MasterClass online courses are heavily advertised in Facebook and I’m betting there’s a lot of people subscribing to them. Last year when I saw that Werner Herzog, my long time hero in delinquent cinema, was making his own MasterClass I jumped at it and bought the course. Later I got the yearly subscription that costs 200 euros for access to all the MasterClasses for one year. After watching many of the classes I felt that writing a review would demystify the content and give a short insight into what MasterClass exactly offers. Clear some of the fomo people might be feeling! I’m writing this specifically from the viewpoint of a film maker.
Is it worth it?
Is it really worth it? Will it give you tools to be a better film maker? To be honest, not so much. The MasterClasses aren’t a heavy sprinkling of secrets of the trade. It doesn’t contain tutorials and there are a lot less case studies than I’d like to see. The instructors don’t really reveal that many deep insights into the trade of film making itself.
Each MasterClass has about 15-20 lessons that vary anywhere from 3 minutes to 25 minutes in length. They are very well made and the streaming works great. There are english subtitles available for most of the classes. The user interface and experience is not the most comfortable however. You can’t automatically view a whole Masterclass in one go and you have to start each lesson individually. The subtitles need to be reset with each lesson as well.
The content is mostly talking heads and all classes follow the same structure. It starts with a short introduction and moves onto things like where to find inspiration, how to find your own voice, what to take into account when casting and so on. All of this is pretty self explanatory. “The wrong actors, the wrong roles could turn out the wrong movie”, says Spike Lee.
After about five classes of hearing the same content from all the instructors you kind of get a little disappointed that there is not more hands on action, case studies and real world situations. There are some funny anecdotes along the way and of course if you’re a fan of David Lynch or Herzog like I am, you’ll just enjoy listening to their voice. There is a community hub where you can talk to other subscribers but that’s just a big mess of people giving shout out’s, five star ratings and sharing their instagram profiles.
So far I’ve watched about ten MasterClasses and each of them had about two or three interesting lessons. The case studies and the lessons with footage from films are the most interesting content. They manage to dive a bit deeper into actual reasoning behind the decision made. For example Mira Nair’s MasterClass has two lessons in which they rehearse and shoot a scene from start to end. You get a sense of how to get the actors to achieve certain emotional states on the set and the time it actually takes to achieve this. But like I said, about 80 per cent of the content feels like pep talks. And don’t get me wrong, I have been inspired by many of the things. At first I tried to watch each class from beginning to end. Now I just skip to the lessons with case studies, scene deconstructions and staging examples.
A bit surprisingly I’ve most enjoyed the classes that I don’t have much knowledge about. For example Timbaland making his tracks is hilarious with his autotune out-of-tune vocalising. Gordon Ramsay making a 10 meter pasta dough, Gary Kasparov’s chess lessons and Neil Gaiman going over a Sandman comic book panel by panel was great (still have all the Sandman comics in my book shelf!). The basic gist behind all the MasterClasses is the same in their lessons as well. The classes do work best when you get to watch the instructor actually working and doing their thing. With Ramsay, Kasparov and even Timbaland that’s of course easier to show then with writing.
Other resources to learn film making
If you’re looking at getting more technical knowledge on film making I can wholeheartedly recommend to you Roger Deakins online forum. Reading the forum and Roger’s answers to questions has been by far one of the most helpful websites when it comes to technical aspects of film making. The book Shot by Shot by Steven D. Katz is a great primer on shooting and directing. Lynch on Lynch gives you a great insight on many of Lynch’s films. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time is probably my all time favourite book on film making. It manages a depth that is barely scratched with MasterClass.
One MasterClass alone is definitely not worth the 90 euros it costs. If you’re content with the fact that what you’re getting is inspirational talks with a few insights here and there, you’ll probably feel ok with the investment. In that case I do recommend getting the one year subscription. If you watch 20 of the classes in a year that comes down to 10 euros a pop. That’s a figure more in the realm of what the individual courses should cost in my opinion. If you do get it you can use this link to get extra three months added to your subscription. And hey, now you might as well loop that Timbaland craziness, right?