Forget about writing the Great American novel. Today’s students want to direct the next great blockbuster — or maybe write the next great art film. To meet that demand, film schools have been beefing up their programs. To reflect the changes, a brain trust of industry insiders have been consulted, asking them to rate programs nationwide — serving undergrads, graduate students and, in some cases, both. To broaden the pool of opinion, an online ballot containing potential nominees, which could be filled out and submitted anonymously, was sent to members of the Writers Guild of America West, American Cinema Editors and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
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1. University of Southern California
With its new 60,250-square-foot Interactive Media Building — bristling with 4K digital projection, Oblong g-speak gesture-control computing, multitouch screens, a game innovation lab and a mixed reality lab — USC’s School of Cinematic Arts has become a virtual laboratory for future Hollywood talent.
Tuition: $22,800 undergraduate; $71,896 two-year master’s; $84,968 three-year master’s
Notable Alumni: Ron Howard, Jon Landau, George Lucas
2. American Film Institute
With arguably the highest achievement-to-endowment ratio of any film school, AFI, located in Hollywood, sent five alumni to this year’s Oscars — up from three in 2012 — and more than 40 to Sundance. Scholarship money for fellows, as the school calls its students, has nearly tripled for next year, and president and CEO Bob Gazzale recruited famed writer-director James L. Brooks (The Simpsons, Terms of Endearment) as AFI’s new artistic director.
Tuition: $43,904 first year; $52,509 second year
Notable Alumni: Darren Aronofsky, David Lynch, Terrence Malick
3. New York University
Seven alumni and one faculty member from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, located in Manhattan, were invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this year. And the website Ranker, after tallying the alma maters of the makers behind the 500 best films of all time, ranked NYU No. 1. The school is noted for its MBA/MFA program, its new gaming MFA and graduates like 2013 Oscar winner Ang Lee.
Tuition: $49,237 undergraduate; $50,632 graduate
Notable Alumni: Joel Coen, Charlie Kaufman
4. University of California, Los Angeles
From its home in Westwood, UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television has spun off galaxies of film artists: Francis Ford Coppola and his nephew Nicolas Cage, Jayne Mansfield and her daughter Mariska Hargitay, Gore Verbinski, Alexander Payne and Justin Lin. But for a big place that casts a vast shadow, UCLA also is intimate. One indie cinema insider says it beats other top-tier schools: “Students get more personal attention from the department’s heavy hitters. Projects are nurtured, and they come out with stronger storytelling, directing and writing skills.
Tuition: $23,748 to $29,295 undergraduate ($46,626 to $52,173 out-of-state); $15,288 graduate ($30,390 out-of-state)
Notable Alumni: Dustin Lance Black, Jack Black, Shane Black, Tim Robbins, George Takei
5. California Institute of the Arts
Art school grads are supposed to be penurious, but at Valencia’s CalArts, films made by alums have grossed more than $25 billion. The Los Angeles Times called it “the Harvard Business School of animation.” Three of nine student films in the Telluride Film Festival’s most recent Filmmakers of Tomorrow program were by CalArtians, and three of this year’s Academy Award nominees for animated feature were by alums.
Tuition: $39,976 undergraduate
Notable Alumni: Tim Burton, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton
6. Columbia University
“Unlike schools that are feeders into the Hollywood system, the combination of craft and business savvy that we teach at Columbia makes our students more entrepreneurial and more ready for the changing environment they will be faced with upon graduation,” argues chairman Ira Deutchman, who heads the graduate school. For proof, check out the 23 films made this year by alums within their first 12 months after graduation. Deutchman chalks it up partly to the 24-student Creative Producing program within the film MFA, which expanded in 2010, enhancing production values and increasing collaboration among producers, writers and directors so they are ready to roll on graduation day. Students have taken medals in narrative film at the Student Oscars three years running and won the TV Academy’s spec script competition two years in a row.
Tuition: MFA $51,674 a year for first two years; $4,268 for third year
Notable Alumni: Writers Phil Johnston (Wreck-It Ralph), Simon Kinberg (This Means War) and Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph), director Greg Mottola (Superbad)
7. Chapman University
Chapman’s Dodge College of Film & Media Arts in Orange, Calif., boasts alumnus Travis Knox‘s Chapman Filmed Entertainment, a partnership between the college and private investors. Under the program, producer Knox (The Bucket List) recently wrapped Trigger, a $1.25 million film with Scott Glenn (Training Day) and dozens of Chapman alums, including director Basel Owies. If it makes money, expect to hear lots more about the program’s slate of six movies, each budgeted at $1 million or less. Chapman also has such filmmakers in residence as Robert Zemeckis and Bong Joon-Ho, professor Dawn Taubin‘s annual Women in Film panel, and an advertising/PR program that gets grads jobs.
Tuition: $42,890 undergraduate; $33,540 to $41,100 graduate
Notable Alumni: Actor Ben York Jones (Like Crazy)
8. Emerson College
Although Emerson’s main campus is in Boston, its presence has loomed large in Los Angeles since it became the first out-of-town college to develop a residential study and internship program here in 1986. The school’s Department of Visual & Media Arts will become a more permanent resident in January when classes open in a new 100,000-square-foot Hollywood Center on Sunset Boulevard.
Tuition: $35,072 undergraduate; $17,540 to $26,308 graduate
Notable Alumni: Will & Grace creator Max Mutchnik, Henry Winkler, Parks and Recreation executive producer Harris Wittels
9. Loyola Marymount University
LMU’s School of Film and Television, based on the Westside of Los Angeles, is all about the internships. One-third of its students regularly find them, and they’ve worked in 400 companies, including Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, DreamWorks, Disney and the Sundance Institute. LMU is growing its documentary program by placing students at Ken Burns‘ company in New Hampshire. And thanks to a $1 million grant from the Walter Lantz Foundation — Lantz was the creator of Woody Woodpecker — LMU’s animation department cracked the top 20 in Animation Career Review‘s annual list of great programs
Tuition: $37,605 undergraduate; $1,020 per unit graduate
Notable Alumni: Writer Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games sequels), writer-producer David Mirkin (The Simpsons)
10. University of Texas at Austin
UT’s Radio-Television-Film department in the actual and artistic capital of the Lone Star State trains about 900 undergraduate and 160 graduate students. Students can screen work at the nearby Paramount Theatre and influential indie Alamo Drafthouse before showcasing it on the national film scene, like MFA graduate Brian Schwarz did when he won this year’s narrative Student Academy Award for his film Ol’ Daddy.
Tuition: $19,346 undergraduate ($33,348 out-of-state)
Notable Alumni: Matthew McConaughey, Greek creator Patrick Sean Smith,Arrested Development director Lev Spiro, writer-director Michael Zinberg (The Bob Newhart Show, Quantum Leap)
11. Boston University
Instead of making students choose between film and TV, now all of the undergrads are film, TV and new media students with equal access to the full range of courses. BU also is breaking geographic boundaries with its Los Angeles program, which hit an all-time high of 91 students per semester. And its graduate Media Ventures program held its July project Pitchfest at the L.A. campus for the first time, giving students a chance to woo Yahoo, AOL and HBO. BU awards students who cross the country a T-shirt that reads: “Mom. Dad. I’m bi-coastal.”
Tuition: $43,970 graduate
Notable Alumni: Producer Bonnie Arnold (How to Train Your Dragon), producer Joe Roth (Alice in Wonderland), producer Debbie Liebling (Comedy Central/South Park)
12. University of North Carolina School of the Arts
UNCSA School of Filmmaking marks its 20th year with a new Animation/Production Design and Gaming building. UNCSA resembles a miniature studio lot — it inspired Matthew Weiner to direct his first film, the upcoming You Are Here, in the school’s hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C. New faculty include Patrick Read Johnson (Dragonheart exec producer), animator Stephen Baker(Lilo & Stitch) and Bob Keen (Hellraiser makeup effects designer).
Tuition: $8,271 undergraduate ($21,416 out-of-state)
Notable Alumni: Writer Travis Beacham (Pacific Rim), director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express)
13. Northwestern University
Where did Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who just earned her 14th Emmy nomination, beating Lucille Ball‘s record, and manager-producer Ken Kamins, currently working with Peter Jacksonon The Hobbit franchise, get their start? Evanston, Ill.’s Northwestern, where the Radio-Television-Film curriculum is integrated into the School of Communication. It doesn’t hurt graduates’ prospects that the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance (NUEA), aka “the Purple Mafia,” has become part of the L.A. and New York industry scenes.
Tuition: $45,120 undergraduate; $39,000 MFA screenwriting
Notable Alumni: Sherry Lansing, Stephen Colbert
14. Columbia College Chicago
One of the country’s largest private nonprofit arts and media colleges, it offers about 2,000 students almost 200 film and video classes in cinematography, sound and both traditional and digital animation. CCC’s new Comedy Performance and Writing program requires students to spend one semester training with the venerable troupe at Chicago’s nearby Second City, the famous comedy club/theater. Program coordinator Anne Libera says that the school emphasizes creative cross-training and includes courses in its Television, Arts, Entertainment and Media Management departments.
Tuition: $22,132 undergraduate; $1,042 per credit for MFA in film and video
Notable Alumni: Actor Scott Adsit (30 Rock), actress Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live), rapper-actor Common, cinematographer Michael Goi
15. Art Center College of Design
In a metropolis with the world’s highest concentration of top-tier film schools, Pasadena’s Art Center distinguishes itself with faculty who are all industry professionals teaching part-time while keeping their fingers on what’s popular. Rush Hour screenwriter Ross LaManna, who recently became chair of both the undergrad and grad programs, has embarked on increasing the synergies among the programs and aggressively placing interns in top companies (The Weinstein Co., Marvel, Appian Way). ”
Tuition: $30,053 undergraduate; $37,044 graduate
Notable Alumni: Directors Michael Bay and Tarsem Singh
16. Syracuse University
Students who want to work in European cinema should consider a detour through Syracuse, N.Y. “We’re the only U.S. film school among the 15 schools in the International Filmmaking Academy,” says Syracuse professor and IFA vp Owen Shapiro. The academy’s president is Italian producer-directorGian Vittorio Baldi. And at its annual workshop in Bologna, Italy, in July, the master teachers were directors Abbas Kiarostami and Bernardo Bertolucci — two Syracuse interns are currently working with Bertolucci. IFA schools include Rome’s National Film School. Syracuse also has a junior-year program at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts. At the 10th Syracuse International Film Festival in October, expect guests as eminent as past visitors Ed Harris, Edward James Olmos,Moshe Mizrahi, Thomas Newman and Albert Maysles.
Tuition: $40,000 undergrad; $23,292 graduate
Notable Alumni: Producer Thom Oliphant, director Jong-chan Yoon (My Paparotti)
17. Florida State University
FSU’s College of Motion Picture Arts was disappointed when Digital Domain, the VFX house that partnered with FSU for the West Palm Beach Digital Domain Institute, filed Chapter 11 last year. Key Digital Domain players joined FSU full time to lead its new Animation and Digital Arts program, including Hugo VFX artist Jonathan Stone and Disney veteran Chuck Williams. Big-name guests like director Kirby Dick visit the Tallahassee campus, and Tribeca Enterprises chief creative officer Geoffrey Gilmore is a distinguished lecturer at FSU.
Tuition: $ 25,896 undergraduate ($86,117 out-of-state)
Notable Alumni: Marvel senior vp production and development Stephen Broussard, Participant Media executive vp production Jonathan King
18. Wesleyan University
Wesleyan might not be as well known as industry mainstays USC and UCLA, but the school, located in Middletown, Conn., is revered in liberal arts circles. And the industry sure recognizes the prominent names that have graduated from the program created by film professor and historian Jeanine Basinger.
Tuition: $46,674 undergraduate
Notable Alumni: Matthew Weiner, Joss Whedon
19. Rhode Island School of Design
Animation shares equal billing with film and video in the Film/Animation/Video department, so it’s no wonder that graduates such as Seth MacFarlane and Brad Bird have gone on to dominate the genre in TV and film animation. Based in Providence, R.I., RISD’s art-school setting means that experimentation is encouraged.
Tuition: $42,622 undergraduate
Notable Alumni: Cinematographer Robert Richardson (Hugo), director Gus Van Sant
20. Stanford University
Jan Krawitz, director of Stanford’s MFA program in Documentary Film & Video, was recently interviewed by PBS’ POV series in a piece titled “Should Aspiring Documentary Filmmakers Go to Film School?” The answer was pretty much: Sure, if you can get into Stanford. Eight students per class have three principal professors, including Krawitz. Since 1984, 24 Student Academy Awards for documentaries have gone to Stanford-trained talents, who learn how to write proposals, do preproduction, research, shoot, record sound, edit, hawk their work and chat up Errol Morris at Telluride. During the course of the two-year program, students emerge with three films, plus a fourth they co-direct and credits on other students’ projects.
Tuition: $40,050 graduate
Notable Alumni: Actual Films producers Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk
21. DePaul University
Students at DePaul’s School of Cinema and Interactive Media get their hands on cameras from day one and own their films. Visiting artists include Werner Herzog and Beasts of the Southern Wild scribe Lucy Alibar. This year, the Chicago university teamed up with the city’s Cinespace Film Studios, giving students access to 20,000 square feet of production space — and contacts you can’t buy.
Tuition: $33,390 undergraduate; $750 per credit graduate
Notable Alumni: Gillian Anderson, John C. Reilly
22. Ithaca College
Ithaca might lack Cornell’s Ivy League airs, but its Roy H. Park School of Communications can launch careers, especially in broadcasting. Its Televison-Radio department grads nab jobs at NBC News, ABC and ESPN. “It’s one of the best film schools in the country,” says Alanna Nash, who wrote the biography of alum Jessica Savitch, the late NBC News anchor whose life was dramatized in the filmUp Close & Personal. The college’s L.A. program arranges help from Disney CEO Robert Iger and producer Michael Nathanson (L.A. Confidential).
Tuition: $38,400 undergraduate; $19,200 L.A. program; $757 per credit graduate
Notable Alumni: David Boreanaz (Bones), director Mark Romanek (Never Let Me Go)
23. Savannah College of Art and Design
SCAD both benefits from and boosts Georgia’s film production industry, which increased 29 percent in 2012 to $3.1 billion. SCAD is also all over the rising Savannah Film Festival, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in November with guests like Stan Lee and the late James Gandolfini. SCAD’s Atlanta program added an M.A. and MFA in film and TV, and in the 60,000-square-foot Digital Media Center, students shot a Newsroom-like comedy.
Tuition: $32,950 undergraduate; $33,750 graduate
Notable Alumni: Visual effects artists Nickson Fong (Control) and Steve LaVietes (Alice in Wonderland)
24. Ringling College of Art and Design
The 6-year-old Sarasota, Fla., film program attracts teachers like Christopher Nolan‘s cinematographer-turned-director Wally Pfister. “I was impressed by the skill levels and the sophistication of the questions asked,” says Pfister. “This is clearly a program in its ascent.” Adds director Werner Herzog, who advised Ringling on its directing program, “I like it because it originated from a circus, Ringling Bros. It’s the best digital effects program in the country.”
Tuition: $35,490 undergraduate
Notable Alumni: Editor-director Jason Letkiewicz (I’m Positive)
25. Colorado Film School
The new green-screen 3D studio, created by visual effects wizard Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Tree of Life) gives students at the Denver school a launchpad into the future of movies. The main studio resides in a 25,000-square-foot building packed with equipment for the school’s many degrees, including directing, writing, producing, acting for the screen, postproduction and cinematography. Spike Lee and Avatar cinematographer Mauro Fiore are among the guest artist teachers.
Tuition: $6,500 in-state; $9,000 for residents of Western states; $22,500 for those from non-Western states
Notable Alumni: Postproduction technician Aaron Kroger (Total Recall)