written by: Shane Burley•edited by: SForsyth•updated: 5/20/2011
Here are the best film schools in LA, what they are great for, and the details about them so you can pick the one for you.
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The Best Film Schools
For most people the concept of film school means a graduate program. Traditionally technical art degrees like film programs are best when built upon a well rounded undergraduate education. A graduate film program will usually gear you towards developing your own projects, maybe even give you the portfolio elements to have break out success if not simply job security in the film industry. Los Angeles remains the hub for the film industry and this is not likely to change anytime soon. It is no wonder that it is also one of the best locations for film schools in the country. Here are some of the best choices available to you if you want to get your Master’s of Fine Arts in live action film production in the Los Angeles area.
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University of Southern California
University of Southern California’s School of Cinema is still the top of the line. Along with NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, USC is the top rated film school in the country and its MFA program is legendary. USC has the alumni list to guarantee constant investment in facilities and celebrity involvement, not to mention a pedigree on your degree. USC is fairly standard in terms of private school tuition costs, but it is one of the most difficult to get in to in the country. The admissions process does not receive film work so you are going to have to have serious professional equipment, writing samples, photo story abilities, and a portfolio list to count on.
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UCLA is right behind USC and maintains itself in the top three while having dramatically less tuition costs. The UCLA program is also very customizable in that you can choose the type of directorial projects you want to have as well as being very skill focused. If you are from California your tuition costs will be even lower than that, so this should be very high on your list.
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American Film Institute
The American Film Institute is a notorious program for directors. This film school is position specific in that you select a discipline from Producer, Director, Cinematographer, Production Designer, Screenwriter, and Editor, and then you stick with it. As a directing student you will have a focused education, but may miss out on some of the technical skills that a better-rounded program will give you. What you will get is such a focused film school experience that will almost ensure your ability to engage professionally as a director. This is also going to be narrative focused rather than documentary, but your thesis is very self directed and important to the program. The AFI is known for having great thesis screenings and utilizing Screen Actor’s Guild actors in those films. There is a great “bridge to the profession" in that they have lots of industry contacts and a huge alumni list. You will be much more focused on “breaking out" as a filmmaker, which is why the student’s actual films are of a main focus. The AFI is a conservatory program, which is a European model often known for music education. This means that it does not run like your normal university and instead immerses you at all levels. The American Film Institute is expensive and does not offer much in the way of scholarships, so make sure you have the money to spend. On the other hand the program does only run two and a half years instead of the regular three to four, so that has its benefits. The AFI is for the dreamers in the crowd.
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Loyola Marymount University
Loyola Marymount University it a wonderful Jesuit university housed right near the coastline. It’s School of Film and Television is a wonderfully notable program, and the alumni list is only growing. You will have extensive control over your education and will not that it is well rounded in its mix of creative focused work and technical skills, which is comparable to UCLA. It has nice facilities on site and is even one of the first schools using iTunes U to student films. Loyola Marymount University’s screenwriting program is top of the line, and many of their screenwriters are notable alumni. This means that if you want to have a dual focus on directing and screenwriting in your film school experience then this is a great choice for you. Their School of Film and Television also houses a nice production office for students in pre-production and physical production, which is not something that most can brag about. Because Loyola Marymount University is still gaining notoriety with the public (but already has it with the industry) you will find that you will have less strenuous application demands and a better chance at scholarships.
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Chapman University is hands down the best in terms of facilities. While many schools may have five to ten high end editing suites, Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts has fifty. They have huge studio facilities, state of the art post-production facilities, and just about every bit of equipment you will need. They are even working on on-site backlots for New York and Paris streets. There are a number of other programs in the school besides the conservatory focused Master’s of Fine Arts program, which may work toward your favor when trying to build a portfolio and set of film production skills. They do not support much documentary work and it has been stated that their screenwriting departments could use a little more work, but there is so much here that it may make up for it. Chapman University is also located in Orange so you will be a little outside the city. That can also be a good thing.
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Art Center college of Design
One of the most unique, and less known, Master’s of Fine Arts film schools in Los Angeles is Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design. This school, which is one of the top art and design schools in the country, has an MFA program they call Broadcast Cinema. This is a specially designed program that uses the quality of traditional cinema on a diverse set of platforms. This means you can be there developing projects for theatrical release, cable, DVD, Internet, and new media. They have fewer facilities than other film schools, but have professional connections to get you pretty much everything you need. The program is based around a “break out" model where you develop your own creative persona so you can communicate with professionals as to your goals and perspectives. You may have never heard of the ACCD, but it did graduate filmmakers like Tarseem, Michael Bay, Zach Snyder, and Roger Avery. This is also the only of these schools that accepts rolling admissions so you can go when your schedule allows. It also has a very high acceptance rate, which is nice when it comes right down to it. This is a school to watch.