program, I think our uniqueness is we blend history, theory and practice. So, students gain a working understanding of television and cinema aesthetics and storytelling techniques that take them beyond the basics of how to make a movie or TV show.”
University of Nebraska
The Johnny Carson School of Theater & Film is generously funded by his estate with more than $33 million in total philanthropic support. The program features emerging media arts, design/technical production and acting as tracks. Alums can be found in every corner of entertainment from stunt performer Jessie Graff (“Iron Man 2,” “Bridesmaids”), set designer Timothy Croshaw (“Inception”) to head of rigging Mike Peters (Cirque Du Soleil, Las Vegas). The school also has its eye on preparing graduates for ever-evolving types of storytelling. “A lot of the learning is not done during a lecture, it’s done during a production or something more experimental,” says Richard Endacott, professor of film and associate director of the school. “Either you’re creating a short film or you’re learning how to code a VR experience and we want to provide our students with those opportunities.”
New York Film Academy
This accelerated program has been turning out talented filmmakers who take their place amongst the most notable creatives in the industry including actor-producer Bill Hader, actor-producer Issa Rae, game designer Chris Swain, producer Lisa Cortes and actor-comedian Damon Wayans. Taught on campuses around the world, the school’s coursework is keenly focused on real world experience and the instructors have professional experience they pass along to students during their projects. “One of the most critical pieces for us is storytelling,” says Michael Young, president of New York Film Academy. “The cinematic techniques that one can use and learn only through practice, only through collaborating with others — that’s what our programs are designed to do for students. From the beginning of the program until their last day on production, they’ll be developing those technical and creative skills in collaboration with others.
With both undergraduate and graduate programs available to students, Northwestern’s department of radio/television/film has a well-deserved reputation as a top film school that offers modules in directing, game design and comedy arts. Many in the school’s faculty are currently working in entertainment, including writers’ rooms for shows at Netflix and HBO, and are behind notable podcasts and new media. “Starting this year, our MFA programs in Documentary Media and Writing for the Screen and Stage are fully funded with stipends,” says Thomas Bradshaw, professor and chair. “Gone are the equity barriers and the student debt that often holds back the careers of emerging artists. We know of no other screenwriting program which is free and which provides such stipends. In addition, we just started the Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab, which teaches our commissioned student writers and filmmakers to think about how they might depict mental illness in a more nuanced way.”
University of North Carolina School of the Arts
The filmmaking school here ranks among the top on numerous industry reports. The program also counts alum Shawn Harwell (“Eastbound & Down”) as an adjunct faculty member. Walt Disney Television Animation post-production supervisor Catherine Linebarger and Hulu’s originals content operations manager Tiffany McMichael graduated from the program. UNCSA now funds all thesis films, which includes providing all equipment and a cash budget for every senior project. The thesis program also includes new formats such as documentaries and VR/XR technologies. “To stand on a set and ideate a script is challenging,” says Deborah LaVine, dean of the School of Filmmaking. “So, to be in a space where you’re mentored, guided and nurtured and you’re collaborating is priceless.”
Perched on a beautiful campus with easy access to Hollywood, Pepperdine’s Seaver College has teachers and visiting speakers such as network anchor Lester Holt, Morgan Freeman and Randall Wallace. Notable alums include Denise Huth, a producer on “The Walking Dead,” and helmer D.J. Caruso. The program offers a film major, minor and an MFA in writing for film and television. The program is also a co-sponsor of the city of Los Angeles Film Festival. “Pepperdine’s program is interested in developing each individual’s aesthetic voice and style,” says Joi Carr, professor of film and English studies, playwright and director. “We view it as an opportunity to help students develop their mission in life, whether it shows up as a director, actor or screenwriter. We’re more interested in the person and the wholeness of their craft.”
Brooklyn and Manhattan, N.Y.
Pratt recently launched the Peer Mentorship Program, which is designed to create a “culture of care” when a sense of disconnection can be a struggle. The program is for students and by students and focuses on building connection and collaboration. Alums of the film program have had work featured at Tribeca, Toronto and Cannes film festivals. Alums have gone on to work as editors and producers at outlets including USA Networks, MTV and Entertainment Weekly. Pratt’s program is designed to ground students in practical skills while also encouraging experimentation and exploration. “We can access a lot of things through the internet but it’s been cultivated so there’s no true surprise,” says Matías Piñero, assistant professor. “And cinema is not a discipline that you do in solitary. Cinema is a collaborative art, a collaborative discipline. You’ll find a community here at Pratt.”
Rhode Island School of Design
Talking Heads frontman David Byrne is a RISD grad so it’s no surprise this film school is known for being avant garde. Martha Coolidge, Gus Van Sant and Seth MacFarlane are also alums. The program offers specializations in film, animation and video. The program freely allows students to mix different media or apply their storytelling skills in less- traditional ways and can include film, animation, installations and other interactive media. “I think it’s amazing that we have access to so many technologies,” says Sheri Wills, head of the film/animation/video department. “You can make a great film with an iPhone but to do that you need to understand all the technology and all the thinking that goes into great cinema. And a lot of that learning is collaborative, which is something you can only do while working and learning with others, which is what we do at RISD.”
Savannah College of Art & Design
SCAD offers programs in film and television, animation and dramatic writing as well as immersive reality and interactive design and game development so students looking for a broad curriculum that prepares them for just about any type of storytelling will find what they need here. The school also runs the annual SCAD Savannah Film Festival, which is one of the largest university-run film festivals in the world. The event is eight days long and draws attendees for its excellent short films and documentaries. “At SCAD we’re doing our best to get you ready to be engaged in the professional world,” says D.W. Moffett, chair of the film and television department. “My department is about collaborative storytelling and learning the tenets of storytelling.”
With expanded offerings in TV, radio, podcasting, VFX, entrepreneurship and production design, Syracuse is on the cutting edge of entertainment coursework. The department of film and media arts has been ranked as one of the best film schools by Variety and many other sources. The school is also creating film history classes that take an anti-racist and anti-sexist focus from about the middle of the last century until present day. Danny Zuker, VFX supervisor Mike Laskersony and Pixar’s Jim Morris are amongst the alums. “Syracuse University offers aspiring filmmakers a rigorous, collaborative, and encouraging hands-on environment within which they learn the imperative historical, theoretical, conceptual, and political implications of filmmaking in the contemporary moment,” says professor Kara Herold. “We embrace cinema in its many rich, diverse forms — from smartphone filmmaking and music videos to 35mm narrative filmmaking; from Hollywood and independent “classics” to Afrofuturism.”
University of Texas at Austin
As part of the Moody College of Communications, the radio-television-film department is consistently ranked among the best film programs in the country. Located in Austin, a city known for its high quality of life and low cost of living, the school also has a notably large green screen (everything is bigger in Texas, right?), motion capture studio and can boast about alums including “BlacKkKlansman” producer Ray Mansfield who return to the campus for industry talks with students. “If you just download tutorials on filmmaking from online, for the most part, you’re just at filmmaking by yourself,” says Miguel Alvarez, assistant professor of practice and production area head. “But when you go to film school you’re in an environment with a bunch of other students who are equally passionate about making films and that exchange of ideas is something that you don’t get anywhere else.”
Wesleyan has some of the finest documentary filmmaking resources around and is a frequently listed as one of the best film schools in the U.S. The College of Film and the Moving Image counts film critic A.O. Scott and documentary producer Sadia Shepard (“The September Issue”) as faculty. The school also initiated the Wesleyan Documentary Project, which is designed to teach and support nonfiction projects. The timing couldn’t be better as interest in nonfiction storytelling is experiencing a boom and holds many opportunities for grads. “The thing that Wesleyan offers that not many other schools do is a program that’s embedded in a liberal arts university,” says Scott Higgins, director, College of Film and the Moving Image. “Students aren’t just learning the technology or film, and there’s a richer integration of disciplines which I think leads to students who can solve problems.”
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
The Peck School of the Arts’ Department of Film, Video, Animation & New Genres offers just as much as the name would indicate. The program offers a wide variety of classes that prepare students to work in the rapidly evolving world of entertainment, whether that means mastering technical skills or new ways of storytelling. Consistently ranked among the top 25 film schools in the past four years, notable alums include Jim Rygiel. Academy-Award winning VFX supervisor who has worked on “Godzilla” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and Brooke Duckart, a lauded puppet fabricator who works for Laika animation studio. “The iPhone is a nice tool, but shooting footage is only the beginning in a much larger process that includes sound recording [field and dialogue] and image composition, lighting, writing, direction, sound editing and sound design, image editing, and visual effects,” says Kevin Hartman, interim dean, Peck School of the Arts. “We teach all of this, and our students receive not simply a technical degree but rather a fully immersive creative time-based and cinematic arts production degree.”
Vancouver Film School
Named the top Canadian Animation Training Program and the Top Intl. Animation Training Program by Animation Career Review, Vancouver Film School designed its programs as a one-year intensive that prepares students to launch immediately after graduation. Students can focus on 3D animation and visual effects, acting for film & television, classical animation, game design, VR/AR design and development and sound design for visual media, among other areas. Famous alums include Neill Blomkamp (helmer and writer of “District 9”), Shakun Batra (Bollywood helmer of “Kapoor & Sons”) and Academy-Award winning animator Chad Moffitt (“The Lord of the Rings”). “What we do in film and animation, it’s team based,” says Colin Giles, head of the School of Animation. “It’s really important to learn how to work as a team and collaborate and you also need to be building your network of people you will work with.”