How do you prepare students for an entertainment industry in a constant state of flux? For some, the answer is LED walls. Schools ranging from Chapman to Cal State Northridge are doubling down on digital production in an effort to prepare their students for industry. And while rising tuition costs have would-be filmmakers worried, schools are increasing scholarships or offering fully funded MFAs.
These 25(ish) programs offer students the best chance at navigating Hollywood’s changing terrain.
1. American Film Institute
The prestigious graduate program consistently churns out Oscar winners, including CODA director and 2022 Oscar winner Sian Heder, and blockbuster directors, and has made an effort to diversify its student body. Over half of the incoming students are women, and nearly half are filmmakers of color — all are eligible for new funds like the Halyna Hutchins Memorial Scholarship. This year, AFI’s speaker seminars were an Oscar fest, including the likes of Guillermo del Toro, Denis Villeneuve and Maggie Gyllenhaal, while professors are still notably active in the industry, like cinematography head Stephen Lighthill, who was reelected as the ASC president. “More than anything, I wanted to find those essential creative collaborators,” AFI grad and Sundance breakout Chloe Okuno says of the school’s main perk.
TUITION $65,800 (graduate)
ALUMNI Patty Jenkins, Ari Aster, Sam Esmail
2. New York University
The Tisch School of the Arts will launch an academic and production institute in honor of alumnus Martin Scorsese thanks to a gift from George Lucas and Mellody Hobson. The institute will feature a major virtual production facility, as well as support for student scholarships. In the coming academic year, the graduate program will continue its mentorship program, which pairs students with filmmakers — the inaugural year brought in Isabel Sandoval and Raven Jackson.
TUITION $63,000 (undergraduate); $68,000 (graduate)
ALUMNI Chloé Zhao, Dee Rees
3. University of Southern California
The School of Cinematic Arts places an emphasis on virtual production and digital content creation. Former EA president John Riccitiello gave $14 million to the Interactive Media & Games program, while Sony Electronics helped develop virtual production capabilities, like LED walls and in-camera VFX. Prentice Penny created The First Up, a program designed to give opportunities to writing students of color. You would be hard-pressed to find an alumni network more decorated than USC’s, including director Matt Reeves and writer-producer Shonda Rhimes. Explains alum Rian Johnson, “The friends I made in the program, the people I made dumb shorts with in the dorms on the weekends or bunkered down with in the edit room or traded third-generation VHS tapes of John Woo movies with, those ended up being my support group through the years after graduation, banging our heads against the wall of the industry and trying to get our own movies made.”
TUITION $63,468 (undergrad); $37,149-$54,461 (graduate)
ALUMNI Ryan Coogler, Jon M. Chu
4. Chapman University
Drawing names like Lorenzo di Bonaventura to teach classes, while adding high-end tech like a fleet of RED Komodo cameras, the Dodge College continues to impress. It also offers production students subsidies up to $15,000 for theses. The school opened a new career center to help with the post-graduate transition into the industry, but students are succeeding while still in school, like Phumi Morare, who took home the top narrative prize at the most recent Student Academy Awards. “Prior to film school, we had mostly worked with each other,” says alumni and Stranger Things creators the Duffer brothers. “Suddenly, we were collaborating with dozens of peers to achieve one goal, one vision.”
TUITION $60,290 (undergrad); $46,936 TO $49,788 (graduate)
ALUMNI The Duffer brothers, Justin Simien, Carlos López Estrada
SANTA CLARITA, CALIFORNIA
With animation dominating streaming slates, the school, founded by Walt Disney, remains the preeminent program for animators with studio aspirations. Jorge Gutierrez and Pixar head Pete Docter are among the alumni of character and experimental animation programs. The film and video and film directing programs also have a fair share of impressive graduates, including Fire Island director Andrew Ahn. CalArts, known for both traditional and experimental mediamaking, offers unique equipment for students, like Blackmagic’s Cintel Film Scanner, along with standard setups like edit bays. This year, Charmaine Jefferson succeeded Tim Disney, son of Roy, as the chairman of the board, saying that she hopes to “develop more artistic opportunities for our students” and “increase scholarship access.”
ALUMNI Tim Burton, Brad Bird
6. Emerson College
Emerson’s reach expands to an L.A. outpost on Sunset Boulevard as well as global opportunities in Paris and the Netherlands. Back in Beantown, a new Visual and Media Arts directing studio was inaugurated in 2021, and curriculum additions include such classes as The Art of Anti-Racist Media Making and Accessible Cinema, the latter of which teaches students to produce captions and audio descriptions for non-auditory and low-vision audiences. “What I loved about the Emerson experience is the latitude, creative freedom and support we had to find our voices,” says Oscar-nominated Raya and the Last Dragon writer Adele Lim. “As a foreign student who grew up in a more restrictive culture, this was revolutionary.”
TUITION $51,264 (undergrad); $1,322 (per credit graduate)
ALUMNI Richard LaGravenese, Erik Messerschmidt
7. Columbia University
The graduate film program was recently scrutinized for the massive amount of student loan debt incurred over the course of earning the expensive degree, but the school graduates top talent that finds success quickly. Alumni include Saim Sadiq, who took home a Cannes Jury Prize for Joyland, and Olivia Newman, who directed Sony’s Where the Crawdads Sing. Lauded academic Racquel Gates and Emmy-nominated producer Mynette Louie (The Tale) count as new additions to the faculty, while “Film Ethics” is new to the curriculum.
TUITION $69,152 (undergrad); $65,620 (graduate)
ALUMNI Kathryn Bigelow, James Mangold, Jennifer Lee
8. Loyola Marymount University
This summer, LMU brought in former UNC School of the Arts dean Joanne Moore as the long-awaited replacement for Peggy Rajski, and the Westchester campus appointed Charles Swanson as associate dean of DEI. Recently, LMU hosted a pitch event for individuals who completed their Film Independent Story Development Incubator Lab, a one-year program that preps alumni to dive headfirst into the industry.
TUITION $54,630 (undergrad); $26,226-$34,968 (graduate)
ALUMNI Francis Lawrence; How I Met Your Father writer Karen Joseph Adcock
UCLA has long been the top public university option among film programs: A fair price point, along with grants and scholarships directed at students from underrepresented communities, makes this school an attractive choice. After a pause, the school has begun accepting graduate applications for its MFA program. And while the program still has yet to find stable leadership following the departure of dean Teri Schwartz in 2019 (interim dean Brian Kite is still at his post), professors and division heads include boldfaced names like Oscar nominee Phyllis Nagy. “Listen to your peers— sometimes more than your instructors, producers or studio executives,” says Jurassic Park and War of the Worlds writer David Koepp of what he learned during his time as an undergrad at UCLA.
TUITION (undergrad) $13,804 resident, $31,026 nonresident; (graduate) $17,756 resident, $32,858 nonresident
ALUMNI Dustin Lance Black, Gina Prince-Bythewood
10. University of North Carolina School of the Arts
WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA
America’s first public arts conservatory, UNCSA now has Deborah LaVine leading the filmmaking program after the departure of department chairperson Joanne Moore (now at LMU). This fall, it launches an Anthology Production Lab dedicated to producing a 13-episode streaming series, and Emily Spivey will teach Acting for Animators.
TUITION (undergrad) $6,497 resident, $23,731 nonresident; (graduate) $9,196 resident, $23,899 nonresident
ALUMNI Danny McBride; Mare of Easttown director Craig Zobel
11. University of Texas at Austin
Filmmaking to Decolonize and Social Justice Filmmaking are two additions to the production curriculum, a part of the school’s commitment to DEI. Faculty includes filmmakers like Iliana Sosa, whose doc What We Leave Behind just premiered at SXSW, while alumni spans both above- and below-the-line talent like Wes Anderson and Oscar-winning sound designer Mac Ruth (Dune).
TUITION (undergrad) $11,230 resident, $39,756 nonresident; (graduate) $9,996 resident, $18,816 nonresident
ALUMNI Glen Powell; Shang-Chi writer Andrew Lanham
12. Columbia College Chicago
The school’s Semester in L.A. program is returning post-COVID with a new location at Sunset Las Palmas Studios, once the home of Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios. As for its Chicago campus, students can occupy the media production centers (two soundstages, a motion capture studio, and production design workshop), television studio (three multicamera studios and two control rooms), animation suites, and postproduction audio suites. Recently, ’22 MFA graduate Akanksha Cruczynski earned a 2021 student Academy Award for her short Close Ties to Home Country. Atlanta cinematographer Christian Sprenger counts professor Adam Jones as a program highlight: “He was an incredible mentor to so many of us.”
TUITION $31,026 (undergrad); $35,000 (graduate)
ALUMNI Lena Waithe, George Tillman Jr.
13. Wesleyan University
A small liberal-arts school with a vast alumni roster of boldfaced names, Wesleyan’s film studies are primarily focused on analysis, which breeds auteurs. Students enjoy the use of the recently completed Jeanine Basinger Center, which houses three theaters, a production wing and archives. With a big private school price tag, the school additionally offers three filmmaking grants for first-generation and BIPOC film majors as well as Career Transition Grants. Star Trek: Discovery EP and program alum Alex Kurtzman says of beloved professor Basinger (now retired), “Jeanine told me that if I really wanted to be a screenwriter, I should take drum lessons. At the time I had no idea what she meant, but of course she was exactly right: I understood that screenwriting is all about rhythm and pace.”
ALUMNI Lin-Manuel Miranda
14. Florida State University
FSU is celebrated for its industry training initiatives and tight-knit alumni network, in addition to its affordability. A track in immersive virtual production, teaching students how to manage motion capture and run virtual production stages, will debut soon. “I was taught to go out in the world and observe — observe how people interact and how people carry themselves in the world,” says alumna Sandra Valde-Hansen, a cinematographer on Showtime series The L-Word, Generation Q.
TUITION (undergrad) $6,517 resident, $21,683 nonresident; (graduate) $14,379 resident, $33,300 nonresident
ALUMNI Barry Jenkins; Father of the Bride writer Matt Lopez
15. DePaul University
Thanks to an eight-figure donation, the School of Cinematic Arts is rich with resources to help students with tuition and state-of-the-art equipment. Also new are advisory boards, including one tied to the Second City comedy degree — Keegan-Michael Key and Steve Carell have signed on.
TUITION $42,189 (undergrad); $23,400-$32,000 (graduate)
ALUMNI John C. Reilly, Gillian Anderson
16. Ithaca College
ITHACA, NEW YORK
The school is constructing The Cube, a volume stage featuring LED panels on the floor, ceiling and walls — akin to what The Mandalorian uses for its production. The construction comes as Ithaca changes one of its degree names from Television-Radio to Television & Digital Media Production to reflect the state of Hollywood. Liz Tigelaar, showrunner of Little Fires Everywhere, still treasures her time in Elisabeth Nonas’ writing class: “We wrote a group Seinfeld script, and I loved the process of pitching jokes.”
ALUMNI David Boreanaz, Rachel Lee Goldenberg, Mike Royce
17. Boston University
In the past year, Killing Eve cinematographer Tim Palmer joined the faculty as the cinematography track director. Elsewhere, the program has added a class that partners film and TV students with BU’s School of Theater to write and produce a sitcom, and another that focuses on entertainment analytics. Alum Jay Roewe, senior vp incentives and production planning at HBO, says that in the program, “I discovered that I had a passion for my business and economic classes beyond my film and TV production classes, which opened my mind to finding a career path on the studio side of the business. I would never have taken my job at HBO without this awareness.”
ALUMNI Benny Safdie, Jim Gianopulos
18. Syracuse University
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK
The Newhouse School now allows students to spend a semester working at Lionsgate Studios. It has added a Talent Management Clinic, while new tracks of study include media innovation, entertainment business and custom study in entertainment media.
TUITION $58,440 (undergrad); $32,436 (graduate)
ALUMNI Rob Edwards, Dan Silver
19. ArtCenter College of Design
ArtCenter boasts a tactile approach to the business, and thanks in part to a donation from alumnus Zack Snyder, students have access to the renovated Ahmanson Auditorium, where they can use the Dolby Atmos sound system, and the 4K digital screen to color-correct films.
TUITION $48,942 (undergrad); $51,726 (graduate)
ALUMNI Michael Bay; Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary
In 2022, over 150 SCAD alumni contributed to 21 Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning films. The school has an expansive arts program and graduates professionals specializing in below-the-line positions like VFX and sound. Phase one of SCAD’s major film studio complex-style backlot and XR stage opened in the fall of 2021 and stretches across the school’s 11-acre site in Georgia. The school also capitalizes on its state’s tax status that lures numerous projects, with students working on local productions like Barry Jenkins’ The Underground Railroad.
TUITION $39,105 (undergrad) $40,050 (graduate)
ALUMNI Dune VFX artist Austin Bonang
21. Ringling College
Known for its animation endeavors, as well as curriculum that prepares students for music video production and branded content, Ringling also offers more than 30,000 square feet of soundstage and production space. Student Alexander Tullo was recognized with a 2nd place honor at this year’s Student Academy Awards for their animated short, “Barking Orders.”
ALUMNI Editor Andrew Halley
22. Rhode Island School of Design
PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
Best known for experimental and digital arts, RISD offers high-minded courses on topics like the relationship between music and moving images and how technology can be used to engage remote audiences with live performance. Ryan Cunningham, an alum and head of Running Man Post, says of his experience: “The tenets of my RISD education were problem-solving with design, out-of-the-box thinking, and the ability to critique.”
ALUMNI Gus Van Sant
23. Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Brooklyn College
CUNY is positioning itself to produce more filmmakers of color at a time during a time Hollywood is looking for more diverse stories. Over half the school’s students are minorities, many from the local community, and the price tag is a fraction of other New York-based film programs. Added benefits include the school’s location at Steiner Studios, a 500,000-square-foot production hub, and multiple seminars year-round hosted by industry veterans like Gus Van Sant and Scott Frank.
TUITION $21,134 resident; $30,564 nonresident
ALUMNI More Happiness director Livia Huang
24. Howard University
The film program at Howard is the only MFA offered at an HBCU. Since 1983, the school has had an independent filmmaking focus, pairing practical production with film theory courses that cover African Cinema and postcolonial Third Cinema. In July it was announced that Disney would be partnering with the university for a storytellers fund that will provide stipends for student projects across mediums.
TUITION $33,860 (graduate)
ALUMNI Selma cinematographer Bradford Young
25. California State University Northridge (tie)
The L.A.-area school charges one-tenth the tuition of other film programs. While it may not have the donor base of other programs, the school’s facilities include high-tech amenities like a LED wall that will help with the virtual production that has started being incorporated into the curriculum. And as Hollywood seeks to diversify, it’s important to note that it is a Hispanic Serving Institution, meaning 25 percent or more of its student body identifies as Hispanic or Latino. Film producer and IFTA chair Clay Epstein lauds Northridge’s “diversity of the student body and focus on a practical skill set.” New additions on the horizon include a master’s degree in Entertainment Media Management, where students will be graduating with the training for studio executive ranks.
TUITION $7,064 (undergrad); $8,498 (graduate)
ALUMNI Lionsgate vp production Ami Cohen
25. Northwestern University (tie)
As documentaries continue to dominate Netflix’s most-watched lists, Northwestern, with a famed journalism program, offers the courses to help students navigate the nonfiction boom. Recent visiting artists included Oscar-nominated doc filmmaker Garrett Bradley, while Professor Marco Williams, Emmy nominated for Tulsa Burning, recently earned a grant from the National Endowment for his next documentary project. Taking a step toward making graduate degrees in the arts more attainable, especially for students of color, the university is fully funding its MFA programs beginning with the 2022-23 school year.
TUITION $62,391 (undergrad)
ALUMNI Seth Meyers, Greg Berlanti, Zach Braff, Stephen Colbert, Ashley Nicole Black
In order to decide which programs make up The Hollywood Reporter’s Top 25 American Film Schools list— and then where they end up within the list — calls are made to knowledgable industry players to determine what each school’s reputation is within greater Hollywood. Also taken into consideration are the changes the school has made year-over-year (for example, whether an Oscar winner was hired to teach screenwriting students about story structure). Finally, THR looks at the alma maters of the past year’s top awards-season winners, film festival breakouts, and box office stars.
Written by Evan Nicole Brown, J. Clara Chan, Kirsten Chuba, Aaron Couch, Mia Galuppo, Katie Kilkenny, Sydney Odman and Seija Rankin.
Alternative New York and California Film Schools
Many of the top film programs in North America are housed inside private colleges and universities, meaning tuition costs are an outsized financial factor when students are pursuing an education in filmmaking.
Student loan debt is an ever-increasing concern as tuition costs continue to rise. And for an impacted industry like entertainment with uncertain employment prospects, the cost can give many would-be filmmakers increased anxiety. With this in mind, THR has compiled a list of state and community college programs in or near tentertainment hubs of Los Angeles and New York City.
City College of New York
The only BFA in film offered in New York City, the program at City College sees 25 students follow a two-year curriculum focused on single-camera fiction production and documentary filmmaking. Students, who pay an in-state tuition of $7,340, will produce thesis films that can be either narrative or doc shorts.
SUNY Stony Brook
Christine Vachon and her Killer Films helped to build out the curriculum for the MFA film program, while the school’s MFA in Television Writing was built by TV writing instructor Alan Kingsberg. Students have had their work screened in the Atlanta Film Festival, DOC NYC and the New York Short Film Festival.
Purchase State University
The Film and Media Studies program offers B.A. and BFA degrees, as well as minors in screenwriting, television theory and playwriting, and has graduated Oscar winners like editor Tom Cross. After learning the basics of production, students choose a specialization in narrative, documentary or experimental film.
Yes, it’s in New Jersey, but the school is NYC-adjacent and houses a BFA in filmmaking program, where students learn with high-end cameras, and a dedicated Documentary Film Lab. In the past year, its visiting filmmaker series has brought in names like White Tiger director Ramin Bahrani.
Cal State Long Beach
The school offers a B.A. and a minor from the Department of Film & Electronic Arts, where students can focus on theory or narrative production. Classes range from Intro to Production Design to Writing the Short Script.
Cal State Los Angeles
CSU has a yearly tuition of $6,781 for in-state students, offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Industry partners include Adobe and the Sundance Institute, and its Television, Film & Media Center houses a 2,300-square-foot soundstage, a 20-camera full-body motion capture system and sound recording rooms.
Santa Monica City College
Associate degrees in film production and film studies are offered from the West L.A. campus, with the film program having launched in 2010. Recently, the student short film “The War Within” — written and directed by SMC film student Marta D’Ocon — screened at the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the American Pavilion during the Cannes Film Festival.
San Francisco State University
Though not in L.A., the school has a unique focus on theory and production based in the city’s political and activist roots. Master’s theses are bound for cinema journals. Forty graduate students and 900 undergraduates make up the program, with Oscar-nominated film historian Steven Kovacs among the faculty. — M.G.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.