Master Class is Your Personal MFA

I’m an aspiring writer/comedian. I was looking for classes or workshops that would allow me to develop those skills and gain a better understanding as to the process of writing for TV & Film.

And I found Master Class, available on your App Store. And for $184/year I get access to all of their classes. And they are taught by the very same people who I admired so much that they made me want to start doing what they do. And now I do.

It truly is curriculum of masters. Atwood and Apatow. Sorkin and Scorsese. Gamin and Oates. Foster and Pen & Teller. Writing. Comedy. Film Cooking. Even dance, gamification, and music.

Let’s be clear, I was considering an MFA program. I was looking at the Iowa Writer’s workshop. But a degree like that would set me back $75,000. And I would have to slog through their academic calendar, slog through the semesters on their time, and live in Iowa while I was doing it.

Forget that. If Aaron Sorkin is teaching a class on writing for Film and TV, then I want in that class. If it were at Harvard or NYU, I would sit here and think about how lucky those students are to be rich enough, and elite enough to get into a program where Aaron Sorkin is the faculty.

I don’t know who invented Master Class, but that person is the Jonas Saulk of Fine Arts education. $184 wouldn’t even get you a parking pass in Boston or NYU. But if you give it to your phone, they will give you a class with the very same people that inspire you to take it in the first place.

AND IT’S NOT JUST LECTURES. These artists have course workbooks full of sequential learning exercises using examples from their own work. These workbooks are just PDFs. But they are more valuable than any text book on the market. They are concise, to the point, and you can start on concrete exercises the very first day.

AND Master Class has space where people taking the classes can post their assignments and get feedback from other students. And real people made of actual flesh work for Master Class, and they help moderate the GROUP pages.

Judd Apatow produces a lot of comedy. Is there a better way to mold your work to his expectations? Maybe. Do you know Judd Apatow? I live in St. Louis. I can assure you that Judd Apatow has no reason to ever set foot in American’s murder capital. We are #1 in criminal murders and we are #1 in extra-judicial killings by police. We used a trash landfill to store nuclear waste, and now it’s on fire 800 feet under ground. And it moves with every flood. Judd Apatow is not coming to visit.

Six Harsh Truths by Peter Wong is one of my favorite essays ever. You definitely should read it, but I’ll summarize here: if you tell people you are a writer or a comedian and you don’t actually spend time writing or performing, then you’re just telling people that you are a writer or a comedian because you are trying to impress people.

I write everyday, usually for several hours. But so far, most of the work that I’ve done has gone into hand-written journals, and once the journals are full they gone on a shelf.

Technically, I’m meeting Peter Wong’s litmus test for someone who calls himself a writer. But I don’t want to “be a writer”, I want to write for Film and Television, not my bookcase.

The Book Moneyball describes a recruiting process that focuses on one simple thing: who gets on base? Forget all those high-dollar athletes who hit home runs. Those players are expensive, and drafting them does not guarantee a successful season.

If you want to win games, you need to get on base. So, part of my process has been deciding my base-path. Most people think they will achieve the next Goodwill Hunting success, where the Academy embraces their genius piece of writing. A studio will sweep down with a production company and a great cast. The only thing they have left to do is make sure their tux fits for the Academy Awards.

And I think that’s where most people get choked out of this profession. Because there isn’t a clear path that gets me on base. So, I came up with some harsh truths of my own

1. No one will read my work unless I put it into a format that I can share and in a place that they can read. Judd Apatow is not going to knock on my door and say, “You have an interesting collection of junk in your yard next to a marijuana factory. Do you have any writing?”

So, “getting on base” means putting my writing out where people can read it. It involves typing, as much as I hate these screens and the way the reduce humans to the sum of their posts. But that’s the base path for the profession, and if I want to be successful, I need to generate content that I can post online, email to agents, and share on Twitter.

2. The Moneyball concept favors quantity over quality. George R.R. Martin published Game of Thrones in 1996. And until HBO put it on the air, he had made more money on a 100-page short story than he did from everything else he’s ever done. Let me say that again. Game of Thrones sat in the back pages of book store inventory lists for 14-years. And once it was published, George R. R. Martin did not sit on his butt and wait for HBO to call. He kept on writing, and only now, 24-years later, that those other stories are worth anything.

3. Stand-up comedy is hard work because it requires more than you think. Not only do you have to write it, but you also have to film it and post online. So, you also have to learn to deal with lighting, and blocking, and camera angles, and video editing (because it never come out right on the first try).

So, with those three rules in mind, I’ve started making my way towards first base. How?

First, I started a blog about my experience with Master Class, which I’m going to use to chronicle the development of my craft as I progress through the courses. This gets us to the next rule:

4. Details matter. The focus on quantity over quality doesn’t mean that you abandon certain standards. Take this blog post. It’s an attempt towards a base, but it’s not everything I’ve written. There’s a lot of stuff that didn’t make the cut.

5. You need to be able to return to an idea over time. Atlantas Morisette finished Jagged Little Pill in a day. You are not her. You will need to return to ideas over and over until you have wrung enough material before you can ask the question that drives all comedy, “Is this anything?” And if it is something, you need to find a way where you can store what you write and access it later to work on some more. If you write something and the idea never returns to you, then it probably isn’t anything. But if it is a premise you can and want to return to, then it might be something.

My Thing is The Game of Thrones Fitness Challenge

I’m a sword fighter. And I’m overweight. Also, I’m stuck in my house because there’s a pandemic. My goal is to write, shoot, edit, post, and promote an 8-episode web series based on the idea of getting fit through swinging a sword in my house.

I’ve branded myself Baker Browngrass, because I was raised by a single mom who didn’t have time to take care of her lawn. If you’re a fan of the show then you know why that’s funny. And I just build from there.

Along the way, I will be working on the assignments for Judd Apatow’s class on Comedy Writing and Aaron Sorkin’s class on writing for Film & TV. And, without disclosing any copyrighted material, I’ll be chronicling how my GOT Fitness Challenge evolves as I develop my craft under my toutlage.

And this is perfect, because if I had either one of them over to my house, they might get off topic and want to talk about the pot farm or all the strange structures I’ve built on my house. They might want to drink something. From a glass. And then how would I drink anything? And God-forbid they want a Sprite or a Diet anything. Master Class keeps those A-list celebrities far enough away that I’m not blinded by the light of their stardom.