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March 10, 2009


Which brings us back to our initial question: provided you meet all the pertinent lifestyle criteria and have a competitive writing sample (ideally a play or screenplay, but admissions committees have been known to evaluate fiction or non-fiction samples as well), where should you apply? Just as the Ivy League has its "Big Three," the world of film schools has its "Big Five," which are listed below, in alphabetical order.

1. American Film Institute (AFI): AFI did not used to be a conventionally-structured Master of Fine Arts Program, but in recent years this has changed; graduates have the option of applying for a degree or of pursuing a certificate of completion option. AFI's program, located at the American Film Institute, whose campus is at the edge of the Hollywood Hills-adjacent neighborhood of Los Feliz, is one the entertainment industry's most prized institutions (the AFI list of the top 100 films of all time is considered one of the industry's gold standards, and their lifetime achievement award dinners attract a luminous, A-List set of attendees). AFI's faculty includes such industry luminaries as Frank Pierson, who in addition to having written the Sidney Lumet-directed classic Dog Day Afternoon, is the current president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (whose members determine the Academy Awards). To read more about AFI, log onto their website at

2. Columbia University: Past film school deans have included such industry titans as Milos Forman, and the combination of a prime New York location and Ivy League pedigree has continuously allowed Columbia to attract some of the most prestigious names in the film industry, such as James Schamus, who runs Focus Features (Universal's specialty, or small-film arm) in addition to writing films like The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and The Hulk, to name a few. Columbia boasts seven of the last eight student academy award film recipients and has garnered a well-deserved reputation for integrating storytelling into the visual medium of film. Columbia's film school does not require prospective students to take the GRE exam. To learn more about Columbia's film school, go to their website at

3. New York University: NYU's Tisch School of the Arts was founded in 1965 and includes such alumni as Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, and M. Night Shyamalan. NYU embraces its "downtown" reputation and embraces avant- garde filmmakers and writers but, as evidenced by its eclectic faculty, list of alumni, and long list of produced film and television credits, it hardly eschews the mainstream. NYU does not require prospective students to take the GRE exam. To learn more about NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, visit their website at:

4. University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA): UCLA's film school benefits from its proximity to the entertainment industry, and its first-rate screenwriting program has turned out such names as Neal Jiminez (The River's Edge, The Waterdance) and Scott Rosenberg (Beautiful Girls, Con Air) among others. Due to UCLA's reputation as one of the premier institutions in which to learn how to write mainstream films, agents and other industry representatives always seem to be accessible; what's more, the fluid interaction the school encourages between student filmmakers and student writers enables plenty of relationship-building within the school's walls. UCLA does, however, require all prospective students to take the GRE exam. For more information about UCLA, their website is:

5. University of Southern California (USC): USC boasts perhaps the most famous film school in the country, and with alumni and benefactors such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Robert Zemeckis, it is no mystery as to why. If USC has one drawback, it is that for all the acclaim its directors' program has enjoyed, there has been little mention made of its screenwriting department. This is unjustified: USC's screenwriting department benefits from the same proximity to the industry as UCLA (although its decidedly less-than-tony neighborhood is a far cry from UCLA's prime Westwood setting), and its faculty is every bit as distinguished as UCLA's. For more information about USC's film school, their website is


Filed Under: Education|Grad School