Understand that filmmakng is a huge industry with many hundred if not thousands of specializations so it simply isn't possible to define what is a top film school as each specialization requires the teaching of a very different set of skills. The best film school for directors might not be the top film school for someone wanting to be a 3D artist or an actor's agent. Keep this fact in mind when looking at any list of top ten film schools because the institutions listed may easily not be the best film schools for your interests.
In trying to assemble any list of the best film schools I am reminded of the old saying that you can't teach talent, you can only encourage it. With due respect to all the world's late bloomers the fact is that most people seem to have talents they are born with and the top film school in the world isn't going to make you into a great filmmaker unless you already have talent in that direction.
Furthermore, most people with great talent in any field are already demonstrating their talent long before they graduate from high school. In fact they are often so compelled by their talents that they have a hard time doing anything else.
Top athletes view college as just the latest stepping stone in a string of successful steps. Great writers have piles of short stories completed in grade school. Great artists have been cartooning with remarkable skill since they could hold a pencil. The most highly regarded filmmakers have been creating clever short films staring their family and friends from the time they could hold a camera.
I say all this as a warning that if your interest in filmmaking is more theoretical than based on wanting to advance your current passion you should reconsider. Filmmaking is one of the very hardest professions to break in to and starting salaries are amongst the lowest. A degree from the top film school is at most a small item on the resume you will need to talk your way into the most menial job on a film set.
My Top Ten Film Schools
Unlike the usual list of four-year universities offering film studies with similar time and tuition issues my list of the best film schools offers some real diversity. Included are some free options all the way up to more than $100,000 at the top end, and the time requirements vary from courses you can complete in a couple of days to half-a-dozen years. Read on to see my picks for the top ten film schools.
Although there are a handful of superstar actors and directors who command mutil-million-dollar salaries the real money is in producing and studio management. The biggest money makers in the film industry might have started at a top film school but it is as likely they started with a business degree because at heart they are businessmen or businesswomen who understand that entertainment is a business. Even the most successful actors and directors eventually make their real money and have their biggest successes with their producer work. For example Danny DeVito has more than 30 producer credits listed on IMDB and is considered one of the most powerful people in Hollywood.
1) UCLA Producer's Program
You thought I was going to recommend UCLA's top film school as my first choice, but if you are interested in a real career as a top money-maker then you should consider UCLA's program to train producers in the entertainment world. Movie making is a BUSINESS as much as an art. Since this is a graduate program this is an expensive and time consuming option. You will already need an under-graduate degree in business to be considered but this could be the launching pad for spectacular success.
3) Stanford University Entertainment Law Course
Entertainment law is another very highly paid profession working in the film industry and courses in entertainment law are offered by several universities within their law program. I hilighted Stanford University but UCLA of course would be another top choice here. Specializing in entertainment law while obtaining a law degree could lead to many of the highest paid jobs within the movie world.
4) Dov Simen's 2-Day Film School
Speaking of getting real. Dov Simen is a filmmaker and film educator who has been traveling the world giving a two-day film course that is an intense blast of everything practical that you would learn in four years of film school and a lot of things you won't learn. Any number of famous people in the film industry, including Quentin Tarantino, have attended Dov's classes and credit Dov with much of their success. I have taken the class in person and think it is excellent. The DVD set gives you everything and lets you review the material over and over. See my review below.
5) University of California - Los Angeles, Theater, Film & Television - Los Angeles, CA | (310) 825-5761
When people think of the best film schools they are usually thinking of the big three degree universities that offer majors in film studies. Although these are highly respected institutions that have taught some of the most famous luminaries in the film world none of these top film schools have been able to achieve a very high success rate for the typical graduate. They tend to provide a one-size-fits-all approach and often the instructors are not much more knowledgeable than the students.
8) Online Film School - 4Filmmaking.com
This site where you are reading has nurtured hundred of thousands of visiting filmmakers by providing free information and links to many other free or low-cost sources of training. Before you commit years of your life and thousands of dollars to a big name film school see what you could get for free or low cost on the Internet. If you have the passion you can make it happen. The best film school is the one that will teach what you need to know to accomplish what you want to do.
9) Just do it
Countless individuals without any formal training or in many cases without even a high school diploma have simply started making films with whatever equipment they had, for example Kevin Smith, and by showing up and not giving up they have achieved fame and fortune. Low cost equipment and free to low cost training from web sites and local community colleges has made this option more real than ever before for the beginning filmmaker with a real passion to tell stories. It worked for them, it could work for you.
Selected sources of filmmaking training
There are a lot of way to learn about filmmaking. If there aren't any good, cheap classes available in your area here are some excellent, comprehensive resources you can get.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate for some products I recommend and may receive some compensation if you buy them through my links. Regardless, I only recommend products I have personally reviewed and/or own and believe them to be worthy of your consideration.
Film School Secrets - Why Not Create Your Own Film School?
You may find it hard to believe but the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood are mostly self-taught. They wanted to tell stories with film so they found the training they needed as they went along.
You can do it too! Especially with the Internet today you are surounded by all the information you need to be a filmmaker. Much of it will cost you little or nothing. Pick a few beginning books or DVDs to master the basic concepts, or find a movie set where you can volunteer as a production assistant, then keep broadening your skills as necessary. Start making the films that interest you in whatever way and with whatever equipment is available to you.
The most respected instructional product in the film industry is Dov Simens' 2-Day Film School DVD. 16 one hour lessons are the equivalent of 4 years of practical film school. All the facts, none of the fluff! Taking this course changed my life. Let it change yours.
Start making films instead of learning useless theory.
Do it your way, at your pace. Do what you're interested in while you save years and thousands of dollars.
You will get just the training you need as fast as you need it.
Your friends and family may not believe you until they see your name in the credits on the big screen
By the time you would have completed the first semester of film school you will already be a filmmaker.
Dov S-S Simens' Film School DVD This set of DVDs contains the complete, legendary 2-day filmschool class that Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee credit with starting their careers. I attended Dove Simen's course in person and found it to be, like many successful people in Hollywood, the most useful film class I've ever taken.
If you can't attend in person then view these 16 hours of DVDs to learn all the basics of being an independent film producer. Sure, it costs more than a book but less than one class at UCLA film school. Dov presents the real, honest deal on producing films. Everything to inspire you to go from screenwriting, to directing, to editing, to a sold film. You won't regret it ... you might even become as famous as Quentin Tarantino.