Masterclass: The classes I took & detailed reviews

Category Film & TV: Natalie Portman teaches acting (course link): this is the course I took first. I’ve watched a lot of her movies. For me, it’s easier to follow because I know her movies too well to understand right away what she’s referring to when she talks about, for example, a certain accent to imitate or psychology and the rigid side of this or that character. During the first lessons, I found her lectures’ content very basic and more of common sense “you have to read, watch documentaries, understand the psychology of the characters” … from the B-A.BA. What else? Things then become more interesting when she invites her dialect coach (who emphasizes the mastery of vowel pronunciation to imitate the accent, which she says is the most important thing) – then takes us to a set, where there is absolutely no script and the actress has to do improvisation to show us how she occupies the scene in front of the camera and how she uses the set. That was GOLD! That was the content I was waiting for. Unfortunately, this sequence didn’t last very long. Note: I watched many Natalie Portman interviews (which are a bonus on the DVDs), and apart from the psychological analysis of the characters she plays, she never gave any advice on “how I work as an actress.”

Business, Politics & Society Category: Sara Blakely teaches Self-Made Entrepreneurship (course link): probably one of the best MasterClass courses. Sara Blakely is the founder of Spanx. She became a billionaire with her genius but practical idea: comfortable underwear that can be worn under white pants without being seen. All this with her initial $5,000 investment. The American dream in a nutshell! Even if the information and knowledge given in her training are known by those who are minimally interested in it – or those who went to business school, it still feels good to hear it again. The training is extremely well structured. You can see that he is a square and perfectionist. I liked the way she describes her “feminine” way of running her business. For example, she protects her inventions with patents but has never wanted to sue copiers. She says that the market is enough for everyone, and she doesn’t want to be “at war” – patents are there to bring a marketing argument to products, not to protect herself and sue others. I really appreciated the “personal development” aspect of her training. The mindset she brings forward is very different from the standard approach, which is too ego and money-centric. Ms. Blakely refers instead to the Law of Attraction, the passion she has for her job, ethics, and the usefulness of her products. I liked that she was so transparent about these themes. For a CEO to admit that she talks and asks things of the universe is unprecedented. There is a focus on the company’s vision that is said and repeated from beginning to end, and I think that is the most important speech of this training. I had the chance to work for a company with the same style as Spanx, and from experience, I validate all the points she mentions. Even if you are not looking to start a business but are thinking about your career, you will enjoy the training. She knows how to motivate like no one else (she has that very positive American “yes you can” side), and the values she puts forward resonate well with me. I think that if one day I’m demotivated and tired, listening to her again will give me a lot of energy. The part about selling is priceless and gives great tips on how to get by in this shark world. There is also a sequence where she advises the founders of 3 start-ups. It’s quite staggering to see American start-ups that raise sick money finally “forget” to indicate on the package that their products are organic, or they “forgot” to calculate the margin. If you have to pay or take only one training course, this is the one!

Category Design, Photography & Fashion: Jimmy Chin teaches adventure Photography (course link): this is the course that touched me the most. Coming from an Oscar-winning director, an accomplished sportsman, very humble and passionate, his class is extremely fluid, easy to follow, and very inspiring. Unlike the other courses, we start with a practical case, where we see him photographing an athlete. Then comes the theoretical advice. Unlike Annie Leibovitz, he has very few assistants (except for a Photoshop expert who only lowers the contrast and increases the light, something like that…). He uses natural light most of the time. I liked the focus made on the material, the impossibility to have too heavy equipment or tons of accessories (when you do extreme sports, it’s better to start light). And especially the whole part about National Geographic, how to become a photographer for them, submit the idea of a project, and how (beautiful) photos should above all evoke emotion and tell a story. Having all this information, I understand much better the choice of photos relayed on Nat Geo’s Instagram account, not at all adapted to Instagram but meaningful. In short, a training course that is absolutely worth watching. Jimmy Chin speaks slowly, so don’t hesitate to speed up the video by setting the speed to 1.5.

Business Category: Chris Voss teaches The Art of Negotiation (course link): A course you must take and watch many times. Chris Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator, and of course, he knows how to negotiate. He is extremely articulate, you also have to learn how he stands and the confidence he exudes because you can tell right away that he is someone important, and you better listen to him ahahah. There are many concrete examples in this course (fictitious dialogues) so that you can see how to apply his advice concretely. Some of the techniques may seem a bit aggressive, I don’t know if it goes well in our culture, but it’s important to know them to spot them in others. I really liked the examples of salary and price negotiation. To be followed absolutely, I insist!

Category Writing: Margaret Atwood teaches creative writing (course link ): Although I haven’t read any of her novels, I discovered The Handmaid’s Tale series and wanted to know more about the author. The first formation I watched from beginning to end without interruption because the content was so fascinating. Ms. Atwood is very methodical, and her training is extremely well structured, although very dense. There are tips, tricks, and relevant information every 10 seconds. It feels like a kind of checklist, allowing us to know where to find material to weave the plot, tell the story, find the right focus, publish your novel, and even get reviews. She also draws on many examples: from her impressive career and anecdotes and books by other authors, to illustrate what she says. There is an important part devoted to the “speculative fiction” genre (literature of the imagination). It goes into more detail about the “dystopia” genre, how one builds a dystopia, how to make it credible. The Handmaid’s Tale, among others, has been cited as an example with research and tangible evidence, showing real facts inspired the story and the fictional society of the novel. The mass of information provided is such that this training needs to be reviewed several times. No matter what kind of novels you choose or just want to do storytelling, you will always find useful tips in this training. The training is oriented towards storytelling, with a focus on historical accuracy. It does not cover topics such as the psychological development of characters or finding one’s writing style. The PDF Workbook provided with this training is very useful: it summarizes the training’s main ideas. It offers a lot of exercises that are not necessarily requested in the videos. The exercises at home are more important than the training because there is a lot of material to read or watch.

Category Film & TV: Ken Burns Teaches Documentary Filmmaking (course link): this is a course I wanted to take to improve my videos’ quality. I don’t want to have boring vlogs but more or less documentary style. Of course, my videos will never be at the same level as Mr. Burns, but what he teaches in this course is super interesting. From choosing the subject, writing the script, to fact-checking, questions to ask during interviews, choosing the image, music, or video to illustrate each sentence… he highlights the choices that need to be made, the decisions that need to be made, the sacrifices that need to be made to reach the highest level possible. But perfection doesn’t exist, even for this Oscar-winning director. He then shows us how to edit. This super concrete example allows us to do all the work behind even 3 minutes of a documentary. I really liked this part very much! The editing was so well done that I had tears in my eyes. Every shot, every choice is explained to us. It will be hard to summarize everything taught, but it’s a very, very interesting training, it’s an excellent instructor.

From here, I comment on the courses that I didn’t like very much

Category Design, Photography & Fashion: Annie Leibovitz teaches photography ( course link): I took some photography courses to know how to use my reflexes, but I never thought I would have access (even virtually) to Annie Leibovitz’s teachings one day. I was very excited to take her class. Unfortunately, some are gifted in their craft but not gifted in passing on their know-how. Even though MasterClass did its best to guide Ms. Leibovitz and have a semblance of a framework, the reality is that we are dealing with an introverted artist. And not only is it all over the place, but she doesn’t know how to explain her know-how. For example, when she is supposed to explain the framing, she ends up saying, “it comes with experience, and once you’ve spent years behind that little rectangle, you have reflexes, and you know how to frame and capture what you need.” This is absolutely true, but it’s also frustrating for those who want to learn. I think you have to be attentive during this class because the right information just falls between two blah blah blah blah blah…. and what’s interesting is to listen to the explanations and the story behind every picture she took. The examples are numerous and very interesting. In the end, you don’t learn how to make pictures like Annie Leibovitz, but how to appreciate each of her pictures. The exercises given are rather interesting, even if sometimes it falls like a hair on the soup. And the “case study” where we see Mrs. Leibovitz directing a shooting session is priceless. I’ve already seen professional photographers on a shoot, watching America’s Next Top Model, but here the focus is on the photographer and not on the models. And what amused me a lot is that when you get to that level, Mrs. Leibovitz doesn’t change lenses herself anymore: she turns to her assistant, and says “give me a 35mm”. He finds the lens, changes it, and gives her the camera ready to use. She doesn’t do Photoshop herself either and just sits down next to a Photoshop expert and says, “more light here, reframe that.” The last lessons are so slow that I can’t concentrate anymore. Although I have learned almost nothing, Mrs. Leibovitz has been able to transmit her passion for photography and communicate her artistic sensibility. The next day, I went out to take a few pictures. However, given the price, I think there will be more information by simply buying her books, including A Photographer’s Life, a book also recommended by Anna Wintour, who also has her own training on MasterClass as well.

Lifestyle category: Bobbi Brown teaches Makeup and Beauty ( course link ): I’ve watched so many tutorials on YouTube that I don’t have the patience to follow a whole course on MasterClass anymore. The visuals are exceptional, and Bobbi Brown’s makeup style, the no-makeup makeup look, is fascinating. The makeup is applied on 3 models (white skin, matte skin, black skin) with different skin problems (acne, dry skin, mixed skin…). But here we are. I didn’t manage to go all the way. Besides, I don’t like her voice at all (sorry) 🙁

Lifestyle Category: Kelly Wearstler Teaches Interior Design (course link): my knowledge of interior design is limited to M6 D&Co and Tiny House Nation’s content. Therefore, I am a beginner in interior design, and the course proposed by Kelly Wearstler is interesting because, unlike TV shows, it is almost in “no limit” mode in terms of expenses, ideas, means, and time (5 years for a hotel). The interior design for her goes through prototypes’ production just to find the texture that goes well, the color that goes well, the little detail that changes everything. Everything can be made to measure, from the furniture made by such an artist to the ceiling painted by such an artist. It teaches us how to take into account the history of the building, the environment, what we see from the window, the amount of light, the texture, the color… all of this is used to tell a story. For those looking to renovate their apartment, a lot of the advice doesn’t apply because you have budget constraints, unlike your projects. But it’s an interesting and inspiring course. What’s a pity is that Masterclass doesn’t film many of the places she has decorated and shows pictures of finished projects. You actually go to a construction site, but it’s not finished – so it’s hard to project yourself and ask yourself what you can do with a construction site like that, with wires hanging out everywhere. There is a field trip to a hotel often quoted in the lessons, but it was super fast once again. She didn’t even dare to go point or touch the interesting details because the hotel was full of people. Something tells me that the pros will find some nuggets there, and beginners like me will find this course a little too generic or even sloppy. I have difficulty knowing if the teacher is bad or because the subject is much too vast.

Category Music & Entertainment: Danny Elfman Teaches Music for film (course link ): Having been at the conservatory and being trained to be at worst a musician and at best a composer and conductor, my opinion is totally biased. What’s interesting in this course is not necessarily the technique because you still don’t know how it works in practice at the end of the course. The practical part is too light compared to other formations (you don’t see him conducting an orchestra or adapting a piece to match the rhythm of the film, he explains it, but it would have been cooler to see him in action, we’re in video format – it’s not an article whatsoever). Interestingly, all the stories about the career of Danny Elfman, who is known for the soundtracks of Tim Burton’s films. Even though he is not from the background and can’t play musical instruments, his musical sensitivity and creativity are that of a genius. I think his advice at the end of the course, “try to take lessons at the conservatory” is totally justified. Because he spoke of very disabling difficulties throughout the training, such as the impossibility of transcribing an idea of melody on a score, they could have been totally avoided if he had taken solfeggio lessons. However, it’s an inspiring and encouraging story to see someone who is not trained for this profession succeed by passion and determination.

Business Category: Daniel Pink teaches Sales & Persuasion (course link): After reading a lot of American self-help books, I find that this category has a lot of generic blah blah blah blah bullshit. See a writer giving a course on Sales & Persuasion, ok why not… I’m skeptical at first, but the content of the course confirms it as well. He expresses himself very well, his arguments are illustrated by such and such psychological tests, but it’s all theory. The worst is during the real experiment where he checks a server asking for a promotion. By following his advice (good advice all the same), the other person delivers a very average version, but Daniel Pink congratulates him anyway and says that he would have clearly given him the promotion instead of the boss. WTF? Perfectionism doesn’t exist in this world or what? You shouldn’t take people for morons either. In short, after Sara Blakely’s excellent advice on the art of Sales, I don’t see why we should take this course besides. I’m going to stop taking writer’s classes EXCEPT if they tell us how to write. On the subject, take Chris Voss’s course instead.

I will update my detailed review of other classes as I go along…

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