Over on my author website, I did a post about the first six MasterClass courses I did to help me learn about writing in general and screenwriting in particular. I’ve got several more under my belt since then, so I figured it was time for another post. (Pro tip: If you are curious about MasterClass and know anyone who is a member, they probably have guest passes they can share. These give you a week to test it out.)
One important thing that I have learned from having completed all of these writing courses is that there is definitely overlap. So I am mostly going to focus here on what each one offers that is unique.
Jodie Foster Teaches Filmmaking
This was one of the shorter classes I’ve done, but it tackled a lot of material and often had a different perspective than the others. Jodie Foster was a child star long before she started directing, and she brought her insights from being in front of the camera to bear on her advice for aspiring directors. She also clearly had such a passion for both her work and for helping other people achieve their goals that I felt very engaged and excited to watch the next lesson.
One of the unique things this class offered was watching real time notes sessions between her and the writer for a film they were developing together. She put a lot of emphasis on that relationship and the power of collaboration, which was nice to see as an aspiring writer myself. I am really glad I am doing filmmaking and directing courses in addition to different kinds of writing because they really offer a lot of information that is helpful even if I don’t ever plan to direct anything myself.
Steve Martin Teaches Comedy
Most of this class is devoted to the subjects surrounding stand up comedy, but there is a good portion on writing as well. I especially enjoyed his “case study” of writing Roxanne, a parody/homage of Cyrano De Bergerac. Adaptation of novels, shorts stories, and plays for the screen is a particular interest of mine, so this was especially helpful. He also did a second case study of a play he wrote called Meteor Shower and how to master the opening pages.
And even though I am not interested in doing standup, some of what he had to say about creating characters and the importance of testing out material could come in handy when I finally write the action-comedy feature I’ve got knocking around in my brain.
David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing
Mamet is one of those writers who has been around long enough to have done many different things. He writes both screenplays and stage plays, and has a long list of credits. I admit, his kind of movies aren’t my normal fair, but as a big name I thought I’d give him a try. He’s got gruff kind of charm and no holds bar attitude, which is entertaining, but frankly I didn’t feel like I got as much out of this one as some of the others. Though if this is your first or only MasterClass, you probably wouldn’t feel that way.
But for me at least, though he did cover some of the broader strokes, his personal insights were a bit too personal/context specific to be helpful. I felt this way also when I did the Martin Scorscese class. Both men came up in the entertainment world when it was so wildly different than it is now, that the class served as much as an interesting biography as it did a class with actionable lessons to take away.
Ron Howard Teaches Directing
This was an amazing class for learning about what happens on a set. There is this fab section where Howard blocks and shoots the same scene three different ways for three different styles (and budgets). I did get tired of hearing the same set of lines over and over again, but as a learning experience it was awesome. He touched on writing a bit, especially the important of research, but in general he talked about pretty much every other role when it came to putting together a movie (sound, DP, etc.).
So if you only have limited time and you are super writer focused, this one isn’t ideal. But if you want to get a sense for the bigger picture, I highly recommend it.
Issa Rae Teaches Creating Outside the Lines
I didn’t know anything about Issa Rae when I took this class, but I probably should have. I was just excited when MasterClass added another TV writer to the roster, so I did it right after it came out. Rae got her start shooting videos on her phone for the web, but has transitioned to television.
This is a really good class if you are someone who plans to draw heavily from your own life for your material. As I am primarily interested sci-fi and fantasy, it was less helpful, but still enjoyable. Much of her advice had to do with embracing your own voice and being confident that you have a story to tell, which never hurts to hear. And of course, if you want to create your own content and go direct to YouTube rather than going the querying/studio route, she has good insights to share.
That’s All For Now!
I started Spike Lee’s class, but I didn’t want to wait to finish it before posting this update. I am also very excited that MasterClass recently added N.K. Jemison, who is a spec fiction writer like me 🙂 At some point, I’ll also get around to reviewing screenwriting books I am reading, but right now I’m writing, writing, writing!
Did you miss my post on my author website about the first six classes I took? Check it out!