‘Tis the Season . . . to Apply to Film Schools (Part I)

Yes, it’s true that some film programs let you apply for spring or winter admission, but for the most part film students everywhere will be applying for fall – usually a year in advance. In point of fact, what gave me the idea to write this post was that I, too, am applying for film school. Since I’m a bigger fan of West Coast (Hollywood) filmmaking that East Coast (NYC) filmmaking, and because I was born and raised a Californian, I’m pretty much only looking at schools in CA. Mind you, I’m an undergrad at the moment so it’s possible that I might do grad school elsewhere. Maybe I’ll write a post about non-California film schools in a year or so. When I asked a question about the topic of choosing  a film school to Chris Soth during the Q&A session for one of his conference calls, he suggested it might be beneficial to go to grad school on the opposite side of the country from where one goes to undergrad film school just to get a sense of both worlds. So, although I haven’t yet had the chance to visit any of them other than UCSC, here are some of the schools I’ve looked at (bear in mind that I’m looking at these from the perspective of a transfer student and wannabe director):

USC (University of Southern California) School of Cinematic Arts: This school is probably the gold standard for production/directing types. Any given program/major gives students experience and expertise in all areas of filmmaking. I like this approach it allows for specialization, but also gives everyone a sense of how they can help everyone else do their jobs. For example, it’s good for lighting crew to know something about cinematography. That said, one of the main reasons I like their production BA program is that the courses for the major focus on production/directing instead of being watered down with huge amounts of critical studies – since that’s what the critical studies major is for.

One of the more impressive things about USC is their facilities. Free of charge, students get to use huge studio-style soundstages, soundstages with audience seating, editing rooms, sound mixing rooms, screening rooms, and motion capture suites. Also, students get free access to SAG actors for their films.

Location-wise, it’s kind of a give and take. It’s a bad area to live in, but it’s also in the physical center of the Hollywood film industry. Finally, there’s the alumni. I don’t think I actually have to name them. Everyone knows who went to USC.

Cost is probably the biggest downside for this place. USC costs $18,548 for one semester of full-time tuition ($37,096 per year), $800 to confirm your housing contract, an estimated $11,767-$14,055 in living costs (housing is not guaranteed for transfers), and the costs within the program itself just make it worse. Unless you’re stuffed with scholarship money and financial aid (or have rich parents), trying to attend USC is financially risky.

UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) School of Theater, Film, and Television: Although UCLA doesn’t offer a specialized BA in production or directing, they’re still one of the top film schools in the country (and possibly the world). What they offer is a BA in Film, Television, and Digital Media. From talking to former UCLA students, I get the idea that their program is somewhat more focused on screenwriting and critical studies than that of USC, but the required courses for the BA are still pretty production heavy. Seems like a good mix. Producers/directors should definitely know how to write films, since they end up re-writing them considerably by the time the final product comes out. I’m thinking of emailing a couple of the faculty to ask questions about the program.

As for facilities, they actually have a pretty complete list for that at http://www.tft.ucla.edu/facilities/

As far as I can tell, and from what I’ve been told my a couple of my teachers who attended UCLA, it’s located in a suburban area next to Bel Air and about 20-35 minutes from Encino.

Because UCLA is a public university, the costs are much lower. Their 2010-2011 Undergraduate Budget estimates total cost (for university fees, room & board, books & supplies, transportation, personal stuff, health insurance, and loan fees) at $27,494-$29,771. Also, they guarantee one year of housing for transfer students.

CalArts (California Institute of the Arts): This is truly an unusual place. The school was largely founded by Walt and Roy Disney to be a CalTech for artists – and to feed into Disney’s growing need for more film, animation, etc. types to hire. The admission process depends almost entirely upon the applicant’s artistic skill and creativity and the programs themselves seem to focus more on the individual artistic vision of each student than anything else. Also unusual is the fact that all the programs are housed in a single five-story complex and very small class sizes. This could be seen as good or bad depending on how claustrophobic you are. I’m not, so it wouldn’t bother me. Here’s a link to a movie (advertisement) Disney made for it about 40 years ago http://calarts.edu/about/history. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly difficult to get a clear idea of student life on campus from the website. Hopefully, I’ll be able to visit in-person sometime. Tuition for 2010-2011 is $34,830, housing and other fees come out to $9,340-$12,914 (for a minimum total of $44,170), and the estimated additional cost for Film/Video students’ books and supplies is $2,190. However, the vast majority of their students get a pretty big amount of financial aid.

More schools in my next post…

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