MasterClass: My Latest Obsession

Malcolm Gladwell MasterClass

Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Non-Fiction Writing

I think we’re in violent agreement that there are just too many good TV shows these days. The way things have been going, only the coming global armageddon and a media server in my fallout shelter will enable me to catch up. I’m especially screwed on most stuff this year because I’ve been almost exclusively watching courses from MasterClass.

After hearing me go on and on about how cool it looked, Cosette scored tremendous points by getting me the All-Access Pass for Xmas. When you consider that one course is $90 and all the courses are $180, well, it’s a no-brainer.

For those who don’t know what the hell MasterClass is, it’s where they’ve gotten subject matter experts to come in and record a few solid hours where they teach you how they do what they do. That sounds boring, I know. However, when you consider Steve Martin does a course on comedy, Bob Woodward teaches investigative journalism and Herbie Hancock teaches jazz…these aren’t just any “subject matter experts.” Even on subjects where I wouldn’t normally be interested…I am interested. For example: do I want to watch a course on photography? Errr, I mean, thanks but…probably not. Do I want to watch a course where Annie Leibovitz teaches photography? Um, holy shit. Yes? Yes.

And just to be clear: I know we make a point in our terms of use to say that you should assume we’re getting kickbacks or have gotten something free for mentioning anything. But I am getting jack all for talking this up. So if I, you know, link to their page for snagging the pass, know that I’m getting zero coin to do it. I just dig the hell out of this thing. (And, yes, it actually is a coincidence: they’re doing a seven-day trial thing and started it while I was working on this piece.)

My goal is to get through all the courses before the end of the year. And that’s a lot of courses. But I am enjoying the hell out of this. Here’s some tidbits on the ones I’ve finished so far:

Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing. I don’t write non-fiction but I am fascinated by it, especially how Malcolm presents it as storycraft. He talks about his fixation on puzzles, especially the unsolved/unsolvable kind, and how the path a story is on can take you to some very strange places–which I love, since my favorite sort of documentary is one where it’s obvious the filmmakers had one idea and then about halfway through or so something came out of left field that changed their entire project (see King of Kong and Resurrect Dead for two examples). I especially love his praise of libraries and librarians.

Samuel L. Jackson MasterClass

I eagerly await “Samuel L. Jackson Teaches You How to Sit in a Chair Like a Badass”

Samuel L. Jackson Teaches Acting. Okay. The course was great, don’t get me wrong. Hearing him talk about how he uses different vocal and physical things to keep roles fresh was interesting. He also maintains that no matter how small the role, be so goddamn interesting that people want to follow you when you exit the scene. I dig that. Also, his approach to working on set and why he’s such a nice guy—that’s kind of awesome. But while I do act, I don’t consider myself an actor. Thus, the several “Student Sessions” where he worked with some younger actors…I didn’t get as much out of these. (Although they did, apparently—-I recognized one of them in the Hotel Artemis trailer.) When they’re repeating a classic scene from Pulp Fiction over and over in different ways…I get why an actual actor would probably be fascinated. As for me, I zoned out and skipped to the next lesson. That’s basically the only reason this one wasn’t as awesome for me as the others.

James Patterson Teaches Writing. Pretty much any writer discussing his or her methods is interesting. To me, anyway. But hearing Patterson do it, since he approaches things from a different angle and different genre than I do-—fascinating stuff. His approach to outlining (along with Stine’s) have me rethinking my own approach to planning ahead. (The outline he used for his book Honeymoon is provided as an example.) I also greatly appreciate his take on research-—that it’s a cure for writer’s block. If you get stuck, you need to do more research. His class was very informative. Plus his stories regarding dealing with Hollywood…quite amusing.

R.L. Stine Teaches Writing For Young Audiences. I missed Goosebumps. I was too old for it when it exploded all over the place. So while I know of Stine and what he does, I’ve never really experienced much of the man himself. Here is what I now know: he is a hoot. He gives you his formula for getting kids to read, which is a helluva lot different than any formula for kids’ books I’ve ever encountered. But I see how it works. And it must work: he’s written over 300 books. Provided for the edification of his course’s students are two versions of an outline for one of his books and a “character cheat sheet” for another. Two other things are very refreshing: first, he admits that his books deliver no moral lessons whatsoever. Besides “Run!” And second, he repeatedly stresses that writing doesn’t have to be un-fun, difficult drudgery.

Now, I hear you saying–or maybe it’s a voice in my head that I’m pretending is you: “But Widge, I don’t have the time to go through scads of courses like you do, since you have no life and you’re insomnia’s bitch!” And my response is: wow, that’s harsh. I’m not saying it’s inaccurate but…harsh. Okay, fine. So far, if you can only take one course, I would advise you to take the one I did first:

Werner Herzog MasterClass

Because he’s Werner Herzog, Mad Genius.

Werner Herzog Teaches Filmmaking. First of all, don’t let the title mislead you. Herzog is sort of teaching about making all art, since a lot of what he says is applicable across multiple disciplines. But mostly, there are two reasons why the more I see about this guy, the more I absolutely love him. Number one: he has complete and utter disdain for how the authorities characterize the filmmaking process. Whether it’s financing or how difficult it is or the use of cell phones on his set or anything…he has very definite feelings about all of them. And they’re fantastic. For people who criticize him for fabricating bits of his documentaries, he responds, “You are all losers! Happy New Year!” Which brings me to number two: Herzog is a mad genius. He does what he wants, the way he wants it and urges you to do the same and that you can do it however you want to do it. This was also the longest course for me to go through because I would take a break and watch something else, after hearing about the guy Herzog watched chainsaw off his own foot in order to survive a lethal animal bite and other such insane stories. I’m not kidding: this course is phenomenal and should be watched by everyone—-I don’t care what your occupation is. I want to buy this man a beer so badly I cannot even properly express it to you.

Something to bear in mind is that you can delve into this stuff as much as you want. Each class comes with a downloadable workbook, each instructor apparently has “office hours” where they answer questions from students, and you can do class assignments and upload them as well. I’m just watching the courses because I don’t play well with others, a fact that frustrates the living hell out of my therapist. But c’est le bosquet.

Again, I make no coin off of this, but I don’t care. I’m enjoying the living hell out of this thing and you probably will too. I’ll report back when I get some more courses under my belt—-I’m currently watching Helen Mirren’s and Steve Martin’s. Go here to give it a try yourself. Report back with your findings.

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Widge

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