USC Film School

USC Film School: A Very Expensive and Prestigious Joke USC Film School

It’s hard to make fun of USC Film School, even though it’s located in a neighborhood in LA that is so bad, at least a couple of students are murdered every year. But beyond that, the reputation of USC Film School exceeds NYU as a prestigious film school. Alumns like Robert Zemeckis and George Lucas routinely give the school huge endowments to build really big buildings that house… the same editing suites and cameras they use at every other film school.

The ridiculousness of paying $42,000 to attend a school that, like NYU Film School, only allows students to start filmmaking basics 2 years into their study is never questioned by eager beaver applicants to the school. I’ve interviewed many USC Film students and they are a bright lot, but none of them ever seem to ask the question of why they are paying a quarter of a million dollars to get access to cameras that cost $3,000 to buy and shoot little video project they could be shooting on their own.

This is What a USC Film School Student Film Looks Like

No matter what what amazing things you’ve heard about USC Film School, it’s run the exact same way as every other film school. Even in 2011, when most student are already shooting complex narratives in HD, beginning film students are handed a 60 year old camera and told to shoot black and white silent films on 16mm film. Here is a sample.

Seriously. Do you really want to pay $42,000 to make a film that looks like that? Everyone who sees films like these begins to laugh. Can they really still be teaching this nonsense at name film schools?

Many hopeful filmmakers dream of attending USC Film School because of the imagined “connections”, but as I explain in Film SchoolSecrets, even an honors diploma and an engagement ring from the Dean himself will only get a graduate a very menial, entry level position in pretty much any aspect of the business. This is great if you wish to be an Agent or an Assistant, but all the directing jobs go to people who have started working on their own and can demonstrate they know how to work on feature length projects. Some USC Film School students have won awards and even caught the attention of greats like Spielberg and Lucas, but this still never leads to any major career boost; until a filmmaker has demonstrated he knows how to make a movie outside of an academic setting he is forced to compete for entry level work.

USC Film School is no different than any other film school, except it tends to attract brighter students. The alumni are as scattered as the NYU Alumni; meaning that yes, going to USC may get you an interview, but there are just as many unemployed USC Film School grads as there are unemployed Art Institute grads.

Update: I have received varying degrees of “hate” mail from this post; typically very angry USC students (and the occasional well written, even keeled one) defending their beloved institution and the jobs fetching coffee they will most certainly get upon graduation. The fundamental absurdity remains: paying outrageous tuition for access to basic film training and equipment that could easily be procured from ebay. They school’s big selling point is their mysterious “connections”. As if “connections” got Spielberg, Lucas, Tarantino, Smith, Cameron, Apatow, Hitchcock, Fincher, or any other notable director their career. It was never connections. Yes, if you are slugging it out for a PA gig or the be the key grip on a production, and it’s between you and someone else the Production Manager doesn’t know, then yes, your connections will pay off. But in the world of Directing, high level creative jobs, connections mean jack shit. Can you imagine someone being chosen to helm a $100 million movie because they “knew” somebody from school? Please. Film is a business, and the only way to “climb the ladder” is to produce excellent products that make money. Something not taught in any film school.

Update: I just saw this film shot in USC’s Production 290 Course. Ask yourself, does this look like a film shot by someone receiving $40,000 a year worth of film education, or just the same kind of short you’d see on youtube anywhere?


  1. The dean is a woman.

    • My mistake. “even an honors diploma and an engagement ring from the Dean HERself will only get a graduate a very menial, entry level position in pretty much any aspect of the business.” I wrote this article in 2011. Are you guys still making those black and white movies?

      • No we’re not. The intro level film production course, CTPR 290, provides students with HD Sony NX5s and access to AVID, Protools, Netmix, aftereffects, etc. And while it’s true that a degree from USC will not automatically get graduates jobs, the connections and lessons you learn there will, depending on whether or not you apply yourself.

        • Well it is good to know that film students paying $42,000 a year are getting limited, shared access to a camera that costs $3,000 used. I also can’t believe you have access to After Effects, that is incredible. I still don’t understand why the average student would want to learn AVID; the $2,500 software is only relevant if you want a career as an editor, and Final Cut or Premiere is more than adequate. The point isn’t really regarding jobs; it’s the lack of serious directing/financing/career training at such a high price tag. I do actually know a number of USC grads with good industry jobs; however they typically work in the administrative/studio end of things, and very few in production, and never as a director. While I’m sure connections there are valuable for certain non-creative career paths, I am curious how grads have parlayed their school experience into anything that resembles an on set directing career without doing the same thing that thousands of other aspiring filmmakers are doing: shooting a damn movie.

  2. Help! Disillusioned!

    Just bought your book on Amazon.

    I gave my 12 y.o. daughter her own camcorder for Xmas! And now she wants to take a NYFA 12-saturday workshop starting next month.

    Are your asserting that this is the wrong route? What would you recommend a parent to do to guide her more effectively?

    • Hi David,

      Actually, I think NYFA is perfect for a 12 year old. I just don’t recommend it for adults. They provide that very very very very basic level of instruction. Plus a $3,300 course is different than a $150,000 one. Where do you guys live?


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