Top 10 Film Schools in Los Angeles

To Go To Film School or Not?

Published on in Miscellaneous

A version of this post appears on Giggster.com

There is little denying that Los Angeles is the center of the film universe. In addition to being the home of major studios, countless A-List superstars, and an endless horde of entertainment executives, it’s also the best place in the world to study film in school. From major research institutions like UCLA and USC to film-specific conservatories such as the American Film Institute, there is an incredibly wide range of options for those interested in breaking into Hollywood. With so many great programs available, we thought we’d share our feedback on how the best schools in Los Angeles stack up.

Ranking Criteria for Best Film Schools in LA

Like any school ranking, this one is highly subjective. Despite our best efforts to create an impartial scoring system based on real numbers, we’ve already made peace with the fact that our list is going to stir up debate around the methodology and our inherent biases.

Here is a quick summary of what we looked at tuition rates (undergraduate, graduate and average), community of notable alumni, acceptance rate, graduation rate, website quality (program information and prospective student resources) and online reviews from Facebook and online college ranking site Niche.com (factoring in both quantity and quality). If you’re a math geek or disgruntled alumni, and you’re not satisfied with these vague explanations we’ve provided the full formula at the bottom of the page.

Tuition: Yearly cost of the core film school program for California residents 
Quality: Student resources such as the campus, teachers, facilities, and equipment
Reviews: Online feedback of the program on Niche.com and Facebook
Alumni: The quantity and quality of the school’s graduates
Intangibles: School location, reputation and overall quality of life

All criteria are ranked 1 out of 5 stars, with 5 stars being the best. 

10) New York Film Academy – Los Angeles

Tuition: ★★
Quality: ★★
Reviews: ★
Alumni: ★★
Intangibles: ★★★

Undergrad Tuition: $38,779
Admission Rate: N/A
Graduation Rate: 97%
Alumni # (wiki): 49
Notable Alumni: Paul Dano, Issa Rae, Damon Wayans

As the name suggests, this school is based in the Big Apple, but it does have a substantial presence in Los Angeles. The main campus is located in North Hollywood within walking distance of Universal Studios. Advertised as a hands-on, learn-by-doing environment, the New York Film Academy – Los Angeles shares a lot in common with it’s more recognized (and expensive) rival the American Film Institute. There is relatively limited information about the LA-based campus, and that’s one of the reasons it ranks at the bottom of our list.

#9 California State University – Northridge

Tuition: ★★★★
Quality: ★★
Reviews: ★★
Alumni: ★
Intangibles: ★★

Undergrad Tuition: $6,875
Admission Rate: 48%
Graduation Rate: 50%
Alumni # (wiki): 45
Notable Alumni: Paul Hunter, Darren Grant, Dale Launer

If you’re familiar with California’s public university system, you’re probably aware of the general differences between UC and CSU institutions. CSU schools like Northridge are less concerned with research and rankings, and more focused on providing an affordable public good. A large portion of Northridge’s students are the first in their families to attend college, and predictably, their film school caters to this demographic. While they lack the resources, prestige and graduation rates of film schools like USC and UCLA, CSUN is a fantastic value and a perfect stepping stone to a rewarding career in film and television. Alumni standouts include Paul Hunter and Darren Grant, two of the most accomplished music video directors of all time.

#8 Emerson College – Los Angeles

Tuition: ★★★
Quality: ★★
Reviews: ★★★
Alumni: ★★★
Intangibles: ★★

Undergrad Tuition: $41,052
Admission Rate: 48%
Graduation Rate: 80%
Alumni # (wiki): 38
Notable Alumni: Kevin Bright, Denis Leary, Jay Leno

Emerson College – Los Angeles is the new kid on the block when it comes to the city’s film schools. Officially opening in 2014, it’s brand new status has both benefits and drawbacks. The good news is that it has a state-of-the-art campus (which is really just a single very cool building) located conveniently on Sunset Boulevard. It has good facilities, an impressive list of instructors, and some of the best gear of any school on the list. The drawback is that the value of the program isn’t really tested. Most of the stats on the school are pulled from the main campus in Boston, and since it’s only a few years old, the Los Angeles program has exactly zero notable alumni. That said, there is strong evidence of the value of Emerson as a film school institution. The path of alumni Kevin Bright (the Friends director/producer that helped bankroll the LA campus) is inspiring and can be held up as a promising blueprint for the first batch of the school’s newest graduates.

#7 Loyola Marymount University

Tuition: ★★
Quality: ★★★
Reviews: ★★★★
Alumni: ★★
Intangibles: ★★★

Undergrad Tuition: $46,136
Admission Rate: 54%
Graduation Rate: 83%
Alumni # (wiki): 49
Notable Alumni: Scott Eastwood, Barbara Broccoli

While it’s not quite in the top-tier in Los Angeles, LMU is still firmly positioned as one of the world’s best film schools. It boasts many of the benefits of the other accredited 4-year colleges in the region, offering solid production facilities and equipment and a wide degree of undergraduate and graduate degrees. One of the coolest features of LMU is the Incubator Lab, which operates in partnership with Film Independent as a non-profit arts organization designed to help emerging professional filmmakers receive mentorship on their projects and free access to industry studios.

#6 Art Center College of Design, Pasadena

Tuition: ★★★★
Quality: ★★★
Reviews: ★★★
Alumni: ★★★
Intangibles: ★★★★

Undergrad Tuition: $41,408
Acceptance Rate: 69%
Graduation Rate: 73%
Alumni # (wiki): 26
Notable Alumni: Zack Snyder, Michael Bay

The Art Center College of Design is a bit different than the other schools on this list in that it’s primarily an art school. The good news is that it means the campus is full of visually expressive and inventive individuals – the bad news is that the film curriculum is less developed and not as well known as some of the other names on this list. It’s also quite expensive for a school with limited credentials in the production world. While it’s list of notable alumni isn’t very long, it does have a few of Hollywood’s A-list directors in Michael Bay and Zack Snyder.

#5 Chapman University

Tuition: ★
Quality: ★★★★
Reviews: ★★★
Alumni: ★★
Intangibles: ★★★

Undergrad Tuition: $52,340
Admission Rate: 54%
Graduation Rate: 79%
Alumni # (wiki): 26
Notable Alumni: Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer creators of Stranger Things

Film school is stressful and intense, so there is probably some logic in choosing a campus environment that is calm and serene. Rather than contend with the chaos of downtown Hollywood, Chapman University allows you to sharpen your production talents amidst the peaceful shopping centers of Orange County. Chapman has everything you’d expect from a top-tier school, as well as a fantastic student to teacher ratio. The two biggest drawbacks is that it’s an expensive private school, and it has a limited list of notable alumni beyond Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer.

#4 California Institute of the Arts

Tuition: ★★★
Quality: ★★★★
Reviews: ★★★
Alumni: ★★★★
Intangibles: ★★★

Undergrad Tuition: $48,660
Admission Rate: 24%
Graduation Rate: 66%
Alumni # (wiki): 198
Notable Alumni: Tim Burton, John Lasseter, James Mangold 

Do you want to be an animator? If you answered ‘Yes’ then you should probably attend the California Institute of Arts. It has long specialized in the field, and provides a well-rounded education in drawing, storyboarding, and digital animation. Alumni include countless employees at animation studios like Disney, Pixar and Illumination as well as Hollywood legends like Tim Burton and John Lasseter. Want to focus on traditional production? California Institute of Arts is still a solid option with quality programs in a variety of fields. It also counts one of Hollywood’s hottest young directors in James Mangold as alumni, which, for those who have seen Logan, should be a pretty strong selling point.

#3 University of California, Los Angeles

Tuition: ★★★★★
Quality: ★★★★★
Reviews: ★★
Alumni: ★★★★
Intangibles: ★★★★★

Undergrad Tuition: $13,260 (CA resident)
Admission Rate: 11%
Graduation Rate: 91%
Alumni # (wiki): 162
Notable Alumni: Francis Ford Coppola, Rob Reiner, Tim Robbins

UCLA is an amazing school (arguably the best in the city) with an amazing campus, storied history, and a near infinite supply of intangibles. It’s also an incredible value for those lucky enough to be residents of California. Unlike the other Top Tier schools on this list, UCLA’s film program is closely linked with their theatre and acting programs. If you’re aiming to be in-front of the camera, rather than behind it, UCLA is very likely your best bet (unless your parents are willing to spend $200,000 to help you pursue your acting dreams at USC). The list of notable alumni is also very impressive, though it seems that the school has fewer recent successes than some of the other schools on this list.

#2 American Film Institute Conservatory

Tuition: ★★★★
Quality: ★★★★★
Reviews: ★★★
Alumni: ★★★★★
Intangibles: ★★★★

Undergrad Tuition: $51,360 (two years)
Admission Rate: 32%
Graduation Rate: N/A
Alumni # (wiki): 162
Notable Alumni: Darren Aronofsky, David Lynch, Terrence Malick

Unlike USC and UCLA, the American Film Institute caters to older professionals, and people who don’t really care about attending frat parties and football games. Their program is relatively affordable (since it’s only two years) and boasts an incredibly strong list of alumni working in all corners of the entertainment industry.

#1 University of Southern California

Tuition: ★★★★
Quality: ★★★★★
Reviews: ★★★
Alumni: ★★★★★
Intangibles: ★★★★

Undergrad Tuition: $53,448
Admission Rate: 5%
Graduation Rate: 91%
Alumni # (wiki): 148
Notable Alumni: George Lucas, Judd Apatow, Ron Howard

We created this ranking based on a simple dream: provide a fresh, and unique opinion around LA’s best film schools. So, as you might imagine, the fact that USC landed at the top of our list is a big disappointment. We didn’t want to be predictable and offer the same conclusion as every other ranking on the web, but the numbers don’t lie: USC is the undisputed production dream school. Not only does USC have the nicest campus, the best facilities, the freshest gear, the strongest alumni network and the most celebrity professors, the film school’s endowment of $200 million is larger than the total for most universities. All these things make it competitive – it’s the most expensive program on the list and it’s admissions are proudly proclaimed to be more competitive than Harvard. Good for you, USC.
 

“The most important thing is to pick up a camera and make a film. Even if you don’t have money, get your friends, even if it is the worst piece of crap, it still will have your name saying ‘Directed by’ … and for everything after that you are a director.” – James Cameron

Final Words

Now you know the very best places to learn the ropes of production in Los Angeles. Hopefully it will help inform your choice in choosing a school, or at the very least give you a renewed sense of superiority amongst your peers. If none of these options feel like a good fit, or you don’t want to take on a bunch of student debt, you could always just skip film school altogether.

Believe it or not, there are people who managed to scrape together a career in Hollywood without a formal film-school education. Directors like Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Sergio Leone, James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan all skipped film school – and things turned out pretty well for them. If you decide to follow this path, you’ll also have lots of extra cash to spend on future productions.

 


 

NOTES: The ranking formula is a fraction where numerator consists of the sum of 1) tuition (avg. from Niche figures) 2) # of notable alumni (wiki data) 3) website quality evaluation (subjective; 10 points max) 4) overall facebook rating (# of reviews * rating) 5) overall Niche rating (# of reviews * rating) MINUS 1) position in the Niche general rating of colleges and 2) position in the Niche film colleges. The term of the fraction is the product of 1) acceptance rate and 2) graduation rate. 

FOLLOWING RESERVATIONS SHOULD ALSO BE NOTED: 1. Wherever an establishment is not ranked in the 1st Niche rating, its position is equaled to 800 (a number larger than any other college’s position. 2. Whenever an establishment is not ranked in the 2nd Niche rating, its position is equaled to 158 (because that list has only 157 colleges in it) 3. Whenever Facebook rating is not available it is equaled to 0. 4. American Film Institute Conservatory cannot be calculated due to insufficient data. However, additional subjective research showed that this establishment is ranked highly in the community.

ProductionHUB ProductionHUB Logo

Related Blog Posts

Comments

There are no comments on this blog post.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.