You’ve probably seen at least a couple of the ads on your social media feeds. Martin Scorsese saying, “If you don’t get physically ill seeing your first rough-cut, something’s wrong.” Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Annie Leibovitz, Gordon Ramsay and Malcolm Gladwell inviting you into their virtual parlours.
“I’m going to give you some tips, I’m going to give you some exercises and, most of all, I’m going to give you a little push forward that you might not have had,” fantasy writer Gaiman says in his ad.
When it comes to the celebrity masterclass, the US-based MasterClass started it all. The platform offers virtual sessions by some of the best, across a range of fields, at $90 (about ₹6,600) for lifetime access to a single masterclass or $180 (about ₹15,500) for a year’s access to the entire catalogue.
The San Francisco-based company was started in 2015 by David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen. Over six years, they’ve accumulated over 100 masterclasses, raised some $500 million in funding, and built up a company valued at $2.75 billion.
The classes are broken down into an average of 20 video lessons of about 10 minutes each. The greatest thing it has going to for it, apart for its highly recognisable roster of names, is the quality of production. Each masterclass is like a mini Hollywood film, with careful camera work and rousing scores; some are directed by Hollywood filmmakers too. Dustin Hoffman’s masterclass (which has been taken down after the actor was accused of sexual assault) was directed Jay Roach, of the Austin Powers movies and Meet the Parents franchise.
MasterClass thrives in the arts , entertainment, and sports space, with David Lynch teaching creativity and filmmaking, Shonda Rhimes on writing for television, Hans Zimmer on film scoring, Massimo Bottura on modern Italian cooking, Simone Biles on gymnastics fundamentals, and Serena Williams on tennis.
Don’t expect many technical tips. What you do get is a good story, great insights, a few exercises, and snippets from the expert’s own experiences, methods and processes. “If you want to learn how to use your DSLR camera, this is not the place for you,” Rogier once said on Vox.com. “That’s not what you should learn from Annie Leibovitz.” A lot of it was thinking about how do you bring the joy back to learning, he added in an interview with Variety.
Users describe the sessions as relatable and personal. “That makes the listening and absorbing process easier,” says Danielle D’Silva, 32, a corporation communications professional in Bengaluru who has taken six MasterClass courses, including one on the art of negotiation by former FBI agent Chris Voss; another on business strategy and leadership by former Disney CEO Bob Iger; and one by primate researcher Jane Goodall on aspects of conservation ranging from animal intelligence to climate change.
One of the lessons that stuck with D’Silva came from Voss. “He said when you are negotiating for something that you want, always see how your ask can also benefit the other person. A successful negotiation is one where both feel like they’ve gained something so don’t make a negotiation all about you.”
From Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein (the “Got milk?” guys), D’Silva came away with something she thinks about often: the idea of “spending less time on how to do and more time on how to learn and be”. For someone who’s taken plenty of online courses, the MasterClasses felt more fulfilling personally and professionally, she says.
The range of options adds to the appeal. Beyond arts, entertainment and communication, the MasterClass library includes sessions on gardening, dog training and, perhaps more relevant than ever, survival skills.