Some people might think of film school as a place with palm trees, where students in sunglasses are trying to imagine the next blockbuster. Other people might imagine trench-coated intellectuals haggling over black and white foreign films.
It turns out film schools are as different as movies can be—as different as media in general can be. Picking out a film school depends on a student’s vision and priorities.
Some programs create a foundation in film grammar, learned from classics. Many programs are hands-on, teaching skills for crew and production work, with students finishing their first short films before graduation.
For many students, film school is a place to develop a singular artistic vision. For others, it’s a place to make industry connections and to launch a career. Producers, editors, TV series writers, VR developers all have their own programs—film school isn’t just for directors.
These film schools lead the world in innovation, reputation, and in the creativity of their faculty and students. Films started on these campuses are seen around the world, from the festivals at Cannes and Venice to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. They’re screening tonight at the multiplex down the block and on Netflix in the living room.
For anyone carrying around a camera, looking for a place to tell a story: here’s where the action starts.
These are 10 of the best film schools in the world.
La Fémis (Paris, France)
This prestigious Paris film school is a state-run institute; its name is an acronym standing for La Fondation Européenne pour les Métiers de l’Image et du Son, or, the European Foundation for Image and Sound Professions.
Named by the Hollywood Reporter as one of the top film schools in the world, La Fémis, as its name suggests, focuses on professional training and a sense of film history in its curriculum.
La Fémis has no permanent faculty. With instructors drawn from a pool of over 500 film professionals, students are mentored and instructed in short courses and practical applications.
Length of study varies, though some students complete four-year degrees. The school’s continuous learning option for professionals already in the industry offers training in areas like documentary, screenplay, series creation, and film distribution.
French citizens pay almost nothing to attend, provided they can excel at the competitive entrance exam and have completed at least two years of undergraduate coursework. Since only 3% are accepted, La Femis is a longshot. Students must be fluent in French to attend.
The campus occupies the former Pathé studios in Paris’s 18t arrondissement, literally inhabiting film history.
Directors like Francois Ozon, Celine Sciamma, and Claire Denis are alums, as well as 2021 Palme D’or winner Julia Ducournau, the second female director ever to win that prize.
La Fémis alums have won the top 3 film prizes – Cannes’ Palme D’Or, the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion, and the Berlin International Film Festival’s Golden Bear – 11 times, more than any other film school’s former students.
Sydney Film School (Waterloo, Australia)
Australia’s film industry has accelerated in the last few decades, and now there is a world-class film school there. Sydney Film School is based at Waterloo Studios, a professional production facility where students learn their craft on the set.
Sydney Film School aims to have students working in the industry as soon as possible, offering one-year programs, certificates, and various degree programs. The approach is practical, rather than academic. By functioning and set and production crew, students acquire valuable skills and professional connections.
The program has a cooperative relationship with Sydney Acting School, creating an environment where new filmmakers have access to everything they might need to realize their artistic vision. The school accepts international applicants, though tuition and fees are a bit higher.
While Sydney Film School does graduate its share of directors, the program trains editors, cinematographers, producers, production designers, and digital FX crew. Alumni films have been honored at festivals around the world, including the American Independent Filmmaker Showcase, the Bondi Short Film Festival, the Blue Mountain Film Festival, and the Stockholm Independent Film Festival.
Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts (Orange, CA)
Dodge College at Chapman University keeps ascending in best-of lists and national attention. Its Orange, California location provides a congenial small-town campus close enough to Hollywood to benefit from proximity to the industry.
The Chapman Master Class Series brings in an impressive roster of guest instructors, including actors (Bryan Cranston), directors (Barry Jenkins, Damien Chazelle, Bong Joon Ho), creative talent (Ruth E. Carter, costume designer for Black Panther), and other film industry leaders and executives.
Dodge offers a slate of features called Industry Programs, including a program that screens student films for industry professionals, a Filmmaker-in-Residence program to bring professional producers and directors to campus to mentor students, and numerous conferences and festivals.
The Institute for Creative Reality provides an environment to explore methods of storytelling in virtual reality and immersive media.
At Dodge, students can pursue Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, and graduate degrees in Film Studies, Journalism and Documentary Film, Animation and Visual Effects, Film Production, Creative Producing, Screenwriting, Screen Acting, Television Writing and Production, and Public Relations and Advertising.
This broad spectrum addresses a wider range of film and media career areas than found at other film programs. School facilities include a theater and soundstage, and graduates even have access to their own agent through the school’s Career Hub.
California Institute of the Arts (Valencia, CA)
The School of Film/Video at CalArts envisions film as a vehicle for the story, and its mission is to give students the skills, tools, and language to tell their own. Four areas of focus—Character Animation, Experimental Animation, Film and Video, and Film Directing—encompass multiple approaches to visual narrative.
Students can pursue BFA and MFA tracks; the “fine arts” designation reflects how CalArts students choose independent film as an artistic expression, rather than a commercial enterprise.
While students acquire the technical skills of filmmaking, the overall tone of the program challenges students to become experimental artists making groundbreaking work.
Many CalArts graduates go on to become directors, documentary filmmakers, directors of photography, and writer-directors. Quite a few practice multiple disciplines; some are authors or producers, or exhibiting visual artists.
Animation is a strong part of the CalArts program, and many of the best-loved animated feature films were written, directed, or animated by CalArts graduates.
John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar, got his BFA at CalArts.
Additionally, films like Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Lego Movie, Finding Nemo, Kubo and the Two Strings, Beauty and the Beast, and Frozen all came from, partially, the work of CalArts alumni.
CalArts’ facilities include studio space, animation labs, field equipment, digital editing and post-production spaces, film scanners; every aspect of film technology necessary for students to realize their artistic vision. Theaters, sets, and installation spaces make all kinds of multimedia expression possible.
Internships, international collaborations, and the REDCAT film exhibit space offer students several ways to bring their work to the public and to other professionals.
The annual Bijou Festival presents student work, and the CalArts has helped students arrange personal shows at festivals and museums worldwide, from the Venice Film Festival to MOMA in New York.
London Film School (London, England)
The London Film School is a graduate program offering several MA programs and a Ph.D. in Film by Practice. Courses are workshop-based; the school maintains a full-time faculty, a steady line of impressive guest lecturers. Its small student body ensures access to mentoring.
Workshops for active professionals also take place at LFS, bringing in working directors, screenwriters, and other film professionals. Facilities include editing suites and design studios, sound recording areas, and a sound effects library, along with two theaters for screenings.
Making a student film project can add expenses to an education budget, but LFS pays for stock film, equipment, and additional funding for each student’s graduation film.
With the University of Exeter, LFS has developed an MA course in International Film Business, a one-year program where students can learn how to navigate the international finance necessary for worldwide film distribution.
Culminating in a trip to the Berlin Film Festival, this program maximizes the school’s London location and access to Exeter’s renowned business program. This program offers a singular opportunity for a student interested in learning how to market and distribute films.
Visionary directors like Mike Leigh and Michael Mann both trained at LFS, along with Directors of Photography Roger Pratt and Tak Fujimoto.
The London Film School is truly an international film school, with over half its students coming from outside the United Kingdom.
UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television (Los Angeles, CA)
UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & Television offers degree programs for actors, filmmakers, writers, tech crew – anybody interested in working in media.
Besides the classes offered on its LA campus, the school serves as a center for research, collaboration, and preservation of film and media arts.
TFT’s Skoll Center for Social Impact Entertainment hosts workshops, events, and conferences designed to explore the role of entertainment as an agent of social change.
Partnering with UCLA’s School of Engineering, TFT provides REMAP, The Center for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance, an interdisciplinary space revolutionizing the way we experience culture and art.
The school’s Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media practices an interdisciplinary, hands-on approach, especially in its broad-based undergraduate curriculum.
While undergraduates do choose a focus area, they also study a range of film and television history and receive practical skills training.
Graduate-level programs specialize in cinematography, animation, cinema and media studies, screenwriting, and more, and professional programs exist in multiple lengths and topics.
For its over 70 years, UCLA TFT has enjoyed a close relationship with Hollywood. Started and chaired by producers and directors as a place to train the next generation of artists, the program is helmed today by Teri Schwartz, a feature film producer.
Juniors and Seniors are eligible for high-profile industry internships. Long-term professional collaborations and mentorships begin in this program, so connected to the day-to-day business of Hollywood.
American Film Institute (Los Angeles, CA)
The American Film Institute Conservatory in Hollywood has a two-year MFA program, including a nine-month collaborative film production project that constitutes the student’s thesis. Student thesis films are screened each year at AFI FEST in LA, where leaders in filmmaking can see them.
Two previous student thesis films have gone on to win Academy Awards. AFI’s program is in many ways the most direct line to exposure, from admission to working film career. With James L. Brooks as AFI’s artistic director, students have access to industry giants right on campus.
AFI divides its program into six main areas of study: cinematography, directing, editing, producing, production design, and screenwriting.
For each area, AFI outlines the specific skills and concepts students will master by graduation. These outlines give a clear picture of exactly what coursework will look like; it’s a great resource for students who may be unsure which path of study might interest them.
Amazingly, 81% of alumni become industry professionals. Graduates have been awarded numerous Oscars and Emmys. Terrence Malick, Amy Heckerling, Paul Thomas Anderson, Carl Franklin, Darren Aronofsky: AFI alumni represent American film at its finest.
New York University Kanbar Institute of Film & Television (New York, NY)
With so many film schools in LA, it’s easy to forget the other great American film city. New York University’s Kanbar Institute of Film & Television, part of the Tisch School of the Arts, offers undergraduate and graduate programs in Film & Television, Cinema Studies, and Dramatic Writing.
NYU film students and faculty make over 5,000 films every year. Mentorship, active learning, and collaboration characterize the program. Students learn to work together to realize a collective vision, but also find the confidence to tell their own stories.
As a separate program from Film & Television, Cinema Studies focuses on training a student’s critical eye and ear. With an analytical understanding of film image, history, and theory, some students go on to careers in academia or in journalism, while others become filmmakers, writers, or editors.
Directors Joel Coen, Oliver Stone, Melina Matsoukas, Charlie Kaufman, and Martin Scorsese are graduates. Acceptance is selective and includes an artistic review process, but admissions officials are looking for storytelling ability, not fancy effects or professional-level work.
Beijing Film Academy (Beijing, CN)
When thinking of cinematic hubs, Beijing might not spring to mind. But with a population of 770 million and a growing middle class, China’s extensive entertainment market continues to expand domestically and internationally.
Beijing Film Academy covers acting, directing, writing, art direction, cinematography, sound design, and a host of crew-level career training programs. From MA degrees to vocational training, the Academy educates students for every role associated with film and television production.
The Academy’s program acknowledges film as the primary means of communicating ideas in the 21st century. Their curriculum fosters students’ development by coaching them from the first idea of a film all the way through its finished form.
Since 2013, Beijing Film Academy’s Film Production International Program has been teaching in English and welcoming international students. Admissions is very selective (less than 2% acceptance rate), but worth the effort to be inspired by a city with 3,000 years of history.
University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts (Los Angeles, CA)
The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts wants students to apply. Even with the number of applications they receive annually, they want to be sure they find those students out there who belong in the program.
It’s also not just one program. Within the School of Cinematic Arts are programs for animation, the business of cinema, video game production, writing for movies and television, producing, and more.
USC blends film school approaches, integrating hands-on project work from the first day of class with academic study of film grammar and history.
Facilities are beyond compare, with soundstages, theaters, fabrication spaces, post-production suites, even its own television broadcast service—anything media students could need to produce their works right there on campus. Hollywood itself is right outside.
USC’s School of Cinematic Arts has a list of alumni so impressive it has to be divided up by job title: producers, directors, writers, writer/producer/directors, authors, editors, and more. From Judd Apatow to Robert Zemeckis, from Shonda Rhimes to Will Ferrell, USC has trained some of the biggest names in media.
The admissions department looks for individuality, confidence, and storytelling ability, so candidates shouldn’t worry about the level of technology in film submissions. Tell a great story, and defy those admissions odds.