A Comparative Look At Online Filmmaking Classes
Considering investing in online filmmaking courses? Check out this comparative guide to the leading programs on the market.
Cover image via Masterclass.
Online courses have been around for a while; I’m sure many of us may even be working creatives thanks to some of these courses. However, the last five years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of classes taught by industry-leading professionals and recognizable household names.
Tuition for these courses ranges from under $100 to over $1,000. Today, we’re going to look at three leading brands, Masterclass, MZed, and Skillshare, to see what you get for your money. This isn’t going to be a comparative review of the content but, rather, a breakdown of what the sites offer and what students should expect.
Please note, this is not a sponsored post. I have purchased or subscribed to the following courses.
MZed, founded by esteemed photographer Monte Zucker, is an educational website that offers courses in photography, cinematography, editing, sound mixing, and many other filmmaking subcategories. The courses range from $49 to $1,000, but there is a subscription option — you can subscribe for $299 and access the entire library, plus future additions. However, the subscription service only allows you to stream the courses — you cannot download them permanently. As many courses hover around the $200-$400 range, you’ll have to weigh the benefits of downloading one course or accessing all content
The range in prices between courses is due to course length. Philip Bloom’s Cinematic Masterclass is $199, at a duration of nine hours and 27 minutes. Mark Edward Lewis‘s Cinema Sound is $999, but at a whopping duration of 85 hours, 46 minutes. Alternatively, for $79, you can purchase a single module to learn directly about an individual element of a specific course. However, $79 for content that lasts just about an hour is quite expensive, and if you’re seeking specific information, perhaps wireless audio transmissions or recording at weddings, you may be better off combing the archives of blogs such as this one.
Vincent Laforet’s Directing Motion Class
Vincent Laforet is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, an accomplished director, and one of the filmmakers at the forefront of the DSLR revolution. If you were around when the 5d MK II was taking the world by storm, you might remember his short tech test, which captured the attention of professionals and amateurs alike.
The Directing Motion course deconstructs the methodology behind movement in film and television — both the camera and the blocking of the action. Unlike many other online courses, which often present an intimate conversation between the viewer and the educator, this course is a live demonstration at a workshop. It comes across as an active lecture rather than a passive tutorial. This is a common among many of the courses MZed offers.
You become a fly on the wall at a live demonstration. But you’re not sequestered from the action, or made to feel like you’ve purchased a download because you missed the tour. MZed produces the courses with an HD multi-camera setup and crisp HQ audio, and when Vincent demonstrates a camera technique with some of the audience members, you find yourself immersed in the action, as if you are a volunteer yourself. You can, to some extent, see more of the demonstration this way than if you had purchased a tour ticket.
While the content is excellent and the production quality fantastic, I can’t help but feel that MZed is expensive compared to Masterclass. I imagine that Masterclass can offer such a low price because bigger household names draw more students from outside of the educators’ industries, but still, for some, $90 vs. $400 is a big difference.
- Lengthy courses
- Industry-leading educators
- Subscription option
- Purchase individual modules
- Downloads available
Masterclass has become very recognizable over the last few years. This is due, no doubt, to relentless social media advertising, but it’s also a result of the educators themselves. While Vincent Laforet and Philip Bloom are recognizable names in the film industry, especially among the online filmmaking community, names such as Samuel L. Jackson, Gordon Ramsay, and Christina Aguilera are household names around the globe.
That, in itself, is the core element of Masterclass. You learn from the biggest names in their respective industries. As such, one would assume that a several-hour course on composing by multi-award-winning Hans Zimmer would cost thousands. However, that isn’t the case. Masterclass has a $90 set price for every course. They, like MZed, offer a subscription service that allows you to access all classes. With the subscription, you also get early access to new courses, which come out throughout the year — such as the upcoming filmmaking course taught by Martin Scorsese.
Werner Herzog’s Filmmaking Course
Werner Herzog’s filmmaking course is a few minutes shy of being six hours long. It breaks down into 26 individual lessons — or 25, since lesson one is primarily an introduction to the course.
This course, like all of the courses on Masterclass, relies on an intimate manner of presentation. There are no other students, no workshop, no live audience; it’s just you and the educator. While there are a few wide shots, most the content you see is in a mid shot.
This closeness offers a more personal approach to the curriculum, and it often feels like Werner is personally giving you the information.
The lessons don’t conform to a particular time structure either. Each lesson is its own specific subject, which you can view on its own or as part of the whole course. One of my favorite features of Masterclass is the handbook that comes with each course. (You’ll need a printer to make use of it properly.) Each course comes with a fully documented workbook, which can be just as important as the video lessons themselves.
As you can read in the workbook, a printable .pdf filled with lesson recaps and assignments.
Please note: these assignments are not for the faint of heart. Herzog believes you must be willing to go above and beyond in your fortitude and effort to experience the world to become a great filmmaker, and the assignments reflect this mindset.
When you work through the handbook (in addition to watching the video lessons), it starts to feel like you have enrolled in an actual class on campus. You have to venture from your desk to complete coursework, and in the case of Masterclass, you can receive feedback from the educators. (In this case, however, since many of the educators are world-famous professionals, you’ll often receive feedback from the community, rather than the stars themselves.)
- Household names
- Companion textbook
- Extensive coursework
- Feedback from educators
Skillshare offers a subscription-only model. There are two accounts: free and premium. The free subscription, as you might have guessed, grants you limited access. The free subscription will allow you to view the course oversight video, as well as take part in the class discussion and access the class notes. However, I find the free account so limited as to be almost useless. It’s similar to only being able to read the introductory chapter of a how-to book on painting; you’re never going to learn anything other than what the book intends to teach you.
The premium class is $15 a month, or $8.25 a month billed at $99 upon purchase. This, compared to the other e-learning platforms, is relatively inexpensive, considering the amount of content you can access. The premium subscription also offers incentives such as 20 percent off Shutterstock plans, 15 percent off all Adobe CC plans, and 10 percent off your first Squarespace purchase. If you are taking your first steps into filmmaking, the premium plan sure looks like it gives you a head start.
The primary difference between Skillshare and the other options in this article is that with Skillshare, you just don’t get access to a few courses, you get access to thousands. 18,000, to be exact, and growing all the time.
However, the quality of the classes can range from poor to excellent. It depends on class duration, production value, and course content. Unlike Masterclass and MZed, which offer broadcast-quality production values, with Skillshare, anybody can become a teacher and conduct a class with subpar filming and audio recording.
That is not to say all classes are subpar. Quite the contrary. I took the class from cinematographer Ryan Booth. It was informative and well-presented, but the class was only 39 minutes long. Like Masterclass, Skillshare offers a feedback feature, and educators on Skillshare are far more active with their students. You can submit questions, and the educators, along with the community, can offer answers. This aspect makes the course feel like a living, breathing campus.
One of the significant advantages of Skillshare is that, as advertised, you get access to every single class on the website. Even if you only subscribe for the filmmaking classes, you can still access accounting classes, for example, to learn how to file your filmmaking taxes properly, and time management classes can teach you to get the most from your shoots. There really is a class for everything. And, like I said, these classes are short enough to complete on a lunch break, whereas the courses from MZed or Masterclass will take at least a full, dedicated day to complete.
- Thousands of classes
- Community atmosphere
- Secondary benefits of holding a premium account
- Short bite-size classes
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