Having gone to film school three times and being a member of a family where education was held in the highest esteem, I am obviously a fan of being educated in film. However, I do emphasize being “polite”. School is not the only way to educate yourself and, in certain situations, there is no official school to learn critical information. However, school is a time-tested successful method of laying a formidable foundation.
The big five
The big five film schools are the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Southern California (USC) and the American Film Institute (AFI) on the west coast of Los Angeles, and New York University ( NYU) and Columbia. East Coast University of New York.
UCLA is best known for its writers who dominate summer movie scriptwriting credits, USC is best known for its powerful directors, AFI often has amazing cinematographers, NYU is renowned for its East Coast filmmaking style and Columbia is a great school with exceptional film theory for all programs. Any school you go to in the Big 5 will be an amazing experience for each program. You will also have renowned professionals and directors of large companies teaching courses or speaking as guests due to the school’s notoriety. You can not lose.
The downside to USC is that they run it like a studio. Only 5 people can direct a thesis project if you are a graduate student in directing. Each student of directing becomes one of those 5 and then 20 or 30 people in the end do not get a thesis project, but help the team of the 5 people who managed to make the film. The advantage of USC, again, is that they run it like a studio. USC is often unparalleled in its networking ability and aggressively markets its students in industry.
UCLA is best known for its screenwriters. USC might be able to beat UCLA on networking, but its writers can’t beat UCLA writers. An average UCLA graduate scriptwriting student will walk away with 8 full-length scripts. UCLA screenwriters write a feature film script in a 10-week term, which is a lot like an 8-week writing assignment in real life. USC screenwriters will write 1 feature film script over a period of 1 year. You do the math.
The Peter Stark Production Program at USC is great for producing movie executives, but the UCLA Production Program is great for teaching producers everything there is to know to get out there and get started.
Similar to USC’s “only 5 will lead a thesis project”, AFI is even tougher. Not only are there a limited number of thesis projects, but not all filmmakers are always invited to return to school for a second year. It’s harder to get into any of these film schools than it is to get into Harvard Law School, simply because Harvard accepts a higher percentage of their applicants than the big film schools, so to me AFI and USC really weren’t worth it. Pity being eliminated or rejected after you already had to beat the odds of winning the lottery to even be accepted. Having to win the lottery a second time was undesirable.
Other film schools
Another school worth mentioning is Florida State University, which accepts an equal number of writers, directors, cinematographers, and editors so they can team up for dissertation projects. This seems to make the most of it ever since. Temple University in Philadelphia is excellent and a must-see for experimental filmmakers.
But overall, any movie show is a great movie show as long as you are learning.