Top 19 Best Film Schools In California To Become a Master!

Best Film Schools In California

If you are desiring a career in the film industry, motion picture, TV, commercials, science or education, there are many good reasons to look at film schools in California. The best film schools in California not only offer a superb education, but the location puts students in one of the busiest film industries in the entire world.

Another thing to look is location and available industry to support any sort of real world course instruction or internships. California has a huge film and TV industry, more than just Hollywood. A lot of schools are in the greater Los Angeles area, but the Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland) has a major presence in the world of film also. 

This make California a great place to attend schools for a film or video education. Attending and being trained at any of the best film schools in California might be the right choice for you.

Top 19 Best Film Schools In California

1. University of Southern California

University of Southern California

In almost every list of best film schools in California, or anywhere actually, USC is usually at or near the top. For good reason. The USC film school is located in Los Angeles, one of the busiest areas for film and television production.

University of Southern California was originally established in 1880. The School of Cinematic Arts is a school within a school, being part of the larger USC system, and was founded in 1929.

USC is a strong school and one of the largest in the nation. In most of the subjects offered for majors or minors, an interdisciplinary approach to education is stressed. What that means is that a student on track for a math degree is encouraged to study the arts, other sciences, or business. So, a Film major could study business or communications, for instance.

A wide variety of degrees, graduate and undergraduate, are available for USC Cinema students. Degree programs include film production, screenwriting, cinema and media studies, animation and digital arts, media arts and practice, and interactive media and gaming, film and TV producing, and entertainment business.

To see what kind of high quality film and TV education USC offers, you could look at the careers and achievements of some alumni. That list includes George Lucas, John Carpenter, Sam Peckinpah, Robert Zemeckis, and Ron Howard, some of the biggest filmmakers in the industry.

Real world instruction is provided in the various degree programs by the onsite film and TV studios, production facilities, stages, and screening theaters. There are also guest lectures, seminars, internships, and vocational work programs. 

USC School of Cinematic Arts is easily one of the best film schools in California or anywhere. But, it’s not the only fine school. There are many others.

2. California Institute of the Arts

California Institute of the Arts

CalArts has over 70 degree programs in the arts, including BFAs, MFAs, and doctorates in Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater. 

Begun in 1961, California Institute of the Arts was the brainchild of Walt Disney in collaboration with numerous other industry giants. For students of cinema wanting to specialize in animation, this is one of the best film schools in California. From Disney on, CalArts has had an amazing impact on film and TV animation.

It’s not all about animation, though. Just as Walt Disney did with his filmwork, the school employs and teaches artists in music, theater, and the business of film and TV. An interdisciplinary approach is encouraged, with students of the arts studying aspects of the other arts in today’s entertainment industry.

Alumni include nominees and winners of awards such as the Golden Globes, Tony awards, Emmys, and Oscars. 

The campus has full production facilities and students enjoy close working relationships with the local movers and shakers in the entertainment arts. Work programs help assist students to gain hands on experience in their chosen fields. 

Transfers in and out CalArts and other degree institutes allow for a full education for students of the arts. 

3. American Film Institute

American Film Institute

Founded in 1965 as a fully accredited degree  institute, AFI opened the Conservatory in 1969 for advanced film studies. 

This school has a great track record of training and graduating artists to work on major feature films, hit TV shows, advertising, and other commercial artistic endeavors. Accepting only MFA candidates for a two year program, students and faculty alike are often filled with working professionals. Long term professional relationships are often the result of student collaborations with each other.

Accepting less than 50 Fellows (as the student are called) per year, the Conservatory awards Masters degrees in Cinematography, Directing, Editing, Producing, Production Design, and Screenwriting.

In the first year of the two year program, fellows participate in three cycle projects. These projects are usually short films or videos of up to 20 minutes in length. Produced with guidance and direction of the faculty, the projects allow for a huge amount of creative freedom from the student artists.

For the second year, fellows work on their thesis projects and also develop projects that can be included in their professional portfolio. While doing so, they work as though the projects were real jobs, even following applicable union rules for hiring workers and associates. Faculty basically act in the role of executive producer.

This style of education prepares fellows for either entering or continuing the competitive entertainment field. 

4. University of California, Los Angeles

University of California, Los Angeles

University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA, has a great degree program for film, TV, and other media, awarding BFAs and MFAs. Studies include directing, editing, screenwriting, documentary, cinematography, animation, and producing.

Established in 1919 as part of the University of California system, the film school was added in 1947. Offering a variety of degrees in undergrad, grad, and postgrad, UCLA has an excellent program for educating film and TV professionals.

Some notable alumni include Francis Ford Coppola, Rob Reiner, and Tim Robbins.

Film Directing, Producing, Documentary, Screenwriting, Animation, Digital Media, Critical Studies, and Cinematography are some of the disciplines taught at UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. Besides classroom instruction, real world experience is provided by internships and vocational opportunities. 

5. Chapman University

Chapman University

Part of a larger school originally established in 1861, the film school was set up in 1996 as the Lawrence and Kristina Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. 

Degrees are available as BFA and MFA in Film Studies, Film Production, Film and Television Producing, Production Design, Screenwriting, Film and TV Producing, Documentary Filmmaking. Some degrees are joint degrees with the Chapman University Law and Business schools.

Located in Orange County, it’s away from the large city, but still close enough for practical on hand studies. One of the top film schools in the USA, graduates have been trained for success in the most needed fields of professional film and TV production.

Alumni include stars and behind the scenes professionals in various entertainment fields, including several prominent politicians.

6. Columbia College Hollywood

Columbia College Hollywood

Located in the heart of the entertainment district, Columbia College Hollywood was established in 1952. It offers undergraduate degrees in Cinema, Television, acting, cinematography, directing, editing, visual effects, new media, producing, sound, and writing.

Columbia College has a full production studio and screening theaters for showing student works. Collaborations with working professionals are common, as you might expect from the location. It also offers online degrees in various disciplines.

If you want to become a screenwriter, Foley artist, cinematographer, director, or other jobs in the film industry, Columbia College is god place to earn a BFA.

Alumni include many nominees and winners of major awards and quite a lot of very successful film and TV artists and technicians.

7. Art Center College of Design, Pasadena

Art Center College of Design, Pasadena

Located in Pasadena since 1930, film studies were added in 1973. Undergraduate and graduate degrees are offered in various fields and many of the instructors are working pros themselves. Besides film, training is provided in advertising, media design, production, and digital interaction.

The school also provides continuing education course for adults and public programs for students in high school around the Los Angeles area. 

One of the top 25 film schools in the world, this Pasadena college is a great place for learning about art, design, and production. Other subjects taught include aircraft design and production, architectural technology, and other industrial design.

In the educational program, students are encouraged to create and produce their own films and other artistic endeavors. They take on the rolls of directing, screenwriting, cinematography, editing, and producing, thus giving valuable experience in the entirety of the film and TV business.

Alumni include successful film directors Michael Bay and Zack Snyder.

8. Laguna College of Art & Design

Laguna College of Art & Design

Located in Laguna Beach in 1961, this relatively small college  provides BFAs and MFAs in animation and various other art and design disciplines. 

Laguna College of Art and Design also has study abroad affiliations with the Florence Academy of Art in Italy, Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, and the Communication University of China in Beijing. Also with Vermont College of Fine Arts in the USA.

Laguna Beach was a place where artists, intellectuals, and entertainers would gather to live, learn, and work. That vibrant culture spawned many innovations in art and entertainment. This continues today, as artists and professionals collaborate to educate students into these fields.

9. Loyola Marymount University

Loyola Marymount University

A Jesuit college founded in 1865, Loyola Marymount has one of the best arts degree programs in the fields of film, photography, design, and cinematography. Other degree programs subjects include business, law, engineering, and education.

A separate department, The School of Film and Television, was added in 2003. It continued the degree programs already in existence in these fields. BFAs and MFAs are offered in Film and Television Production, Screenwriting, Animation, Recording Arts, Writing and Producing for Television, Film and Television Production, and Feature Film Screenwriting.

Many film production companies have affiliated themselves with Loyola Marymount to enable students to gain experience on actual productions. Real world, hands on training is one of the valuable and effective methods of instruction. In the arts fields, this method also provides students with connections they can maintain throughout their professional careers.

10. Emerson College, Los Angeles

 Emerson College, Los Angeles

In Boston since opening in 1880, Emerson opened up an L.A. school in 1986. Entertainment alumni include Kevin Bright, Denis Leary, and Jay Leno. 

Right on Sunset Blvd since 2007, Emerson L.A. is well positioned for aspiring film industry students. Undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate degrees are offered in film, radio, and television subjects. Since opening their film and media school, Emerson has been ranked near the top of educational opportunities for entertainment studies. 

Besides the arts themselves, Emerson students can also receive training in business management, marketing, and communication. This puts graduates in a great position to join the professional world immediately upon graduation.

11. California State University, Northridge

California State University, Northridge

Open since 1958, it took its current name in 1972, affiliating with California State University and all that school has to offer. 

One of the major reasons film students are drawn to this institution is the affordability of the degree programs. It is even partnered with community colleges and other school accessible to lower income students, able to transfer credits to Northridge or other universities.

Besides that, the university offers undergrad, grad, and postgrad degrees in virtually any subject you may want to study. Film related studies include film and TV production, digital design, and business and marketing.

One of the top colleges on the West Coast, it is certainly one of the best film schools in California.

12. New York Film Academy – Los Angeles

New York Film Academy – Los Angeles

With a name like New York Film Academy, you might not expect to find this school so close to major Hollywood film studios. But here it is, in Burbank, right close by to Warner Brothers and Universal Studios. We mention those studios because they are actually affiliated with the school. In fact, degree students work on their projects in these studios.

A hands on, real world learning experience is provided by instructors who work in close collaboration with film and TV productions. This enables graduates to transition directly to working in the field. 

Paul Dano and Damon Wayans are graduates from here, and numerous other film and TV professionals have trained here. Many of them come back to offer their experience to new students of the arts.

BFA and MFA degrees are available in various studies, including filmmaking, acting for film, photography, fashion photography, documentary filmmaking, 3D animation and visual effects, game design, producing, screenwriting, digital filmmaking, cinematography, broadcast journalism, musical theatre, music video, digital editing, graphic design, and even virtual reality.

13. University of California, Berkeley

 University of California, Berkeley

In the gorgeous Bay Area, UC Berkeley has been in existence since 1868, with the film studies degree program added sometime after that. 

Degrees range form undergrad all the way to PhD in the fields related to motion picture and television production. Instruction is available in film, still photography, television, digital media, screenwriting, curating, and digital video production.

An interactive, interdisciplinary approach to the arts instruction results in students being well equipped for a rewarding career in film and TV.

14. University of California, Santa Barbara

University of California, Santa Barbara

Located in beautiful coastal Santa Barbara, this film school has degree programs for graduate and undergraduate. Studies include screenwriting, directing, film tech, acting, and production.

Founded in 1891, UC Berkeley has been a major college for a wide variety of degree programs in addition to the film studies. A major source of degrees in computer science, theater, and engineering, UC Berkeley encourages an interdisciplinary approach to education.

15. Occidental College

Occidental College

Referred to affectionally by alumni and current students as Oxy, this college is often overlooked in lists like these. Founded in 1887, it offers degrees in law and medicine as well as the fine film studies department.

A liberal arts and sciences college, Oxy is located in the heart of the entertainment industry. This gives it a great advantage for students seeking a high quality education in any of the arts.

16. Woodbury University

Woodbury University

Both the San Diego and Burbank locations of this school are great places to receive an arts degree. Founded in 1884, the school has degree programs in film making, animation, media technology, and writing. 

Instruction includes courses in film production, screenwriting, cinematography, directing, production, film marketing, and distribution.

Offering a BFA in Filmmaking, Woodbury has internship relations with Paramount, Sony, CBS, Warner Brothers, and Valhalla. Internships are an effective way to forge relationships that can last far into a rewarding and successful film or TV career.

These close working relationships open up career opportunities in acting, writing for film and television, casting, cinematography, directing, editing, producing, or sound recording. You can transition your BFA earned here in order to attend a graduate school in filmmaking, business, or law in order to obtain a Masters in those fields.

17. The Los Angeles Film School

The Los Angeles Film School

This L.A. school offers degrees in Film, Audio, Animation, Music, Graphic Design, and Entertainment Business. 

Established in 1999, LA Film has courses in animation and computer animation, visual effects, and instruction in the business of the film and TV industry. Roger Corman used the school to film one of his motion pictures. This highlights the value of schools that have ties to established professionals, as that type of collaboration leads to long term professional relationships.

18. San Francisco State University

San Francisco State University

In San Francisco since 1889, SFSU has a world class department of liberal and creative arts. Undergrad, grad, and doctorate degrees are offered in fields as diverse as Business, Education, Ethnic Studies, Communications Studies, Science, and Engineering. 

Hosting a top rated film school, SFSU has many Academy Award winners among its alumni. The school even operates a radio station for aspiring broadcasters.

19. Santa Monica College

 Santa Monica College

Another very affordable option for artists hoping to enter the entertainment business world, this two year college allows for transferring credit to virtually any other institution for higher degrees in fields related to film, TV, animation, or production. 

Established in 1929 as a junior college, SMC is one of the top schools in regards to transfers into other California universities. The film studies program is a great start for aspiring film and TV professionals.

What makes a good film school? Well, of primary importance is the curriculum itself. You want to be able to learn the basics of the craft. Perhaps you also want to specialize in an aspect o film and video. Directors, producers, script writers, cinematographers, camera operators, set designers, all have different and vital roles to play.

Another consideration is the atmosphere of the school. By this, we mean is more structured or more open in how the education is conducted. Both systems are valid, but one may fit your needs better than the other. Looking at the websites of the schools often shows you links to reviews or to social media sites. These can often tell you more than the school’s own website about the atmosphere of the institution.