Guest review from filmmaker and web media specialist Micah Baskir. Enjoy. – JO

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Film School in One Easy-to-Swallow Tablet
by Micah Baskir

Filmskills.com, the comprehensive and “visual way to learn filmmaking,” provides a host of features for the novice filmmaker. The website contains everything one might need to go from dreaming about their first feature film to finishing one. It walks the aspiring director through every aspect of production using modules, or “classic instructional videos,” and touches on many topics first time directors may not expect to face.

From the moment you arrive at the site, it welcomes you with a clean opening page and straightforward explanation of all that the web-based film school has to offer. There are nearly a hundred modules (and according to the sidebar, new modules every month) covering every detail of filmmaking from “Developing the Idea” to “Color Timing.” Below the videos are a series of support tabs, resources, and user features for taking the topic to the next level. Because of the breadth of information, the content can range from elementary to incredibly useful to downright intimidating depending on the user’s experience level.

Each video module presents a 20-25 minute breakdown of the topic at hand. The presenters are clearly interested in discussing their topic, which goes a long way in keeping a user focused. With that said, however, the videos sometimes play a bit static and unfocused. A writing topic, for example, features a nearly five minute discussion on the merits of the “three act structure,” which is hardly of much value to someone not yet versed in the details of the process and even less interesting to someone who is. That being said, one can always skip ahead or just refer to the diagrams below.

In creating a one-size-fits-all filmmaking course, subjective elements of the process will likely frustrate the viewer rather than inspire. Approaches such as – Step 1: Write the title, Step 2: Develop the theme, Step 3: Write your logline – could frustrate a subscriber who discovers a different method of crafting their work. However, when it comes to understanding the nitty-gritty details of filmmaking like the merits of a C-stand or the filmmaker’s toolbox, the site is an indispensable resource.

FilmSkills.com hopes to position itself as a full-scale online film school and they are making large strides in that direction. However, any film school worth its salt provides more than just information but presents provocative ways to develop their student’s craft. The site does not yet offer exercises along those lines, but creative projects would be an easy feature to add and would go a long way in bridging the gap between understanding a process and accomplishing one. [UPDATE: Exercises are available to instructors. See note below.]

No question, FilmSkills is an ambitious venture that offers a wide range of introductory material for the aspiring filmmaker. Site creator Jason Tomaric has clearly channeled his experiences producing low-budget features into a valuable resource for first-timers embarking on the epic task of filmmaking. The site offers a variety of price options for the student, individual, or for film schools interested in applying the modules to their own curriculum. The individual course options start at $12.99 a month, but the value of the site lies in its breadth more than its depth. I recommend only choosing the course option as a supplementary resource to another program or course. Not to mention, people facing the realities of a filmset will hardly be able to predict which modules will be most handy when that unexpected challenge rears its ugly head. In those moments, having access to all of FilmSkills varied resources will be critical.

The long-term success of the site, and what will distinguish it from the myriad of how-to books available (including Mr. Tomaric’s own book), will rely on how it fosters the creative enthusiasm of the subscribers as they become more talented and experienced. Providing increasingly-detailed modules as well as cultivating a thriving interactive community will become crucial in the months and years to come. Otherwise, the vast potential of this site will resemble just another filmmaking textbook — and at $39.99 a month (or $399 a year), that’s a pricey textbook.

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Micah Baskir co-wrote and co-directed the YouTube-featured web series The RPS Show and his 2007 short film “Cracks” won numerous awards at film festivals all over the world. He is currently involved in a startup called Therapick, a website that helps match therapists with patients. Follow his jeddyrice Flickr account in the coming days for some spectacular photos from his recent travels in Turkey.

UPDATE: FilmSkills.com site editor Elinor Actipis writes: “FilmSkills actually offers a ton of projects, exercises, quizzes, and curriculum guides. Only users who are qualified professors can see them, but we’re considering making the projects available to all soon. Here is more info on FilmSkills from an instructor’s POV: www.filmskills.com/faculty.”

Full disclosure: The editor of Making the Movie, John Ott, has guest-posted on sister site to FilmSkills.com, MasteringFilm.com, and it is through this relationship that the above review was arranged. Having a third-party (Micah Baskir) review the site is one of the steps that was taken to ensure fairness.