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Film School Online

Articles - Directing


Ever since Marshall McLuhan first mentioned the Global
Village, we’ve been hearing about the ways technology is shrinking
the world and bringing more and better information into the home.
For years experts have eyed the potential of television and the
so-called "information superhighway," the Internet, as
educational tools and, finally, this appears to be a reality for
the consumer. There are even several online sources now in place
that offer basic instruction in moviemaking and its associated crafts.

While this frontier is still largely untested, a quick
survey of the options now available suggests that there are plenty
of people and institutions determined to make online instruction
a viable reality for moviemakers. Online classes are now offered
by sources which range from highly respected colleges and universities
to online-only up-and-comers. Some offer college credit, others
supply a more ephemeral "certificate of completion," but
all offer at least the convenience of classes you can attend in
your underwear.


Cyber Film School may well be the granddaddy of online
instructional sites devoted exclusively to the cinematic arts. Established
in 1994, the Cyber Film School offers monthly articles, an archive
of the best of past columns, discussion forums, a wealth of useful
links, a boutique offering a wide range of film-related books, videos
and software and their premier product, the Cyber Film School Movie
School Encyclopedia
CD-ROM.


While the CD is more of a self-help tool than a class
in the traditional sense, this $49.00 investment is chock full of
instruction, advice and tips from a variety

of film industry heavyweights including Norman Jewison,
John Sayles, Nick Nolte, Kevin Spacey, Ron Bass, Mark Irwin and
Anne Coates. The CD-ROM is designed to interface with the Cyber
Film School Website, and the content is
augmented with periodic online discussion forums. The disc also
contains demo versions of a variety of software for editing and
manipulating digital footage, as well as a number of tests and exercises.


One reviewer from Dark Horizons, an online
film magazine, said of the CD-ROM, "There’s almost too much
here." Clearly, there’s plenty of quality information to be
had from the disc, if one has the self-discipline to work his/her
way through it. The price is reasonable, given the amount of material
provided. One downside is there is no scholastic credit associated
with the product. Budding moviemakers will have to settle for the
knowledge that they’ve absorbed a mountain of invaluable information.


Similarly, the Interactive Film School offers a slightly
more expensive ($89.95) CD-ROM called How to Make Your Movie:
An Interactive Film School
. Three CDs contain content culled
from a variety of experts and offer a comprehensive look at the
process of moviemaking from concept to completion. The set has won
a variety of awards, including the New York Festivals’ Grand Award
for Best in Show.

If you’re looking for a kinder, gentler sort of instruction-and
a free one, to boot-check out Admit One (www.admitone.org).
This site, a creation of the Artists Rights Foundation made possible
by ARF vice president George Lucas, is intended to "teach young
people about the filmmaking process." As such, it’s not an
in-depth treatment of the science of moviemaking, but it does serve
to familiarize visitors with the various steps involved
in the craft. It offers professional tips (just which pros
they come from isn’t specified, but with George Lucas underwriting
the site, one can be reasonably sure their credentials are good)
and some fun interactive features that illuminate the different
stages of making a film.


Admit One also features a message board for discussion,
sneak previews of student-made shorts shot for an ARF-sponsored
contest, a piece on preserving films in their original form and
their downloadable production manual, Making Movies: A Reference
Guide for Young Filmmakers
. The manual takes students through
the entire moviemaking process, complete with tips, exercises and
an eight-week shooting schedule, all free of charge.


Aspiring screenwriters might want to check out screenplay
consultant Richard Michaels Stefanik’s online classes, offered through
the Scr(i)pt Magazine Website. These seminars are limited to 20
students to assure participants adequate attention from the instructor.
Students receive a URL where the class materials can be found, and
turn in their assignments via message boards, where the instructor
finds and critiques each student’s work. Classes are augmented with
live chats, and via e-mail for students whose time zones make live
interaction difficult. Current classes include "Creating Humorous
Characters" and "Story Design." Enrollment is $99
per class.

Interactive Film School’s Director-Producer
Rajko Grlic demonstrates his product in a film directing class
at Ohio University.

If you’re after more intensive, interactive, college-level
instruction online, don’t despair. There are already a variety of
courses available, and by all indications there will be plenty more
to come.


One heavyweight in the world of online instruction
is Fathom.com, a for-profit outgrowth of Columbia University’s non-profit
foray into online instruction. Though still in its infancy (Fathom
was established in April, 2000), Fathom is an impressive entrant
in online education. Currently boasting such prestigious partner
institutions as the London School of Economics and Political Science,
Cambridge University Press, The British Museum, The New York Public
Library, the University of Chicago, the American Film Institute
and several others, Fathom’s 800-strong faculty of professors and
experts offer a wide array of uncompromising courses at the college
level. Their first offering for moviemakers is "Digital Video:
An Introduction with Michael Rubin," a Lucasfilm veteran and
author of Non-Linear 4, a comprehensive guide to non-linear
editing.


The press release for the class quotes a modest $50
price tag (some of Fathom’s classes command prices more commensurate
with a conventional classroom course); the material will be available
online for six months, and can be accessed at any time. Many of
Fathom’s offerings do come with college credits; at press time it
was unclear whether any credits are offered for completion of this
class or not, but this material will definitely be up to college
standards.

Students hungry for more college-level film classes
can also look to the newly established Global Film School. A joint
venture of UCLA, the Australian Film, Television and Radio School
and the National Film and Television School of the UK, GFS launched
their first two online classes this May. "Screenwriting Fundamentals,"
(taught by Richard Walter, Director of the Screenwriting Program
at the UCLA Theater, Film and Television School); and "Elements
of Great Filmmaking," (taught by Yuri Makino, Assistant Professor
of Film Production and Television Arts at the University of Arizona),
are the first two offerings from the GFS. At


$550 and $450 respectively (and each price reflecting
a one-time 30 percent promotional discount), these
classes aren’t cheap, but they do promise college-level expertise
and solid levels of online access to the instructors. At present,
GFS offers Certificates of Completion, but no college credits; however,
CEO Frank Stork promises that fully accredited courses will be forthcoming.

Unlike Fathom and GFS, eLearners.com
doesn’t offer any courses themselves. Instead, this organization,
established in August of 1999, is a database of courses offered
online by a variety of educational institutions from around the
world. For example, searching the term "film" under Arts
and Humanities accessed entries for no less than 67 different classes
from a variety of institutions, many offering college credits upon
completion. Prospective students can peruse the general course descriptions,
and then follow links to further info on the courses and institutions.


The awarding of credits and cost of the classes varies,
naturally, from institution to institution, as, no doubt, will the
degree of interactivity and the access of the online students to
their instructors. Still, eLearners does connect the aspiring moviemaker
to an impressive range of selections. The site also features a good
introduction to the concept of online instruction.


You’ll have to decide for yourself whether an online
learning environment is as suitable to their needs as a brick-and-mortar
school. No matter, when information as specialized as the fine points
of moviemaking is only a mouse click away, perhaps the Internet
is finally becoming the true information delivery system it’s always
been reputed to be. MM

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