Online Filmmaking Courses for Students Who Aren’t in Film School

Filmmaking is rapidly changing. It’s essential to combine online filmmaking courses with hands-on learning to truly compete with film school.

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May 5, 2019

How do you advise today’s creative students who are enrolled in a traditional 4-year university, but who have an unlimited world of online learning at their fingertips? Can online filmmaking courses bridge the gap for young video producers who aren’t enrolled in film school?

Teaching filmmaking requires both hands-on practice and supportive online film courses

At our Creative Studio, our student employees are made up of both Graphic Designers and Video Producers. Most of the designers are enrolled in OSU’s amazing Graphic Design program, but the Video Producers are mostly self-taught because there isn’t a full-fledged media production program on campus.

In the Graphic Design program, the coursework and mentorship prepares these students in ways that are astounding to witness. No amount of Youtube tutorials could match the technical and artistic brain expansion that happens methodically for each student who is accepted into this highly competitive program. I’ve had a chance to spend a lot of time with Graphic Design juniors and seniors, and their maturity, imagination, and technical expertise just impresses me to my core.

Learning by doing: 360 video production

But the video producers are sort of in a gray zone. Because there’s no production coursework, their majors tend to focus on general liberal arts, business, marketing – and any filmmaking course is usually theoretical or critical in nature. There’s not much help when it comes to learning about lighting, or audio, or practical video storytelling.

However, these students are incredible independent learners, supported by personal ambitions that are not set for them on a paved path. They are perfect candidates for learning filmmaking on their own – which they mostly have to do – and yet, here they are at a university, working as paid video producers. Isn’t there some kind of guidance we can give them that is more than just a series of Youtube links?

Learning Filmmaking at Google University

Here’s a brief history of how I got here. I went to OSU and PSU for my undergrad, majored in English, and dabbled in fine arts. Making videos was a fun thing to do growing up, but everyone knew you had to commit to film school if you ever wanted to make something good. This was before web 2.0, before Youtube, social media, or even blogs that were anything more than personal meanderings. You had to download movie trailers overnight, hoping a phone call wouldn’t interrupt your connection.

Eventually I got a marketing and fundraising job in public television, and was handed the keys to 6 weeks of programming per year. There was an unlimited allowance of flexibility and creativity, as long as we made money. We aired a ton of local films during the TV pledge drives, and it worked astoundingly well. When we ran out of films to broadcast, we decided to make our own. How hard could it be, right?

Winging live television production when I was just a young kid

That was the thought process for a 20-something kid with the internet at his fingertips. At that time, the DSLR revolution had just sprouted, with the introduction of the Canon 5D mkII and the Nikon D90. I found some early forums and learned as much as I could, personally bought a camera and some accessories from Best Buy, and then had spots airing on television a few months after. The footage looked amazing, and I was hooked.

So, I continued to learn as much as I could from Google University – which is what we self-taught creatives lovingly call internet tutorials. But the real catalyst for my progression as a filmmaker (and educator) was when I worked side-by-side with professional filmmakers. Seeing the art and science of documentary and commercial production, from packing to shooting to editing…everything clicked.

In turn, I began to teach what I learned with others who were also figuring it out online, by starting a blog about videography, and by creating short how-to videos like the one below. To sustain an internet culture of learning, I think it’s important to give back what you learn from offline experiences. More recently as I’ve moved states and have started a corporate video production company in Minneapolis, I’ve also made sure that while taking on freelance assignments I always make room to teach clients, other video producers, and most importantly, local up and coming filmmakers on how every piece of video production can be made better.

So that’s why I personally believe it’s so important to combine self-learning – using readily available resources online – along with hands-on practice under the guidance of a mentor or teacher who has the technical know-how, not just the academic background.

In fact, this may be the foundation for how universities educate in the future: a combination of self-paced e-learning along with hands-on guidance from professionals currently in the field. We’ll still need our liberal arts courses taught by great thinkers, but we’ll also be more pragmatic when preparing college grads for the real world. Maybe.

Anyway, so that’s how I’ve been approaching this challenge, for training and educating student videographers in the practice of filmmaking. Here’s how I’ve been tackling that strategy:

Online Filmmaking Courses

My video production students have access to Mzed, a platform for over 25 courses to learn filmmaking. Each course is taught by a professional, working filmmaker, with a hands-on perspective built around practical, but theoretical strategy. It’s like if Youtube tutorials were packaged as a university course.


Instead of just assigning general course viewing and reflection, we take lessons and try to apply them to current projects we’re tasked to produce. For example, we’re starting with a course from Philip Bloom, who is one of the pioneers of DSLR filmmaking.

By adding a motorized slider, or tackling hyperlapses, our students are creating interesting promotional videos for our clients on campus. That mix of learning followed by hands-on, real world practice is an essential piece to using online tutorials. For example, after learning about making time lapses with old cameras, we were able to take an old point-and-shoot and walk around the quad to make videos like this:


As mentioned above, it’s important to bridge online learning with hands-on practice and guidance. So in addition to assigning web courses, I’m also setting up half-day trainings where the students can get their hands dirty.

One of the first lessons has been interview lighting and audio. The interview is such an integral piece to any video production – it’s probably 90% of what freelance video professionals do – and yet interview training is mostly absent in online tutorials. It’s much more entertaining to talk about cameras and lenses, drones and gimbals, and special effects, then it is to make videos about how to interview a subject.

Learning how to light an interview with 1, 2, 3 lights or more

So even though a lot of our work ends up being promotional, creative video that doesn’t involve interviews, I believe the interview is an essential component to both documentary, commercial, and corporate filmmaking. And so we walked through all the different types of audio sources, lighting techniques, location setups, and interviewing strategies that go into interviews. At the end of this lesson, one student remarked that in his 4 years of college, he learned more in these 4-5 hours. That’s quite a testimonial!

The next lesson we conducted was a B-roll intensive. How do you shoot a sequence, how many sequences do you need, when do you change lenses or zoom, how do you direct action in a real-world documentary setting?

We had a camera connected to a wireless transmitter, sending a feed to a monitor, so everyone could see what the students were shooting. It was so valuable for everyone to critique each other as we were practicing a simple shoot. For me, it’s especially rewarding to see students transition away from shooting a series of wide shots (which are very hard to cut together), to getting bolder with their framing and even getting up close and personal to subjects.


In summary, I believe we’re at an interesting pivot point where students today are accustomed to both learning in classrooms as well as with online video tutorials. The filmmaking space is the perfect catalyst for this hybrid model, because it’s entirely natural for the thousands of Youtube creators to talk about how they make videos.

But video production is also a good bet for mixing online and in-person learning at universities, because it’s simply impossible for most universities to offer up-to-date film production courses. Not even film schools can stay current with what’s changing in video production. Although some lessons never age, video is moving so fast that the things students want to learn can change day to day. For example, who knew that square and vertical video aspect ratios were going to become a standard for promotional video production?

So by combining some reputable online tutorials along with hands-on guidance, I think we can really prepare our creative students for the working world outside of campus.

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CATEGORIES: Creative Studio

One thought on “Online Filmmaking Courses for Students Who Aren’t in Film School

  1. This article is so apt, all the points are covered accurately about how the creative media education part of the film industry has been transitioning from being a film school to an online film school. Really helpful for the aspiring students of the cinema industry.

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