Perhaps the best way to learn how to make films is by getting onto a crew and being on set. Trial by fire, as they say. It goes without saying that you can learn a whole lot on the job.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t benefits to going to school. For wannabe filmmakers, there are lots of things to learn from techniques to theories, and practical equipment uses. A good film school is also a great networking tool and doesn’t hurt your resume on the way out.
Here are some of the top film schools around the US that you should take a look at if you are serious about filmmaking.
Perhaps no film school in the US is more renowned than the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. Maybe it’s the proximity to Hollywood, but this program has churned out many of the great directors, cinematographers, and film industry vets of our time.
A few of the more notable alumni from USC are producer Brian Grazer, cinematographer Robert Elswit, and directors like Ron Howard, Judd Apatow, and George Lucas. Clearly the School of Cinematic Arts has a pedigree.
Programs within the school an animation and digital arts program, film and television production, a producer program, and writing for screen and television, just to name a few.
USC is a traditional 4-year college offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in all of their Cinematic Arts programs except for the Producer’s Program, which is master’s only. They even offer PhD’s in a few programs in case you ever wanted to be a doctor of Cinematic & Media Studies.
Chances are, if you attend the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and do well in the program, you’ll be able to find your way into the industry once you get out. But there is a lot of competition to get in, so get ready if you are planning to apply.
On the other side of the country is perhaps the second most well-known film program at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.
The film programs at Tisch include cinema studies, dramatic writing, an undergraduate in film and television, and a graduate program in film.
And the Tisch School of the Arts has had its fair share of notable alumni over the years as well. These include big directors like Joel Cohen, Chris Columbus, and Martin Scorsese. Yup, that Martin Scorsese.
Just like with USC, NYU’s programs are based on a typical 4-year degree program with an additional 2 years for a master’s degree. The environment is quite different than that of southern California, but it’s just as exciting as Hollywood in many aspects. There is no shortage of opportunities for work in the New York area while you are in school and once you get out.
One of the more targeted (and more expensive) programs is at the American Film Institute. Unlike the typical 4-year programs at NYU and USC, the American Film Institute incorporates a 2-year program just based on the specifics of filmmaking.
The program is about as close as you can get to a real-world experience where students run through the writing process before setting out on multi-day shoots and then editing their projects.
Several disciplines are offered in the program including, cinematography, editing, directing, producing, and a few others.
There are some very specific requirements needed before getting accepted into the AFI film program. First off, you must already have a 4 year degree from another school. So, attending AFI is not something you would do in lieu of getting a bachelor’s degree. Instead, it would be along with a bachelor’s or master’s. AFI also has specific notes about being able to deny applicants who have been convicted of a felony or who don’t have a a strong enough grasp on the English language. They say this is based on the communicative nature of the art form and the need to easy comprehension.
But even with the detailed requirements, several high profile alumni have made their way through the AFI program. These include names like Janusz Kamiński (cinematographer for Steven Spielberg), and directors Darren Aronofsky, Amy Heckerling, and David Lynch.
One might not think of the nearly 200-year-old university tucked away in Middleton, Connecticut as a leader in film studies. But with alumni like Miguel Arteta, Michael Bay, and Joss Whedon, they must be doing something right.
In fact, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Wesleyan has one of the top 10 film programs in the country. But they also offer a different atmosphere than the Hollywood and New York film schools. This is something that may appeal to those who want a more “college town” experience.
As part of the College of Film and the Moving Image at Wesleyan, students learn everything from film history to filmmaking techniques. There is a heavy emphasis on the history and theory of film, not just hands-on filmmaking process studies.
There are film studies programs at many of the major colleges in the US and around the world. You can learn some level of history and technique from any of them. But the best programs in the country will put you a level-up on many of the students coming out of other programs, and these are some of the best programs that the US has to offer.