The Best Film Schools in the U.S. and Canada 2017: Film Programs to Shape You Into the Next Moviemaking All-Star

U.S. West

Outstanding Directing Training: AFI Conservatory 

A two-year MFA program in any of AFI’s six disciplines inducts you into an exclusive group of creators: 140 fellows in total per year, to be exact. The competitive and hands-on directing program focuses on narrative, visual language and performance. The school is at the forefront of inclusion (47 percent of the current cohort are female), and is grooming a diverse new wave of moviemakers. Revolutionary directing alumni include Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins, Terrence Malick, Andrea Arnold and Darren Aronofsky. AFI is the least expensive graduate opportunity for an institution of such reputation—no other school has accumulated more Academy Award nominations and wins.

Accomplished Faculty: California College of the Arts

When a two-time Oscar-winner is the film program’s co-chair, it’s safe to assume standards are high. At this San Francisco- and Oakland-based school, documentarian Rob Epstein, who received his statuettes for The Times of Harvey Milk and Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, spearheads a team of educators that range from accomplished independent director Chris Mason Johnson (Test) to expert sound mixer Dan Olmsted and Emmy-winning Guggenheim Fellow Jack Walsh. 

Outstanding Animation Training: California Institute of the Arts

Top-Notch Equipment and Facilities: Chapman University

Accelerated Industry Access: Loyola Marymount University 

The application of classroom theory in a real-world environment is what elevates the student to the professional. LMU has strong ties to industry heavyweights such as 20th Century Fox, Disney, Nickelodeon, Sony, DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures. Each year the Los Angeles school places 200 of their best students at internships with these companies. To ensure that these opportunities are as personalized as possible, students have access to career development staff, who counsel them on their transition into the moviemaking workforce. 

Outstanding Editing Training: National University

Directing student Frank Liang (L) shoots a film as part of National University’s 2016 Digital Cinema MFA Production Residency. Photograph by Tito Arenal

Because its MFA programs, including the popular Digital Cinema Production, are offered in a hybrid online/on-site format, National University is viable option for students whose studies coincide with other commitments. (Alumni often cite this flexibility as a crucial draw—though the program also includes an intensive one-month residency in Los Angeles.) While the Digital Cinema curriculum touches on all aspects of production, it features five separate courses on editing and sound design. Though he had “managed to accumulate the knowledge necessary for a career editing television,” one student says, enrolling in NU was crucial to “bringing my career to the next level.”

Outstanding Theory and Criticism Training: Portland State University 

Portland State University shines when it comes to teaching film history, but the production classes are no slouch, either. Photograph by Peter Simon

Forget about basic “film history”—the in-depth courses at PSU are sure to inspire academic curiosity. Suzanne Gray, marketing and communications manager at the school, calls the “strong curriculum and faculty” in the criticism arena a major attraction. A sample of course options: “Forbidden Love in Israeli Film,” “Transnational Stardom,” “Danish Films from Dreyer to Dogme” and “Disney: Gender, Race, and Empire.” There’s a class on the theory and practice of the remake, another on music videos, one on mockumentaries… and the list goes on. 

Outstanding Screenwriting Training: University of California, Los Angeles

Outstanding Cinematography Training: University of Colorado, Boulder

Colorado Film School students have the great outdoors for a set. Photograph by Jesse Loyal Paul

Founded by iconoclastic independent moviemaker Stan Brakhage, the CU-Boulder film department is the place to experiment with the medium. The school offers courses emphasizing the technical and aesthetic aspects of both digital and analog cinematography, making sure students cut their teeth on 8mm, Bolex, 16mm RX and (later) Blackmagic Pocket Cinema cameras. Complementing these are classes dedicated to lighting and an immersive camera workshop. Students can also work as a projectionist at the school’s very own art-house theater, home to its International Film Series, established in 1941.

Outstanding Producing Training: University of Southern California

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8 Comments

  1. mwebaza martin

    August 7, 2017 at 9:36 am

    I need to join a film school through movie maker…what should I do

  2. Cassandra

    July 24, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    Have you ever thought about creating an ebook or guest authoring on other websites? I have a blog centered on the same topics you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my visitors would appreciate your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an email.

  3. David Liban

    July 21, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    I would like to point out the CU Denver is really a significant hands-on film program. Its a BFA program with 72 credit hours largely made up of production classes. Students leave with a large portfolio of films and are prepared to enter the industry. They also produce a web series each year that students write, produce, direct and edit. http://www.cudenverfilm.org

  4. Linda

    July 21, 2017 at 8:56 am

    Correction under Film Centers:

    Northwest Film Forum is located in Seattle, not Portland. However, Portland does have its own film center called the Northwest Film Center which not only provides a variety of workshops and classes for all ages but they host their own film screenings and festival (Portland International FF). They also have quite a great stock of reasonably priced equipment rentals for local students, amateurs and professionals. I believe they’re the only film center in the Pacific NW?

  5. Adam Enaya

    July 20, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    I only needed to read their opinions of the west coast schools to see that this list is a joke. How much did National University pay to have a write-up in MovieMaker? By the way, what’s an admission fee? Do you mean tuition? Their prices must be rock bottom then.

  6. Jay S.

    July 20, 2017 at 7:41 am

    With alumni that have worked on projects such as Jurassic World (visual FX), “Get On Up: The James Brown story” and “42” (main role in both cases), “Avengers Age of Ultron” (Post-production) and the highly anticipated “Black Panther” Marvel movie, as well as the upcoming Martin Scorsese movie “The Irishman”, currently in production, I’m surprised not to see Digital Film Academy included here!

    A friend of mine goes there and I’m considering it too. Their tuition is MUCH lower than New York Film Academy, they have film jobs for the students and anyone who studies there an use the school equipment afterwards for life.

    Jay Smith

  7. James Mayfield

    July 19, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Nice to see some options for students not willing/can’t make the trip to high-rent neighborhoods or bustling metropolitan. Lots of people think that LA/NY are the only options for schools, but there are alternatives. Though I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks these 2 areas aren’t the industry kings in NA.

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