Why creating an online course is just like making a film

Jon Wardle of the National Film and Television School (NFTS) discusses how he and the NFTS team turned a successful BFI Film Academy residential course into an online course for a bigger audience. You can follow him on Twitter and join the conversation using #FLexplorefilm.

Jon Wardle of the National Film and Television School (NFTS) discusses how he and the NFTS team turned a successful BFI Film Academy residential course into an online course for a bigger audience. You can follow him on Twitter and join the conversation using #FLexplorefilm.

When the British Film Institute (BFI) asked the NFTS to create a free online course, “Explore Filmmaking: from Script to Screen,” we decided to maximise the potential of our contacts.

For each of the course’s six weeks, we’ve recruited a different host from the industry (who you can meet in the video below). They will lead you through their own specialisms – from screenwriting to direction to editing – using both what inspired them and their own work as case studies.

We’ve also raided the NFTS’s archives, with a short film showcased as part of the learning each week, alongside interviews with the filmmakers.

Putting a real world course online

The online course takes many of its elements from a residential course that we’ve run for the last few years.

When the BFI asked for bids from institutions to host the first UK national “talent campus” for 16-19 year olds who were seeking a career in the film industry, the NFTS jumped at the chance to put something together.

The NFTS has run internationally renowned Masters level courses for 40 years. Our alumni include cinematographer Roger Deakins (nominated 12 times for an Oscar); animators Nik Park (“Wallace and Gromit”) and Mark Baker (“Peppa Pig”); and countless professionals working in every area of the industry.

But until 2013, the NFTS had never run a course for 16-19 year olds – the future generation of the film industry.

We won the bid to run the residential course and are now recruiting our third annual group of 66 young people from all over the UK.

They come to our campus at Beaconsfield, to work together and learn from professionals for a fortnight at Easter, making six short films, which we screen at the South Bank in London.

The success of this course, described as “life changing” by the participants, led to the creation of “Explore Filmmaking,” which takes the masterclass element from the residential course, but adapts it for an online community of all ages worldwide.

The challenges of developing an online course

Just as putting together an intensive, free residential course for 66 young people was a massive logistical challenge, so too was designing and building an online course.

“Explore Filmmaking” has to reach all ages; capture the imagination of people who we’ll never physically meet; and target not only those who want to make films, but also those who want to enrich their understanding of filmmaking crafts in their viewing.

We listened to the advice of colleagues from other FutureLearn partners in terms of what works (and what doesn’t) and hope that we have learnt from them. We dipped into many existing courses for tips and shot many hours of video interviews.

Creating a course is like making a film

With all the planning, the research, the shooting, the editing, the marketing and now the getting ready to make it all live (the distribution and exhibition?), creating the course has been a bit like making a feature film.

And like releasing a film, we’re now fretting about what the audience will think and how many will turn up. We’re keeping track of all of the course joiners and doing our best to find ways to keep them there through to the end. We’re excited (and a bit scared).

We expect to be frantically checking the site from the moment we go live, looking anxiously at the comments, like a couple of nervous producers waiting for the feedback at a test screening.

We’ve designed the course so that the conversation should keep going throughout, hoping that you’ll be inspired by our hosts, as much as our hosts were inspired by the films they discuss above.

What film has inspired or made an impression on you? Tell us in the comments below or join “Explore Filmmaking: from Script to Screen” to find out more. The course’s worldwide blanket release date is 2 February.

Category Learning

Comments (45)


  • Don

    Why creating an online course is just like making money on people?

  • Renata Ribeiro

    Hello! I am very happy doing this course. I always wanted to study about filmmaking. It’s facinating and hard working too.
    There are many films that had inspired me. I love classical movies like “Singing in the rain”, “Gone with the wind”; I have lot of fun with action such as: Mission Impossible and 007; I also love historical ones like Elisabeth and Shakespeare in love.
    Well, these are just some pieces of art that make me fell like working with cinema.

  • Sally Erickson

    Hello film experts, I really can’t believe I have stumbled across a free film course. I have been trying to find something decent that fits in with my current work life with no avail, so I am super excited to get stared. There are so many films that have inspired me, but one that stands out is Splendor in the Grass which I saw when I was around 15 and have never forgotten it. A recent inspiring film experience I’ve just had was Jackie. I haven’t stopped thinking about! I also want to mention Les Misérables. Thank you to the faculty and to FutureLearn, i’m already beyond impressed.

  • Dumisani

    Hey guys, the film that Inspired me is iron man. I have always liked action films because of the time between characters talking and them doing something. this was because I really didn’t understand English very well. after school I was able to learn and understand film language, that open a wide range of film kind to enjoy. being more into Chinese films, they made me love making films from a young age. since then I took it upon me to follow ways that will make me a good tool for the screens and the way i’d like to tell my stories. I leave in the country that has limited resources and facilities to teach and get some children from the farms and certain townships to be active in TV related activities. I took it upon me to learn as much as I possibly can about telling a story trough moving pictures, then I would In return teach and tell stories profitably in my community and get many kids of the cruel streets as soon as I can. this lead me to finding out about this course which I hope it will give me the necessary information to become the new major film maker that way bring new viewing experience to cinema. i’m loving this.

  • Jaye Nolan

    I’m an aspiring screenwriter and the kinds of films that have inspired me the most are Mystic Pizza, Four Weddings and a Funeral (pretty much anything Richard Curtis writes tbh), Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful – those kind of films. Nothing crash bang wallop about them, just really enjoyable, well scripted and warm hearted. Not that the film I’m planning is anything like them. It’s more Cagney & Lacey – directed by Guy Ritchie! The biggest impression on me was the original Star Wars – can’t get enough! I was 13 when it came out and my dad’s darts team took all the kids to see it at Leicester Square by coach. We sang Showaddywaddy all the way home so it wasn’t all good … I’m currently wearing Darth Vader slippers.

  • Kate (Kasia)

    ups, sorry, I wrote Coppola, von Trier and Carax names twice. 🙂 But it doesn’t mean I like them the most 😉 just a mistake

  • Kate (Kasia)

    I love films directed among others by Bruno Dumont, Andrzej Żuławski, Xawery Żuławski, Joel and Ethan Coen, Michael Haneke, Francis Ford Coppola,Lars von Trier, Leos Carax, Tomasz Wasilewski ( few days ago he won Silver Bear at Berlinale for the script to his newest film. I have seen two of his films : “In The Bedroom” and “Floating Skycrapers”, I’m looking forward to see “The United States of Love”),Leos Carax, Lars von Trier, Francis Ford Coppola. Last year during New Horizons Film Festival in Wrocław I saw brilliant “The Here After” – Magnus von Horn’s debut.

  • James Moncrieff

    I’m feeling inspired already and can’t wait to get started.

  • Eric fernando

    im from sri lanka
    can i join with the cource? with a part time job?or
    is their any solution for stay,and food for me?
    how about the cource fee?

  • James Omoding

    There is much more than just watching a Television. I am just excited I found this. Big up to the whole team that put this together. i have not had much chance to watch many films as I originally come from some rural remote place in North-Eastern Uganda. The digital era is putting every corner of the world to a better view.

  • Abisola Aboaba

    There are quite a number of inspiring films out there but one that really hit and impressed me in terms of its storyline, cinematography and technique is Titanic.

  • renjcc

    I cannot count how many times I had watched Sound of Music. I was but a child when an aunt asked me to watch it on betamax. I now am in my early 40s and have a little girl. We watch it together. I love the cinematography, music, acting and script. I have watched many movies from all over the world but this one never fails to captivate me.

  • Carlota Regodón Rodríguez

    Basically, impossible for me to single out one film. All I can say is that I tend to enjoy films that have become classics (mainly American and British) and, regarding new or more contemporary films, those with a solid script and a competent cast.

  • Estella

    I have watch British, American, Mexican, Chinese, Indian and African films which have been of great inspiration. In the African context I love our movies because it exposes the realities of our own experiences. For example, movies which portray how Africans migrate long distances to get to Europe in order to better their lives have really touched me because these are some of the challenges a lot of Africans go through. I am always taken into the imaginary to create after I watch films and Ithink this is the right time and opportunity for me to enhance my career prospects in film making. I am expecting to learn a lot which I believe will help me create my very first documentary film.

  • Marcella

    I have been watching a number of Mexican films and they are really drilling. there is one going on at the moment which cant remember the title but it about a mother and the daughter who are both in love with same man and the man seems to love the daughter more than the mother. the man is jealous of the daughter’s boyfriend and therefore makes sure that the man is not happy. On the other hand, the daughter realizes the husband to the mother loves her and she is also not happy with the mother but she doesn’t want to show it out-rightly. In general, the Mexican movies are very educative and they present the real life experiences.

  • Jo Collett

    The Battleship Potemkin had two memorable scenes; the approaching army shown as insistent, unstoppable, menacing marching boots; and the young mother killed leaving the pram to bounce down the steps, leaving the audience gasping with horror. Yes, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, seen in my teens was terrifying in its stark, b/w horror. This is a bit of a story; I was watching Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg. I gather that the introductory serpent’s egg was a metaphor for the emerging Nazi horror – we were able to see the evolving serpent through the opaque shell but unable to stop it! A magnificent introduction! The film started off dark and menacing. The screen got progressively darker until disjointed voices came out of the total blackout. The audience sat silently. I went to the projection box and got the operator to check – and he immediately lightened the screen. Bergman had succeeded in seducing the entire audience into his introverted gloom and the inevitability of the growth of Nazism! There are many cameos, each memorable for different reasons.

  • Kim Eldon

    Kim Longiottos Divorce Iranian Style is what inspired me to learn to make documentary films. It’s the placement of the camera in the Iranian courthouse before go pros and other small secret cameras. We the viewer had permission of all places , an Iranian courthouse, to see how a woman is granted or not a divorce in Iran.

    My earliest memory of enjoying films are black and white films on Saturday TV. On a small TV in Queens NYC, I looked forward to Saturday movies of the Greek and Roman empires, Hollywood type films but seen on TV, Charleston Heston just have been in these films. I was transported to a different world on this small screen. I have watched many a doc on an iPod, it’s not the size of screen but where it takes you, transports you to another world, or better another narrative other than you own . I’m an American in England directing an independent doc on the focus e 15 moms and the residents remaining in the focus e15 building, attempting to give the viewer an inside look at homeless women who are pregnant and/or with their children

  • Julius Smit

    Black and white films in particular are my favourite and certainly those which experiment with approaches to narrative, technique, camera, etc. For example; Wim Wender’s film of Alice in the Cities where the two main characters are thrust together in a quest for origins. Chris Marker’s film La Jetée, a film constructed entirely out of a sequence of still images. Thirdly, Sátántangó by Béla Tarr, a 419 minutes masterpiece of long slow takes. And lastly, Ben Wheatley’s film A Field in England. It’s sureal, mesmerising, and a perfect narrative for black & white treatment.

  • Prominent Odin

    am a filmmaker already, have ddirected three short films two are on youtube the other was a school project. I like to direct, I love when I see great camera shoots in films and the lighting technigues. films I love are Evita by Madonna, I am a soilder, sometimes in April, hotel Rwanda, blood diamond. I dont have epiqument yet hope to get money and start buying, I still want to attend more short courses in film to improve my knowlegde. God Bless NFTVS for this great opporunity.

  • Stephen Davies

    I hope to make a short film – literally minutes – as par tof this process. Would love ot make something classically English like a film from the 70’s etc.

    would like to find others that might be interested in the same. Very much need the film ideas and script etc as I have equipment and skills I think to edit etc…

    Anyone interested. really love the films, KES, Singing in the Rain, and classic British B&W ealing films.