James Franco, the author, the poet, the actor, the director, the artist, and the selfie enthusiast are all public figures. But James Franco, the professor, has up until now mostly been known to students in his USC and UCLA film classes.
“Filmmaking is such an insular world, and so many people want to do it, but the film schools are very hard to get into and are very expensive,” he told Fast Company about his decision to create the class. “I’m a big advocate for people going out and doing it and not waiting around for someone to let them into the gates of the film world. I hope this allows some people to do that.”
Skillshare is a membership-based website that offers about 300 classes spanning everything from marketing to crafts. Students, who pay $9.95 each month, watch lectures at their own pace, and submit small assignments for peer feedback as they work toward a large product. Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Barbara Corcoran, Marc Ecko, Young Guru (Jay Z's producer), and Jessica Hische have all moonlighted as teachers.
Franco's students will create a script for a short film based on one of three texts: The Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life by Sherwood Anderson, or Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck. The actor split 15 video lectures with his business partner, Vince Jolivette, who covers practical aspects like building a budget and preparing a pitch. Tuition, which isn't covered with Skillshare membership, costs $25 (members do get a 20% discount).
As you might expect, the experience isn’t quite like Franco’s university classes.
Franco, aside from the pre-recorded lectures, won’t actually be interacting with most students. Famously busy and currently starring in Of Mice and Men on Broadway, finishing up a course he teaches at UCLA, marketing a movie based on his book based on his life, and filming The Aderall Diaries, he won’t weigh in on the class until July 24th, when he will read the 10 completed scripts that have earned the most "likes" from the class and then deliver direct feedback on his favorite.
In other words, this is not a good way to meet James Franco. It may, however, be a decent way to learn the basics of screenwriting.
The final project, a completed script, is split into 10 progressive steps. Students will interact with each other as they submit each of them to a community forum for discussion. “As far as the writing goes, there are just certain basics, and experts use them and beginners use them, too,” Franco says. “I’m just trying to get those things across and build a little community of people who can hopefully continue working together.”