The David Lynch MasterClass Provides Unique Insight Into The Enigmatic Filmmaker

The online education platform MasterClass has been giving subscribers a chance to learn from filmmakers, writers, cooks, and other creatives since 2014. Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Werner Herzog and more have all sat down to offer up their sage advice. This year, MasterClass scored an unlikely teacher: David Lynch, the unparalleled filmmaker responsible for Twin PeaksMulholland Drive and more.

Lynch is an enigma – it's hard to imagine him willingly imparting the secrets of his work, even for a paying audience. And yet, the David Lynch MasterClass offers access to the filmmaker. For 13 lessons – some about three minutes, others about 25 – Lynch is front and center, regaling the audience with his folksy wisdom. Will you learn how to make movies like David Lynch? No. But you will learn how David Lynch makes movies.

You've likely heard of MasterClass, probably via ads on social media. The platform allows subscribers to take online classes from famous people from all walks of life. Is it on the level? That depends. If you're hoping for some sort of college-level coursework here, you're going to be disappointed. But if you'd like to listen to some of your favorite creatives spill some of their secrets, MasterClass is a must-see. You can either subscribe to individual classes, or get a site-wide All-Access Pass* (I recommend this – it's worth the extra money to have access to multiple classes at once).

As a huge fan of Martin Scorsese, it was impossible for me to resist his MasterClass from last year. Scorsese is a walking font of cinematic information – he loves to talk, especially about cinema. So it makes perfect sense that he would have his own online course. But David Lynch, one of MasterClass's newest instructors, is a whole other ball of wax.

Lynch is notoriously stand-offish when it comes to meaning. "As soon as you put things in words, no one ever sees the film the same way," he said once.

Some other previous Lynchisms about keeping things as vague and mysterious as possible:

  • "It makes me uncomfortable to talk about meanings and things. It's better not to know so much about what things mean. Because the meaning, it's a very personal thing, and the meaning for me is different than the meaning for somebody else."
  • "I don't think that people accept the fact that life doesn't make sense. I think it makes people terribly uncomfortable. It seems like religion and myth were invented against that, trying to make sense out of it."
  • "Being in darkness and confusion is interesting to me."
  • Just what, if anything, does the man who subscribe to this sort of philosophy have to say to us? It turns out the answer is a lot – although it might not be what you're expecting.

    The production here goes to great lengths to recreate some of Lynch's trademarks – weird light leaks; haunting, droning sound effects; the scribbly, almost childish way he sometimes writes words. And Lynch himself is in top form, to the point where it almost feels like he's playing a part: sipping coffee, dressed in a black suit, his silvery hair perfectly styled, an American Spirit cigarette constantly smoldering between his fingers. It would almost border on parody, were it not for the fact that Lynch is so earnest in the way he addresses us. He's warm, funny, and inviting. It's altogether pleasant to spend time with this man. You almost forget he's responsible for some of the most dark and disturbing movies you'll ever see.

    But what can he teach us? If you watch all 13 of Lynch's lessons, will you be a better filmmaker? I really don't know. I'm going to go out on a limb and say...probably not. Because David Lynch isn't teaching you how to make films. He's teaching you how he makes films. As a result, this is a wonderful insight into Lynch's creative process, although even he himself seems to have trouble articulating some of his own approach sometimes.

    Through it all, though, you get the sense of someone who genuinely loves what he does. And someone who loves the creative process. "In cinema, there's many filmmakers that make films primarily to make money, and it's called entertainment," he tells us. "I love money like everybody else, but probably I'd do the things that I like to do for free."

    That's not to say Lynch doesn't offer some advice to burgeoning creatives. "The most valuable thing I can impart to new filmmakers is find your own voice, be true to that voice, never give up final cut and total creative freedom," he says at one point. "Never take a bad idea, but never turn down a bad idea."

    Writing those ideas is key: "Super important to write down your ideas so you don't forget them. I think I've forgotten three incredible ideas in my life – so, write down your ideas."

    And where do these ideas come from? In Lynch's view, they're out there, floating through the air like atoms, or germs. You just need to catch them. "The chef doesn't make the fish...the chef just cooks the fish...just like a person with ideas," he says at one point, struggling to find the words. "The person doesn't create the idea."

    That's all well and good. But does Lynch even attempt to tell his class how to make movies? He does! In his dry, endlessly charming manner, the Lost Highway filmmaker offers quaint statements on filmmaking that makes the practice sound almost comically easy. "If you want to make a feature length film, all you need to do is get 70 scenes, and you write these 70 scenes on 3x5 cards, and when you have 70 of them, you've got a feature film," he bluntly says. His own writing process, at least when it came to writing the new Twin Peaks, involved sitting outside in a lawn chair late at night, smoking cigarettes, drinking wine, and scribbling on a yellow legal pad.

    As for the nitty gritty – the technical elements, Lynch says you should have some technical knowledge, but also to learn by doing. But the most important bit of advice the filmmaker offers is to learn film history – by watching other films. There are several moments during the course of the class where a projector will roll, and Lynch will watch a clip from a movie, and then talk about the clip in question. Sometimes they're clips from his own films. But there are also moments from other people's movies as well.

    One of the most remarkable examples of this involves Lynch watching the final scene of It's a Wonderful Life, where Jimmy Stewart – having gone through his long, strange trip through a world where he was never born – comes home, elated to see his wife and kids again. As Lynch watches this unfold, a cigarette in hand, he begins to tear up, and by the time the clip has ended, he's full on weeping. "It doesn't get any better than that," he says, choked up. It's so nakedly sincere and open that it's flooring to witness.

    The Eraserhead auteur provides some trivia for his own career. He talks of the actors he frequently works with – Laura Dern, in Lynch's estimation, "understands the human condition" and is "pretty much 100% fearless." He also touches on the use of violence in his work, and how sometimes the violence can tip over into comical absurdity: "When someone is so driven into the stratosphere, there's some chance for humor there."

    Lynch may dabble in violent work, but he loves to keep his sets lighthearted. "People who run a set on fear, or a business on fear, are really stupid," he says, adding that he prefers his sets to be like a family gathering at Thanksgiving.

    All of this is wonderful insight into Lynch's often impenetrable mindset. And really, that's what the David Lynch MasterClass does best. By taking the class, you'll come closer to Lynch than ever before. If you happen to go off and make a good movie as a result, it'll probably be incidental. This isn't a lesson in filmmaking. It's a lesson in Lynch. And I'm not complaining.

    *Students can enroll in the class with unlimited access for a one-time purchase of $90, or subscribe for unlimited access to this class and all new and existing classes through the All-Access Pass for $180 per year.