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gaining experience (even if it's not under the best circumstances)
good post-production instruction
being around people who want to make film their vocation
ability to try different tracks
mediocre faculty who cannot teach, give helpful notes, or make good work
ineffective administration that doesn't like change
poorly designed first year curriculum
bad cinematography program
conservative, non-progressive school that lacks ability to hold people accountable, especially when it comes to social justice (too white)
does not set students up to succeed or help them make their best work - quality of work is generally, at best, mediocre
innovation is not encouraged, what matters more is reputation
little theoretical or intellectual sophistication in students or faculty (unless you are in the critical studies dept.)
I'm writing this review because there wasn't a lot of clear info when I was applying so I hope that this can offer some clarification beyond the fluff of USC marketing (like "the #1 film school in the world" bullshit).
The first year at USC is the worst one and is truly a mess. The film program accepts students based on their perspectives, meaning there is a wide range of skill level when it comes to film. Some people have had done a degree program before or have worked, while others do not know anything. This is not inherently a bad thing but what is dishonest about SCA is that they are not clear about the fact that the first year does not actually serve either groups of people. There is too little teaching that would give beginners a good foundation, but at the same time more experienced people are bored by how basic everything is. The approach of the first year is to have useless lectures during class, assigning students to trios, and having them figure out filmmaking themselves while learning how to "collaborate". What I have seen of even this attempt to teach people to collaborate is that they value students who don't make a fuss, meaning students will put on their best face to teachers so that they can have opportunities to direct higher level productions. They do not offer helpful support for students who struggle with things such as conflict resolution, mental health issues, cultural differences, or disability. I don't consider this good teaching or learning. Also, effective learning is seriously impaired by teachers who largely lack the basic skill of organizing classes and lecturing, in addition to not actually being that good at helping people with their films. If they were skilled enough to be successful most of them would not be teaching there.
After the first year, things get dramatically better because there is more choice in how people can work, who they work with, as well as what they take. This is when people start taking basic intermediate classes (directing, producing, etc.) which would have been far more useful to have learned in the first year before we had to make films. The faculty is improved from the first year but I have found that great professors are still hard to come by. There are certainly some here and there, though. The advanced production classes (esp 546/narrative and 547/doc) are well-regarded and I've generally heard good things about them. In general the coursework becomes more helpful since you can focus on one thing at a time and begin to consider how these will help you in your career. However, even then, I have found classes and instructions to be just okay.
USC is actually best for people who are already quite good at filmmaking and know what they are doing. In addition, this school is more helpful for people who want to be blockbuster directors and make films in a more standard way. However, artists who try to break the mold or make experimental work will not be as well supported, especially by the faculty who often don't understand that type of filmmaking. Stories told by POC exist in plenty but because most of the faculty is white those stories also do not get the best support that they should. When it comes to tracks, directing, cinematography, and PD are the weaker tracks here. Writing, producing, and post-production (editing and sound) are strong. The editing and sound facilities are definitely good and the faculty will train you from the beginning.
I can't say if USC is worth it or not really. I'd have to graduate to see if it is but I think it can be depending on what your goals are, what you want to do, and whether you can afford it. I have learned a lot from doing things in classes but I do wish that the education was structured better. The film program can certainly help you get a job (esp if you do a post-production track), gain familiarity with equipment, and learn technical skills but it won't help you become a better artist. However, I do think that coming to USC will open doors career wise because it is well-connected but so far it has come at the cost of dealing with all of the bullshit of the school. By the time people graduate the anger of going through the first year is gone but many are left with mixed feelings. You should know what to expect before you say yes.
They pick literally anyone, students who have no idea what filmmaking is (not talking about experience but at least passion and basic understanding of filmmaking)
Terrible taste (Hollywood trash, as I stated. They would all die for Marvel because- KeviN FeiGe iS aN AlUmNi)
Expensive (Tuition + living cost in LA for 3 years, plus production cost etc would likely cost you a literal kidney)
USC owns YOUR film that YOU pay on your own
Most students can't accept criticism and can't give criticism
They rely on sappy stories to make film, without actually having merit
Useless first year
Terrible equipment with low production value
Not actual industry network as they market, most of the time it's just B-list directors who happen to be friends with the faculty
Overall, this school is what 'quantity over quality' means.
The network they brag about is absolutely not as they market. The filmmakers who come mostly make low-rated films that happen to need a boost of marketing. Occasionally they are good, don't get me wrong, but it's just gonna be once every semester so I wouldn't call that good network.
I would give it 0 star but this website won't let me.
Oh and the SCA building is a horrific building, an insult to any architect in the world. At least $75 million endowment from alumni and organizations are distributed to the construction of this awful building instead of I don't know, scholarship? Emergency fund? Lower tuition?
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Chance of connections
Lack of diversity
Useless first year
Scholarships only for certain groups
If you don’t get a scholarship to attend USC I would advise against going. It’s too much money to throw away for a school with so many problems. The first year is remedial film. If you’ve ever taken film before, it’s useless. 6 units are devoted to critical studies, which at the time of writing is 12k. Do yourself a favor and save for a house.
The so called network only helps a certain few. The fact that you’re in college helps more, so I would choose a cheaper school.
Students are among the most motivated and productive
Atmosphere of collaboration emphasized both in student populations and in curriculum
Professors who would be consider diamonds in the rough are more common here
More opportunities to be on set or to work on a film than you know what to do with
Editing facilities are top notch
This is small and ultimately not very important, but I was surprised about the kind of clout going to SCA gave me within the school. There is a sense of pride that goes along with it.
Self motivated and disciplined students never fail to find a plethora of opportunities
Sound and Producing department faculty are among the best in the nation
Students are selected by less tangible standards than necessarily the commercial quality of their work, their resume or their film literacy. The gap in initial competency among students can cause some friction.
For a school that claims to focus on industry practice, the opportunity to work on anything even approaching industry scale work is few and far between. Even advanced classes can sometimes have a more Guerilla feel.
Since films are thought of mainly as a form of practice, not enough time or emphasis is given for the preproduction phase
Sound and Production Design are disciplines get little emphasis.
One can spin their wheels and go unnoticed if they don't self promote
Ultimately the school lives up to its ranking. It's not a conservatory. Perhaps it should be, but beyond that claim it shouldn't be judged against other conservatories.
Furthermore, the student network is among the most ambitious and collaborative. The attitude among the student population is the reason I decided to go to this school and I haven't regretted it.
If you aren't disciplined and self motivated you can end up getting a little overlooked at the school but with a 3 year program, there is plenty of time to self correct.
Job opportunities/internships other than DP or directing in Hollywood.
Surrounded by faculty who currently work in Hollywood.
Student assistantships with hourly pay with sign on bonus of up to 5k.
Scholarship opportunities for students who get their 1st or 2nd year films into good film festivals.
Tuition fee: ~40k/annum ( total cost for 3 years might extend up to 200k because of self-funded films).
Self-funded films except for 546 course (top 10 students of 60). Thesis is also self-funded.
Can make only one top tier film festival worth movie in 546 course as a director (Unless you self-fund the films you make in intermediate directing, directing techniques, advanced directing or making media for social change courses).
International students should be prepared to go back if they do not get their movies into top tier film festivals (which makes you eligible for O1 visa : click here for more details).
No high end equipment for directing courses other than thesis or a 546.
Bottom line: Tons of opportunities to work in Hollywood but may be not as a DP or a Director (Unless you're a Ryan Coogler ).
Amazing faculty, equipment, infrastructure and amazing classmates aka future collaborators.
Plus being a part of USC, there is just a ton of advantages in itself.
Even the campus is breathtaking, which means you got a ton of shooting spots!
Not everything will be given to you, some expect that, but do know that you need to put in some effort too.
I have finished my first semester and it has lived up to my great expectations. The semester just blew past me. There was so much to do and so much to learn! I just can't wait for the next semester to begin.
USC School of Cinematic Arts IS definitely the best film school.
I just went to their graduate admitted students day, and needless to say, it's pretty understandable why they continuously rank top 3 on every Best Film School list. Friendly and knowledgeable faculty, committed students, and they had pulled a nice, diverse group together for this coming year which is very important to me as a filmmaker. Not sure where I'm going yet, but definitely impressed!