AFI Conservatory

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AFI Conservatory
TypePrivate non-profit school
AffiliationAmerican Film Institute
DeanSusan Ruskin
Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles
CampusUrban, 8 acres (3.2 ha)

The AFI Conservatory is a private non-profit graduate film school in the Hollywood Hills district of Los Angeles. Students (called "Fellows") learn from the masters in a collaborative, hands-on production environment with an emphasis on storytelling. The Conservatory is a program of the American Film Institute founded in 1969.


The Center for Advanced Film Studies (later the AFI Conservatory) opened its doors at Greystone Mansion on September 23, 1969. Harold Lloyd screened his film The Freshman and spoke with AFI Fellows on the school's very first day. The first class included Terrence Malick, Caleb Deschanel, and Paul Schrader.[citation needed]

In 1973, filmmaker John Cassavetes was the first filmmaker-in-residence while editing A Woman Under the Influence. In 1975, filmmaker Ján Kadár, director of the Oscar-winning film The Shop on Main Street, became the Conservatory's second filmmaker-in-residence.[citation needed]

In 2013, Emmy and Oscar-winning director, producer and screenwriter James L. Brooks (As Good as It Gets, Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment) joined the AFI Conservatory as Artistic Director, where he provides leadership for the film program. Brooks' artistic role at the AFI Conservatory has a rich legacy that includes Daniel Petrie, Jr., Robert Wise and Frank Pierson. Former Deans of the AFI Conservatory include Robert Mandel, Jan Schuette and Richard Gladstein. Susan Ruskin is the current Dean of the AFI Conservatory and Executive Vice President of AFI.

Among those AFI has bestowed Honorary Degrees upon during its annual Commencement ceremony are Maya Angelou, John Williams, Ken Burns, Sherry Lansing, Sydney Pollack, Clint Eastwood, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Spike Lee, Rita Moreno, and Quentin Tarantino.

AFI Conservatory thesis films have been nominated for 10 Academy Awards and earned 2 wins.[1]


The Warner Bros. building on the AFI campus.


In 2020, both The Hollywood Reporter and the TheWrap ranked AFI as the #1 film school in America in their respective best film school issues.[2]

It is ranked in the top five graduate film programs along with USC, UCLA, NYU and California Institute of the Arts by the Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report.[3]

Conservatory Program[edit]

AFI Conservatory is a five-term Master of Fine Arts program in six disciplines: Cinematography, Directing, Editing, Producing, Production Design, and Screenwriting. Traditionally, the Conservatory accepts 28 Fellows per year for most disciplines and 14 for the Production Design and Editing disciplines. Each discipline's program runs two years in length.

First Year - Fellows from all disciplines work on at least three digital video or high definition short films (up to 20 minutes), referred to as 'cycle projects'. Each of these first-year projects is accomplished by Fellows with a minimum of oversight from the senior faculty.

Second Year - Most Fellows work on at least one thesis short film, shot on digital video, high definition, 35mm film, or 16mm film, and develop portfolio materials (such as a reel and a feature film screenplay). Screenwriting Fellows have the option of writing two feature-length screenplays instead of participating in a thesis film. They are responsible for raising the bulk of their own financing for these projects (average budget is $30,000), and must adhere to standard industry regulations during filming. The senior faculty of the conservatory oversee the development of the 'second year' projects and monitor their development in a manner similar to what might be expected of an Executive Producer.[4]


AFI Conservatory Fellows filming on the AFI campus

Cinematography - Encompasses training from pre-visualization to advanced image manipulation and control, Cinematography Fellows develop their storytelling skills using formats ranging from digital video to 16mm and 35mm film cameras.

Directing - With a focus on narrative filmmaking, Directing Fellows learn diverse directing styles, techniques and strategies as they gain a thorough understanding of the production process, script to screen.

Editing - Editing Fellows master the skills needed to be editors, assistant editors and post-production producers while learning the technical, aesthetic and collaborative aspects of post-production with a primary focus on storytelling.

Producing - Producing Fellows study all aspects of creative, entrepreneurial production while developing and producing a minimum of three short films in their first year and a thesis film in their second year.

Production Design - Attracting artists from architecture, interior design, theater design and other related fields, the Production Design curriculum focuses on the creative process of visually and physically developing cinematic environments.

Screenwriting - Screenwriting Fellows conceive and write multiple projects in features, short films, long and short-form TV drama and comedy as well as webisodes and other Internet innovations. Fellows learn to collaborate with Directing and Producing classmates.


The AFI Conservatory has a faculty of working professionals including Todd Cherniawsky (art director, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Stan Chervin (writer, Moneyball), Destin Daniel Cretton, (director, Short Term 12), Matthew Friedman (editor, The Farewell), Joe Garrity (production designer, Best in Show), Susan Littenberg (editor Easy A), Stephen Lighthill (recipient 2018 ASC President's Award), Elvis Mitchell (film critic), Michele Mulroney (writer, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Martin Nicholson (editor, The Alienist), Lauren Polizzi (art director, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 & The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2), Louis Provost (VP Production, Walt Disney Studios), Patricia Riggen (director The 33), Russell Schwartz (marketing executive on films including Chappaquiddick), Anna Thomas (co-writer El Norte), Jennie Tugend, (producer, Free Willy), Janet Yang (producer, The Joy Luck Club).


The Harold Lloyd Master Seminar series, named after the silent film star who gave the first seminar, takes place on campus and runs throughout the academic year. It brings AFI Conservatory Fellows together with artists to share their work and experiences in an informal setting.


The program has graduated more than 5,000 Fellows. AFI Conservatory alumni include:


AFI Conservatory alumni have received a total of 149 Academy Award nominations and 30 wins.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Thesis Production | AFI CONSERVATORY".
  2. ^ "2020's Top 25 American Film Schools, Ranked". 24 August 2020.
  3. ^ "Top Film School Ranking". Good University Ranking Guide.
  4. ^ "American Film Institute Conservatory". AFI.