It’s an understatement to say I was excited to take James Cameron’s MasterClass. Peeking into the mind of a director who managed to transform cinema and create some of the most iconic movies of all time? Sign me up.
As a movie lover with a Cultural Studies degree, I do have some knowledge of film theory. I also attended a beginner’s film workshop once, which helped me understand the filmmaking basics. Of course, I knew this MasterClass would be something else entirely.
But exactly how did James Cameron’s MasterClass meet my expectations, and how much did I really learn?
We’ll get there in a minute.
Table of Contents
What is the James Cameron MasterClass?
James Cameron is an Academy Award-winning director best known for his special effects films and innovative approach to filmmaking. His directing career began in 1978, but he first gained major recognition for writing and directing The Terminator (1984). He also wrote and directed Aliens, Titanic, The Abyss, and Avatar.
In his MasterClass, James talks about the development of his ideas, filmmaking techniques, building tension, crafting compelling characters, and more. He also breaks down some of the iconic scenes from The Terminator, Aliens, and Titanic, and he does so in a very interesting, attention-grabbing way.
“James Cameron teaches Filmmaking” features 15 video lessons with a duration of 3 hr 20 min in total. Compared to some other courses on MasterClass, this is not very long, but it’s enough to cover several relevant topics. Either way, I do wish it was longer.
Who is James Cameron?
James Cameron is a Canadian filmmaker who made his debut with a science-fiction movie called Xenogenesis. His breakthrough came in 1984 after he sold a script of The Terminator to producer Gale Anne Hurd for one dollar on the condition that he could direct the film. Well, the rest is film history.
Several of James Cameron’s films are among the highest-grossing films of all time. More importantly, they revolutionized cinema and introduced new filming tools and techniques. Cameron and his crew invented new 3D cameras, new AI editing tools, and many other technologies.
In addition to filmmaking, Cameron co-founded multiple production companies and contributed to underwater filming. He is also an environmentalist and runs several sustainability businesses.
Although he is known for his high-grossing movies, James Cameron is no stranger to low-budget filmmaking, so his MasterClass revolves around filmmaking on any budget. And even with his experience and skills, he knows that there’s always more to learn. As he puts it, “You’re constantly humbled before the craft.”
What is the target audience for the James Cameron MasterClass?
In short, James Cameron’s MasterClass is best for aspiring filmmakers who want to learn more about the craft.
However, the classes are versatile, and they cover a range of topics. Some of these topics and James Cameron’s tips can apply to other forms of art as well. For instance, learning about the development of ideas and characters can be beneficial to fiction writers and screenwriters as well.
Moreover, the course provides an interesting scene analysis – The Terminator, Titanic, and Aliens scene breakdowns contain plenty of examples that can help you understand certain filming techniques, but they will also take you behind the scenes of these iconic movies. That said, this MasterClass is great for any movie lover and admirer of James Cameron’s work.
Let’s quickly summarize who is the James Cameron MasterClass best for:
- Aspiring filmmakers
- Film students
- Film enthusiasts
- Admirers of James Cameron’s work
What does James Cameron teach in this course?
In short, in this MasterClass, James Cameron teaches filmmaking. But his classes entail so much more than explaining standard filmmaking rules and techniques – they are also focused on the pursuit and development of ideas, the importance of leadership, ways of building tension, and so on.
There are also several scene analysis lessons where James thoroughly explains how he created some of the scenes and why he did it in such a way. This is where his expertise and attention to detail truly shine.
All the lessons are straightforward and informative, and there’s no meandering to get to a certain point. On the other hand, James takes his time to say what’s on his mind, and he is evidently a skilled storyteller and teacher. He does a tremendous job of explaining techniques and concepts in a rather professional and delicate yet understandable way.
Let’s take a further look at the content of the course:
- Lessons 1-2 briefly introduces you to your instructor and the content of the course. Cameron also discusses how to recognize the idea worth pursuing.
- Lesson 3 is focused on building and maintaining tension in a movie.
- Lessons 4-6 are scene breakdowns that will help you understand the mechanism behind the way a particular scene is filmed.
- Lessons 7-8 revolve around low-budget filmmaking and the best ways you can maximize what you have. There’s also The Terminator scene breakdown.
- Lessons 9-10 are focused on the creation of set pieces. There’s another scene analysis that shows how to create a piece of set on a limited budget.
- Lessons 11-13 teach you how to craft compelling characters and introduce them to the audience in a proper way.
- Lesson 14 is based on the performance-capture technology used to create the Na’avi in Avatar.
- Lesson 15 is the final lesson, where James discusses his “creativity law of thermodynamics” and shares his view on how to live as an artist.
Some of my favorite lessons from the James Cameron MasterClass
As already mentioned, this is a well-rounded course that tackles a range of topics that will appeal to movie fans, film students, and aspiring directors. The instructor, James Cameron, is a talented filmmaker, a fantastic storyteller, and a smart, kind, and interesting person who you just want to keep listening to. In other words, I enjoyed this MasterClass immensely.
That being said, it’s not easy to choose the best lessons as each of them is interesting in its own way. Nevertheless, here are some lessons that, in my opinion, stand out from the crowd.
Toying With the Audience: Building and Releasing Tension
In this interesting lesson, James Cameron teaches how to build tension. He also talks about how to hold on to that tension and finally release it in a way that feels satisfying to the audience.
The Terminator Club Scene Breakdown
This is the first scene breakdown in this course. In the lesson, James walks you through The Terminator club scene shot by shot and explains all the details, including which lens he decided to use and why. He made me realize once again that his filmmaking skills and attention to detail are second to none.
I watched The Terminator many years ago, but this lesson made me want to watch it again – this time, I’ll try to notice Cameron’s tricks.
Crafting and Introducing Compelling Characters
This lesson is one of my personal favorites because it helped me understand how to approach character work in an effective way. James says that characters are never more than a sketch, but there are ways you can make them interesting and relatable.
How much does the James Cameron MasterClass cost?
If you want to take James Cameron’s filmmaking course, you have to opt for an annual subscription to MasterClass. MasterClass is a subscription-based learning platform, so there’s no possibility to purchase courses individually.
The annual subscription to Masterclass costs $120 per year (down from the previous $180) or $10 per month. With the MasterClass subscription, you’ll get unlimited access to a catalog of 180+ classes. All things considered, MasterClass generally offers great value for money unless you want to take a single class. But since there are so many classes to choose from, you’ll surely find more than one course that interests you.
The platform also offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee. So, if you’re not happy with the platform and your learning experience, you can request a full refund.
What I liked about the James Cameron MasterClass
James Cameron’s filmmaking course provides quality content, great structure, and top production quality. Not to mention that you get a chance to learn from one of the greatest movie masterminds of our time.
Here are some of the aspects of the course I liked the most:
James Cameron’s experience and expertise
Needless to say, James Cameron is a talented and skilled filmmaker. He is responsible for writing and directing some of the most iconic movies of all time. On top of that, he is known as one of the most innovative filmmakers. So, having a chance to listen to him and learn about his techniques, ideas, and thought processes is incredible.
Apart from being a skillful director, he is also a great teacher. And that’s crucial when it comes to online classes – the instructor needs to be able to convey knowledge in an effective way. For instance, James talks about various techniques, concepts, and filmmaking decisions, and he often does so by providing examples and sharing personal experiences.
It’s not only about who your instructor is and his teaching skills. It’s also about what he’s teaching.
When it comes to content, this course is well-rounded and informative. James talks about the technical craft of filmmaking, but he also tackles topics such as leadership and the importance of working relationships and the interaction of the crew. After all, the film director’s task is to be familiar with every part of the process and bring everything together to get the final result.
Brilliant scene breakdowns
Speaking of quality content, some of the best lessons in this course are scene breakdowns. James takes you through scenes shot by shot and explains everything in detail. This way, he introduces new techniques and concepts as well as helps you to see the scene (and film in general) in a new way.
While the course doesn’t have a lot of theoretical and technical terminology regarding the filmmaking process, there’s a useful course workbook that can help you out in that department. The workbook also contains a brief history of cinematic terminology, key terms that every filmmaker should know, filming fundamentals, and other useful information and tips.
Top-notch production quality
All MasterClass courses are made with excellent production quality. But this course seems particularly well-produced – there’s a change in setting, for instance, so when James talks about Avatar, there’s a Pandora-themed background. There’s also a suitable soundtrack for every lesson.
What I didn’t like about the James Cameron MasterClass
Obviously, there are not many things I didn’t like about this course. However, there are some things that may not appeal to some learners.
Lack of technical terminology
In the course, James talks about pursuing ideas, developing and introducing characters, shooting scenes, and working with innovative technology … Meanwhile, he doesn’t use strict technical or theoretical terms that often. This makes the whole course very easy to follow, but if you’re a film student who wants to learn the fundamentals, you may not like this lack of more in-depth theory and vocabulary.
On the other hand, you have everything you need in your workbooks – and many other books, for that matter – so this isn’t really a disadvantage. It all depends on what you’re looking for in a course.
Review conclusion: Is the James Cameron MasterClass worth it?
So, did James Cameron’s MasterClass meet my expectations?
Yes, it did. And to be honest, this is the best MasterClass I’ve taken so far, so perhaps it even exceeded them.
It’s not easy to explain something as complex as a filmmaking process in an understandable, efficient way. But James Cameron managed to pour his knowledge and experience into 15 well-structured classes that you just want to keep watching.
James turned out to be a fantastic instructor, and his expertise, attention to detail, and passion are visible at any given moment. It was fascinating to learn about how some familiar movie scenes were made and what’s the mechanism and thought process behind it all.
Plus, the whole MasterClass is so well-made. Videos are beautifully shot and lessons are versatile and engaging enough to keep you focused. And at the end of the course, everything comes together nicely, in a very inspiring and satisfying way.
Almost as if James Cameron directed it.