For most of the last century, there have been two great hubs of the entertainment industry: New York City and Los Angeles. As such, popular belief suggested that the only way to get a proper education in film and video was to migrate to either of these titanic towns. Even today, this myth is perpetuated as we continue to celebrate schools like UCLA, USC, and NYU above the rest.
That’s not to say that these schools haven’t earned their reputations, but let’s face it—not everyone has the desire or the money to attend these prestigious institutions. That leaves New York and California beyond the grasp of a huge swath of aspiring filmmakers.
Luckily, myths are meant to be broken. The Big Apple and the City of Angels don’t have a monopoly on great film schools. In fact, there are hundreds of schools between the coasts that can teach you the basics of video production and assist with getting you an exciting job within the industry.
To help, we’ve collected seven of the best film schools from the other forty-eight.
Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT)
Wesleyan’s Film Studies major emphasizes academia over production, but students are still able to get their hands on formats as varied as 16mm film, digital video, and computer-based animation. The focus is on a cultural appreciation for cinema as an art form. Students examine the history, aesthetics, and meaning of great films in order to apply what they’ve learned to their own work.
The Wesleyan Cinema Archives are a particularly wonderful resource, containing historical documents from cinematic artists such as Elia Kazan, Martin Scorsese, John Waters, Federico Fellini, Frank Capra, and John Sayles.
Notable Alumni: Joss Whedon (Director, The Avengers), Miguel Artera (Director, Youth in Revolt), Matthew Greenfield (Senior Vice President, Fox Searchlight Pictures)
University of North Carolina (Winston-Salem, NC)
UNC’s School of Arts offers a nurturing, conservatory-like environment for students to earn their Bachelors of Fine Arts in Filmmaking. Stressing the collaborative element of cinema, the program spends the first two years familiarizing the students with the filmmaking process, from pre-production to exhibition. If the student is successful in this rigorous program, years three and four allow for a partnership with an artistic mentor—a professor or even guest artist—to truly maximize their potential.
This is not a program for the faint of heart, but if you’re looking for hands-on guidance, you couldn’t do better.
Notable Alumni: Travis Beacham (Screenwriter, Pacific Rim), David Gordon Green (Director, Pineapple Express), Danny McBride (Actor, Eastbound and Down), Jeff Nichols (Director, Mud)
University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX)
The Radio, Television and Film program at the University of Texas in Austin is considered by many to be one of the most successful and dynamic media institutions outside of the traditional markets. Students spend an equal amount of time studying theory and production, but there’s also a deep focus on internship opportunities. This practical industry experience is extremely valuable and helpful when it comes time to look for employment after graduation. More importantly, the University of Texas at Austin hopes to foster well-roundedness in its students, an important quality in the ever-shifting modern media landscape.
And, hey, there’s the awesome Austin TexMex to look forward to as well.
Notable Alumni: Wes Anderson (Director, The Grand Budapest Hotel), Robert Rodriguez (Director, Desperado), Owen Wilson (Actor, Bottle Rocket), Matthew McConaughey (Actor, True Detective)
Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)
Another almost universally well-regarded program is the College of Motion Picture Arts at Florida State University. With its enormous studio facilities and state-of-the art investment in technology (including RED cameras, post production studios, and grip trucks), this is one of the only film schools in the country that can offer access to this type of amazing equipment and resources. Even better, FSU is the only college in the US that assists in paying the production costs for every piece of student work. That means students can truly bring their dreams to reality.
An impressive 97% of FSU graduates find work in the industry within a year of receiving their diploma. That’s a pretty amazing figure and a tantalizing reason to look at the College of Motion Picture Arts over more traditional educational paths.
Notable Alumni: Amanda Farris (Animation Manager, LEGO Movie), Jonathan King (Executive Producer, Lincoln), Ali Bell (Executive Producer, Hitchcock)
Emerson College (Boston, MA)
Emerson broadcasts itself as a home for budding media-makers of every interest: narrative film, studio television, commercial advertising, documentary production, animation, experimental work, and web-based video. Therefore, it is easily one of the most diverse programs on this list and can cater to the needs of all students. These options are broken down into various specializations that can be added to your degree program and Emerson has the state-of-the-art equipment to make any student proficient in all of these available fields.
Its location in Boston is especially useful, as the town is rapidly becoming home to more production companies. This means there are loads of internship, freelance, and even full-time job opportunities within a short drive from the school.
Notable Alumni: Doug Herzog (President of Viacom Entertainment), Denis Leary (Actor and Comedian)
University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee, WI)
The Department of Film, Video, Animation and New Genres at the University of Wisconsin is a forward-looking institution, named one of the “Top 20 Film Programs in the World” by the Hollywood Reporter. While production techniques and practical knowledge are certainly important aspects of the education the student will receive, UWM also feels that it’s important to develop artistic instinct. Their goal is for each student to become “a creative thinker, an informed viewer and an art maker—someone whose imaginative skills are matched by an ability to learn and use technologies to say something important.”
If you would rather think of yourself as an “artist” than simply a “filmmaker,” this program might be the perfect fit.
Notable Alumni: Willem Dafoe (Actor, Spiderman), Jim Rygiel (Special Effect Supervisor, Lord of the Rings)
Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI)
One of the best art schools in the country, RISD is also home to a phenomenal film and animation program. This school emphasizes interdisciplinary work—pairing visual artists with filmmakers—which is why it’s particularly well known for producing digital and traditional animation professionals. Students have access to under-lit drawing tables, greenscreen and blackout studios, down-shooting animation stands, and stop-motion tools: everything necessary to learn the craft. A creative playground for aspiring animators, RISD is also a haven for those who prefer a speedier process. Shooting and editing takes place on 16mm film as well as digital video.
Notable Alumni: Gus Van Sant (Director, Good Will Hunting), Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko (Animators, Creator of Avatar: The Last Airbender), Joanna Priestly (Animator, Sesame Street), Seth McFarlane (Animator, Creator of Family Guy)
Cory Stine writes about media education, animation and post-production for VideoBlocks.