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Choosing a Graduate Film School

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/24/2010

Film school can be a dream come true for many home digital video producers, but it can be an expensive and risky process. Learn how to pick the right school for your goals and learning styles.

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    Live the Dream

    How would you like to forget your day job and just make movies for a living? This is many people’s dream, yet the reality is that it is hard to make a career in the film industry. There are a number of hurdles that must be jumped, networking that must be done, and dues that must be paid before you can achieve success. Nothing is a sure bet when it comes to a career in the arts, but a great school program can be a doorway to ensure your skill and employability.

    Film school has become the bastion of wealthy and idealistic youngsters, yet its results are favorable within the industry. Though expensive and often time consuming, the correct educational institution can provide you with the right background to make your dream job a reality. Similar to any field of filmmaking, before you make a decision on what school you would like to go to you need to know what you want and what your expectations are, especially if you are looking to be a director.

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    MFA

    The best film programs are going to be Master’s of Fine Arts programs. This means that you have to have completed an undergraduate degree before applying. There are a number of undergraduate film degrees at very reputable institutions, but a film degree is not always a legitimate undergraduate choice. Your Bachelor’s degree should encompass a wide range of fields and should never be as narrowed and focused as a film degree. Since film school is mostly project based you will not get the kind of education through that kind of undergraduate work as you would with a more general degree, such as English or Journalism.

    Though you should have a background in film before applying to a graduate film program, make sure that your degree only has an aspect of film/video production and that it is not dominated by it. This will make it easier to get into a film MFA program because they are not looking just for video work, but a whole range of creative and constructive items for your portfolio. Remember, film undergraduate programs tend to be very weak and are comparable to the outdated pre-medical or pre-law degrees. It is next to impossible to break into the industry as a producer or other type of executive position with just a film undergraduate, so hold out and go for the MFA program.

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    The Big Boys

    Once you are at this point you have a number of things to consider when looking at schools. There are a limited number of film schools in the United States, and looking at the top ten most notable of them is your best bet. A great school means a lot both for your education and on your resume, and you will see that the majority of filmmakers that went to film school went to one of the top ten.

    This means that if you are looking more towards California you should consider the University of Southern California, The American Film Institute, University of California Los Angeles, and the California Institute of the Arts. If would rather head east then that leaves mainly New York University and Columbia University. All of these schools are the best of the best and their standards of admission are very high, so it is important to take a little time after undergraduate graduation and fine tune you resume and portfolio. Try doing a little work in a related industry for a short time and make sure you have a production-based internship under your belt.

    Though these schools tend to be the first thoughts in film schools there are a few others that are still top of the line and will be great platforms for jumping into the industry. Loyola Marymount is also one of the top film programs, and is well known for having a parallel focus on screenwriting. The Rochester Institute of Technology's School of Film and Animation is incredibly notable, has great professional success for graduates, a high focus on technical skills, and good resources. Chapman University may have the best film facilities of any film school in the country. Florida State, University of Texas at Austin, and the Broadcast Cinema program at the Art Center College of Design are also worth checking out.