A brief introduction:
You want to learn about movies? This is a good place to start.
Besides, it's free -- no tuition! (You should get some books, though.)
I'm your instructor, Mr. Emerson -- and I've been a professional film critic (and sometime
screenwriter, exhibitor, publicist, teacher, journalist, director, etc.) for about 20
years now (ouch!). You can check out my background,
if you want -- and here are the filmmakers whose work means most to
First let's get one thing straight: I'm not going
to tell you how to write a screenplay, or how to finance your independent film, or how to
pitch a story to a studio development exec (though I've done or been involved in all those
things -- which you can read about elsewhere on this site).
This online class is about what's on the screen and the history behind it. I've
interviewed hundreds of filmmakers, large and small, over the years, and they all pretty
much agree with my college film professors (and I had some of the best), who said:
"The best way to learn how to make movies is to watch movies." Problem is,
too many people don't know how to do that. They are under the misapprehension that
applying critical viewing skills -- actually becoming intelligently engaged with the movie
you're watching -- will somehow spoil it. That is bull. If all you do is let a
movie wash over you, without paying attention to the details that some people have worked very,
very hard to put in there, then it's like "listening" to music when you're
vacuuming. Sure, it helps pass the time, but you don't really get much out of it --
certainly not more than a tiny fraction of what's there to be appreciated if you'd only
bother to notice. I've watched movies sail right past inattentive audiences, and
it's a shame, because they paid their $7 and they're missing out.
I've worked as a daily film critic for years on end, and
seen so many bad movies that I swear dead brain cells were starting to fall into my
popcorn bucket. I couldn't take it; it was too depressing. To paraphrase Anna
Karenina: Not only were all the movies alike, they were almost all bad in exactly
the same ways. In putting together this online film class, my hope is that it
will help future movie audiences to raise their standards ("Just Say No" to
movies that hold you in contempt!) -- and encourage future filmmakers to set their
standards a wee bit higher, too.
Take a look at what Richard Linklater told me in 1997, up
at the top of this page. If you want to make films, it's "100 percent
essential," he says (and I, obviously, agree!), to know how film history and how
movies developed, so you can understand how they work. Like a surgeon or an auto
mechanic -- you need to get inside and take things apart to see how they function.
Otherwise, you're just going to do something that's already been done a million times
before, and you're not only going to do it badly, you're not even going to understand why
you did it in the first place.
If you're not interested in actually making movies, but just want to
get more enjoyment out of the movies you see, this is also a good place to start. If
you are interested in making movies -- well, you're going to need to know this
I'll be adding lessons as I can, but for now we can get started with
some background (in the right-hand column).
The first thing you should do is to accustom
yourself to thinking about movies, by immmersing yourself in film criticism and film
history. I'm not talking about the lame consumer reporting that passes for film
criticism in most newspapers, magazines, TV shows, and websites. I'm talking about
the real stuff.
The following books are essential background to
any study of film. Everybody who knows anything about movies is familiar with these,
because they are the fundamentals of movie literacy (the way you'd expect every literate
American to have read, say, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick).
So, start reading these -- or, in the case of the more encyclopedic volumes, skimming them
and following your interests.
You can buy these books directly through the
world's best/largest bookstore, Amazon.com (in which I get a tiny
kickback). Most film books go in and out of print, so some of these may be available
(for cheaper) at a used bookstore. And there's always the library!
Background & history
Biography & autobiography
Great movies about movies