As someone who attended two of the most famous film schools, I often get asked which film program is the best. Historically, NYU and USC have been known as the ‘big two’ of film schools with each trading off over the years for bragging rights as to the school with the more prestigious alumni and pedigree. Following up close behind are UCLA as well as Columbia. In truth, while USC and NYU claim a long list of successful graduates and alumni that have had illustrious careers after attending them, all these programs are worthwhile depending on what you are trying to get out of them.
Before selecting a film school it is important to understand a few things. First, film is an entrepreneurial business. Nobody is going to hand you a job, you have to create opportunities for yourself. Your talent and craft can be worked on and honed but at the end of the day your social and networking skills as well as your ingenuity in getting funding or sponsors for your projects are skills that are just as important as the quality of your filmmaking or writing red rock entertainment testimonials.
With that said, it would make sense that the schools that afford you the most opportunities to network with professional contacts in the industry have the most success at their students obtaining work. This is why USC and NYU have traditionally had the most numbers of working professionals come out of their schools. Both schools have large programs with alumni in all facets of the business. Both schools also have extensive internship programs as well as active alumni participation.
Other schools such as UCLA and Columbia while having quality programs, don’t have the sheer number of graduates, although UCLA is close. For this reason, although the production and historical education you will receive at these programs is top notch, there are fewer direct opportunities to network with Alumni and a comparatively smaller network of professionals to approach during and after school.
Another top notch program that one should consider is the AFI program. While smaller than some of the other programs it is run by the American Film Institute with top notch instructors and a very ‘hands on’ approach. It does not however have quite the extent of facilities that the NYU and USC programs provide.
Another important thing to keep in mind is how the cities where you go to school will affect your career development. New York and Los Angeles have very different film cultures. While USC is located in the heart of the Hollywood film industry, it has close ties to the technical, production and post production companies of Los Angeles and an extensive network in the ‘studio system’ of filmmaking. NYU, located in New York, while having a fair share of commercial directors as it’s alumni also has stronger ‘artistic’ or ‘independent’ film philosophy and ties.
During the 70’s and 80’s a look at the directors that came out of each program showed the difference in styles and filmmaking content. While George Lucas and Robert Zemeckis graduated from USC, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Oliver Stone attended NYU. In more recent years however, both schools have had a number of successful as well as ‘independent’ filmmakers come out of their programs. From a personal standpoint, in my experience USC gave greater emphasis on the technical production skills of filmmaking while NYU seemed to stress the story and artistic elements more. Both however offer ample opportunity for a student to study both.