Columbia College

The gleaming new Media Production Center at 1600 S. State is the jewel in the crown for Columbia College, by some measures the largest film school in the U.S., with 4,200 students in its School of Media Arts, which also includes TV and interactive media. Jeanne Gang (creator of the Aqua Tower on Columbus Drive) designed the $21 million, 35,500-square-foot center to facilitate collaboration across media disciplines, with two shooting stages, a motion-capture studio, animation suites, and shops for building props and costumes. Once almost strictly a commuter school, Columbia now shares downtown dorm space with Roosevelt and DePaul, offering a residential experience for students from Chicago and elsewhere. Alumni include Oscar-winning cinematographers Janusz Kaminski (Schindler’s List) and Mauro Fiore (Avatar), director George Tillman and producer Bob Teitel (Notorious), comedians Bob Odenkirk and Andy Richter, Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak, HBO Films president Len Amato, and rapper/actor Common.

Other local schools do give Columbia a run for its money. Project Bluelight allows students in DePaul’s School of Cinema and Interactive Media to collaborate on film and TV productions under the guidance of industry professionals. This summer they’re making the TV comedy pilot The King. And SAIC may have a better record than Columbia at producing auteurs. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival SAIC alums Apichatpong Weerasethakul (MFA 1998) won the Palm d’Or and Hong Sang-soo (MFA 1989) took the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section. Meanwhile, the for-profit Flashpoint Academy, launched in 2007 by venture capitalists Ric Landry and Howard Tullman, partnered in April with Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Enterprises to become Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, anteing a New York counter to Columbia’s Hollywood ties. Flashpoint’s tuition is $25,000 per year for a two-year associate’s degree program, so students can enter the workforce faster and save in total cost by bypassing some general education requirements.

But at $18,500 a year, Columbia is a bargain compared to other private four-year schools: DePaul is $28,000 a year, the School of the Art Institute $35,500. With deep technical resources, industry connections, and a pragmatic approach, Columbia gives you the most film-school bang for your tuition buck.