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5 MasterClass Classes to Become a Filmmaker: Learn From Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and More


Written by Alison DeNisco Rayome

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Managing Editor Alison DeNisco Rayome joined CNET in 2019, and is a member of the Home team. She is a co-lead of the CNET Tips and We Do the Math series, and manages the Home Tips series, testing out new hacks for cooking, cleaning and tinkering with all of the gadgets and appliances in your house. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.

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Aspiring filmmakers looking to pick up some tips from the pros can learn how to direct movies and documentaries from some of the greats online with a filmmaking MasterClass.

MasterClass, an online learning service with more than 100 classes offered by A-list celebrities, offers several courses on the different aspects of filmmaking, taught by some of the most famous directors in the world, including Academy Award winners and other film industry greats. While these classes can't replace a traditional film degree, they can help get you started by teaching you filmmaking techniques and helping you glean insights from experts in the field, with 20 video lessons that are about 10 minutes long each and in-depth workbooks.

An annual membership to MasterClass costs $120, and includes unlimited access to all classes as well as new classes as they launch. Watch classes on iOS or Android (through the MasterClass app), on your desktop, or via Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV. 

Here are five MasterClasses to check out to hone your moviemaking skills and spark your creativity. 

Ken Burns, the Emmy award-winning historical documentary maker behind The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz and The Vietnam War, is famous for using detailed research and archival footage to construct a compelling narrative. In his MasterClass, Burns teaches how to choose a compelling subject and find a story within that area, how to honor opposing viewpoints, the writing and fundraising process, sourcing archival footage, shaping a nonfictional character, finding and interviewing experts, and editing, using his own work as case studies. This is a great course covering the documentary film process.

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In his MasterClass course, Spike Lee, the Oscar- and Emmy-winning film director of She's Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and BlacKkKlansman, teaches his techniques for writing, budgeting, casting, shooting and editing independent films, and how to use those films as agents of change. He also breaks down directing choices for a film he admires, and shares some of his original storyboards to demonstrate how to construct a scene. 

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Martin Scorsese, the Oscar-winning, legendary director of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, shares his own education and filmmaking process with MasterClass students, including channeling influences and developing a style, and navigating technological advances in filmmaking. Scorsese also breaks down scenes from other influential movies, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, to discuss what makes effective filmmaking. Really, it's all content an aspiring filmmaker would find useful.

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In her MasterClass, director and Oscar-winning actor Jodie Foster brings her expertise on both sides of the camera to guide you through each step of the filmmaking process. She walks students through the process of finding a story, screenwriting, working with directors and actors, filming, editing and music direction.

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Avant-garde filmmaker David Lynch, director of Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks, teaches students how he gathers ideas, turns them into a narrative and moves beyond formulaic storytelling. His course also has lessons on casting and working with actors, production design, cinematography and sound design.

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