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4 Filmmaking Takeaways from Watching Masterclass Courses

From documentary filmmaking to tackling a low-budget indie film, Masterclass has a course for you. Dive in for a closer look.

Masterclass is a premium video platform where the best people in their respective fields take you through how to do what they do. While classes vary across different industries and career paths, Masterclass has procured some top-tier filmmaking talent. These directors, screenwriters, composers, and actors break down every aspect of the filmmaking process over dozens of hours. Whether you want to learn how to manage a small budget for an indie movie or learn how to make a documentary, Masterclass has a course for that. 

What Is Masterclass?

The Filmmaking Process
Masterclass addresses the essential parts of the filmmaking process. Image via fizkes.

Unlike courses from skill-learning platforms such as Udemy and Skillshare, Masterclass filmmaking courses won’t teach you camera basics or other fundamental filmmaking techniques. Instead, through its roster of talented filmmakers, filmmakers on Masterclass deconstruct the process to its most essential parts:

  • Choosing a script
  • Working with cinematographers
  • Directing actors
  • Editing
  • Choosing the right music

YouTube Tutorials these are not, so don’t expect these filmmakers to tell you which settings to use on your camera or which gear is best to use. But, if you want to learn how to make a film and manage everything that comes with it, Masterclass blows the doors wide open. 

If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, Masterclass is the closest thing to a film school education you can get on the internet without actually enrolling in school, and it’s much cheaper. The price for a one-year subscription is $180. Its value, however, is much greater. In one of his lessons, Martin Scorsese says that his course isn’t for those who want to make movies, it’s for those who need to make movies. If you need to make movies, you should consider signing up. 

Due to the length of each course, I haven’t managed to watch each one, but I’ve seen enough to appreciate the service’s value. Though every course has something to learn from, I decided to pick these four courses below because each offers something different and unique that you won’t learn on YouTube, Skillshare, or any other site.

1. Choosing the Right Script

Ron Howard is easily one of the most recognized names in Hollywood, with a body of work going back to the 70s. Although he began his career as an actor, he’s gone on to produce and direct many critically-acclaimed movies and TV shows, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture and Director for A Beautiful Mind back in 2002. Needless to say, the man knows what he’s talking about. Howard has one of the longest filmmaking courses, clocking in at eight hours, but he delves deep into every part of the process. In many of his lessons, he draws his advice from personal experience as a director, revealing knowledge learned from many years in the business. 

Starting from how to choose the right script, Howard takes you through every step, explaining the importance of working with others, especially cinematographers—this is a running theme across many filmmakers on Masterclass. Some of the best lessons in this course are Howard’s reconstructions of several of his most popular movies. 

Though Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story missed the mark and underperformed at the box office, it could have been much worse if Howard hadn’t taken over from the previous directors and reshot most of the movie. Howard’s structured approach to directing, and his ability to salvage a project in dire straits, is worth learning from, and it’s a testament to his skill as a filmmaker. 

2. Working with Videographers

What you need to know about Jimmy Chin is that he’s not afraid to go where no one has gone before. Before becoming the face of outdoor photography and an Academy Award-winning director, Chin went against his family’s wishes and lived out of his car to pursue his passion for the outdoors, choosing to climb rather than have a traditional career. After selling a photo that he took on a friend’s camera, he realized he could make it a career, and he did. His story is inspiring, but his dedication to his craft and respect for nature is even more so. 

Chin is an adventurer first and a photographer second. Although his course teaches others how to become “adventure photographers,” Chin is no stranger to directing a film. Most recently, he co-directed Alex Honnold’s historic free solo climb of the El Capitan wall at Yosemite National Park in the National Geographic documentary, Free Solo. That documentary won the Academy Award for the Best Documentary Feature.  

There’s a lot to learn from him regarding working with big-name clients and creating content in remote locales. For freelance videographers, I recommend his lesson “Commercial Case Study: Canon Shoot,” which goes over how to pitch, work, and produce amazing content for some of the biggest brands in the world. I found his lesson on becoming a photographer inspiring, and his mantra—figure out, commit—will stick with me as a creator. 

3. Directing Actors

This course is one of the most important for indie filmmakers who need to make their project work on a small budget. If you’re self-financing or managed to get some backing from family, friends, or an investor, Mira Nair takes you through the process of getting the most out of your budget. 

The Harvard-educated filmmaker cut her teeth making documentaries in the 80s, but she’s most well-known for her films Monsoon WeddingMississippi Masala, and The Namesake—this last one is based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s eponymous novel, which I highly recommend. 

Though her lessons run the gamut in terms of filmmaking, Nair establishes from early on that, to tell stories, you need to find your voice. She explains that when she came to America to study at Harvard, she chose to remain true to what made her unique rather than blend in. Nair’s films often explore and delve into Indian culture—either in India or in America—using her own experiences to tell stories that are both deeply personal and also relevant to audiences in the states and across the world. 

For Nair, good filmmaking starts with a unique voice, regardless of mass appeal. In her lesson on discovering your voice, Nair talks about thinking that her first feature film, Salaam Bombay!, would have a small audience, but she didn’t talk herself out of it. That film went on to be nominated at the Academy Awards in 1989 for Best Foreign Language Film. 

4. Learn by Doing

Werner Herzog is a self-trained filmmaker with many movies and documentaries under his belt. More than the lessons themselves, the most interesting thing about Herzog’s course is his unapologetic takes on filmmaking. His unorthodox style comes from his lack of a traditional film school education, which is why he easily eschews conventional filmmaking methods. With a filmmaking career spanning sixty years, Herzog speaks seriously and with authority. However, he does have a humorous side, as evidenced by his appearances in Rick and MortyThe Simpsons, and Parks and Recreation. He also appeared in The Mandalorian as The Client, a mysterious former Empire agent with sinister motives, and he played the part well.

When speaking of his successes and failures as a filmmaker, Herzog says that you don’t learn that in film school—you learn by doing it. You learn by making films, and his course takes the viewer through the various steps of filmmaking. His behind-the-scenes breakdown on financing your first film and how to negotiate, delve into the business side of filmmaking, which, though not often talked about, is as important as anything else. Without money, there is no project. 

Herzog’s lesson on techniques is highly educational for those who want to learn more about actual filmmaking techniques. The eighty-year-old filmmaker gets up from his chair and physically demonstrates how to recreate some of his favorite shots used in his films. In another lesson, Herzog insists that the camera isn’t the most important thing, which is true. Gear is not everything. That’s especially true for beginners who think they need to buy the best equipment first before starting their project. 

So, Should You Sign Up?

Learning Filmmaking with Masterclass
With so many options to start with, you’re bound to find a course that’s right for you. Image by Evgeniia Primavera.

If you want to learn or get better at cooking, acting, taking photos, telling jokes, writing novels, dancing, or improving yourself, then yes. If you’re a curious person who hungers for knowledge, there’s no shortage of skills to learn from some of the most respected people in their respective fields, and the list just keeps growing. And, for aspiring filmmakers or videographers, the answer is definitely yes. 

Of course, you won’t be imbued with the knowledge just because you subscribe. You have to take each class seriously, take notes, and follow through. Masterclass can fill in the gaps, but you’ll only truly learn by doing. Whether you went to film school, dropped out, or never went, there are dozens of hours of filmmaking knowledge that you can access with one subscription. 

On Masterclass, you have access to some of the best, critically-acclaimed filmmakers in the world at any time. There are even more talented filmmakers on Masterclass than I’ve mentioned in this article. I didn’t even cover Spike Lee and David Lynch, or screenwriters such as Aaron Sorkin and Shonda Rhimes. Unless you have a direct line of communication to these people, Masterclass is the most cost-effective way to learn from masters of the craft. 

Learn About Filmmaking and Videography from The Beat

As a last bit of advice, I recommend first learning how to use a camera, and other fundamental techniques and skills that Masterclass doesn’t cover. Luckily, we specialize in that kind of content, and we have many tutorials on this site that you can access for free. The Beat has all you need to know about shooting videocamera movementeditingpicking the right gear, and everything else an aspiring filmmaker or videographer may want to learn. 

Cover image via NickJulia.

For even more inspiring articles for aspiring filmmakers, check out these articles:

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