USC, NYU, UCLA film schools

Over the long US holiday weekend, The New York Times reported on the current landscape at American film schools, which seem to be increasing in number with every passing semester. The gist of the story is that, even though it may be tougher than ever to get jobs at traditional Hollywood studios, film schools are exploding with eager young talent.

Writer Michael Cieply says applicants for slots at USC grew this year to 4,800, compared to 2,800 last year. (USC will admit fewer than 300 students.) He quotes an official at Western Kentucky University, which has 84 majors in a film and TV program that just launched last year. The MPAA says it got entries for the Student Academy Awards programs from 136 schools this year, up by a third from 2009.

While that seems like an awful lot of film students are about to be let loose in the world, Cieply also hears from the dean of the UCLA film school, who thinks digital media greatly expands the possibilities for new graduates.

So how important is film school, anyway? Is it important to get a solid grounding in technique and history before you start shooting and cutting your own material? Or is any high-school kid with an iPhone and a copy of iMovie (or, for the serious student, Final Cut X) ready to start learning about film grammar and on-set collaboration? If you went, how much did it help you?

Update 07/06/11: IndieWIRE has published a rebuttal to the original Times story.