TOP 50 FILM SCHOOLS
They’re all here: schools that teach you how to use a camera, how to think about film, how to stay on top of technology and how to make deals in entertainment
BY TIM APPELO
TheWrap’s first-ever ranking of the best film schools was determined by an anonymous poll of 500 entertainment-industry insiders, educators, deans, filmmakers and film pundits, along with interviews with a variety of experts tasked with evaluating each school’s achievements. Winning schools will land a spot on TheWrap’s Power Grid, an online ranking of actors, directors, producers, writers and other talent, updated daily. TheWrap also sponsors a series of nationwide campus events in conjunction with the list. Its purpose is to help launch the Spielbergs of our time—literally putting them at the red-hot center of Hollywood.
1. University of Southern California If you get into USC, you're the film equivalent of a made guy in the Mafia—a moviemaking star with muscle. USC is like a miniature version of the indus-try, only it’s massively connected to the real Hollywood, whose direction it affects. Diversity is a hot-button issue in entertainment now, and USC is at the fore-front of reform: The Wall Street Journal just voted USC America’s second-most diverse faculty and student body.
“If our industry is going to stay healthy, we’ve got to look more like our country,” said Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, whose 25 years on the job transformed the film school from an under-funded backwater to a rich center of cinema education. Students meet alums like Doug Liman and Shonda Rhimes, while Paul Feig and Judd Apatow show up at the school’s annual Comedy Festival. Students can be on USC’s SNL-like TV show, and two recent alums got WGA noms for Silicon Valley.
USC’s Entertainment Technology Center is on the bleed-ing edge of big-data analytics, cloud workflows, virtual reality and augmented reality, and the 250 students in the VR Club are jazzed that USC VR will be installed at this year’s Dubai Film Fest. The founder of Oculus started out at USC’s Mixed Reality Lab, and Jaunt and Oculus have a VR program for current students.
“You can’t stand on what you did in the past,” warns Daley. “We published our first game this year, Tracy Fullerton’s Walden, which puts viewers in Thoreau’s shoes. She’s taken it all over the world, including Davos. I’m contented that things are moving forward, and I’m never contented.” Not every USC film student is content; some complain it’s big and mean, and they feel trampled by the mob racing towards success. That’s showbiz.
2. University of California, Los Angeles In the last four years, UCLA alums’ films have grossed $7.2 billion. But what good does the success of Gore Verbinski, Alexander Payne, Alex Gibney and Francis Ford Coppola do for today’s students? Well, when Coppola decided to launch his latest creation, the “live cinema” family drama Distant Vision, he did it with scores of UCLA students operating 40 cameras and doing everything from set design to producing. (See page 18.) Brett Ratner’s forthcoming Johnny Depp film for Warner Bros., The Libertine, was written in UCLA’s Screenwriting 434 class, and students have a first-look arrangement with Sony’s Crackle.
The Theater, Film and Television school has a serious social commitment that can translate into hot products and cold cash. ABC Entertainment’s new president Channing Dungey, the first African American network chief, helped develop UCLA’s Producers Program’s TV specialization. TFT just got $2.3 million for full-ride scholarships for Arab and Indian women. Participant Media founder Jeff Skoll gave $10 million to launch TFT’s Skoll Center for Social Impact Entertainment.
Like USC, UCLA sees diversity as a canny commercial move. Critic David Chute, who once worked for UCLA, points to Justin Lin as an archetypical alum: “He is not averse to commercial projects, but he’s strongly influenced by TFT’s diversity—Fast Five’s multi-ethnic cast helped it succeed all over the world. That cast is like every other group of students you see walking around UCLA.”
3. American Film Institute If you liked Spotlight, The Revenant, Anomalisa and The Hateful Eight, thank AFI for producing some of their Oscarific honorees. For two years running, AFI grads took both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance. At this year’s Emmys, 50 AFI Fellows (that’s what they call their film students) earned kudos.
Since 2015, alums have won 106 major awards, and 81 percent say they’ve found work in their fields. AFI thesis films have won more Student Emmys than any other school’s, and nobody but AFI has ever swept the Narrative category of the Student Academy Awards. (They did that in 2015, when AFI’s Share also won the arguably more prestigious top prize in the Cannes Film Festival Cinéfondation section.)
You want diversity? Almost half the directing fellows are women; the first female superhero movie directed by a woman (Wonder Woman) was by the ex-head of AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women; and AFI DWW has a deal with Fox to have female fellows make shorts about its characters. Writer-director Asghar Farhadi is AFI Artist in Residence, and critic Elvis Mitchell just joined the faculty. One-fifth of AFI’s 5,000 grads actively mentor younger fellows.
AFI has had money trouble forever, and the recent acrimonious resignation of current Dean Jan Schuette (which happened right when TheWrap’s Best Film School polls went out) is a drag that probably lowered its score this year but won’t affect next year’s class. Still, AFI’s awards are immensely prestigious, and so is everyone touched by its idealistic, innovative indie genius.
4. New York University Call us retro, but how great is it that Kodak and boutique post shop Film Factory are making it possible for Alex Rockwell’s NYU Film on Film class to shoot on actual film, not digitally? Somewhere, Tarantino is smiling.
There are plenty of modern technologies at NYU, too—Oculus VR, VFX—but students definitely feel they’re in the inspiring footsteps of film-on-film NYU greats like Spike and Ang Lee, Joel Coen, Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese. Applications are up almost 40 percent from 2013, and this year women became as likely to be accepted as men. (In 2001, men had more than twice the chance women did.)
“Applicants have one chance in seven of getting in,” says NYU Tisch School chair Joe Pichirallo. “I couldn’t get in—my scores weren’t high enough.” He did manage to teach at AFI, UCLA and Chapman and serve as VP at Searchlight and Focus, and his higher-scoring students benefit from his teaching chops. Tough competition breeds NYU winners like Jon Watts
(Spider-Man: Homecoming), Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) and the seven alums with features at Sundance 2016. Pichirallo pointed out that one NYU student, Sean Baker, shot the award-winning Tangerine on an iPhone, and another, Colin Trevorrow, made Jurassic World, one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. “There are a lot of ways to go,” he said.
5. Columbia University Sure, we could talk about Columbia’s dazzling grads, like Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, whose Netflix epic Making a Murderer won a TCA Award, four Emmys and a place in the national imagination. Or Beau Willimon’s 13-Emmy-nommed House of Cards, or Kathryn Bigelow, Nicole Holofcener, Kimberly Peirce, Jennifer Lee and Lisa Cholodenko.(Man, do a lot of high-achieving women come out of NYC’s Columbia—even the new chair, Man on Wire producer Maureen Ryan, who took over from 150-movie-making Ira Deutchman, is a woman, and where did she go to school? Columbia.)
But what counts for students is not eminent alums but their teach-ers, who create the extraordinarily story-oriented, deeply humane and progressive tradition that made the school famous. After all, it was Willimon’s teacher Frank Pugliese, the writing-program head, who shared that Emmy. Prof Katherine Dieckmann’s Strange Weather was one of a dozen Columbia-spawned films at Toronto this season. Prof Richard Peña is godfather of the New York Film Festival. Thanks to his brainy Philip Roth adaptation Indignation, prof James Schamus is a notable new director, just like his students. And prof and Oscar nominee Annette Insdorf does the liveliest interviews at Telluride and New York’s 92nd St. Y.
6. California Institute of the Arts We're not including CalArts just because TheWrap is launching its “Breaking Into the Business Live” college events sponsored by IMAX on their Southern California campus. We chose CalArts because they’re changing the future of entertainment in ways that would make founder Walt Disney beam. Not just by launching alums like Pixar/Walt Disney Animation Studios chief creative officer John Lasseter and Oscar winners Chris Buck (Frozen) and Tim Burton, but by launching the Lasseters, Bucks and Burtons of tomorrow.
CalArts is about animation, as you’d expect, but that’s not all. It’s also venturing into 3D initiatives like its student production at Vortex Immersion Media’s downtown L.A. dome dedicated to delivering visionary immersive entertainment content. “Film is a framed medium—it keeps you at arm’s length to the action happening,” Vortex’s Ed Lantz told the L.A. Times. “Domes wrap around you.” So does the creative environment of CalArts.
7. Loyola Marymount School of Film and Television With one professor for every 12 students, LMU SFTV, run by dean Stephen Ujlaki, a former HBO VP, gives quality time to students. It also hooks up over one-third of its students in internships with 400 employers like Sony, Fox, DreamWorks, Disney and Sundance. No wonder its graduate program applications have in-creased 47 percent and undergrad applications are up an average of 37 percent in the past two years.
LMU makes the most of its beautiful roost looking out over L. A. and nearby Silicon Beach, where 500 tech companies (You-Tube, Snapchat) busily invent the future—with LMU’s help, in a forthcoming new state-of-the-art creative facility there. Students can also study in Budapest or Bonn, but most want to explore Hollywood.
The Walter Lantz Foundation of Woody Woodpecker fame gave LMU $13 million, and there’s another enormous potential gift tantalizingly, tentatively in the offing. Each year, LMU sends out a screenwriting directory for grads, and some land representation; there’s also a Film Independent SFTV Incubator Lab for grads, and a $10,000 grant for one lucky student.
Like everyone nowadays, LMU emphasizes diversity, running a summer program with the Ghetto Film School and partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters to offer full-ride scholarships to underserved youth.
8. Chapman University If Chapman's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts were a scosh further north, or traffic were better, it would likely be higher on this list. “It is far better than UCLA and AFI,” says a successful film educator who wants to stay anonymous and not alienate a current boss. “If I could go anywhere, I would pick Chapman—and I went to USC for my MFA.”
Despite its Orange County address, Chapman is the total Hollywood package: undergrad, grad and production programs with respect for business and marketing; a Digital Media Arts Center for animation and VFX; and this fall, a 38,000-square-foot building for the Documentary MFA program. Chapman’s indie production company makes $1M-2M features with students in key creative roles, and students own their work.
Everybody’s hailing women filmmakers now, but Chapman has hosted a Women in Focus conference for 17 years. Sick of Holly-wood? Chapman has filmmaking exchanges with Taiwan and Korea, regular trips to Busan and NGO doc projects in Africa.
9. Emerson College It's pretty weird that Emerson has the most architecturally significant film school building in Los Angeles, a 10-story, $110-million glass-and-aluminum masterpiece on Sunset Blvd. by Pritzker prizewinning architect Thom Mayne. After all, the school used to be stuck way off in a highly depressing Burbank office building, and it’s not a massively endowed school like USC. ˜e lecture halls, theaters, production spaces and dorms with high-tech, power-saving screens outside the building look like a gleaming space ship landing in Tinseltown’s formerly raffish outskirts. And, of course, Emerson still has its far older but still impressive home base in Boston, in a group of buildings overlooking Boston Common.
The school has also come a long way from its origin in 1880, when Charles Wesley Emerson based its original oratory curriculum on his book The Evolution of Expression. Boy, has it evolved.
10. (TIE!) Savannah College of Art and Design, University of North Carolina School of the Arts The astoundingly well-preserved and lovely, classical Old South town of Savannah—think Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil—is dominated by SCAD, which is affiliated with the Savannah Film Festival. It has over 82,000 square feet of moviemaking space, not counting satellite campuses in Atlanta (there’s a 60,000-square-foot digital media center there), Hong Kong and Lacoste, France. Its 12,000 students hail from almost all 50 states, and a quarter of the students are foreigners from 115 countries. In Savannah, 1,700 people work for the school. The 650 profs—78 full time—give the students quality time, and Hollywood regularly comes a’ recruiting.
Winston-Salem may sound remote, but its film capital UNCSA proved a royal road to Hollywood for Jeff Nichols. He watched how his friend David Gordon Green used the school as a springboard to art-film glory and crafted a $50,000 starter film, Shotgun Stories, to make himself a Green-esque indie auteurist. A UNCSA prof showed him footage of the unknown Michael Shannon, and then both Nichols and Shannon got famous. He wrote and directed 2012’s Mud with 11 UNCSA alumni on the crew, help-ing spark Matthew McConaughey’s comeback. Since then he’s been to Cannes three times, including with this year’s touching Loving.
Want to be the next Nichols? Collaborate with UNCSA class-mates on 16-mm shorts at its Studio Village soundstage and animation studios, submit them to festivals (like UNCSA’s own RiverRun International Film Festival), then go screen your stuff for L.A. insiders, including big-deal UNCSA alums.
12. University of Texas at Austin When you walk into the 2017 course taught by prof Scott Rice and 1993 UT alum Matthew McConaughey, you get the book from which they made the 2016 film Free State of Jones, the script and a handbook on producing. Except you won’t walk in, because the 30-student class is filled, and the star can’t say precisely when he will appear to help teach, or the course would be even more mobbed than it is now.
The point is not just to dazzle Hollywood hopefuls with glamour, but to show them the tough deci-sions they’re going to have to make themselves on a set. Jon Hamm, Marcia Gay Harden, F. Murray Abraham, Wes Anderson, Robert Rodriguez and brothers Mark and Jay Duplass went to UT (not all in film), and besides your potentially famous classmates, you’ll meet amazing film folk at Austin’s cool film festival, South by Southwest.
13. Boston University BU East is enormous, but its L.A. outpost is cozy, located right across from SAG HQ within striking distance of Hollywood names—and studio chiefs and movie stars o˙en make the trip to talk to the 200 BU students. Joe Roth, Lauren Shuler Donner and Nina Tassler are alums.
“Enrollment is up almost across the board with particular interest in TV studies, management and writing,” says Film & Television chief Paul Schneider. “The new 3,000-square-foot Babcock Studio is a huge boost to both cinematography and directing.” One alum is a finalist in the Munich International Student Film Festival; another is currently casting Kathryn Bigelow’s next film; and others landed good jobs at Amazon Studios, Netflix, iTunes Movies, Hulu, Universal and 20th Century Fox.
14. ArtCenter College of Design The most amazing statistic about this top-rated national fine-arts school is that two years out of school, 90 percent of grads say their job is actually related to their area of study. As you’d expect, the strength of this Pasadena school is visual. You can see ArtCenter mojo in alums Drew Struzan, the titanic poster designer who created the graphic face of Rambo, Indiana Jones and Star Wars, and directors Zack Snyder and Michael Bay, whose work is a transformative jolt to the eyeballs. Shrek art director and production designer Guillaume Aretos just joined as entertainment design head. ArtCenter punches above its weight.
15. Stanford University Stanford documentary prof Jan Krawitz is not one of those who can’t do, so she teaches. Her PBS-aired films, which are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, earned 15 festival honors and an Emmy nom. She’s had five film retrospective exhibitions nationally and puts Stanford’s academic doc tradition into practical action this spring at Stanford-in-Washington with a new course, Documentary: Films of Persuasion, Advocacy and Change. Of course Hope Hall (’00), who dropped by her class recently, was President Obama's videographer. The undergrad and graduate art department film programs are tops, too.
16. Rhode Island School of Design Besides being the place where young unknown David Byrne poured his heart out to unknown classmate Gus Van Sant, who perhaps influentially encouraged him, this killer school produced Martha Coolidge, Seth MacFarlane and Eric Alan Ed-wards, DP of Bosch, Knocked Up, Kids, My Own Private Idaho, Flirt-ing With Disaster and the superb Allen Ginsberg video “Ballad of the Skeletons.”
17. University of California, Santa Barbara Allison Anders, Director of Gas Food Lodging and the up-coming Beaches reboot with Idina Menzel, teaches there. Students grow up to be Gregg Araki, James Cameron’s VP of production Geoff Burdick and writer/director Jeff Nathanson, who works with Spielberg. The film-studies curriculum is so high-powered and theoretical that it once caused a letter-writing furor in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, but there’s more to UCSB than theory.
18. Columbia College Chicago CCC is an enormous school with generous admission standards and a student body of up to 1,800, which it claims makes it the biggest film school in the nation. They’ve produced talents like HBO Films president Len Amato. However, students should know that CCC also hires massive numbers of adjuncts to teach their courses; many get rave student reviews, but adjuncts can be less focused than full-timers.
Cinema Art and Science chair Bruce Sheridan said the school is “strategically focused on new and future creative and production modes,” and he cited the school’s work at Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles, which he said makes it “the only film school with a permanent teaching unit on a Hollywood lot.”
19. University of Cincinnati Digital Media Collaborative In the two-year-old Digital Media Collaborative at the University of Cincinnati, you don’t choose a major and stick with courses in one department. The UC DMC involves a cross-college partnership, so digital students also study in the Colleges of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, Arts and Sciences and the College Conservatory of Music. Coming up: DMC courses with the education, criminal justice, and business colleges. UC alums include Sarah Jessica Parker and Open Road VP Elliott Slutzky.
20. Berkeley Digital Film Institute What? A tech-oriented institution in the Bay Area? ˜e intensive 16-week program is all about digital, because founder Patrick Kriwanek said, “I give film 5, 10 more years at most”—in 2011. Tech types sometimes think change will happen faster than it does, but they tend to be right in the long run. Students get work at Lucas-Film, Pixar, DreamWorks and in scads of music videos, like Colin Tilley’s Justin Bieber video “Never Let You Go,” which has about 120 million views on YouTube.
21. San Francisco State University Formerly boasting Nicolas Cage’s dad August Coppola as dean of creative arts and once run by LMU’s current dean, Stephen Ujlaki, SFS seems to be on a roll under chair Britta Sjogren. She started a two-year program of encouraging new courses about women, including directors Elaine May, Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino.
“We have so many cinema majors we are outpacing the university as a whole in enrollment,” says prof Joseph McBride, who touts the new hires in the Documentary Film Institute. SFS alums include Steven Zaillian.
22. Mount Saint Mary's University This L.A. school is another institution pushing the much-need-ed feminism that’s creeping into our film programs. The top nation-al women’s undergrad school has a graduate film program, sponsors the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, writes the annual Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California and has Motion Picture Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs as an instructor.
23. School of the Art Institute of Chicago Ever since Thomas Hart Benton went there in 1907, the Art Institute of Chicago has been a national art hot spot. It was voted the most influential U.S. art school on the National Arts Journalism Survey, and its museum was named the top American museum by TripAdvisor. So there’s a historical connection between alum Georgia O’Keeffe and the cineastes inspired by what’s screened at the state of the art SAIC Gene Siskel Film Center, across the street from where Siskel & Ebert shot their show. No other art/design school in the past 10 years has produced more Fulbright Scholars.
24. Arizona State University ASU ’ S film school has been around 20 years, with its enrollment growing from 20 to 450. But only this coming January can students finally stop fretting about the pressure of finding and reserving equipment, because production is moving to Sun Studios’ 5,700 square feet of everything they need, including a a two-wall infinity cyclorama and green screen. “Sun Studios is such a weight off all our shoulders,” student Taylor Blackmore told school officials. “Now we can worry about what we’re making, not how we’re going to make it.”
25. Syracuse University When the 2016 Syracuse International Film Festival screened a feature (Next Week in Bologna) made by students at 12 of the world’s most prestigious film schools, two of them were from Syracuse. Its Department of Transmedia launches students to jobs at Yahoo, Apple, Showtime and Pixar, and pioneering video artist Bill Viola is an alum. Oprah Winfrey visited to dedicate Syracuse’s $18 million Newhouse Studio & Innovation Center.
26. California State University at Northridge It took decades for word to leak over the hill from the San Fernando Valley to Hollywood that CSUN’s Department of Cinema and Television Arts is worth knowing about, but in the past few years it has risen to become a usual suspect on nation-al prestige polls. There’s an MFA in screenwriting and undergrad concentrations in electronic media management, film production, media theory and criticism, multimedia production, screenwriting and TV production. Even the FBI is hip to CSUN: Prof Nate Thomas and a dozen students produced PSAs about the hot-button issue of cybersecurity, and second AD Amanda Derzy is thrilled that they’ll be aired nationally. “Now I have a professional gig under my belt before even graduating,” she said.
27. Ringling College of Art and Design Ringling was already well regarded in film-education circles, especially in design and animation, but in December it opened a new 30,000-square-foot complex with soundstages, dubbing bays, editing suites, a screening room and a sound effects stage. Students meet smart stars like Tim Blake Nelson, Justin Long and Jeffrey Wright, and some go on to work on the Oscar, Emmy and MTV Movie Awards shows. But all of them intend to become winners at these events. Even film-school doubter Werner Herzog has said Ringling has “the best digital effects program in the country.”
28. Northwestern University Despite its increasing number of courses in film production—it used to focus more on film studies—Northwestern is at heart a world-class university with a top drama program. So if you want a pure TV/movie universe, maybe it’s not for you. But alums like Stephen Colbert, David Schwimmer and Julia Louis-Dreyfus found that it was for them. And they never had the new RED digital camera cinematography course, or the sitcom pilot program Louis-Dreyfus and Brad Hall now oversee there. Alum Sarah Gubbins wrote l Love Dick for Jill Soloway/Amazon, Jenny Hagel got on staff at Seth Meyers’ show and graduate Dave Holstein is developing two shows for Showtime, Fatwa and I’m Dying Up Here.
Besides, said Department of Radio-TV-Film director David Tolchinsky, the cross-disciplinary nature of the school is an advantage in classes like Acting for Screen, which is half theater actors, half RTF directors. “And at Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Film, our students beat out competition at some of the top documentary film programs in the world, such as Stanford,” he said, noting that over 10 percent of the top Chicago film talent recognized in a local-luminary roundup was Northwesternites.
29. DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts Here’s what the students get at DePaul: a 20,000-square-foot production facility with a 10,000-square-foot soundproof stage, access to an Alexa, two RED cameras, a dozen C300 cameras, and (this is rare) a grip truck that students can rent. At Cinespace Chicago, the city’s premier movie studio, students get to use a cinema production stage and design space a few doors down from where Chicago Fire shoots.
After the school scored well on best-film-school polls, DePaul worked to deal with the influx of students. The school hired eight new full-time cinema faculty members last year, and is looking to hire all those DePaul goodies is getting more competitive, which might be good for training for the industry battles to come.
30. Wesleyan University Some film-studies programs are so good they turn people into auteurs before they ever get hold of a film crew. You can say that about a startling number of the graduates of this utterly un-USC-like liberal arts college in Middletown, Connecticut. No crane shots and back lots at Wesleyan—just the Wesleyan Cinema Archives, which contains the papers of Capra, Eastwood, Kazan, Scorsese, Demme, John Waters and Raoul Walsh.
How on earth did a ridiculously pretty Little Ivy college produce Joss Whedon, Miguel Areta, Laurence Mark, Dana Delany, Girls’ Bruce Eric Kaplan and the fresh-faced Wesleyan grads who made Beasts of the Southern Wild? It’s all because of Jeanine Basinger, arguably the most influential academic film nut in history. The only academic ever awarded an AFI honorary degree, she founded and curates the Archive, taught auteurs and wrote a shelf full of definitive film history. When Scorsese needs an advisor for The Story of Movies or PBS for American Cinema, who else are they going to call?
31. Ithaca College If Ithaca were any further from the corridors of entertainment power, the Upstate New York school would fall into the Gorge and disappear. Yet Bob Iger and David Boreanaz got some of what made them make it at Ithaca’s Roy H. Park School of Communications. Rod Serling taught there, and Black-ish creator Kenya Barris won the college’s Rod Serling Award for Advancing Social Justice Through Popular Media. That kind of defines Ithaca’s contribution to Hollywood.
32. Colorado Film School Why do students at Denver’s CFS—named one of the “superlative” regional film schools by ICG Magazine in 2009—so rigorously shoot real 16mm film on a trusty Aaton XTR cameras instead of digital and watch American New Wave cinema in founder Frederic Lahey’s course The New Hollywood: Sex, Drugs & Rock’n’Roll? “Students need to know this stuff,” says Lahey.
33. University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee UW’s Peck School of the Arts has a twin emphasis on theory and practice, film study and production, faculty who screen work from Sundance to the Centre Georges Pompidou and several previous national top-film-school honors. But we bet the entire film department is jealous of the 2016 MacArthur Genius in the drama department, Anne Basting.
34. University of Pennsylvania The study of motion pictures at Penn began in the nude, with Eadward Muybridge’s 1866 animal locomotion studies, and today’s cineastes say they hold fast to his spirit of open-mind-ed innovation. Alums and supporters: Stacey Snider, Jeff Berg, Shari Redstone, Doug Belgrad, Richard Lester and Geoffrey Gilmore.
35. University of Colorado at Boulder UC’s College of Arts and Media propelled graduate Aaron Kopp to the Academy Awards by age 28, as a co-producer, videographer, and assistant editor on the Oscar-winning documentary short Saving Face. Now Kopp’s directing the half-doc, half-animated film Liyana, about orphans taught by a traditional storyteller in Swaziland, where Kopp grew up. UC CAM just became the first U.S. school to partner with the Danish nonprofit INDEX, which trains kids to make social-change docs. CAM has ambitious plans for its own Center for Arts as Systemic Change.
36. American University For years, one of the most interestingly data-driven minds at Sundance was AU’s doc czar Patricia Aufderheide, founder of the Center for Media & Social Impact and a leading expert on fair use law. Her specialty is documentaries, and this Washington, D.C. school is strong in the field: Last year, two MFA grad students, Jamey Warner and Nick Zachar, worked as cinematographers on IMAX’s National Parks Adventure, which was narrated by Robert Redford.
37. Los Angeles Film School It’s not hard to get in, but you can get your break at LAFS, like Martin Pensa, Oscar-nominated for editing Dallas Buyers Club. Located in the old RCA building on Sunset, where Elvis made soundtracks for bad movies, LAFS sends lots of grads into the music and music-video biz, with Grammys to show for it. President and CEO Diana Derycz-Kessler is exultant about collaborating with China’s Han-hai Studios on the Hollywood Entertainment Technology Festival in December.
38. University of Miami There used to be a musty and entirely deserted room at U Miami called the Reading Room. In December, it became the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center, which, along with the new Robert and Lauren Mann Broadcast Center, enhances the Cinema and Interactive Media department’s tech arsenal. “The currency of the future is digital,” Gregory J. Shepherd, dean of the School of Communication, said at the dedication. Students win Student Academy Awards, shoot VR and make movies in a Semester in L.A. program and at Prague’s revered film school FAMU.
39. Purdue University At West Lafayette, Indiana’s Purdue, Film & Video Studies (FVS) is an interdisciplinary program, and they’re serious about it. Students are encouraged to have a second major besides film (Purdue finds they get more work), and profs are drawn from various schools, including a production side that handles the school’s performance venues and involves students from theater to computer graphics. “Purdue’s Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts has a pretty good reputation,” sniffs one competitor, “and they are trying to piggyback on that.” Well, that’s interdisciplinary.
Nineteen Purdue film students published essays in prof Beate Allert’s Comparative Cinema: How American University Students View Foreign Films.
40. Cornish College of the Arts This is Seattle’s arts school, where Merce Cunningham, John Cage and Mary McCarthy studied, Robert Joffrey’s teacher founded what claims to be American’s oldest dance department in 1916 and novelist Alan Furst ran the lit department. Cornish just hired
ex-Northwest Film Forum head Lyall Bush to ramp up the film/media department. Cornish alum Joshua Conkel ’03 writes for Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Wes Anderson art director Gerald Sullivan taught a master class on The Grand Budapest Hotel.
41. University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana Besides a College of Media film program, Illinois offers a cool Special Topics in Media course with a Media Industry Immersion program, in which students get to meet the pros in L.A., Austin, New York, San Fran-cisco and, this May, Portland, where Nike and cinematic ad agency Wieden + Kennedy (which helped launch Port-landia’s Carrie Brownstein) are likely stops.
42. Full Sail University Full Sail’s campus in Winter Park, Florida will never win architecture prizes. It used to be a mini mall. It’s a for-profit school, which some say is the antithesis of prestige. But tell that to Full Sail, SCAD and LAFS, all of which are for-profit schools and chronic winners of best-schools awards. Brooks Barnes of the New York Times said that Full Sail’s “technological facilities would make many traditional film schools drool.” Tips & Tricks Magazine called it “the Harvard of Game Schools.”
43. Cogswell Polytechnical College Everyone knows how helpful it is to study film in L.A. or New York, but Silicon Valley isn’t bad either, as this little school with a big reputation goes to show. As you might expect, Cogswell is a heavy hitter in tech, with courses in 3D modeling, 3D animation, technical art and entertainment design. There’s a new Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality certification program. Though Cogswell is 124 years old, it has people to ensure it’s not exactly back-wards—for instance Chancellor Chuck House is also executive director of Media X, Stanford’s industry-affiliate research program on innovation, media and technology.
44. Stony Brook Southhampton Filmmaking Program With all the world-class film schools in New York, how come the State University of New York system never had an MFA film program? In 2015, SUNY’s Stony Brook University launched the first, run by Christine Vachon, founder of legendary indie production company Killer Films, which made more than 80 features including her Oscar winner Boys Don’t Cry and Todd Haynes’s Carol. Grads wind up with story skills as well as technical ones. For instance, Stony Brook alum Jeanne Applegate served as an editor on Nasty Baby with Kristen Wiig, and was co-editor for Russian punk band Pussy Riot’s video for their new song “I Can’t Breathe.”
45. Southern Methodist University The Popular Film and Media Studies program at SMU Meadows School of the Arts claims, “No other M.A. film program in the United States focuses so intently on the relationship of popular media to cultural concerns.” Way to throw down, but there’s evidence for it. Chair Derek Kompare is a published expert on entertainment-management culture, how reruns invented American TV, and CSI—all of them. SMU’s G. William Jones Film and Video Collection is housed in the Greer Garson Theatre’s 3,800-square-foot climate-controlled storage vault.
46. Northwest Film Center Portland, Oregon’s capital of cinema started out as part of the Portland Art Museum, which was civilized decades before pioneer Seattle got a speck of culture. It screens scads of international films and helped get Gus Van Sant and others off the ground. Now Gus teaches occasional classes and makes the odd film festival intro for NWFC. When Werner Herzog visited, Gus immortalized NWFC by making it a scene in his novel Pink. Up-coming visitors: Amanda Elder, former director of distribution at Collective Eye and Filmmaker magazine’s Paula Bernstein, on a panel about distribution.
47. Montana State University What’s distinctive about MSA’s School of Film and Photography is its outdoors emphasis—you won’t get those spectacular sets in Southern California. Who else has an MFA in Science and Natural History Filmmaking? Alums Dawson Dunning and John Shier won an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography: Documentary and Long Form for Wild Yellowstone: Frozen Frontier and Gasland’s Josh Fox directed How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, produced by alum Deia Scholsberg (‘13).
48. University of Michigan When Tom McCarthy won the original screenplay Oscar for Spotlight this year, it was business as usual for visiting artists in UM’s screenwriting program—he was the eighth to win for screenplay, and four also took Best Picture. Eighteen visiting artists have been nominated for one or more Screen-writing Academy Awards.
“It’s one of the best of the film studies programs I have seen,” said prof Kristyn Benedyk—and she teaches at the University of Cincinnati.
49. Northwest Film Forum Let’s get this straight: The best film schools include Northwestern in the Midwest, Portland’s Northwest Film Center and also Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum, which spawned a hot indie scene led by Lynn Shelton, whose mumblecore films practically make her the third Duplass sibling. Seattle films with next to no money regularly go to Sundance, and Shelton is a mainstream Hollywood success entirely because she was in-spired to dare to direct by Claire Denis’ visit to NWFF. It isn’t a film school, technically, but it educates a burgeoning scene with national impact.
50. University of Chicago U Chicago boasts a screen-ing room designed by James Bond—the architect, not the secret agent—and alums like Mike Nichols, Elaine May and Gordon Quinn, the documentary legend who helped Bob Dylan on Eat the Document and thereby inspired the tune “Quinn the Eskimo” (because Chicago, brrr). U Chicago’s Doc Films, the student-run film society on campus, claims to be the oldest student film society in the country, operating continuously since the 1930s.