So, if you need proof that the internet is changing education and our access to it then look no further than the MasterClass series. In this series of online classes you learn about different specialized fields of interest from those who specialize in them. For instance: learn Tennis from Serena Williams, Singing from Christina Aguilera, or Writing from James Patterson. These classes on non-accredited, but they offer something special: getting to listen people you admire talk about what they do, but in a structured, organized, and at-your-own-pace sort of way. My point is that the internet is democratizing education and our access to it.
Currently MasterClass is offering a Filmmaking class from Werner Herzog. Over the course of 26 lessons Herzog teaches the students about everything from getting your first film made all the way to why and how taking a 100 mile hike is important for your career. You will read books about birds, Icelandic poetry, and make a movie with naught but an iPhone. Herzog challenges you, shares anecdotes with you from his career, and tells you why being a self-sufficient filmmaker may be the best option. It’s an illuminating experience, and the pricing for pre-enrollment (I am uncertain of the full price) was very fair (only $90 US). Anyway, I tend to spend hours on YouTube listening to filmmakers talk about their craft and movies in general (for instance Ridley Scott Discussing Directing and Martin Scorsese Discussing “Vertigo” are two of my favorites). As of late I’ve been very interested in documentary filmmaking, so when I heard that the great documentarian Werner Herzog was going to be teaching an online class about filmmaking, I knew that I had to be a part of it.
Of the 26 lessons I’ve only done the first 7, but am still working on the assignments for each lesson — I’ve just not had a chance to complete them yet. So far I’ve enjoyed the experience immensely, and would highly recommend the process, but I’ve found a few things throughout that I wish worked better. One of those things is the assignments: the website has assignments after certain videos, but the workbook has different assignments. This makes the two feel very separate, so at one point when the website asked me to upload a film project I didn’t realize it was asking for the film project I was assigned in the workbook. I wish it had made reference to or said something like “look at pgX in the workbook, complete the assignment, and upload it here for your fellow students to review.” So, while I suppose there have been certain frustrating features regarding the website and its integration with the workbook, that overall the experience has been a good one.
But one of the interesting things regarding this class is the reaction of people when I tell them about it. “Where is it from?” they ask – “It’s from nowhere,” I say, “It’s being taught by a filmmaker.” “How much did it cost?” they question – “90$,”I say. The response is always the same “It’s non-accredited? It’s that cheap? It must not be very good.” This is such a weird thought to me. Why would you not want to learn a craft from someone who is highly regarded in their field? Not to mention, why would you rather plunge yourself into debt to earn a piece of paper that may or may not make a difference when you could rather just learn the details and go to work? Maybe this is my anti-traditional-education train of thought coming through. It’s good to know that I was homeschooled, and that out of high school I decided to attend an unaccredited school, meanwhile devouring books of all sorts and types. I was reading everything from C.S. Lewis to Isaac Asimov, and Charles Dickens to Lemony Snicket. This isn’t to say I have something against traditional education, but simply that I’ve not yet felt compelled toward. Our world seems obsessed with little pieces of paper that don’t matter very much at all outside of a few professions and careers. I would much rather learn from a professional in a certain field than someone with a piece of paper.
Granted, taking this online class is not the most intimate or engaged thing I’ve ever experienced — the classes are pre-recorded lectures — but why would I not want to listen to Herzog talk about a subject in which he is a master? I’ve heard the argument that most of this material is already available on YouTube, but here is it organized into lessons and has “homework” associated with it. Not to mention there is a large community of other students with whom I am able to engage through not only the MasterClass website, but also a dedicated Facebook group. One day I hope to attend one of Herzog’s Rogue Film School seminars, but that may prove difficult since each one only allows for 65 students, is fairly expensive, and is oftentimes overseas (adding to the expense). I still think it would be a fun experience. But, given the price tag of $90 bucks this MasterClass has proven more than worth the price of admission.
In regards to the assignments, Herzog wants you to do everything from going on a 100 mile hike starting at your front door, watch as many foreign films as possible, and read, read, read. Two of the books Herzog recommends are The Peregrine by J. A. Baker (originally pub. 1967), and The Poetic Edda translated by Lee M. Hollander (pub. 1986). Supposedly a book about birds and Icelandic poetry about mythology are the only two things you need to read. Joking aside, Herzog simply wants your brain accustomed to poetry and thinking outside of the normal train of thought. He wants you to keep your mind engaged, and he is a firm believer that reading is a key to doing so.
I’ll end this post with a quote from The Peregrine (which I am currently reading).
“I came late to the love of birds. For years I saw them only as a tremor at the edge of vision. They know suffering and joy in simple states not possible for us. Their lives quicken and warm to a pulse our hearts can never reach. They race to oblivion. They are old before we have finished growing.”