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The list of filmmakers who never actually studied film is essentially just a list of the best filmmakers. Christopher Nolan, Stephen Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick are a handful of the many (wildly successful) cinema auteurs who never went to film school. Of course, Spielberg didn’t just pick up a camera and make Jaws. Learning to make a movie does take enormous time and effort – it just doesn’t necessarily require an expensive film school. One of the best ways to start making films (or hone your existing talent) is to seek out the best filmmaking masterclasses, starting with a site like MasterClass.com.
MasterClass was started in 2014 as a means of connecting renowned experts with us normal folks at a reasonable price. This format of learning from working professionals who are at the top of their field (most of which being celebrities) means you get instruction that’s relevant right now.
But what does this actually look like for aspiring filmmakers? It’s Werner Herzog teaching you how to study, write and finance a film. It’s Aaron Sorkin teaching screenwriting. It’s Ken Burns talking about how to choose a story and make a truthful documentary (that people actually want to watch). These are just three of the nine best filmmaking MasterClass courses we’ve rounded up below.
How do MasterClass Courses Work?
Masterclass courses have three components: lectures, guided work and community interaction. The lectures are pre-recorded videos of the instructor discussing a certain section of their course (all courses are designed by the instructor). They’re typically quite short and are meant to offer inspiration and tips for the coursework. This coursework can be found in an extensive downloadable PDF with assignments and exercises to accomplish after each lecture.
The communal aspect of MasterClass is what really makes it special. You’ll be connected to all the other students in the course, allowing you to submit work for feedback and ask questions. With luck, the instructor will swing by to interact with students as well.
You’ll need a membership to access courses on MasterClass. Membership costs $180, but includes unlimited access to the entire catalog of masterclasses with more than 90 instructors. So you can always branch out from filmmaking to, say, cooking with Gordon Ramsey or photography with Annie Leibovitz at no extra cost.
The Best Filmmaking Courses on MasterClass
If you’re looking to start making movies, read on. We’ve rounded up nine of the best filmmaking courses on MasterClass, including classes on everything from screenwriting to acting to independent filmmaking.
1. Martin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking
Martin Scorsese has been around a long time. He’s been a massive force in Hollywood since Taxi Driver came out almost 45 years ago, and now the Oscar-winner is offering personal tips on his craft. Scorsese’s course is extensive, encompassing 30 lessons that range from film appreciation to developing your own style to directing. Even if you don’t end up making a film, chances are you’ll still find yourself enjoying cinema much more after dissecting old movie scenes with Martin Scorcese.
2. David Lynch Teaches Creativity and Film
A typical reaction to David Lynch’s films is “what the hell? I loved it.” Now you can learn how the hell David Lynch makes his movies. Staying true to David Lynch’s avant-garde style, the course is part lessons on the technical (casting, cinematography, etc.) and part lessons on creativity. This second part takes the form of how to break rules and even meditate for creativity like David Lynch.
3. Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting
Oftentimes, a film’s writer goes under the radar after production and post-production. Not Aaron Sorkin, whose scripts are some of the most acclaimed material in Hollywood. His masterclass on screenwriting is one of our favorites because it’s easy to do on your own at home (i.e. while quarantining).
Aaron’s class is the opposite of David Lynch’s (although just as good) because you’ll learn the nuts and bolts of writing, including developing characters, crafting story arcs and writing dialogue. There’s also an eight-lesson unit where Sorkin creates a virtual writer’s room for an episode of The West Wing that he’s never seen before.
4. Werner Herzog Teaches Filmmaking
Werner Herzog made his first film at 19 using a stolen camera. He stops at nothing to make a movie, and it’s this drive that makes him a great teacher as well as director. His masterclass deals with everything that goes into a movie (it covers both feature and documentary filmmaking), but the course also features career strategy and a final lecture on what it’s actually like to be a professional filmmaker. This means you’ll not only learn how to make a movie but (hopefully) survive Hollywood as well.
5. Spike Lee Teaches Independent Filmmaking
Most filmmakers allocate their time to directing and maybe producing and writing. Spike Lee, on the other hand, has been the star, electrician and truck driver in his films – on top of writing, producing and directing. In his masterclass, the iconic filmmaker hopes to impart some of this whatever-it-takes attitude, plus some essential techniques. Of course, you’ll also get some extremely relevant tips on how to uphold a filmmaker’s responsibility for positive change.
6. Jodie Foster Teaches Filmmaking
Jodie Foster might be best known for her acting career, but she’s also been killing it as a director since the eighties. Her masterclass therefore offers a comprehensive view from both sides of the camera. The course includes technical tips, guidance on finding your voice and even an example of developing a piece with someone else as Jodie works with her long-time collaborator Scott Frank.
7. Ron Howard Teaches Directing
Even though Ron Howard’s latest movies are made for IMAX theaters, he knows how to make movie magic on a shoestring budget as well. His extensive 32-lesson course focuses on directing, but you’ll learn about several aspects of the film industry. This class is extra special because it includes an eight-part section where Ron invites students onto his own set. This means you’ll get to learn the material and see it in practice.
8. Ken Burns Teaches Documentary Filmmaking
Few can give a more rich filmic account of history (and make it entertaining) than Ken Burns. The documentary master walks students through his process in this course, covering a ton of material in 26 lectures. You’ll learn how to pick a story, structure a nonfiction narrative, source archival material and much more. Throughout the course, Ken incorporates case studies that analyze pieces of his process such as a difficult interview for The War.
9. Natalie Portman Teaches Acting
The best filmmakers know their movies from top to bottom. One way to enrich your knowledge of a set is to learn more about how actors work, and, when Natalie Portman is teaching, you’re sure to walk away with something. In this course, the Oscar-winning actress guides students through the whole process of embodying all types of characters from historical figures to those in front of a green screen. This material is especially good for independent and low-budget filmmakers who need to cast themselves in their projects.