Learn Your Way to the Top

What do Spike Lee, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese all have in common? They have a Master of Fine Arts degree from one of the top MFA programs in the United States. Now, this isn’t to say that you cannot succeed without an MFA, but if you’re interested in surrounding yourself with and learning from the best, check out some of these MFA programs below:


American Film Institute (AFI)

Degrees: MFA, certificate of completion
Tuition: $38,416 first year, $37,112 second
Location(s): Los Angeles // Silver Spring

Arguably one of the most selective fine arts school in the country, AFI’s two-year conservatory program offers students in the Los Angeles area the opportunity to direct, produce, and write their own unique content. Notable alumni include Darren Aronofsky, Patty Jenkins, Heidi Levitt, David Lynch, and more. AFI also presents the annual Life Achievement Awards and AFI Awards.

AFI Conservatory Core Values: “We expect leadership, initiative, integrity and the communication necessary for successful collaboration in a professional environment. By means of these core values, the Conservatory inspires each Fellow to discover an authentic voice.”


Beijing Film Academy

Degree: B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. programs
Tuition: Local: ~$1,240 // International: ~$7,800
Location: Beijing, China

The Beijing Film Academy offers undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. programs for creative students. China currently has the fastest-growing film industry in the world right after the United States. With a large international exchange program, students have the opportunity to not only learn the ins and outs of film, but also Mandarin, the official language of the land. If you’re looking to  spend some time abroad, definitely apply here. Plus, the tuition is comparatively cheap.

“BFA actively promotes international exchange and cooperation.”


New York University Tisch School of the Arts

Degrees: B.A., BFA, MFA, MPS, M.A., Ph.D.
Tuition: $45, 674
Location: New York, New York

NYU’s School of the Arts is another high ranking institution with a relatively low acceptance rate. However, if you manage to attend, you’ll walk the same halls as brilliant directors like Scorsese and Gilligan. The Kanbar Institute of Film and Television contains Graduate Film, Undergraduate Film & Television, Cinema Studies, and Dramatic Writing. If you’re interested in studying abroad, NYU also hosts a Tisch School of the Arts in Asia. The Singapore campus offers MFA degrees in animation and digital arts, dramatics writing, and film production.
“The Rita and Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing cross-trains students in all areas of dramatic writing with concentrations in Film, Playwriting, and Television.”

Field of Vision

Larger strides are being taken in the documentary industry as award winning director, Laura Poitras launches the ambitious venture, Field of Vision. Partnering with documentary veterans Charlotte Cook and A.J. Schnack, Field of Vision will commission short-form documentaries and make them available, free of charge, online via the Field of Vision streaming website. As large companies like PBD, HBO, and Netflix continue to hot and fund longer, more formal productions, Poitras aims to provide a platform for timely, new stories that stand apart from industry heavyweights.


After taking home an Oscar for her riveting examination of the Edward Snowden case, no one expected Ms. Poitras to become and entrepreneur. However, her new company, sponsored by First Look Media, will provide one-off, first look encounters on numerous topics ranging from homelessness to political strife. Some recognizable industry participants include Michael Moore and “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon. This upcoming Sunday at the 2015 New York Film Festival, Poitras will premier Kirsten Johnson’s “The Above,” Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s “Peace in the Valley,”  and Iva Radivojevic’s “Notes From the Border.” The key difference between Field of Vision projects and standard PBS documentaries lies in each project’s ability to be relevant, current, and serve as an alternative outlet for nonfiction film.

According to A.J. Schnack, the director of a nonfiction film about Kurt Cobain, “[Field of Vision wants] to play in the corner where journalism and documentary overlap.” Filmmakers believe that this new platform will allow them to participate in current debates creatively without the bureaucracy of big name players who require long waiting periods, making the concept of timeliness impossible. Field of Vision also plans to experiment with serialized content, much like “This American Life’s” spinoff, “Serial.”

Even with consistent backing and verbal support, Poitras recognizes difficulties that lie ahead. Online services like YouTube and Vimeo haven been modern powerhouses and central hubs for independent directors and producers. Regardless of competition, Laura Poitras is confident that the aspect of community building will guide Field of Vision to success.