Welcome to MovieMaker’s annual list of the Best Film Schools in the U.S. and Canada, at what is obviously a very strange time for all schools.
Movies and films have become, more than ever, a vital source of distraction and inspiration for millions of people across the globe. If it wasn’t clear before so many of us were isolated at home, our desire for new stories will never subside. Women and men skilled enough to imagine and execute stories that enthrall us are in tremendous demand — especially from those who shine light on unseen experiences in a world fighting for gender parity and racial equity. For many, film school is the best way to channel artistry into a career.
Although many colleges and universities plan to return to in-person classes — following safety regulations — it’s unclear how much hands-on teaching will take place in the near-term. Filmmaking relies on real-world engagement with collaborators and tools. But in the reality we face today, innovation will be crucial.
We’ve tried to balance these concerns in this year’s list of the Best Film Schools in the U.S. and Canada. We’ve looked at the best traditional directing, screenwriting, and cinematography programs, as well as lesser-known tracks focused on craftsmanship, curation, and emerging media, to help aspiring moviemakers be ready for anything — and to keep creating no matter what comes next.
U.S. West and Northwest
AFI Conservatory (Los Angeles, CA) – Outstanding cinematography training
Cinema is the ultimate visual medium, so image crafters are integral to its effectiveness. That’s precisely why the AFI Conservatory, a virtually peerless breeding ground for elite artisans, offers an MFA in cinematography that challenges fellows to transcend boundaries in visual storytelling. As part of this demanding program, cinematography fellows get to work on about 28 films per year and produce their own 35mm cinematic essays. AFI provides incredible access to equipment, as well as advanced lighting workshops and practical seminars presented by some of the world’s most acclaimed and experienced directors of photography. Since the conservatory’s inception in 1969, 34 alumni have earned Academy Award nominations for cinematography.
Chapman University (Orange, CA) – Outstanding Production Design Training
University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA) – Outstanding Directing Training
A 90-year-old legacy backs USC School of Cinematic Arts, a leading force in preparing young creators to enter the entertainment industry, grow within it, and triumph. Its comprehensive MFA, with a specialization in directing, takes into account the need for graduates to be adept in the tools of the trade, while stressing the significance of conveying compelling stories with wide appeal. Located in the heart of Los Angeles and operating with an industry-minded worldview and enviable facilities, USC remains a gold standard for a film education for those with their sights on Hollywood. “Since 1973, not a year has passed without an alumnus or alumna being nominated for an Academy Award,” says Kristin Borella, associate dean of Communications and Public Relations.
ArtCenter Pasadena (Pasadena, CA) – Outstanding Editing Training
Stanford University (Stanford, CA) – Outstanding Documentary Training
Excellence and Stanford go hand in hand, and the revered institution’s MFA in Documentary Production is no exception. Each year, only eight graduate students are admitted to become erudite in the art and craft of non-fiction storytelling. The program’s philosophy is grounded in independence of vision, artistic expression with social awareness, and transformative aesthetic and conceptual expertise. As they internalize how to capture subjective truth through their personal lens, students dabble in diverse media from black-and-white 16mm film to digital video. Conversant in the documentary tradition and alternative narrative forms, graduates are prepared and qualified to teach at the university level.
Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles, CA) – Outstanding Production Training
San Francisco State University (San Francisco, CA) – Outstanding Experimental Filmmaking Training
Undergrads pursuing a filmmaking degree at SF State are able to choose one of three pathways to customize their education. Fiction and Documentary are two of the ones they can follow, but it’s the Experimental Filmmaking road that presents the most room for unconventional points of view to flourish. Like their fellow students in the other tracks, those in the experimental crowd develop original short films. But they also mold their take on cinema by learning about contemporary art and historical avant-gardes.
The refreshing curriculum covers Experiments in Cinematic Form, Experimental Animation, and Exploration in Interactive Cinema.
California Institute of the Arts (Valencia, CA) – Outstanding animation training
University of Colorado Boulder (Boulder, CO) – Outstanding editing training
Graduate students in the MFA in Film program have access to a pristine computer editing/post-production facility, as is the case at most higher learning institutions. But UCB also stands apart for its analog components, like a fully functioning Steenbeck lab, projectors and sundries, in-house digital-to-film and film-to-digital transfer stations, optical printers, and a chemical dark-room that serve a multitude of techniques and processes.
University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA) – Outstanding screenwriting training
CalState Northridge (Northridge, CA) – Outstanding merging media training
CSUN has one of the most far-reaching academic programs of any public university on the West Coast, with undergraduate degrees in Film Production, Entertainment Media Management, and Screenwriting and Television Production (for both Narrative and Documentary). Still, its most cutting-edge track is the B.A. in Emerging Media, which deals with interactive and immersive storytelling to meet the needs of the new entertainment formats (virtual, augmented and mixed realities) that are changing how we appreciate and relate to audiovisual works. Courses include 360-video production (cinematic VR), Augmented Reality, video projection, and model-based VR developed for Oculus headsets.
Continue for the U.S. Northeast selections of our Best Film Schools in the U.S. & Canada, 2020