Blog Post

A First Look At USC’s YouTube Class

If film school was all about YouTube, (s GOOG) how would it look like? Twenty YouTube producers will soon have a chance to find out, thanks to the site’s Creator Institute program, which will allow ten of them each to hone their skills in special classes offered by the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and Columbia College Chicago’s Television Department. YouTube is announcing the winners of the program today, and we thought this might be a good time to ask: What do you learn in a YouTube class?

I called up USC’s David Weitzner, who is in charge of the program, and he told me that the class wasn’t primarily about telling people how to promote their videos on YouTube or get the most money out of the site’s partner program. Instead, he is aiming for much more fundamental skills. “It’s all about storytelling,” Weitzner said, adding that he wants to give people a better understanding of the film making process.

Of course, there will be a focus on short-form content, given the fact that most YouTube producers don’t aim for feature-length videos, and Weitzner promised that other aspects of the program will be “specifically tailored to the needs and interests of YouTube users” as well. That also means encouraging them to try new things: for example, convincing producers to abandon speaking directly to the audience — a style that is popular with some of YouTube’s biggest stars. “We hope that they’ll leave with a better skill set,” said Weitzner.

USC’s class starts on May 31, and students will be expected to attend six days of class a week for an intense month of work. “They will be walking around with severely bloodshot eyes,” promised Weitzner. That doesn’t bother Naheem Adio. The New York-based filmmaker is one of the ten lucky winners that will attend USC’s class, and one of his goals for the class is to “become better at making short films,” as he told me during a phone conversation this weekend. Adio has primarily used YouTube as a showcase for his work, but he wouldn’t mind eventually profiting more directly from the site. “I’d love to make money with my art,” he said.

Making that possible is the main reason YouTube instituted the Creator Institute and similar initiatives aimed at improving the skills of YouTube producers. The site is also announcing the 25 winners of its NextUp contest today, which will each get a $35,000 grant for equipment, production costs and whatever else they need to become more successful on YouTube. And in December, YouTube sent 500 of its partners $1000 each to buy better camera equipment.

All of these initiatives are small in scope and relatively inexpensive for Google. However, the bigger message that YouTube wants to convey to filmmakers with these initiatives seems to be that it is serious about quality content and that there is money to be made on the site. That message is already resonating with today’s film students, said Weitzner, who told me that the vast majority of his institute’s students are already on YouTube. And with YouTube becoming a viable career option, suddenly every film school class is also a little bit of a YouTube class. Said Weitzner: “In some way, everything we are doing is directly related to YouTube.”