This ranking of the top film schools first appeared in the special College Issue of TheWrap magazine.
TheWrap’s third annual ranking of film schools was determined by an anonymous poll of almost 1,000 entertainment industry insiders, educators, deans, filmmakers and film pundits, along with a variety of experts tasked with evaluating each school’s achievements.
The verdict: USC is No, 1 again, with AFI recovering from staff turmoil to rise to No 2. American University and Full Sail are moving up, while newcomers on the list include Pratt, SVU, Sarah Lawrence, Johns Hopkins/MICA, Hofstra and Biola. Yes, the list inevitably compares apples and oranges, undergraduate programs with graduate ones, boutique schools with massive ones.
But anywhere you look on this list, you’ll see the future of Hollywood.
1. University of Southern California
This is the year to visit USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, because it’s celebrating — with big public exhibits, screenings and events — the 90th anniversary of the day Douglas Fairbanks Jr. founded it during a fencing match with USC’s president. (If you’re keeping track, that was Feb. 4, 1929.) Ever since, the school has been swashbuckling its way to victory, partly thanks to consistent leadership.
Dean Elizabeth M. Daley has reigned for 27 years, and for 25 of them the school’s Entertainment Technology Center has brought students together with bigwigs at major studios, Cisco, Lucasfilm and Microsoft. Alums dominate the industry with projects ranging from blockbusters (the billion-dollar hit “Black Panther” came from USC-trained writer-director Ryan Coogler and Marvel Cinematic Universe uber-producer Kevin Feige) to the 30 alum films and shows at Sundance this year, including the socially conscious breakout “Sorry to Bother You” (featuring four alumni) and the smartphone-and-laptop-shot “Searching” (involving 10 alumni — producer Natalie Qasabian calls it “a USC mafia production”).
USC’s Ariel Heller and Devon Manney won student Academy Awards, and alums Lee Unkrich (“Coco”) and James Ivory (“Call Me by Your Name”) won Oscars for movies that helped push entertainment to new heights in culturally inclusive storytelling. USC and the Department of State launched the Middle East Media Initiative to create intercultural collaborations — good timing, since Saudi Arabia recently legalized movie theaters.
USC has strengths in too many areas to list. Teresa Cheng (Lucasfilm, DreamWorks Animation) came on as animation & digital arts chair, Princeton Review ranked it No. 1 yet again for game design, and USC Comedy — the first such program in America — continues to grow, with Lisa Kudrow holding a master class and George Lucas funding the Robin Williams Endowed Chair in Comedy.
2. American Film Institute
Like its perennial rivals USC and NYU, AFI Conservatory’s current class has a 50-50 male-female ratio (with 42 percent coming from outside the U.S.), and AFI Fellows who aren’t fellas are achieving at the highest levels: Patty Jenkins (AFI 2000) is shooting “Wonder Woman: 1984,” and Rachel Morrison (2006) became the first woman to land a cinematography Oscar nomination (for “Mudbound”), then did “Black Panther.” More than 700 women applied for AFI’s new Fox-backed tuition-free cinematography program for 20 newbie women auteurs.
The elite squad of 140 AFI Fellows per year are in classes of 14 to 28 students, receiving personal attention from legends of the industry. Quentin Tarantino, Sofia Coppola and Guillermo del Toro do master classes, Gus Van Sant and editor Tatiana Riegel (“I, Tonya”) are AFI Mentors, and new faculty include “Like Crazy” director Drake Doremus and producers Lianne Halfon (“Juno”) and Janet Yang (“The Joy Luck Club”). AFI Conservatory artistic director James L. Brooks took a thesis film, Icebox, developed it with multiple Fellows and released it as a feature. At Sundance 2018, 63 alums screened work and 21 alums got 2018 Emmy nominations, topping last year’s 17. AFI had a tumultuous 2017 when faculty rebelled against dean Jan Schuette, but new dean Richard Gladstein has evidently righted the ship, because AFI is up on this year’s poll.
3. University of California, Los Angeles
Alums of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television had a good year — more than $3.76 billion in global film grosses, with hits from “Black Panther” to “The Big Sick,” and the 1,880th all-time major awards nomination. But in a way, one alum’s achievement more dramatically captures the potential impact of a UCLA TFT education: Acting graduate Michael Stuhlbarg was in three Oscar Best Picture nominees, “Call Me by Your Name,” “The Shape of Water” and “The Post.”
UCLA is like a key to the city of Hollywood (also Telluride and Cannes, where students meet directors at the film festivals and get a first-look opportunity with Vivendi/Canal+). Luminaries flock to give UCLA master classes, from Brian Grazer to Helen Hunt to Ted Sarandos. Three students in the new Sony Crackle Initiative sold options on TV shows, and one, Gaia Violo’s “Absentia,” got a full order from Amazon. Bigger yet, alumnus Steven Canals took his assignment for UCLA TFT’s 284B writing course and sold it to Ryan Murphy as “Pose,” the FX series for which he’s now executive producer along with Murphy and Brad Falchuk.
UCLA TFT is out to change the world, not just movies, and alums who did so earned major kudos: Charles Burnett with an honorary AMPAS Governors Award and Ava DuVernay the PGA Visionary Award. UCLA TFT Dean Teri Schwartz just coproduced the school’s first-ever feature film, “Waterschool,” an environmental documentary that sent seven students to profile river dwellers on five continents, mentored by Oscar nominee Lucy Walker. It was seen at Cannes, Sundance, the World Economic Forum in Davos, and is now on Netflix.
4. New York University
No question, the big theme in film education now is diversity, and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television is all over it. Consider the recent alumni firsts: Dee Rees (“Mudbound”) became the first black woman nominated for an Oscar for best adapted screenplay, Cathy Yan the first Asian woman to direct a superhero flick (Warner/DC’s “Harley Quinn” with Margot Robbie), Reed Morano the first female drama directing Emmy winner in 22 years, and Rachel Morrison — educated at both NYU and AFI — the first female cinematography Oscar nominee.
Graduate film artistic director Spike Lee won the Grand Prix at Cannes for “BlacKkKlansman,” the cinematic antidote to “The Birth of a Nation.” New graduate Kevin Wilson won at the Student Academy Awards and BAFTA and got an Oscar nomination for his film about Emmett Till. Three alums took top dramatic Sundance prizes (“The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” “The Kindergarten Teacher” and “Monsters and Men”), and A.B. Shawky’s Egypt-set film “Yomeddine” nabbed a spot in the main competition at Cannes, rare for a thesis film.
For the second year in a row, NYU students (Angela Cheng and Sasie Sealy) won the AT&T: Untold Stories $1 million pitch challenge. NYU writing alums Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker earned raves for “Love, Simon” and became showrunners for “This Is Us,” and faculty member Daniel Goldfarb is on staff at Emmy magnet “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” NYU’s cachet began in alumnus Martin Scorsese’s day, but it has not waned any more than Scorsese has.
5. California Institute of the Arts
Cal Arts School of Film/Video founder Walt Disney had to mortgage his house to finish Sleeping Beauty, but CalArts alums (known as “Calartians”) have done better lately — since 1985, their animation hits have grossed $43 billion. They’ve won the Best Animated Feature Oscar 11 times, most recently with co-director Adrian Molina’s “Coco,” while Brad Bird’s “Incredibles 2” had the biggest debut ($180 million) of any animated film in history, even when you adjust for inflation.
But it’s not strictly animation that happens at CalArts. Brenda Chapman (“Brave”) is making her live-action debut with “Come Away,” and James Mangold, still aglow from his 2018 Oscar-nominated “Logan,” got a green light for Ford v. Ferrari for Chernin Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox. Mangold, who won $1,000 for his first student film and grossed $619 million for “Logan,” is a great example of what makes CalArts valuable: Mentored by prof Alexander Mackendrick (“Sweet Smell of Success”), he studied filmmaking for two years, then transferred to the acting program. Mangold ended up studying alongside Don Cheadle, an actor whose films have grossed way over $7 billion and who has said of CalArts, “I would say that 100 percent I would not be where I am today had I not had my experience here.”
6. Chapman University
Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts began in 1981, when Bob Bassett, now dean, started the program with one camera and infinite chutzpah. Now there’s a 76,000-square-foot production studio, a 38,000-square-foot documentary studio and an 18,000-square-foot Digital Media Arts Center that just won its fourth major architectural award.
Students can learn film in the Czech Republic and shoot their movies everywhere from Singapore to Malawi (with Chapman often paying the airfare). People like Ted Danson, Ted Sarandos and former Sony TV prez Steve Mosko have sent their kids to Chapman, knitting the school into the nexus of showbiz 40 miles north. Former AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs is an adjunct professor. This fall’s Artist in Residence, Dean Devlin (“Independence Day”) follows big names like “Star Wars” VFX wizard Richard Edlund and Michael Apted (“Gorillas in the Mist”).
Chapman was ahead of the curve in recognizing women, from faculty member Martha Coolidge, the first female president of the DGA, to the many industry bigwigs who trek south for Chapman’s 19 Women in Focus Conferences, moderated by innovative marketer Dawn Taubin. Recent students who’ve struck gold include the Duffer brothers (“Stranger Things”) and Brian Robau, who won two Student Academy Awards in three years, which nobody had done since John Lasseter. At the ASC Student Heritage Awards, Chapman has scored a nomination in every competition category for two years running, and Chapman Filmed Entertainment just submitted its latest student/alum feature “Static,” about the #MeToo movement, to Netflix and Sundance.
7. Columbia University
Though in some ways it’s misleading to judge a film school by its illustrious pioneers, Columbia retains the imprint of the past while exploring film’s future in programs like Lance Weiler’s Digital Storytelling Lab. “We remain dedicated to bringing character-driven stories to the screen since the 1970s, when Milos Forman indelibly shaped the Columbia MFA Film program,” says new Columbia film chair Hilary Brougher.
Powerhouse alums like James Mangold (whose mentor after Cal Arts’ Mackendrick was Columbia’s Forman), Kathryn Bigelow, Lisa Cholodenko, Kimberly Peirce, James Ponsoldt and Jennifer Lee cover the creative waterfront from “Frozen” to “Making a Murderer,” and their global reach benefits Columbia grads. “What they have in common is a profound level of story craft and inventiveness,” says Brougher. “We train trailblazers.”
She calls New York the program’s “muse and studio,” but 41 percent of students are international. Columbia’s cinema lions (that’s Columbia’s mascot, which inspired the MGM lion) won three top 2017 DGA student film awards, and there were 42 faculty and alums with films at Sundance, five recent alums with films at Cannes, and 11 at the Berlinale. Columbia has a new production facility, the Lenfest Center for the Arts, and expanded TV writing offerings.
8. Loyola Marymount University
LMU School of Film & Television has been a powerhouse for years, but with new dean Peggy Rajski — an Oscar-winning filmmaker and a producer for Martin Scorsese and Jodie Foster — and a new 50,000-square foot LMU Playa Vista campus devoted to tech, the school is bigger than ever. At the new campus, students work next to folks from Facebook, YouTube, PlayStation and Electronic Arts. At the September relaunch of the Los Angeles Film Festival, the section that sold out instantly was the LMU Playa Vista VR Portal One, a virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality storytelling showcase curated by former AFI Fest director Jacqueline Lyanga.
Everyone from Clint Eastwood to Judd Apatow comes to LMU to be profiled on the campus-produced Netflix series “The Hollywood Masters.” The student-faculty ratio is 12-to-1, and one-third of students get internships to such places as IMAX, NBCU, DreamWorks Animation, Comedy Central, Annapurna and Plan B. It helps to have generous alumni like James Bond mogul Barbara Broccoli, Effie Brown, Brian Helgeland and James Wong.
9. University of Texas at Austin
UT’s Moody College of Communications, containing the Department of Radio-Television-Film, has a reputation bigger than Texas, and it’s among the least costly great film schools in America. The UT names that usually get dropped are Matthew McConaughey and Robert Rodriguez, but consider also the impact of alums Mark and Jay Duplass, Tommy Schlamme (“Social Network,” “The West Wing”) and “Get Out” and “BlacKkklansman” producer Raymond Mansfield. If you like “South Park,” “School of Rock,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead,” thank UT alums who brought them to you.
Sony Pictures Classics co-founder and co-chair Michael Barker has nabbed SPC’s 169 Oscar nominations thanks partly to his UT courses on nonverbal communications, which help him suss out what people really mean, and his college job of helping foreign students learn to give speeches in English. “I think about those students all the time when we win Oscars and other awards for foreign films,” said Barker when he returned as the UT commencement speaker. He’s also taught at UT, as has McConaughey.
10. University of North Carolina
The UNC School of the Arts’ School of Filmmaking, whose campus resembles a Hollywood movie studio of yore, has plenty to celebrate in this, its 25th year. Longtime dean Susan Ruskin is positioning the school on the bleeding edge of the VR/AR industry with the new Media and Emerging Technologies Lab (METL), with joint projects and classes with UNC Chapel Hill computer scientists, Wake Forest entrepreneurs and North Carolina State engineers. Ted Hope, Amazon Studios’ motion picture head, and former Lionsgate acquisitions president Peter Block came to teach students how to adapt to the system of the future: “It’s no longer just about working with the six major studios,” Ruskin says.
But UNCSA does well with conventional film, too. It’s a Sundance sponsor, with 35 alums connected to festival films. Students watched and learned as alum Brett Haley met with potential distributors of his closing-night film “Hearts Beat Loud.” Alum David Gordon Green just rebooted the Halloween franchise, while producer Michael Sledd gave us “I, Tonya” and Vera Herbert helped produce and write “This Is Us.” UNCSA student work gets seen by industry executives — now including those at Facebook, who invited student Trent Spivey to screen his 360-immersive VR Big Rock Candy Mountain for Oculus execs.
11. Savannah College of Art and Design
SCAD has 5,000 students in 32 entertainment degree programs, a 22,000-square-foot production studio in Savannah, an Atlanta Digital Media Center tapped into the state’s $9.5 billion film biz, programs in France and Hong Kong and the Savannah Film Festival, said to be America’s biggest university-run film fest. It also has a new film and TV chair, D.W. Moffett, a producer and SAG Award-winning actor (“Traffic,” Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Stealing Beauty,” “Friday Night Lights,” Sean Penn’s “The First”).
SCAD also boasts three student-run TV shows (one won a 2017 College Television Award), 42 local Emmy nominations and 14 wins this year, and what may be America’s only in-school casting office — more than 250 students have gotten roles (and sometimes SAG cards) supporting the likes of Will Smith in “Gemini Man” and Morgan Freeman and John Travolta in “Poison Rose.” Of about 12,000 alums, more than 2,800 work in Georgia’s booming entertainment industry.
12. Emerson College
With a home campus in Boston and an architectural landmark Emerson Los Angeles (ELA) campus on a revitalized stretch of Sunset Boulevard, Emerson is getting industry inroads it never had when alums Henry Winkler, Jay Leno, Norman Lear and Denis Leary were students. Emerson grad Kevin Bright (Emmy-winning producer/director of “Friends” and “In Living Color”) is founding director of ELA; in Emerson’s Career Advisory Network, alumni help 120 students a year plot their conquest of Hollywood — like Genece Davis, who interned at Brad Pitt’s Plan B, started in the William Morris Endeavor mailroom and worked her way up to the Books to Film department and projects for Michael B. Jordan’s and Gal Gadot’s production companies.
Emerson, whose alums are overrepresented in comedy, launched degree programs in comedic arts in 2016, and The New York Times opines, “Emerson has become something like Princeton or Duke, but for class clowns.”
13. Columbia College Chicago
Having recently combined TV and movie departments, CCC, which has a 35,500-square-foot media production center, hopes to churn out more talents like alums Janusz Kaminski (Spielberg’s double Oscar-winning cinematographer), Emmy-winning cinematographer Christian Sprenger (“GLOW,” “Atlanta,” “Baskets”), “SNL”‘s Emmy-nominated Aidy Bryant and “Master of None”‘s Lena Waithe, the first female African-American comedy series Emmy winner and one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2018.
Half of TV students finish internships in Chicago or Los Angeles, where there’s a 15-week program that combines classwork and real industry work. Alums who get asked how they got successful so fast can use the line Waithe gave the New York Times: “I tell them it’s the Chicago in me.”
14. Florida State University
FSU’s College of Motion Picture Arts has an exceptionally low 5-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio and levels the playing field by providing all students with free-of-charge production and postproduction facilities. It worked out for Oscar-winning Moonlight director Barry Jenkins (whose “If Beale Street Could Talk” may win another), “Maze Runner” auteurs Wes Ball and T.S. Norlin and the more than 5,000 students who’ve earned awards and recognition.
FSU is working with Atlanta Pinewood Studios — where longtime FSU film dean Frank Patterson recently became president — on a collaborative project, and its new Torchlight Entrepreneurial Program outfits faculty and alums with free production, postproduction and VFX resources to produce films in Florida. School officials swear that consistently, 97 percent of film grads are employed in the industry a year after graduation.
15. Stanford University
If you think it’s hard to get into Stanford, try getting into its renowned documentary film program, run by the art/art history department — only eight students are admitted per year, often with massive financial aid to offset the sky-high tuition. This cinematic killer elite has earned more than 100 major honors from the Student Academy Awards, DGA, IDA and others, plus eight Fulbright Scholarships. Each student leaves with a portfolio of four films — three as solo producer/director/editor, one a co-directed project with fellow students.
“They also crew for other classmates,” film prof Jan Kravitz told PBS, “so their aggregate production experience is substantially more than they would typically get working on their own or as a production assistant.”
16. ArtCenter College of Design
Most film profs call themselves storytellers, but here they’re intensely visual storytellers, like New York Times film critic and ArtCenter prof Manohla Dargis, or International Cinematographers Guild president Steven Poster (“Donnie Darko”), or Oscar-nominated editor and student mentor Billy Weber, who didn’t need words to tell tales in “Days of Heaven,” “Tree of Life” and “Top Gun.” Commerce is not a dirty word at a school whose student films play on a loop in public spaces and hotel rooms at L.A. Live hotel’s public spaces and guest TVs.
Montana Mann shot a Calvin Klein commercial in class, then helped launch Empress Productions, a commercial company with all female directors. Not to mention that ArtCenter launched Michael Bay, Zack Snyder and Tarsem Singh.
17. Boston University
Everybody goes to the BU College of Communication’s film and television department hoping to be a winner of the school’s Sumner-backed Redstone Film Festival, like Joe Roth and Richard Gladstein (“Finding Neverland,” “The Bourne Identity”). But even if you don’t win awards, you win big by learning cinematography in the school’s studio in a former 1912 auto dealership, or working on the student-operated BUTV10 media production network, or on BU’s internships in London, Sydney or Los Angeles.
Or BU might take you to Inner Mongolia, which is where student Victoria Oliveira DaCunha learned how to make a documentary through the Academy for International Communication of Chinese Culture in a program BU prof Geoffrey Poister has called “Outward Bound for film students.”
18. Rhode Island School of Design
RISD is a cultural blender in which artists of all kinds whirl and change and interact, fulfilling recent commencement speaker John Waters’ instruction to “keep up with what’s causing chaos in your own field…make me nervous.” The school turned Gus Van Sant from a painter to a painterly filmmaker (who encouraged classmate David Byrne), and launched Seth MacFarlane, Martha Coolidge, James Franco, Martin Mull and “Inside Amy Schumer” producer Ryan Cunningham. (Students might like her best of all, because she hires a RISD intern every single year.)
As Waters told the students, “A career in the arts is like a hitchhiking trip. All you need is one person to say, ‘Get in’ and off you go.”
19. Northwestern University
Where else could there be an event like Northwestern’s School of Communications’ 2018 CommFest fundraising gala “A Starry Night,” hosted by alums Stephen Colbert live and Seth Meyers on video? The stars included alums Brian d’Arcy James (“Hamilton”), “SNL”‘s Ana Gasteyer, Marg Helgenberger, “Spin City”‘s Richard Kind and Grammy and Tony winner Heather Headley, who killed with “Home” from “The Wiz.”
The extravaganza that 2,600 people paid up to $1,500 to see was partly to call attention to Northwestern’s forthcoming MFA acting program and media arts center in Chicago, which will benefit film students. It warms the hearts of eminent grads Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Sherry Lansing and John Logan, who returned to tell MFA writing students how he crafted scripts for “Gladiator,” “The Aviator” and “Skyfall.”
20. San Francisco State University
Born in the political ferment of the ’60s, the SFSU film program is scholarly and unworldly by showbiz standards, steeped in a sense of social mission — yet alums had a 16-year streak of getting Oscar nominations every year from 1999 to 2015.
“We don’t try to teach students to be Hollywood filmmakers,” says prof and former film chair Daniel Bernardi. “We try to teach them to express themselves in film, in video, creatively and artistically. We have three great strengths: the integration of theory and practice, the fact that our students can study 16 mm and digital both from a production and a studies perspective, and an intangible strength is that we’re located in the heart of San Francisco, and this city has an amazing film culture.”
The program spawned Oscar winners Steven Zaillian, Ethan Van der Ryn and Steven Okazaki. Producer Jonas Rivera, a winner for “Inside Out,” said, “Going to SF State was like the great stepping stone into my career. It made me feel like, ‘Oh, there are people out there that feel the way I do about film.'”
21. California State University, Northridge
The 1,550 undergrads and 30 graduate screenwriting students in CSUN’s Department of Cinema and Television Arts (CTVA) in the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication are making waves beyond the San Fernando Valley. Martin Ibarra and Daniel Yonathan were semifinalists in the Student Academy Awards, and Taylor Salan was shortlisted for BAFTA’s Student Film Awards. HFPA followed up a previous $2 million gift to CSUN film students with another $60,000.
And there’s interesting change afoot at the local cultural lodestone, the CSUN Cinematheque theater, which now hosts a Monday film series hooked to CSUN’s film poster collection; professor Frances Gatward’s Wednesday free screening series, “She Makes Media,” highlighting female auteurs from Ida Lupino to Megan Griffiths; and new Thursday sneak previews of Hollywood films, to subsidize CSUN’s growing ambition.
22. Ringling College of Art and Design
Students at Ringling can graduate with IMDb credits after working on real projects with Werner Herzog, Roman Coppola, Sissy Spacek, Justin Long and Tim Blake Nelson. The biggest project was Kevin Smith’s 2017 “Creepshow”-like horror anthology “Killroy Was Here,” which was shot at Ringing with the help of dozens of staff and students.
“I tried going to film school but quit to go make a movie,” said Smith. “If I’d had the chance to work with a real director, I probably would’ve graduated.” Students will soon have access to a new 30,000-square-foot soundstage and postproduction facility, one of the lures to bring more production to Sarasota and launch more IMDb debuts.
23. American University
Because it’s based in Washington, DC, with a great many alumni in L.A., AU’s Film and Media Arts division in the School of Communication (SOC) straddles the U.S. political and entertainment empires in a unique way. Students can learn moviemaking skills, master the business side or study game design and develop commercial games for change.
Like other film schools, AU can hook you up with Hollywood — alumni include Amblin TV’s Darryl Frank, AMC production VP Jason Gold, Nancy Meyers, Barry Josephson and Charlie Wachtel — but AU students can also find work with the Educational Testing Service, National Institute of Mental Health and the Smithsonian. With its Center for Environmental Filmmaking, Center for Media and Social Impact and Investigative Reporting Workshop, SOC aims to have an actual impact on society.
24. Pratt Institute
Pratt’s 15,000-square-foot Brooklyn facility, which won an American Institute of Architects Award in 2015, has helped it more than double its freshman film class, and there’s room to grow. When the Library of Congress wanted to transfer its Digital Preservation Outreach and Education Program to a university, it chose Pratt and NYU. Students intern at SNL and MoMA, collaborate on films with Pratt’s well-regarded fashion design students and take imagination-enhancing psychology electives like “Dreams, Memories and Hallucinations.” Then they graduate and premiere films at Toronto, Tribeca and Cannes. Pratt grads include Terrence Howard, Martin Landau and Robert Redford.
25. University of California, Santa Barbara
UCSB Film and Media Studies students used to show more enthusiasm for cinematography and screenwriting than for sound design, but sound is hot thanks to the new Lazarus Sound Lab named for donor and former screenwriting instructor Paul Lazarus and crafted by Chris Pelonis, who designed studios for George Lucas and Disney. In a time of feminist uprising in film, Constance Penley’s influential UCSB journal Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies is anything but obscure.
26. School of Visual Art
SVA is a heady place, an epicenter of American visual art, a maelstrom of esoteric ideas. But the NYC-based film program has pragmatists like eight-time Oscar nominee (and three-time winner) Chris Newman, a sound mixer and director who made 32 movies in 10 years in the ’70s. (“I finished ‘The French Connection’ on a Friday and started ‘The Godfather’ on a Monday,” he says.) Adds acting department chair Mary Lee Grisanti, “You are not just learning film craft, you are making films all the time.”
27. School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Strong in animation and esoteric ideas, the Film, Video, New Media and Animation department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) exists at a crossroads of high art (alums Claes Oldenburg and Georgia O’Keeffe) and film. Prof Bruce Jenkins, former Harvard Film Archive curator, did Warhol’s film catalog raisonné, and prof Frederic Moffet made a film about post-crash Montgomery Clift, “Postface.” SAIC’s Latino culture is on the rise, with the Gene Siskel Film Center’s new Latinx series “Cortadito”; alum Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s Caribbean video was in the Whitney Biennial 2017.
What’s a nice Connecticut liberal arts college doing on this list? “In the film business,” says producer Laurence Mark, “the Wesleyan name works magic.” He credits film program creator Jeanine Basinger, a combo of “Mr. Chips and Miss Jean Brodie.”
Wesleyan brought you Joss Whedon, Miguel Arteta and Fox Searchlight SVP Matthew Greenfield. Alum David Kendall slept on alum Ed Decter’s couch; next thing you know, they do an AFI-funded film, Kendall exec-produces hundreds of hours of TV, Decter does multiple series and “There’s Something About Mary,” and they make a studio movie together. “The program’s energy stays with you throughout your professional life,” says Arteta.
29. Syracuse University
SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) Department of Transmedia has long been a great place for film, partly because of its connections with VPA’s highly rated theater program, SU’s influential Newhouse communications school and fine programs worldwide. (It’s sent many to Prague’s famous FAMU.) But the big news is the upturn in work opportunities thanks to Jeremy Garelick’s nearby new $50 million film production company, American High which hires SU students and grads and makes three films in a year. Garelick is creating his own Syracuse-area film school, too.
30. Colorado Film School
CFS founder Frederic Lahey left to launch Cleveland State’s forthcoming 36,000-square-foot film school, so the program is now under the stewardship of Brian Steward, who worked for Spielberg and David Lynch and was second AD on “Spy Kids” and “The Italian Job.” CFS is about production — “Our community works as a crew,” Lahey used to say — and students shot 11 commercials for Toyota and Saatchi and Saatchi from 2015 through 2018.
A collaboration between Community College of Aurora and Regis University, CFS offers a BFA that costs less for four years than other top film schools charge for one.
31. Ithaca College
Ithaca’s Roy H. Park School says it has more majors than other undergrad communications schools (TV, film, radio, emerging media … ), but we like its new minor in Live Event Design & Management, whose students help stage the Macy’s Parade, Country Music Awards and Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting. There’s also the Drone Flying, Skills and Safety workshop providing FAA certification and access to the school’s IC Drone Squadron.
Dean Diane Gayeski credits “our great connections — including generous alumni such as Bill D’Elia (“How to Get Away With Murder” producer/director), Bob Iger, David Boreanaz and David Muir. Boreanaz told graduates, “You never really say goodbye to IC because it’s very likely that whatever you find best in yourselves you found here.”
32. Stony Brook Southampton/Manhattan
Stony Brook’s MFA in Film program is hot, thanks to a $5 million gift from Roy Lichtenstein widow Dorothy Lichtenstein and expansion to a second production office in Midtown Manhattan. So is its director Christine Vachon, who produced Paul Schrader’s comeback “First Reformed,” “Colette” and the upcoming “Shirley” — written by Susan Scarf in Stony Brook’s also prestigious MFA creative writing program — with Elisabeth Moss as horror author Shirley Jackson and Michael Stuhlbarg as her promiscuous husband.
Alan Kingsberg just left Columbia to launch Stony Brook’s new TV writing program. New York Women in Film president and Stony Brook prof Simone Pero produced the timely 2018 Laura Dern-starring Sundance and HBO hit “The Tale.” Led by the woman who launched Todd Solondz, Hilary Swank, Kimberly Peirce and John Cameron Mitchell, Stony Brook helps students make art by mastering the business.
33. University of Michigan
The only bad thing about UM’s film department was its name, Screen Arts and Cultures, which nobody understood. So it just became the Film, Television and Media (FTVM) department, home to a huge script and film library funded by Robert Shaye, the Mavericks & Makers collection of auteur archives (Robert Altman, Orson Welles, John Sayles and 2018 addition Jonathan Demme), and Jim Burnstein’s prestigious screenwriting program.
Big names from Alexander Payne to David Benioff do UM master classes, and when Jim and Lynn Kouf watched student Jacqueline Toboni do a table read in Burnstein’s class, they immediately flew her to L.A. to star on their show “Grimm.” “Glee”‘s Darren Criss was a Burnstein student, as was John Nelson, who won the VFX Oscar for “Blade Runner 2049.”
34. Sarah Lawrence College
J.J. Abrams, Emma Roberts, Julianna Margulies and Brian De Palma came from Sarah Lawrence, whose Filmmaking and Moving Image Arts program features low student-teacher ratios, Oscar nom Heather Winters’ “Development and Pitching for Film and TV” (to get in, you must pitch her), and a broad liberal arts vibe that appealed to alum Jordan Peele.
Abrams’ classmate Tonya Lewis asked her husband Spike Lee to speak at the school just north of Manhattan; Peele heard him, and presto, they produced “BlacKkKlansman.” Any college student anywhere can apply for Cinema Sarah Lawrence, where you’ll visit Sundance 2019 and then Nantucket to help professor Jay Craven make his film Martin Eden in 15 weeks.
35. University of Arizona
A fair number of UA School of Theatre, Film & Television’s 75 or so annual grads head to L.A. (an hour away by plane). Alums include Jerry Bruckheimer, WME partner Brad Slater, “Sorry to Bother You” casting director Eyde Belasco, Greg Berlanti’s executive assistant Robbie Hyne and Scott Stuber, head of film at Netflix, where AU editing teacher Jacob Bricca (ACE) has two documentaries streaming now.
Hanson Film Institute, housed at AU, brings in industry bigs like ABC talent VP Brenda Kelly Grant, who does an audition workshop, and Brian Levant, who does a sitcom bootcamp course. “I took the first film production course ever offered at Arizona [from Jeff Benson, circa 1972],” says Levant. “Five years later when I was a story editor on ‘Happy Days,’ he was the head of comedy development.”
36. University of Pennsylvania
Penn brought you National Amusement’s Shari Redstone, Twentieth Century Fox boss Stacey Snider, ICM head Jeff Berg, Tribeca Film Festival’s Geoffrey Gilmore, former Columbia Pictures chief Doug Belgrad and producer Dick Wolf, who funds Hollywood internships for Cinema and Media Studies students.
Students study 150 films a year in the residential Gregory House Film Culture program and get festive in black tie at Penn-in-Cannes or trek to the Arctic Ocean to make a Penn-funded global warming doc.
Prof Peter Decherney won all U.S. film teachers the right to use copyrighted video in massive open online courses (MOOCs). Oscar-nominated producer Todd Lieberman, who got his first Hollywood job via a contact from Penn’s Mask & Wig musical theater group, told students, “Figure out what you love first and find your path from there.”
37. University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley was the center for a film renaissance in the ’50s and ’60s, when it produced Film Quarterly, America’s first repertory cinema (run by Pauline Kael), and the Pacific Film Archive, where Berkeley Cinema and Media students now intern. Student Daphne Matziaraki won a Student Academy Award for “4.1 Miles” in 2016 and the next year was nominated for a doc-short Oscar — where one of her fellow nominees was her professor, Dan Krauss (“Extremis”). Bishal Dutta missed commencement to screen (and pitch) his film “Life in Color” at Cannes. “Wow, it was a circus, man,” Dutta said.
38. Los Angeles Film School
This year, 48 LAFS alums worked on 154 Emmy-nominated shows, including 27 winners, and others on five Oscar nominees, including “The Disaster Artist” (Brandon Trost, DP) and “Lady Bird” (Geoffrey Brown, assistant art director). Quentin Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin spoke to students, and Hal Lieberman, LAFS program director for entertainment business, invited former Sony exec Doug Belgrad for a talk called “Adapt or Die.” Pursuant to that goal, LAFS announced a $1.5 million Women in Entertainment scholarship fund for female students.
39. DePaul University
DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) has a big-deal partnership with Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, where Fox’s “Empire,” Amazon’s “The Patriot,” Netflix’s “Sense8” and Dick Wolf’s Chicago shows are shot, often employing DePaul SCA talent. There’s a new comedy MFA degree program with the iconic Second City improv factory for screenwriters and filmmakers.
Enrollment has soared from a few hundred to over 1,000, with almost one in five coming from the East or West coasts (signifying a bigger national profile), while the female film-student population doubled in five years. The L.A. Quarter program trains students at historic Sunset Gower Studios.
40. John Hopkins/MICA
Johns Hopkins and Maryland Institute College of Art’s JHU/MICA Film Center is smack in the middle of Baltimore’s cinema renaissance, with an $18 million update of the long-derelict, 600-seat 1915 Parkway Theater, home base for the Maryland Film Festival, which has grown to twice the size of Telluride. JHU/MICA filmmakers and scholars are a good mix, and they collaborate with student composers and sound engineers at the top-rated Peabody Institute. “It’s time for you to join our cinema cult and make this realized dream a movement,” says festival board member John Waters.
41. Ohio State University
OSU just launched its first undergraduate program in Moving-Image Production and added to undergrad and MA programs in film studies and screenwriting so students can learn, for example, animation from Kyoung Swearingen (“Up,” “WALL-E”). OSU works closely with the Wexner Center for the Arts, America’s only contemporary art center with a Film/Video Studio Residency supporting 20 filmmakers a year. Film faculty Kris Paulsen’s VR book “Here/There” and Linda Mizejewski’s “Hysterical!: Women in American Comedy” won major prizes.
“I can’t stress how essential it is that a place like this exists in the middle of the country away from the supposed cultural centers,” said Martin Scorsese.
42. Full Sail University
Full Sail, which spends six figures a year supporting the Florida Film Festival, steeping students in festival marketing culture, has an impact on Hollywood. Alums include Gary Rizzo (sound mixing Oscar winner for “Dunkirk” and “Inception”) and Larry Katz (assistant AD on “Captain America: The First Avenger”), who told current students, “My stepsister’s former roommate’s ex-boyfriend’s former roommate got me a job as an office PA on a movie. I didn’t want to be an office PA. But it felt like the entertainment industry was a giant fortress, and there’s a million people running around looking for a way in, so you have to create an opportunity for a door to crack open. It might not be the door you want, but you dive in!”
43. University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
Any day now, John Ridley, Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave” writer and “American Crime” creator, will finish converting the old 40,000-square-foot Milwaukee Pabst brewery into a filmmakers’ hub called No Studios, containing part of UW Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts Department of Film, Video, Animation & New Genres and the Milwaukee Film Festival. For the first time, UWM will grant degrees in animation — about time, since alums helped craft “Robot Chicken,” “The Simpsons” and “Anomalisa.”
44. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
UI College of Media’s Media and Cinema Studies department is a great place to study film from all angles, and Chaz Ebert raised UI’s profile in a variety of ways: running the 20th annual Ebertfest (the Roger Ebert-founded film festival); launching the first Roger Ebert Symposium, featuring an IMAX film shot in outer space and too many movie luminaries and famous critics to list; supporting UI’s Roger Ebert Fellowship pairing students with mentor film critic Michael Phillips; and developing the College of Media’s forthcoming $5 million Roger Ebert Center.
45. Hofstra University
Hofstra’s Lawrence Herbert School’s Department of Radio, Television, Film has a college radio station twice ranked No. 1 in the nation, and new dean and former NBC News exec Mark Lukasiewicz is likely to keep stocking TV with talent from the New York school. James Caan, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Walken and Francis Ford Coppola are alums. More recently, Carmine Arpaia recently won his second Emmy for “MLB Tonight,” Victoria Rossi became associate producer for “The View,” and Adrián Saba won the New Voices Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
46. Southern Methodist University
Deep in the heart of Dallas, SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts Film and Media Arts department is a relatively intimate program that emphasizes industry know-how and media history. Grad William Joyce won a 2012 animated short Oscar, Ron Judkins was Oscar nominated for sound mixing “Lincoln” and others have won Peabodys and Emmys. SMU’s top drama program, run by Yale Drama’s ex-dean, launched Kathy Bates and Stephen Tobolowsky.
47. University of Miami
Hollywood alumni include Ray Liotta, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Sylvester Stallone, Barry Waldman and Emmy-winning “Game of Thrones” director David Nutter, who supports the UM School of Communication First Feature Film Fund. Students in UM’s Semester in Los Angeles program take master classes from the likes of Jon Landau. Faculty are tops: UM prof Jeffrey Stern was a sound editor for more than 80 movies (“Goodfellas,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Chicago”) and one of his five Emmy honors is a win for “Boardwalk Empire.” What do you do with a UM Interactive Media M.F.A.? Students went to work for Sapient, Univision, Disney, Visa, academia, nonprofits and government.
48. University of Cincinnati
Dynamic duo Matthew Irvine, who restored “Carnival of Souls,” and Kristyn Jo Benedyk put DePaul’s cinema program (and she its screenwriting program) on the map, then decamped to Cincinnati in 2015 to launch its Digital Media Collaborative. It’s an enormous collective effort of the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), the College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning (DAAP), the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences and UC Libraries.
How ambitious is UC? It just rented a 180,000-square-foot building in the city’s Uptown Gateway tech corridor for a new center for UC researchers, students, technology firms and collaborators.
The Christian film market is getting bigger (from $200 million in 1996 to $5 billion in 2015), so naturally the brand-new School of Cinema and Media Arts at Biola (originally Bible Institute of Los Angeles) is growing, too. It plans to go from 250 students to 500 in five years and 750 in a decade. It has a 10,000-square-foot production space until 2022, when a $60 million, 57,000-square-foot facility opens (architect Fran Offenhauser also did work for AMPAS). Students use Manhattan Beach Studios, and CBS has an intern program exclusively for Biola students. Other required internships are done at Bad Robot, Netflix, Amazon, the Television Academy and the DGA. Coming up by 2023: new degree programs in interactive media, criticism, media producing and screenwriting.
50. Arizona State University
ASU’s Herberger Institute’s film program has more than 1,000 students (40 percent female, over 30 percent first-generation college students) in its newish production and media studies programs. ASU’s Film Spark program has connected ASU students with 10 Oscar winners and nominees, three studio chiefs, DGA and AMPAS presidents and alums like Lionsgate vice chair Michael Burns. ASU’s L.A. profile is rising, with a 2018 LACMA partnership and purchase of the Herald-Examiner building for its journalism program. In 2021, the film school gets a $65 million, 120,000-square-foot production facility. Former USC and LMU film prof Adam Collins says, “Something very special is happening in Tempe.”