Our favorite online film schools

There’s a lot of misinformation online.  And, a lot of false things have been said about the film industry, many of which were being said even before the Internet.

It seems like some of the worst advice has found its way to top of the search results.

But, among all the misinformation (some of which you have to pay to access), I found a few courses that would be useful to filmmakers. 


Creating Site Specific Dance.☆☆☆☆☆

Institution: California Institute of the Arts, Provider: Coursera.

Don’t worry, this course does not teach you how to dance or how to choreograph dance.  It merely demonstrates how a creative activity can be adapted to any location.

It won’t tell you how to record and edit your performance, or how to perform for the camera, but you can’t really learn that from watching videos.

What it does is share strategies for pitching your creative thoughts to other people.  And when you need to make a film, as with site specific dance, you need to work with other people.  Sure, you learn communication by practice, but this course is a good starting point.

The Camera Never Lies.☆☆☆

Institution: University of London, Provider: Coursera.

A cynical introduction to airbrushed history.

In addition to academic view of history, there’s are a few guest appearances by a professional photographer.  The Photographer doesn’t limit himself to talking about the industry, there are other elements of financial advice.

But the main lectures are the meat of the course.  You learn how images have been manipulated, especially since the 1930s.  No, you don’t really learn much about filmmaking or the film business.  However, the general information about photography can be very useful.

And, it could help with communication skills.  You learn to say “airbrushed” rather than “photoshopped” when referring to manipulated imagery.

I would give it five stars as a course in its own right, but as interesting as it is, most of it doesn’t have a business application.

Documental! ☆☆☆☆☆

Institution: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Provider: edx.

I used to have a low opinion of Spanish education, but not after seeing this course.  This is probably the best introduction to documentary I’ve ever seen, ever.  It deserves the exclamation point that it gives itself.

Even though the course is in Spanish, there are English subtitles.  Get used to reading subtitles, the films are in every language from French to Arabic.

Not only do you get a historical and social overview of the documentary as an art form, you get to watch great documentaries for free (legally), and you learn how the masters made their documentaries.  This isn’t a course about the professor’s opinions, it’s solid research with a practical application.

This course examines documentaries that you’ve actually heard of. It finds the most interesting things that filmmakers say about their craft and shares it with you, unfiltered.

The Business of Film ☆☆☆

Institution: The Open University, Provider: Futurelearn

Learn about the basics of funding from futurelearn’s “The Business of Film.”

This course mainly deals with the UK industry.

The weakness of this course is that it seems limited to two kinds of film, inward investment (that is, Hollywood blockbusters that happen to be shot in Britain) and government funded pictures.  It’s scope is therefore much smaller than that of Madrid’s Documental, and it makes too many assumptions.  It seems to assume, for example, that every film is an adaptation.

However, what makes this course worth including is that futurelearn provides a level of interactivity I didn’t find elsewhere.  People actually reply to your comments, and I expect future versions of this course to improve as a result.

And, for those in the UK, you learn about the mainstream funding methods, the philosophy behind the BFI, and a version of the production process that Hollywood studios and the BFI might use.

Great for people who want to work their way up into big American studio pictures, but if you have a small company you might think it’s just an advert for the BFI.  I disagree with some of the content, but if you know nothing about film, this is a good starting point.

Musician as a Startup ☆☆

Institution:  (unclear.  Maybe Westminster?) Provider: iversity

In many ways, this is the opposite of the BFI/Open University course.  This is total DIY, asking the artist do dealing directly with marketing, customers, and even going so far as to build every element of a community.  If you’re looking at starting a one-man-band microbusiness, this course is for you.

Although the course has “music” in the title, the course states that it is about all art forms.  And, a lot of the “commercial relationship” ideas can be applied to film.

It is strongly theory based, without much practical advise.  There are examples, and there’s a method to get your own way of doing things.

Some of the other students appear to enjoy this course much more than I do, so I’ve listed it if you’re one of those people who benefits from filling out things like SWAT forms.

Visual Effects for Guerrilla Filmmakers ☆☆

If it’s taken just for fun, I’d give this course five stars.

Although this course isn’t very practical from a professional viewpoint, it is incredibly inspirational and hands on.  If you have made films and want to add special effects, this course will give you the confidence to try new programs.


Other Courses on FutureLearn

Since I first wrote this, I found some great courses given by The Production Guild, Creative Filmset and NFTS.  All were highly interactive, enjoyable, and informative.

It’s best to join a course when it’s happening, because the high level of interaction with like minded students (and lecturers) from all over the world is what makes these moocs worth more than just watching a video.


Mac Pro Video has the best online course on film editing.  They’re not free, but they’re worth the subscription.  They lack interaction, but when you’re just getting familiar with new software, these courses are quicker than reading the manual.