Can Online Film Schools Actually Help You Learn Filmmaking?

Posted on: by Michael Tringe

A lot of people would tell you that an online film schools won’t help you learn filmmaking because part of the point of film school is to collaborate with peers on new projects. Since I went to USC film school, which many say is one of the best film schools (Don’t ask a Bruin), I can tell you we spent a good amount of time in class just listening to our professors teach us. Imagine if those same professors had recorded their knowledge to let us watch ahead of time, like online film schools may do. Then we could spend the entire class just asking teachers and each other questions or getting feedback on our own film projects, which was what everybody wanted to do anyway.

Okay, maybe writing “crit sheets” about what we liked or didn’t make sense for our classmates’ projects that we watched in class got a little tedious, but at least everyone was honest – and we needed to hear the feedback. And that all important feedback is one thing that online film schools on their own won’t provide you unless there is an interactive component to review each others’ projects as well.

It’s true the majority of our time at USC film school was spent out the world, on set, making new film projects with each other. For those of us that were screenwriters, we spent time in front of a computer writing our stories. So whether you’re studying filmmaking as a part of an in person film school experience that involves opportunities for interactive questions and answers, or enrolling in any one of the online film schools with interactive questions and answers online – you would need to make your projects on your own “out in the field.”

A lot of the time, our professors would encourage us to actually get off campus anyway to shoot our projects– since getting the seven signatures to shoot on campus was typically just as complicated if not more than finding an actual location.

One of the elements of online film schools that would have been helpful even in a real film school setting, is the convenience of watching video lessons anytime. I can’t tell you the number of times we had to miss class to work on a project, just because we could only get the location we needed for a class project at a particular day and time that conflicted with class.

The ability to stop, rewind, and re-watch key points of a professor’s lecture would have been a pretty cool feature in real film school, which is already a component of online film schools. Sometimes there was so much information packed into a long class, it was easy to let your mind drift off (after all, we are talking about film school students who are creative group of people who like to daydream about their next projects). And by that time, the knowledge would have gone in one ear and out the other.

Finally – our professors were fairly busy people working in the entertainment industry. Sometimes they had their own projects to work on, and maybe would even have to take a semester off (or a week off) to be on set to finish their projects. If they had recorded their lectures like online film schools already have, we may have had the chance to learn from a wider variety of high caliber professors than just those that were available to teach that particular semester.

The best part of a real film school experience at a top film school was the chance to really spend time with your classmates and get to know them on a personal creative level. That said, many of the elements of online film schools would have been a great supplemental addition – and some might even argue, a replacement for the real thing – as long as you were still out in the world, on set, making new projects with the actors you cast from the real world, in real locations, working with creative people who you enjoyed working with on set.

And one last thing that online film schools can do a little bit better than even some top film schools is stay up to date on all the other things that film school didn’t teach you outside of screenwriting, editing, cinematography, directing and the like.   For example – film school never taught us how to effectively finance, market, and distribute our own projects beyond the festival circuit since it was centered around the infrastructure of the traditional entertainment industry.  And since so many filmmakers are creating web series and other formats on YouTube and other platforms, these topics might be just as important to aspiring filmmakers, or anyone else who wants to make and market their own video projects.   So why not make those topics part of the curriculum for online film schools too.

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Written by Michael Tringe

Mike Tringe earned his MFA in Film Production from USC and has worked at Creative Artists Agency Film Sales (Paranormal Activity, Black Swan), Vuguru, Michael Eisner's multi-platform studio, (The Booth at the End (Hulu), Don't Ask, Don't Tell (Snag), Little Women Big Cars (AOL), and Blip Networks (300 million monthly views, Smosh, Annoying Orange, Nostalgia Critic).

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