TheWrap's Top 50 Film Schools of 2021
USC regained the top spot in our annual ranking, while Emerson crashed the top 10 and other powerhouse schools slipped
TheWrap’s sixth annual ranking of film schools was assembled through an anonymous poll of more than 1,200 entertainment-industry insiders, educators, deans, filmmakers and film pundits, along with experts tasked with evaluating each school. (And yes, our poll has ways to ferret out and account for attempted ballot-stuffing, which does happen on occasion.)
This year, USC regained the No. 1 spot it had lost in 2020, while Emerson crashed the Top 10, Wesleyan and Stanford took double-digit jumps and a few perennial powers fell slightly. Those jumps meant that Stanford returned to the Top 20 after two years outside it, while Wesleyan joined Cal State, Northridge in making the Top 20 for the first time.
As always, it’s important to note that ranking film schools is an inherently flawed proposition. We’re comparing graduate programs with undergraduate ones and putting huge schools up against small ones. A student perusing this list may well find the perfect match in the 40s rather than the Top 10 — and with the entertainment industry in turmoil, who knows which of these schools will have the key to prepare students for the stormy times ahead?
1. University of Southern California
There are movie studios that wish they had the filmmaking resources of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and no film school can rival its impact on the industry. In fact, it’s part of Hollywood — if you can make it through SCA’s brutal Darwinian microcosm, you’ll be equipped to do battle in the larger movie world. Its First Jobs Program claims to have nabbed employment for more than 800 grads, and USC ruled this year’s Student Academy Awards with four winners, plus hogged all but two Western regional honors in the DGA Student Film Awards. In response to COVID, incoming Chair of Production Gail Katz’s team created Making Virtual Production: An SCA Faculty Demonstration, a step-by-step tutorial on producing TV and film virtually.
Innovating to make on-set production safer, SCA’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) partnered with Universal, Warner Bros., Amazon and others on The Ripple Effect, using tech throughout preproduction to minimize the amount of time and people on set. Games are increasingly overtaking film in job opportunities, and the Princeton Review has ranked SCA’s game-design program No. 1 for a decade. USC Games Expo is Earth’s biggest university-sponsored gaming and esports event, and its Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund, financed partly by Take-Two Interactive Software and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Studios, supports Black and Indigenous students interested in game design.
So what’s the downside? USC made headlines with recent scandals and several student suicides. It wasn’t SCA’s fault, but it couldn’t help but besmirch the USC brand. And SCA is notorious for being much nicer to its successful grads. But you know what? So is Hollywood.
2. AFI Conservatory
Small, elite AFI and gargantuan, elite USC perpetually duel for top honors on best-film-school lists — last year AFI came out on top here — and the fact is that the David to USC’s Goliath actually does just fine in bridging the gap between the academy and the industry. AFI grads have earned more than 140 Oscar honors, including nine nominations and two honorary Oscars since 2016, and 98 Emmy nominations with 14 wins. No other school has swept the Student Academy Awards twice. Thesis films have copped 10 Oscar noms and two shiny gold men. AFI cinematographers earned 34 Oscar nominations and seven wins. This year’s CODA scored grad Sian Heder the top audience and jury prizes at the Sundance Film Festival and $25 million from Apple TV+. Most first- and second-year students are women, and almost half are people of color. New dean Susan Ruskin, who previously put the University of North Carolina School of the Arts on the national cinematic map, called AFI “a community that feels like a family.” You’ll be seated at a long family table that includes grads David Lynch, Carl Franklin, Patty Jenkins, Ed Zwick, Darren Aronofsky, Terrence Malick, Julie Dash and Paul Schrader.
3. New York University
Sure, NYU’s film program (now Tisch School of the Arts’ Kanbar Institute of Film and Television) brought you Cannes jury president (now NYU prof) Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Joel Coen, Chris Columbus, Morgan Spurlock, Ryan Fleck (“Captain Marvel”), cinematographer Rachel Morrison (“Black Panther”), Vince Gilligan (“Breaking Bad”), Damon Lindelof (“Watchmen”) and “Pulp Fiction” editor Sally Menke. But what have they done for us lately? Jon Watts’ “Spider-Man: No Way Home” joins his tingly billion-dollar franchise. “Nomadland” made alum Chloé Zhao the first woman of color, first Chinese woman and second woman ever to win an Oscar for Best Director (plus Best Picture and Frances McDormand’s Best Actress win), plus Golden Globes for director and picture. Nia DaCosta, the first Black woman to direct a Marvel film (“Captain Marvel 2”), rebooted “Candyman.” At the Emmys, 66 Tisch alumni got 64 nominations. At Tribeca Film Festival, there were 138 NYU alumni with 58 projects.
4. Chapman University
Plenty of schools gave the pandemic lip service, but Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts recently spent $4 million upgrading classrooms and $750,000 on COVID protections, compliance supervisors and a full-time COVID officer. The better to sustain Dodge’s run of good fortune — after years getting less than its due thanks to its Orange County location, it’s blossomed (and shot up in several film-school rankings) under dean Stephen Galloway, ex-Hollywood Reporter executive editor and longtime expert in mentoring programs. Stacey Abrams, Eva Longoria, Dana Walden, Samantha Bee and Jennifer Salke talked to students, and trustee-professor Scott Feinberg ran master classes with Bong Joon Ho, Ted Sarandos, Lena Waithe, Pete Doctor and Bryan Cranston. Those classes are open to students at historically Black colleges in a program with Morehouse College. Dodge’s multimillion-dollar virtual production studio is in the works, starting with the new LED wall where students shoot in an environment worthy of “The Mandalorian.” Over the past year and a half, Dodge has hired 25 part-time professors of color and increased the number of full-time Black professors from one to four.
CalArts’ School of Film/Video, enriched by its multi-art school context, has programs in film/video production, directing and character and experimental animation. Its Hollywood rep rests on the 900-pound gorillas it unleashed on animation: Tim Burton, Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, Henry Selick, Rich Moore and Pete Docter, head of Disney’s Pixar Animation, who collected his ninth Oscar nomination and third win this year for “Soul.” Grad Tariq Tapa said CalArts taught him “to think 10 moves in advance when staging action for the camera.” It moves careers right along: Stop-motion animator Kirsten Lepore won SXSW and Slamdance prizes; landed clients from Google to Facebook; directed an Emmy-winning Cartoon Network episode of “Adventure Time”; and co-directed (with Lena Dunham) the Planned Parenthood animated short “100 Years,” featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep and Constance Wu. Grad Daron Nefcy zoomed from Cartoon Network’s “MAD” (“I got to make my own mini-films!”) to Nickelodeon to a full-time gig at Disney’s “Star.” “I think the reason so many alumni are running shows is that all animation students at CalArts have to make their own films every year,” Nefcy said. “Producing a TV show is like making a bunch of mini CalArts films. You graduate with four films and, of course, your final film is much better than the first.”
6. Emerson College
During COVID, alum Norman Lear and Bob Newhart Zoomed in to instruct Emerson’s 1,700 Visual and Media Arts students. Lear was one of five Emerson Emmy winners this year, and Erik Messerschmidt won the cinematography Oscar for “Mank,” on top of his first Emmy nomination in 2020 for Netflix’s true-crime drama “Mindhunter.” Emerson undergrads studied at the Boston home campus, at Emerson L.A.’s big, gorgeous Sunset Boulevard building, at Emerson’s medieval castle in the Netherlands and in programs at Paris College of Art (some virtually, most in-person) and Prague’s famed FAMU. While the Boston campus opens a new Emerging Media Lab and a Visual and Media Arts directing studio this term, Dean Robert Sabal said Emerson is looking beyond production: “It’s an undergrad program in a liberal arts context. We absolutely want students to have skills and networks to be employed, but also to have a broader range of habits and education that’s going to serve them for a whole lifetime.” It worked for alums Jay Leno, Richard LaGravenese, Adele Lim (who wrote “Crazy Rich Asians”) and two who made the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, music PR agent Lydia Liebman and games growth strategist Maddy Wojdak.
7. Columbia University
For a small film program, Columbia University School of the Arts looms remarkably large on the New York and national film scenes. Students make impressive films, the writing programs are extraordinary and grads report that when they walk into a Hollywood writer’s room, they fit right in and prosper. Roar-ee the Lion (Columbia’s mascot) had much to get loud about in 2021, like the Emmys collected by alums for high-profile hits (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Dick Johnson is Dead,” “Lovecraft Country”), four alum Oscar nominations, and top noms and wins by recent grads at Toronto, Cannes and Venice film fests. But Columbia dropped one slot in TheWrap’s rankings, no doubt thanks to a Wall Street Journal exposé noting that recent Columbia film alumni had the highest debt compared with earnings among graduates of any major university master’s program in the U.S. — this at the nation’s eighth-richest private college. The problem is obviously not unique to Columbia, but the Journal’s report still stung. Even so, Roar-ee will keep roaring for grads in the successful footsteps of alums Kathryn Bigelow, Jennifer Lee, Phil Johnson, James Mangold and the countless grads making history at Amazon, Disney, Hulu, Netflix, HBO, ABC, CBS, NBC and abroad.
UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television accepts just 4% of undergrad applicants and 14% of grad applicants. They’re all aiming to become iconic, like grads Francis Ford Coppola, Alexander Payne, Alex Gibney, Allison Anders, Charles Burnett and Justin Lin, whose ninth “Fast and Furious” film made $592 million. Four alums got 2021 Oscar noms, 14 took films to Sundance and 20 got Emmy noms. But UCLA’s reputation took a beating after an eight-year review by its academic senate found that TFT was plagued by feuding factions and “chronic operational and procedural problems.” And instead of hiring a new dean to replace departing longtime chief Teri Schwartz, the school named an interim dean, Brian Kite. He’s a leading light of American theater who won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Joel Hirschhorn Award — but since he’s interim, the factions obviously aren’t peacefully on the same page yet. Ominously, TFT suspended all 2021 applications for master’s programs while it does a comprehensive curriculum review. Still, UCLA remains a powerhouse, and that devastating report on TFT’s political strife also found that student-faculty advising relationships are wonderful. At UCLA, your thesis film can win Sundance glory like Patricia Vidal Delgado’s coming-of-age movie “La leyenda negra.” She called TFT “a filmmaking boot camp, 12 hours a day, six days a week,” and also a bonding experience with faculty and fellow students. “You really feel like they’re your family.”
9. Loyola Marymount University
LMU’s hot School of Film and Television hit a bump when film dean Peggy Rajski, who helped prepare the report on UCLA TFT’s strife, was herself sacked after reports of abrasive behavior. She was replaced by interim dean Bryant Keith Alexander, who remains as overall dean of LMU’s College of Communication and Fine Arts. He’s a big-deal educator with a sixth book out this year, but he’ll likely breathe easier when a new film dean arrives. In better news, LMU SFTV added the 24,000-square-foot Howard B. Fitzpatrick Pavilion, with screenwriting and AR/VR facilities and, soon, a Student Success Center to propel 700 budding film talents per year to careers as brilliant as such LMU luminaries as Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, auteur Brian Helgeland, and Imagine Television president Francie Calfo. LMU launched a new minor in Interactive, Gaming and Immersive Media, and new faculty Rosanne Korenberg, the ex-Miramax and Twentieth Century Fox exec who brought you “I, Tonya” and “Boys Don’t Cry” and launched Ryan Gosling and Elliot Page, leads the new joint program with SFTV and LMU’s business school. Also new or recent: a Film Independent story-development residency, the SFTV Emerging Talent Lab with Village Roadshow and a PA Bootcamp with Ryan Murphy’s Half Initiative and Ghetto Film School.
10. University of North Carolina School of the Arts
Judging from UNCSA’s illustrious record of success, the film world would benefit by giving women more power. UNCSA’s last two incoming film classes were majority female, and with longtime film dean Susan Raskin off to AFI, she’s succeeded by new dean Deborah LaVine, who ran CalArts’ grad directing program and developed European exchange programs. “There is a unique opportunity at UNCSA with five arts conservatories on one campus for cross-collaborative experiences that mirror the way the industry is evolving,” said LaVine, who’s co-directing a new project with CODA co-star Troy Kotsur. Eminent alums include David Gordon Green and Danny McBride, plus the hordes of UNCSA talent working in Atlanta’s film scene, including 11 alums who worked on “Jungle Cruise.” Grad Zach Seivers got a BAFTA nom as sound editor on Oscar-winning “Nomadland.” UNCSA covers the cost of senior thesis films and charges significantly lower tuition than most other premiere film schools.
11. Savannah College of Art and Design
With more than 6,000 students, 31 degree programs, 345,000 square feet of filmmaking facilities in historic Savannah and national film-production hotbed Atlanta and 63,000 annual visitors to its film festival, SCAD stands tall in the movie world. It’s led by Peabody and SAG Award-winning film and TV chair D.W. Moffett (“Traffic,” “Chicago Med,” “Bosch”) and School of Entertainment Arts dean Andra Reeve-Rabb, ex-director of casting at CBS Primetime, New York. “We do it just like the pros,” said Moffett. “We emphasize story over everything else.” More than 70 SCAD grads and students worked on Barry Jenkins’ “The Underground Railroad,” and 130 worked on 21 Oscar-nominated films in 2021. Half of the films in the Best Picture category and 100% of the films in the Best Visual Effects category had SCAD grads working on them. Thanks to its impact and its autumn film fest — a major stop on the awards circuit — SCAD attracts more A-list celeb visitors than most West Coast film schools. New faculty this year: Emmy-winning producer/director/writer James Sadwith, whose shows have nabbed 35 Emmy and Globe noms, and Alan Caso, whose “George Wallace” miniseries won ASC’s Outstanding Achievement Award.
12. Wesleyan University
Why did a liberal arts college located 2,889 miles from Hollywood jump way up the best film schools list this year? It has to be the hoopla over the new $27 million, 16,000-square-foot Jeanine Basinger Center for Film Studies. Retiring half a century after founding its celebrated College of Film and the Moving Image, Basinger is arguably America’s most beloved film teacher — along with Martin Scorsese, with whom she’s working to bring film studies to U.S. high schools. Her eponymous edifice contains a production studio, cyclorama, green screen and archives with the papers of Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Ingrid Bergman and Frank Capra. “We aren’t a film school in the traditional sense,” Center director Scott Higgins said, “yet more than 400 Wesleyan graduates have careers as writers, directors, producers, actors, editors, directors of photography, acquisitions and development executives, agents, critics and archivists.” Thank Wesleyan for Michael Bay, Joss Whedon, Akiva Goldsman, Dana Delany, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bradley Whitford and Nomadland producer Dan Janvey. Higgins added, “The philosophy is this: Don’t teach the skills of filmmaking only, don’t teach history of cinema only, don’t train students to become film professionals or academics. Teach the art of thinking cinematically.”
13. ArtCenter College of Design
“Where better to learn how to write visual narratives than at a film program inside an art and design college?” said film chair Ross LaManna, who just added screenwriting to the directing, cinematography and editing tracks. “Our teaching philosophy doesn’t just level the playing field, it tilts the field toward the talented and resourceful. Our mission is to prepare students not just to be the best narrative visual storytellers, but to be prepared to step into jobs that don’t exist yet.” Alums: Michael Bay (who did his graduate work here) and Alex Gilbert, director of 2021 Cannes Young Director Award-winning documentary “Balloon Boy.” Alum and board trustee Zack Snyder headed a fundraising drive to refurbish the Ahmanson Auditorium, turning the aging theater into a state-of-the-art cinema with 4K digital, 35mm, Dolby Atmos and HDR color grading.
14. University of Texas at Austin
The UT Moody College of Communication’s Department of Radio-Television-Film (RTF) is for serious film scholars: George Christian Centennial Professor and RTF Chair Noah Isenberg, founding director of the New School’s film program, is the author of the definitive “We’ll Always Have Casablanca” plus the terrific new “Billy Wilder on Assignment.” But RTF’s 1,160 students also participate in the nationally noted SXSW fest and impact the industry. Matthew McConaughey is an RTF professor and an alum who infused Hollywood with Texas movie moxie — sort of like Wes Anderson, Renée Zellweger, the Duplass brothers, Tommy Schlamme, Jordan Levin, Jennifer Howell, Michael Barker and “Get Out” executive producer Raymond Mansfield. Mary Steenburgen, Keith Carradine, Edie Falco and Blake Lively have come to Texas to make movies with UT students. “RTF is by far the most affordable top production program in the country,” documentary professor Paul Stekler said.
15. Stanford University
Massive fires turned the sky an eerie orange and COVID raged when Stanford’s six incoming students arrived for its renowned, ultra-elite MFA documentary program this year. “Filmmaking is quite a challenge during COVID,” said program director Jamie Meltzer. “Documentary filmmakers have been struggling with how to connect and create during a time when the very nature of what we do has to be changed and reinvented.” But Meltzer got inventive and produced a doc, and so did his MFA students like Azza Cohen, who said the virus “really forced us to be extremely creative and push our boundaries. We can deal with any other possible hurdles that Hollywood can throw at us.” Stanford film alums have won dozens of Student Academy Awards, 20 NATAS awards, eight Fulbrights, two DGA awards and exposure from PBS to HBO.
16. Florida State University
Sometimes regarded as a factory that trains students who pay remarkably low tuition to work for remarkably low salaries in Florida’s booming showbiz industry, FSU has been getting more and more prestigious lately. Four of Barry Jenkins’ fellow FSU grads earned Oscar noms for “Moonlight” along with him, and when Jenkins got two Emmy noms for “The Underground Railroad,” his FSU cinematographer pal (and Oscar-nominated cinematographer) James Laxton again also got honored. So did four other 2021 FSU Emmy nominees. The highbrow DGA has hailed FSU’s “distinguished contribution to American culture through the world of film and television.” With a 5-to-1 student/faculty ratio, FSU grads master live-action, animation or VFX, and each makes five films and works on dozens by graduation. FSU pays all student film production costs. “And after they graduate, they can return to our Torchlight Center, where they can make a feature film using our full production package and postproduction facilities for free,” head of admissions Paige Robert said. “Most film schools’ support stops at the graduation ceremony; ours is a lifelong commitment to our filmmaking family.” Alums: producer Jonathan King (“Spotlight,” “Green Book,” “Roma”), actress Kelsey Scott (“12 Years a Slave”), producer Stephen Broussard (“Iron Man 3”) and writer T.S. Nowlin (“Maze Runner”).
17. California State University, Northridge
CSUN’s Department of Cinema and Television Arts (CTVA), with programs in film, narrative and documentary TV, VR and emerging media, recently added screenwriting and an upcoming masters in Entertainment Industry Management. Chair Dianah Wynter, DGA, launched a new course in immersive sound, forging partnerships with Epic Games and top visualization company Halon Entertainment. Besides a shiny new Panavision Millennium DXL2 and RED EPIC S-35, CTVA acquired new profs: producer Christina Sibul (“Sideways,” “House of Sand and Fog,” “Thirteen”) and Patricia Carr (“The Good Doctor”). Senior Román Zaragoza was cast in the CBS comedy pilot “Ghosts,” alum Ami Cohen is Lionsgate TV VP of Physical Production, LaTanya Newt is BET VP of Original Programming and recent grad Laura Gonzales is director of operations & events at Disney Television Animation. CTVA recently joined AFI, USC, NYU and eight other schools in the Green Film School Alliance, committed to sustainable production practices.
18. Columbia College Chicago
Thelma Vickroy, the chair of Columbia College Chicago’s Department of Cinema and Television Arts Department, raised the profile of Northridge’s film program, and now she’s running a program connected to Chicago’s considerable production scene. One undergrad and one grad student film were recent semifinalists in the Student Academy Awards, and 10 alums were recognized at the 2021 NAACP Image awards, with Keith Walker and the late Diane Weyerman honored for their work on the documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble.” Alum Daniel López Muñoz worked on Pixar’s Soul. CCC’s CTVA undergrads routinely nab Internships with Ava DuVernay’s Array collective.
19. Ithaca College
Film is one of the fastest-growing majors in Ithaca’s 1,700-student Roy H. Park School of Communications. Students get to connect with folks like Disney’s Bob Iger, who, with his wife Willow Bay, just gave $1 million to fund the Iger-Bay Endowed Scholarship, aimed at historically underrepresented and underserved talents. Grads include David Boreanaz (actor/director of “Bones,” “SEAL Team”), Lauryn Kahn (writer, Netflix’s “Ibiza”), Bill D’Elia (producer, “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Boston Legal”), Liz Tigelaar (writer/executive producer, “Little Fires Everywhere”), Rand Geiger (producer, “Stranger Things”) Larry Teng (director, “Criminal Minds”), Chris Regan (writer/producer, “Family Guy,” “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”), and Callie Tresser (HBO manager, original programming strategy & planning). When Katy Perry wanted a director to make her “Roar” video roar, she chose IC’s Aya Tanimura.
20. Boston University
You’d think COVID would’ve shut down production and shrunk enrollment at BU College of Communications’ high-profile film program, but thanks to a strict university reporting/tracking/testing system, all courses were taught in person and enrollment significantly increased. BU thinks the traditional labels “Film” and “Television” are obsolete, so students in screenwriting, studies, producing/management and production are trained to work across multiple formats and mediums. The film department is collaborating with BU School of Theater in new ways, including a 2023 TV pilot at the new Booth Theater, written by screenwriting students, with actors from the School of Theater and studio production students shooting with a mobile multicam set-up in front of a live audience. Did you like the look of “The Last Kingdom,” “Doctor Who and Killing Eve”? Their cinematographer Tim Palmer, BSC, is one of four new faculty members.
21. Ringling College of Art and Design
One of the first to utilize computer technology in making art, Ringling’s Computer Animation program began in the early 1990s and literally grew up alongside industry titans Pixar and DreamWorks, and in 2020, Animation Career Review rated it America’s No. 1 school. Ringling’s Film program, which followed in 2008, aims for high standards for an undergraduate, production-based film school, with five soundstages, 15 private editing suites, a recording studio, a Foley stage, color grading suites, a professional dubbing stage and three fully equipped grip trucks — tough to find at many schools. Production designer Aaron Osborne was Ringling’s artist-in-virtual-residence this year, but usually the bigwigs come to the Sarasota campus: Werner Herzog three times, editing one of his features with students, and cinematographer-director Wally Pfister twice, holding master classes and lighting demos. Dylan McDermott and Justin Long have made series promos there, and Kevin Smith and Beau Bridges made features. In 2016, Tim Sutton’s Ringling-made “Dark Night” went to Sundance to rave reviews. Students can get professional credits before they graduate.
22. Northwestern University
NU’s Department of Radio/Television/Film didn’t slow down amid COVID restrictions, with the department’s faculty reporting “some of the best examples of student-directed work in recent memory” despite the limitations of the past year. The MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen program started a remote writers room; the MA in Sound Arts and Industries built a podcasting curriculum; and the MFA in Documentary Media did well in film festivals. NU’s full return to in-person learning this fall includes the addition of playwright/screenwriter/producer Thomas Bradshaw (“When They See Us”) as department chair. NU’s also shoring up its video game/interactive media curriculum with the addition of digital artist/game designer Derrick Fields (“Waking Oni Games”). Alum Jenny Hagel got an Emmy nom for her writing on “The Amber Ruffin Show” and “Desus & Mero” writer Ziwe Fumudoh launched her own show, “Ziwe,” on Showtime in May. Plus the school has some other alumni you might have heard of: for starters, Stephen Colbert, Zach Braff, Seth Meyers, Kathryn Hahn and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who also happens to be the mother of Charlie Hall, who has a hit web series, “Sorry, Charlie”).
23. Rhode Island School of Design
Your classmates at RISD art school are mostly not in film — and if they are, they’re apt to also work as a painter/photographer, like alum Gus Van Sant. RISD’s mix of future influencers influencing each other can be fruitful, as when pre-fame Van Sant encouraged his classmate David Byrne, or Ryan Cunningham befriended alum Geoff Adams of WGBH, who helped her land a gig at The Electric Company. Cunningham, who later added producing Emmy noms for Amy Schumer, Louis C.K. and Amy Sedaris specials, chalks it up to RISD’s teaching her about the whole shebang: costumes, set design, props, cinematography, visual effects, graphic design, title design and photography. “It took 10 years of hard work to get my foot in the door,” she said. “No one is going to walk up and offer you a million dollars to direct a film right after graduation.” But she hires a RISD intern every summer.
24. Syracuse University
Syracuse actually boasts two film programs: BFA and MFA degrees in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and BS and MA degrees in television, radio and film through the illustrious S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. The BFA/MFA programs focus on independent filmmaking and offer hands-on education in the production process from development to post-production. (That includes scriptwriting, budgeting, pre-production, storyboarding, cinematography, directing, sound design and post-production, including 2D and 3D animation.) The BS/MA programs let students customize their own degrees in screenwriting, scripted series, documentary, sports, music or media innovation. Syracuse has a great drama department, too, which gave us Frank Langella, Ted Koppel, Aaron Sorkin, Ben Stiller and Taye Diggs. Recent film students got into Amsterdam’s IDFA and the Slamdance, Palm Springs, Outfest, Toronto, Garden State and New York festivals.
25. University of Arizona
Is the University of Arizona School of Theatre, Film & Television Hollywood’s best-kept secret? Despite COVID, enrollment jumped 42% this year, and student films set a record for film festival invitations. “The Lights Are On, No One’s Home” by Faye Ruiz got national distribution through Dedza Films/Kino Lorber. Alum Scott Silver became Searchlight’s VP of visual effects. Producer Christina Oh got an Oscar nom for “Minari.” Director Paul Pennolino got an Emmy nom for “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.” Sierra Teller Ornelas premiered “Rutherford Falls.” UA profs Lisa Molomot and Jacob Bricca earned the Les Blank Award for Best Doc Feature at Ashland. And the Netflix feature division run by Scott Stuber scored the most Oscar nominations of the season.
26. University of Miami
Miami’s Department of Cinematic Arts students win multiple Sundance honors, and two sold their thesis films to HBO. Grads are making inroads in the industry: Kyle Patrick Alvarez directed Disney+’s Crater, while Billy Corben was the producer/director of Netflix’s “Cocaine Cowboys.” Others include Netflix’s Julian Malagon and Apple’s Adam Green. Students have an L.A. semester program, partnerships with Sundance and Prague film institutes and, starting in 2022, an MFA documentary program. UM profs published landmark books: Terri Francis’ “Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism” and Christina Lane’s “Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock,” winner of the 2021 Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical Work.
27. The Los Angeles Film School
It doesn’t get much more Hollywood than a film school located on Sunset Boulevard. Opened in 1999 in the historic RCA Building across the street from the Cinerama Dome, LAFS offers degrees in animation, audio, entertainment business, film, graphic design, media communications, music production and writing for film & TV, and includes the L.A. Recording School as a division. The school has updated its main production stage and recording studio. Recent visiting heavy-hitters have included Oscar-nominated screenwriters Rian Johnson, Krysty Wilson-Carins and Taika Waititi and songwriters Cynthia Erivo, Bernie Taupin, Diane Warren, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.
28. Pratt Institute
Located in facilities in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Pratt nurtures students as “total filmmakers” who create, write, direct and edit. In 2021, Pratt named video artist Kara Hearn as chair of its noted Film/Video Department to oversee its 190 students and 30 faculty and also launched a new mentorship program, Pratt>FORWARD. Recent Pratt grads’ work have been featured at the Cannes, Toronto and Tribeca festivals, and alumni have gone on to work at media outlets including MTV, USA Networks and Entertainment Weekly.
29. San Francisco State University
Located in the heart of San Francisco, the School of Cinema touts its founding “amid the political activism and artistic experimentation of the ’60s.” Distinguished SFSU alumni include Oscar winners (screenwriter Steve Zaillian, sound editor Ethan Van der Ryn) and plenty of working industry pros, with actor Delroy Lindo named 2021’s Alumnus of the Year.
Founded in 2011, the Rutgers Filmmaking Center in the Mason Gross School of the Arts is a relative baby of a program in one of the nation’s oldest colleges. Rutgers’ BFA program features a Documentary Film Lab run by Oscar-winner Thomas Lennon, intensive production classes and advanced technical workshops. Its conservatory-style model makes for a low student-teacher ratio of about 12-to-1. Graduates have gone on to top-tier grad programs including AFI, Columbia and Oxford University. Recent visiting filmmakers have included Robert Eggers (“The Lighthouse,” “The Witch”).
31. School of Visual Arts
Founded in 1947 and located in film and TV industry hub Manhattan, SVA boasts that its students are often working before they graduate. As an undergrad in its immersive program, SVA promises, “You can create a body of work that rivals most graduate schools.” Distinguished alumni include SNL’s Fred Armisen, composer Michael Giacchino, actor Jared Leto and directors Ti West and Bryan Singer.
32. University of California, Santa Barbara
UCSB’s Department of Film and Media Studies undergrad program has been a model for many programs in North America, and its faculty includes Filmmaker Allison Anders and “RoboCop” screenwriter Michael Miner. It’s closely associated with the Carsey-Wolf Center, a theater and support structure for faculty, whose recent events have included a “Deadwood: The Movie” screening with Calamity Jane herself, Robin Weigert, and “Law & Order” mogul Dick Wolf talking about writing. Notable grads include filmmaker Gregg Araki and singer-songwriter Jack Johnson.
33. Hofstra University
Lawrence Herbert School’s Department of Radio, Television, Film lists its Top 10 reasons to study film there: 1. Learn the craft. 2. Get a real education. 3. Study the greats. 4. Learn to work like the pros. 5. The best back lot in the world (New York City). 6. Great faculty. 7. The heart of independent film. 8. Internships. 9. Get the best of both worlds (campus living and the attractions of NYC). 10. Do your own thing — i.e., drama, comedy, horror, action, experimental, documentary. The private university in Hempstead, New York, has cranked out alumni that include Marvel producer Avi Arad, director Francis Ford Coppola and actor James Caan.
34. University of California, Berkeley
U.S. News & World Report ranked Berkeley second among all public universities for 2019-2020, and the Bay Area institution has already given us Film Quarterly, critic Pauline Kael, Bill Bixby and costume designer Edith Head, to name a scant few. It’s also home to the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, which puts on more than 20 gallery exhibitions and 450 film programs annually. Recent distinguished alums of the Department of Film & Media (established in 2010) include “Watchmen” and “Aquaman” actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and “Star Trek” actors Chris Pine and John Cho.
35. Stony Brook University
Entering its sixth year, Manhattan-based Stony Brook’s MFAs in Film and TV Writing reports a continuing increase in applications and their quality. Their MFA in TV writers swept the TV Academy Writing Fellowships, and their Dogme collective won a lucrative SUNY PACC Prize. The school has launched one-on-one mentoring internships with industry showrunners including Bash Doren (“Traitors,” “Looming Tower”) and Jason Kim (“Barry,” “Girls”). Big-name guest speakers include director Todd Haynes and indie-label NEON founder Tom Quinn. Stony Brook’s artistic director Christine Vachon’s productions of Haynes’ “Velvet Underground” doc and the Ewan McGregor “Halston” miniseries were test cases in her master class in Independent Film Production.
36. DePaul University
The Chicago-based private Catholic research university’s School of Cinematic Arts has rolled out new initiatives aiming to grow as a premiere film/TV/animation program, including a Creative Producing MFA program in Los Angeles. DePaul’s 32,000-square-foot production facility at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios is home to “The Chi,” “Southside” and Dick Wolf’s “Chicago” shows. Alexis Auditore, a member of SCA’s first graduating class, directs physical production at Marvel Studios Streaming; alum Daniel Willis grew up on the South Side and now directs for “Grey’s Anatomy.” CNN recently featured alum Roberto Larios as an up-and-coming TV agent.
37. New York Film Academy
Founded by producer Jerry Sherlock (“The Hunt for Red October”) in 1992 as an affordable school where students learn by doing, the for-profit film and acting school based in New York City, Los Angeles and Miami also has campuses in Paris, Shanghai, Beijing, Moscow, Florence and Gold Coast, Australia. Notable alumni include actor Paul Dano, “The Walking Dead”’s Alanna Masterson and actor/writer/producer Issa Rae — who told Filmmaker Magazine the experience on the L.A. campus was her first time “around people who lived and breathed moviemaking. It really motivated me to be DIY about my material — it showed me that all I really needed was a camera.”
38. School of the Art Institute of Chicago
SAIC’s Film, Video, New Media and Animation department (FVNMA) is alive and well after taking a hit from COVID-19, and still “endorses and encourages experimentation with radical form and content.” Likewise, SAIC’s Gene Siskel Film Center (named after the late critic) is a going concern after being shuttered for 17-month pandemic hiatus. The Film Center replaced its retiring longtime programming head Barbara Scharres with Rebecca Fons and reopened in August. “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho recently named alum Jennifer Reeder as one of 20 filmmakers who will shape cinema over the next decade.
39. University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania’s Cinema & Media Studies is the country’s oldest film program, with roots all the way back to pre-film pioneer Eadweard Muybridge in the 1880s. UPenn offers a full curriculum in production, animation, screenwriting, virtual reality, game design and history and theory. The program sends students to Cannes annually, offers summer internships and has an annual screenwriting contest whose winners get to pitch their scripts. Notable alumni include directors Jon Avnet and Morgan Neville, former studio heads Stacey Snider and Rich Ross, actors Bruce Dern, Elizabeth Banks and Candice Bergen, producers Dick Wolf, Marc Platt and Fred Berger and “The Simpsons” writer Matt Selman.
40. American University
The Washington, D.C.-based private research university’s School of Communication Film and Media Arts division sits on 90 acres of land in the pricey Spring Valley neighborhood. AU emphasizes “social purpose filmmaking” at nonprofits, NGOs and such government agencies as the World Wildlife Fund, Smithsonian Institution and National Park Service. The program sets up its bachelor’s and master’s students with internships at bigtime media outfits, including USA Today, National Geographic Television and PBS. Distinguished alum include filmmakers Barry Levinson and Nancy Meyers, as well as Judge Judy — who may not be a filmmaker but is most certainly in the entertainment business.
41. University of Michigan
UM’s Department of Film, Television and Media in its college of Literature, Science and the Arts contrasts itself with traditional film or art schools by integrating critical studies and creative production in film, TV and new media. It boasts a state-of-the-art production studio on its Ann Arbor campus. Along with undergrad and doctoral degrees, FTVM offers a sub-major in screenwriting and a minor in Global Media Studies. Some grads doing real-world work: Director Davy Rothbart has released a feature doc “17 Blocks”; Justin Powell sold supernatural thriller “The Djinn” to IFC Midnight and signed with ICM; Daniel Pipski co-wrote the upcoming George Clooney/Julia Roberts movie, “Ticket to Paradise”; and Kevin Tocco is wrangling audiences in the Ed Sullivan Theater for “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”
42. Full Sail University
The private, for-profit institution in Winter Park, Florida, balances the creative aspects of world-building and storytelling with practical aspects of running a production. A relatively young university that was founded in 1979 and moved to Florida in 1980, Full Sail had 30 grads credited on 11 winners and 85 grads on 21 nominees at the 2021 Oscars. Gary Rizzo (’09) won sound mixing Oscars for Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” and “Dunkirk.”
43. University of Colorado, Boulder
The Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts recently shared a $187,585 grant to create advanced “experiential” classes focused on media archiving and preservation for cinema-studies undergrads, one of the only programs of its kind in the country, let alone at a public university. That includes analog tapes, which are more endangered than film, according to assistant prof Sabrina Negri. CU also features the Stan Brakhage Center, named after the late, prolific filmmaker, who was also a film studies prof there. Director Alex Cox is a retired professor. We can also thank CU for “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
44. Colorado Film School
Denver’s Colorado Film School has grown from a single program at Red Rocks Community College to a school that offers Associate of Applied Sciences degrees in acting/directing, writing/directing, writing/producing, screenwriting, cinematography and postproduction. It’s notable for its low tuition costs: a two-year certificate is $9,500 for residents and $31,500 for non-residents; three-year associate degrees are $14,700 for residents and $49,000 for non. CFS director Brian Steward worked as assistant director with Steven Spielberg, David Lynch and Robert Rodriguez.
45. Biola University
At the border of L.A. and Orange counties in La Mirada, Biola’s School of Cinema and Media Arts offers a B.A. that trains students in film production, screenwriting and media management “to tell stories that matter,” spokesperson Jenna Loumagne said. Founding Dean Tom Halleen walked from his executive VP job at AMC Networks — where he helped launch “The Walking Dead,” “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” — to join the private evangelical Christian university. In the past few years, Biola’s joint has grown from a stand-alone major to a multi-program school, with plans for a new $76 million building underway. Grads include “Doctor Strange” director Scott Derrickson, Scientific and Technical Achievement Oscar winner Brian Hall and social media star Zach King.
46. Arizona State University
In January, ASU named its film school after actor Sidney Poitier: The Sidney Poitier New American Film School. It’ll move from Tempe to a new state-of-the-art facility in downtown Mesa in the fall of 2022, also expanding to a new downtown L.A. facility in the renovated Herald Examiner building. (See facing page.) ASU’s all about diversity and boasts that more than 40% of its undergrad film majors are from under-represented backgrounds.
47. Pepperdine University
Located in celebrity-packed Malibu, the private Christian university offers a film major and minor but doesn’t consider itself a film school. Still, Pepperdine’s film program was singled out for its diversity even while other departments in its Humanities and Teacher Education Division were undergoing overhauls for their lack thereof. Pepperdine co-sponsors the City of Angels Film Festival and has hosted such big-name guests as Dick Van Dyke, Garry Marshall, Lester Holt and Morgan Freeman.
48. Mount St. Mary’s
Small class size and access to a production studio in the heart of Hollywood are two selling points of the private Catholic liberal arts university. Another element sets MSM apart, Film, Media & Communication chair Charles Bunce explained: “Our students own all rights to any work produced while a student, even if it was created 100% with school resources.” The program also has a new professional studio facility overlooking the TCL Chinese Theatre on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Students are immersed in a writers room environment, create episodic content, then film it on historic locations and studio backlots. Programs include undergrad degrees in film, journalism and professional photography; a BS in Film, Media and Social Justice with an emphasis on advocacy-based content; an MFA in Film, Television and Photography; a new MFA in Producing for Film & Television; and an MFA/MBA combined degree in Producing and Entertainment Management.
49. University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
The Peck School’s Department of Film, Video, Animation and New Genres offers undergrad degrees in film and animation and an MFA in cinematic arts. The program has partnerships with the Milwaukee Film Festival, Wisconsin Film Festival, Milwaukee Art Museum and UWM Union Cinema — one of 23 theaters nationally recognized as a local community-based independent theater by the Sundance Film Institute Art House Project for its high cinematic standards. Notable grads include Willem Dafoe, “American Movie” director Chris Smith and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner Trixie Mattel.
50. Johns Hopkins University/MICA
The prestigious old private research university and the Maryland Institute College of Art run four academic film programs noted for small, hands-on courses that combine theory and practice. The JHU/MICA Film Center in Baltimore’s renovated Centre Theatre Building houses faculty offices, a screening room, a recording studio co-designed by JHU prof Thomas “She Blinded Me With Science” Dolby, a 2,000-square-foot cyclorama green room soundstage and lots more. Alumni include screenwriter Zach Baylin, whose “King Richard” starring Will Smith, opens in November.
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