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Why creating an online course is just like making a film

Jon Wardle of the National Film and Television School (NFTS) discusses how he and the NFTS team turned a successful BFI Film Academy residential course into an online course for a bigger audience. You can follow him on Twitter and join the conversation using #FLexplorefilm.

Jon Wardle of the National Film and Television School (NFTS) discusses how he and the NFTS team turned a successful BFI Film Academy residential course into an online course for a bigger audience. You can follow him on Twitter and join the conversation using #FLexplorefilm.

When the British Film Institute (BFI) asked the NFTS to create a free online course, “Explore Filmmaking: from Script to Screen,” we decided to maximise the potential of our contacts.

For each of the course’s six weeks, we’ve recruited a different host from the industry (who you can meet in the video below). They will lead you through their own specialisms – from screenwriting to direction to editing – using both what inspired them and their own work as case studies.

We’ve also raided the NFTS’s archives, with a short film showcased as part of the learning each week, alongside interviews with the filmmakers.

Putting a real world course online

The online course takes many of its elements from a residential course that we’ve run for the last few years.

When the BFI asked for bids from institutions to host the first UK national “talent campus” for 16-19 year olds who were seeking a career in the film industry, the NFTS jumped at the chance to put something together.

The NFTS has run internationally renowned Masters level courses for 40 years. Our alumni include cinematographer Roger Deakins (nominated 12 times for an Oscar); animators Nik Park (“Wallace and Gromit”) and Mark Baker (“Peppa Pig”); and countless professionals working in every area of the industry.

But until 2013, the NFTS had never run a course for 16-19 year olds – the future generation of the film industry.

We won the bid to run the residential course and are now recruiting our third annual group of 66 young people from all over the UK.

They come to our campus at Beaconsfield, to work together and learn from professionals for a fortnight at Easter, making six short films, which we screen at the South Bank in London.

The success of this course, described as “life changing” by the participants, led to the creation of “Explore Filmmaking,” which takes the masterclass element from the residential course, but adapts it for an online community of all ages worldwide.

The challenges of developing an online course

Just as putting together an intensive, free residential course for 66 young people was a massive logistical challenge, so too was designing and building an online course.

“Explore Filmmaking” has to reach all ages; capture the imagination of people who we’ll never physically meet; and target not only those who want to make films, but also those who want to enrich their understanding of filmmaking crafts in their viewing.

We listened to the advice of colleagues from other FutureLearn partners in terms of what works (and what doesn’t) and hope that we have learnt from them. We dipped into many existing courses for tips and shot many hours of video interviews.

Creating a course is like making a film

With all the planning, the research, the shooting, the editing, the marketing and now the getting ready to make it all live (the distribution and exhibition?), creating the course has been a bit like making a feature film.

And like releasing a film, we’re now fretting about what the audience will think and how many will turn up. We’re keeping track of all of the course joiners and doing our best to find ways to keep them there through to the end. We’re excited (and a bit scared).

We expect to be frantically checking the site from the moment we go live, looking anxiously at the comments, like a couple of nervous producers waiting for the feedback at a test screening.

We’ve designed the course so that the conversation should keep going throughout, hoping that you’ll be inspired by our hosts, as much as our hosts were inspired by the films they discuss above.

What film has inspired or made an impression on you? Tell us in the comments below or join “Explore Filmmaking: from Script to Screen” to find out more. The course’s worldwide blanket release date is 2 February.

Category Learning