Outstanding Screenwriting Training: AFI Conservatory (Los Angeles, CA)
“The AFI Conservatory is a small school, but a big studio” says Anna Thomas, Screenwriting Discipline Head, about the acclaimed six-discipline MFA program that began in 1969 and today can’t be beaten for overall value. “There are about 115 films produced here every year, shorts of 10 minutes to half an hour. In addition to the work for their portfolios, writers are involved in three to four of these productions,” she notes. Collaboration is intense, but with a screenwriting faculty of only 19, intake is relatively small—28 screenwriters are admitted each year, max. Those fellows are expected to create three original features, two TV specs, and a pilot (Thomas notes that AFI’s TV faculty expanded last year and more additions are expected in the coming year.) At the end of two years, the fellows attend a summer program called Transition to the Industry, where they can pitch their work to a variety of industry professionals. As for inclusivity, the class of 2018 is 54 percent women.
Outstanding Animation Training: California Institute of the Arts (Valencia, CA)
Alumni directors of CalArts are a who’s who of animation—recipients of 11 Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature since 2001, and responsible for $40 billion in box office revenue. (You might say that’s expected for a school founded by Walt Disney.) Only around seven-eight percent of Character Animation applicants are admitted per year, while total enrollment in the Character Animation Program for 2017-18 was 172. A four-year curriculum in that program begins with color/design, storytelling, and character animation (CG and traditional), and by year three, students are immersed in advanced coursework in areas ranging from computer animation to graphic novel creation. Students in the Character Animation Program make one individual film per year—“unusual among animation programs,” according to Maija Burnett, director of the Character Animation Program. “Students become proficient at filmmaking and develop into independent animation creators,” she adds. “They gain knowledge of various parts of the filmmaking process, allowing them to pursue a number of career paths.” To assist them, the school arranges weekly visiting artist talks, as well as a Portfolio Day in which recruiters come to view student work. As of 2018, the highest level of the Character Animation Program, BFA4, is 71 percent female.
Outstanding Screenwriting Training: University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
Top-Notch Equipment and Facilities: Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA)
Top-Notch Equipment and Facilities: Chapman University (Orange, CA)
Being located an hour from L.A. is just one practical leg-up that CU offers potential students; there’re also its world-beating facilities, which include a 76,000-square-foot space intended to replicate a working production studio. Students can enjoy a TV and broadcast journalism stage and control room, 36 editing suites, four mixing studios, a set design shop, a production design studio, a prop warehouse, a foley stage, and a hair and makeup studio. And did we mention the 2D ani-mation lab and 65-blade render farm a high-performance computer system equipped with 65 servers that provide cooling, networking, and interconnectivity to render CGI for film and television VFX—powered by Quanta and IBM Xeon-based computers? If for some reason a student should want to leave a space where everything imaginable is provided, there’re also exchange programs with China, India, and other locales. On the inclusivity front, the university holds an annual Women in Focus Conference, with an invited panel of the industry’s brightest.
Accelerated Industry Access: ArtCenter College of Design (Pasadena, CA)
Alumni of the ArtCenter include Hollywood gunslingers Zack Snyder and Michael Bay, so it’s certainly the most, ahem, explosive college on our list. Known for nurturing future studio craftsmen and craftswomen in its five-term MFA program, the school also offers undergrad classes like “Acting Workshop for Directors” and “Phoning It In,” which teaches helmers-in-training how to trade celluloid for cell phones as moviemaking tools. The ArtCenter is the kind of imagination-testing environment that offers a (non-film) degree in Transportation Design, for students aspiring to design the cars and planes of the future. It’s also a school where you’ll find New York Times critic Manohla Dargis, who taught a course called “Thinking Critically About Film” in spring 2018, working as an adjunct professor in the grad department.
Outstanding Theory and Criticism Training: San Francisco State University (San Francisco, CA)
Boasting a large undergrad class and a highly selective M.F.A.—only 15 MFA students were admitted as of last year— SFSU prides itself on offering a hybrid educational experience, with critical and cultural scholarship merging with practical, hands-on experience. The MFA explicitly offers a preparatory path to teaching film theory at the college or university level, while offering students the chance to focus in one (or more) of three areas: documentary, experimental, and/or fiction. Those looking for lab time in a bustling field like animation will also find a spate of coursework and tools, including a 2D animation lab, five stop-motion animation rooms (with armatures and puppets on hand), and a 3D animation-optimized digital cinema lab.
Outstanding Animation Training: California State University Northridge (Northridge, CA)
Outstanding Screenwriting Training: Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA)
Pepperdine, located in the movie star playground of Malibu, offers a two-year MFA in Writing for Screen and Television that pairs students with nearby industry professionals in intimate workshop settings, and offers a thesis project with either a screenwriting or teleplay emphasis. Past visiting screenwriting instructors have included Oscar nominee for Best Original Screenplay Randall Wallace, and former Pepperdine adjunct professor and writer-director Tom Shadyac. The M.F.A. program’s lofty stated goal is to train the next generation’s “cultural leaders in the entertainment industry.”