Christopher Nolan and the Virtual Film School: Learning Directing Via Video Conference

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How do you make a war movie so true to the actual events that it wins approval from the veterans who lived through it?

Director Christopher Nolan has achieved the feat with Dunkirk, and if you’re an aspiring filmmaker the question above is a very real one. How do you capture not just the actions and movements of battle, but the spirits and emotions of the people involved? It’s hard–that’s why there are plenty of mediocre war movies–but Nolan makes it look easy. How? The most straightforward way to get an answer is to put the question to the man himself.

But young filmmakers aren’t going to be satisfied with a few minutes of banter during a press junket. They’d learn far more from a few minutes face-to-face with the director than they would going the E! News route.

If Mr. Nolan has a webcam, and the inclination to give back to the next generation of directors, he could host a multi-part online virtual film school series dedicated to the art of making war.

Hollywood Live Streamed

Movie makers, or their publicists, at least, have been quick to see the potential of video conferencing and live streaming.

Oliver Stone used basic Google Hangouts tech to beam a live video call with Edward Snowden into a theater following the first screening of a biographical film of the outlaw/whistleblower last year. And earlier in 2016, Hugh Jackman appeared in glorious 3D at a press conference in Madrid, Spain while sitting in a hotel in Berlin, Germany.

The technology has been used for more altruistic endeavors as well. Leonardo DiCaprio recently auctioned off five minutes of his time for a personal video call with a fan who had won a charity raffle.

The real precedent we want Nolan to follow, however, is that of Werner Herzog.

The legendary director–and you deserve that title when you threaten to shoot your leading man on the set of a classic film–has released a 6-hour online filmmaking class. The series is available to anyone who wants to pay the $120 fee to join masterclass.com.

Of course, the drawback with Herzog’s contribution to the future of filmmaking is that it’s all pre-recorded and one-directional. We want Nolan’s six hours to be fully interactive.

An Interactive Masterclass

What we want is something like a Hollywood webinar. More than just its dictionary definition of a seminar conducted over the internet, a webinar is really video conferencing writ large. It has all the face-to-face intimacy of a video call, with the power to bring together entire rooms of remotely located people and to mix in a range of media streams.

Video conferencing platform BlueJeans PrimeTime has teamed with Facebook Live to turn webinars into enormous interactive, live-streamed town hall-style meetings with hundreds of participants in many locations being joined by potentially millions more online. That would create an audience worth Nolan’s time, and with technologies such as shared screens and live streaming, he could fill his lectures with lots of instructional clips and behind-the-scenes footage. And he wouldn’t need to leave home, or the set of his next feature (we’ve heard it could be the next James Bond movie?) to do it.

With a webcam in front of him and a lesson plan sent to everyone participating, his lecture could be beamed live into half a dozen video conferencing-enabled film school auditoriums, and onto the laptops and living rooms of film buffs watching online.

Structuring a Virtual Film School

An online virtual film school would be simple to monetize as well. Video calling access could be sold just like tickets, and instead of a paper stub, the audience would receive a personal electronic link. Activate it at the right time and they’d be brought face-to-face with the famous director, and with everyone else watching online. The conversation, questions, and comments would be sent through each user endpoint, letting everyone get involved in the discussion.

We’ll leave the final format of the lecture series to Nolan, but with video calling you have the scope to begin with a conventional screening and Q&A, and then move on through the why’s and how’s of choosing film stock, working in digital, using green screens, audio effects, motivating actors, editing, and on and on. A six-hour masterclass like Herzog’s would leave plenty of time to cover every aspect of filmmaking, and to allow the audience to ask questions, as well.

There may be some things that are innate to certain filmmakers and cannot fully be taught, but at least with a video conferencing connection, there’s a way for every film student to glean what they can from a success like Nolan.

Image Source: Flickr CC User John Brawley

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