The Year in Review: 2018 Edition

The first annual open letter from Lights Film School lead Michael.

Looking back at the year that was.

2018 started with a bang… Not only in the form of the fireworks that lit up the skies of New York City, where I rang in the New Year, but also in the form of Change, which has been Lights Film School’s constant companion since January.

For starters, our online film school’s longtime Screenwriting Instructor, Lauren McGrail, transitioned into her new role as Lead Content Contributor. This affords Lauren more time to spend with her growing children – I don’t have any myself, but apparently toddlers are both a joy and a handful!

It’s also an opportunity for followers of our blog to learn from Lauren’s unique teaching and film industry experiences.

Together, Lauren and I published an average of two posts per month, amounting to 24 pieces of new content in 2018. If you’re familiar with our blog, then you know how much love we pour into each and every one of our posts, ensuring that they deliver valuable teaching and inspiration. This year, we covered everything from casting to directing improv, from creating press kits to working with publicists, from writing loglines to treatments and much, much more.

As always, the goal of our blog is to provide genuine, in-depth training to indie filmmakers around the world – for free.

3 of the 24 epic blog posts we published this year.

3 of the 24 epic blog posts we published this year.

Part and parcel of this mission involves building community through the magic of the internet. We addressed this by implementing a new, more interactive commenting system on our blog. To make it even easier to explore specific topics, we hand-picked related posts for four years’ worth of posts. And finally, to keep things looking pretty, we went through our archives and brought all of our old posts up to Lights Film School’s latest design standard.

So that’s the latest with the blog. Within our flagship online film school, Lauren’s role transition gave me the opportunity to step into the shoes of “Screenwriting Instructor”, which plays to my personal interests and strengths. 

It also obliged us to find a new Directing Instructor. Noah Wagner, a fellow NYU Tisch alum, rose to the challenge! He’s now sharing his talent and professional experiences at HBO, BBC, NBC, and elsewhere with our students.

Me with Noah Wagner, our new Lights Film School instructor!

Me with Noah Wagner, our new Lights Film School instructor!

Speaking of our students, they’re benefiting not only from added perspective but also from a whole new learning platform introduced this year. Some quick background: in April 2017, we launched a learning platform built over many months from the ground up. It was more intuitive, interactive, and beautiful than its predecessor, but we outgrew it more quickly than anticipated.

So, this past July, we migrated to Teachable, a leading online course development platform.

What does that mean? Well, it’s now easier for students to find the content that matters most to them, thanks to simplified and streamlined site navigation. Students have a much clearer idea of where they are in their studies, since progress tracking has been revamped. And our instructors can focus more time on teaching, since Teachable is helping with the technical side of running our online film school!

The new learning platform at work.

The new learning platform at work.

In fact, there’ve been a lot of improvements to the technical side of Lights Film School this year. Our systems are even more stable, secure, and transparent. We’re especially excited about the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU, an encouraging step forward in privacy law designed to give control to individuals over their personal data.

I spent quite a bit of time in and around the EU this year, actually.

In the fall, I took a few weeks to hop across the pond and visit Jenn, Lights Film School’s support ninja and an adjunct instructor, who lives amidst the apple orchards and pastures of Kent, England. As many of you know, our team is fully distributed, meaning we work together remotely aside from our occasional reunions!

As fellow Americans, Jenn and I made time to explore English landmarks. We toured the Palace of Westminster before Guy Fawkes Night, marveled at Canterbury Cathedral, and wandered around the prehistoric ruins of Stonehenge. At Dover Castle along the White Cliffs, we gazed up at a Roman lighthouse, lost our way in the corridors of an 11th century fortress, and delved deep into tunnels used during the Second World War. 

It was an eye-opening experience that really put things in perspective for me, especially since the US is such a comparatively young country. I’ve left the UK with a deeper understanding of the history of western civilization, which will inform my own filmmaking in the years ahead.

Exploring Stonehenge on a cold and rainy day.

Exploring Stonehenge on a cold and rainy day.

Naturally, Jenn and I also took some time to celebrate the numbers! For example, since April 2017 – when we officially switched the Lights Film School community over to Slack, a messaging platform for teams – our students and teachers have exchanged more than 10,000 messages. That’s literally thousands of conversations with hundreds of people, friends!

Projects get shared, inspiration flows, and professional relationships bloom. It makes me so incredibly happy to see how successful the revamped community component of Lights Film School has been so far.

In that spirit, I’m setting New Year Resolutions and pressure testing Lights Film School’s projected 2019 roadmap. In fact, we’ve already started experimenting with live webinars, an extension of our obsession with building a genuine international community online. There’re a lot of other things we’re cooking up, too, to be introduced and announced in due time. Stay tuned!

On a personal note, though, I’m planning to return to Southeast Asia in 2019. My journey as a business owner and digital nomad came into its own in that part of the world, and I’m sitting here smiling to myself as I think back on it.

Just another sunset on Koh Pha Ngan in Thailand.

Just another sunset on Koh Pha Ngan in Thailand.

Fellow digital nomads from all walks of life, sunsets over the ocean, the irresistible call of different cultures and countries to explore… I’m hoping to rediscover a sense of camaraderie and adventure, some of which got buried by the busyness this year.

We’re very much a bootstrapped team here at Lights Film School, operating under many of the same constraints that indie filmmakers face. Thus I wear many hats: instructor, manager, content contributor, social media curator, vision-caster, etc., to say nothing of my own creative projects outside of LFS.

The long and short of it is that I feel pulled in approximately 1,000,000 different directions, and this year more than most, the strain took its toll on me physically and psychologically. One of my New Year resolutions is to take better care of myself, so that I can take better care of others, including all of our amazing students and fans around the world. ?

So from me to you and on behalf of all of us here at Lights Film School, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I’m looking forward to supporting you in your filmmaking journey as this year closes and a new one begins!

With love,

 Michael, with

Want to experience Lights Film School firsthand and connect with our amazing community?

Then join our online film school. It’s the training you need to learn how to create professional narrative and documentary films using the equipment you already have, wherever you live, with guidance, community, and resources at a fraction of the cost of traditional film school.


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