Book Review: Shoot Like Tarantino

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: Aug 01, 2015

Christopher Kenworthy’s Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling is a strange animal. It is a book written and arranged for burgeoning filmmakers in an effort to help them learn from Tarantino’s camera techniques. Kenworthy does an admirable job at explaining his intentions in the book’s introduction, and they bear repeating here:

“…This book shows you why the best moments in [Tarantino’s] films work so well, and how you can take that knowledge to make your own films work more effectively.

You don’t want to copy Tarantino. Hundreds of people copy Tarantino without understanding what it is that makes him brilliant and the result is usually a lot of swearing and pointless violence. When people copy Tarantino badly, it makes for an embarrassing mess.

You want to be an exciting and original filmmaker, but when you learn the shots, shortcuts, and creative setups that Tarantino has mastered, you will become a better filmmaker. An understanding of how he works should give you more opportunities to be creative with the camera… The films explored in this book show that no matter how good your actors or your script, you need to explore the magic of the camera to make your story work on the big screen.

The scenes chosen for this book range from unforgettable masterpieces to more functional moments, to show that a good storyteller must make the most of the shot, whether it’s the best scene or one of the minor plot points…

…By the time you have reached the end of the book you should have a good grasp of how Tarantino sees a scene, how carefully he sets it up, and how he films creatively. You’ll be able to shoot your own scenes with a better understanding of the visual techniques that make a scene come to life.” -Christopher Kenworthy (Introduction, Shoot Like Tarantino, 2015)

It is good that Kenworthy makes it a point to discourage the reader from merely using the information in the book in an effort to copy the director’s methodology. The book is meant to illuminate the visual language of the cinema and how Quentin Tarantino is able to filter this language through his own voice. It is the language that the reader is intended to learn. The voice that this language is filtered through should absolutely be their own. It is a similar concept to how great painters once learned their craft by painting the works of the great masters that proceeded them. Only after learning their craft could they filter this through their own unique subjective voice to create art. Luckily, for anyone with innate talent, their material will automatically be filtered through their own unique perspective without any pretentious effort on their part—but they will need to learn and understand the language, and this book is an extremely fun way to do this (even if it doesn’t cover the entirety of this language).

For those learning film direction, this book is best used as a supplement to more in-depth texts. This point should absolutely be stressed, but there is another audience for this book. Fans of Quentin Tarantino may very well find that the book is a great resource when it comes to gaining an understanding into this unusual director’s working methods. The book was originally released in August 2015—a few months before Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight was released into theaters, so this film isn’t covered at all in the book’s pages. Death Proof is also noticeably absent—although, this is likely due to the fact that the film is considered to be his weakest effort. What’s more, none of the films discussed are covered in their entirety as such an approach would require several volumes!

Kenworthy merely takes a few scenes from Tarantino’s canon in order to illustrate various intentions or tasks (each of which is given its own chapter and covers a single scene or sequence): “Raising Tension” (Inglorious Basterds), “Subtle Conflict” (Jackie Brown), “Anticipation” (Inglorious Basterds), “Unbearable Tension” (Inglorious Basterds), “Minimal Cuts” (Django Unchained), “Impending Violence” (Django Unchained), “Deliberate Anti-climax” (Kill Bill, Vol. 1), “Breaking Normality (Pulp Fiction), “Controlling Space” (Pulp Fiction), “Group Conversation” (Kill Bill, Vol. 2), and “Losing Control” (Reservoir Dogs). Those who have read his three volume Master Shots series will have a general idea of the basic structure and presentation of the book.

Obviously, certain readers might disagree with some of Kenworthy’s comments as to the intentions and effects of Tarantino’s shooting choices, but this doesn’t ultimately matter. The important thing is that it forces the reader consider these shots and how they are used in Tarantino’s work. Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling is well worth reading for both Tarantino fans and anyone attempting to learn the craft of filmmaking.

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Book Review: The Sound Effects Bible

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: Oct 01, 2008

The Sound Effects Bible: How to Create and Record Hollywood Style Sound Effects has been marketed as “the complete guide to recording, editing, and designing your own sound effects” and it nearly lives up to this promise. Rick Viers covers a variety of topics with varying levels of detail and is comprehensive enough to give the reader a decent foundation to build their knowledge and experience upon. In fact, it probably offers information that you may never need. It will make a very good reference for those who have specific sound effects needs as it covers such topics as sound design, equipment and microphone selection, digital audio, how to create a Foley stage, sound editing, field recording, and much more. Burgeoning filmmakers will want it in their reference libraries.

Book Review: Cinematography for Directors

 

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: August 01, 2009

Jacqueline B. Frost’s Cinematography for Directors utilizes original interviews with the following cinematographers:

Roger Deakins

(Sid and Nancy, Barton Fink, The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Kundun, A Beautiful Mind, The Village, Jarhead, No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Revolutionary Road, Prisoners, Sicario)

Rodrigo Prieto

(Amores Perros, Ten Tiny Love Stories, 25th Hour, 8 Mile, Frida, Alexander, 21 Grams, Brokeback Mountain, Babel, Broken Embraces, Biutiful, We Bought A Zoo, Argo, The Wolf of Wall Street, Silence, The Irishman)

Matthew Libatique

(Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Phone Booth, Gothika, She Hate Me, Inside Man, The Fountain, The Number 23, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Miracle at St. Anna, Black Swan, Noah, Straight Outta Compton, Chi-Raq, Money Monster, Mother!)

John Seale

(Witness, The Hitcher, The Mosquito Coast, Rain Man, Dead Poet’s Society, Lorenzo’s Oil, The Firm, The Paper, The American President, The English Patient, Ghosts of Mississippi, City of Angels, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Perfect Storm, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Cold Mountain, Spanglish, Mad Max: Fury Road)

Daniel Pearl

(The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [remake], Captivity, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, Friday the 13th [remake], The Apparition, The Boy, Mom and Dad)

Nancy Schreiber

(Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, November, Loverboy, The Nines, A Beautiful Life)

Richard P. Crudo

(American Buffalo, American Pie, Dirty People)

She also interviews Donald Petrie (Mystic Pizza, Grumpy Old Men, Richie Rich, The Associate, Miss Congeniality, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Welcome to Mooseport, My Life in Ruins) in order to give the reader a director’s perspective.

Block quotes from these original conversations intermingle with quotes taken from American Cinematographer magazine to provide the meat of Jacqueline B. Frost’s text, which is certainly required reading for anyone who is looking for a foundation on which to build a knowledge of cinematography—especially those looking for insight on how a director collaborates with these artists and artisans.

Frost provides contextual structuring while allowing these quotes to inform her readers and illustrate how different cinematographers and directors tend to have very different sensibilities and working methods. Such a format makes for interesting reading, but it must be said that the result is decidedly repetitive. With some finesse and a lot of editing, the book’s page count could probably be cut in half without losing any pertinent information. It sometimes reads as if Frost has forgotten that she has already covered certain material (sometimes nearly verbatim).

Cinephiles are also likely to be somewhat irritated that many of the included screenshots that provide illustration to Frost’s text have been horizontally stretched. Frankly, stretching a film’s photography is downright careless and almost unforgivable in a book that is all about how a film’s image is paramount to how an audience interprets a film. A book about cinematography should present such illustration much more care than this one does. Neither of these issues should discourage the burgeoning filmmaker from picking up the book, but it is difficult not to lament these missed opportunities and careless oversights.

Book Review: The Film Director’s Intuition

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: Sep 25, 2003

Judith Weston’s The Film Director’s Intuition: Script Analysis and Rehearsal Techniques is a book that will probably divide the future filmmakers that it targets. The title doesn’t quite give one a clear idea as to the content of the book’s 334 pages. It could’ve easily been entitled Directing Actors: Volume Two as Weston’s focus is very much on the relationship between directors and their chosen actors and the role that script analysis plays in directing the cast of players. It’s nice that such a book exists since an actor’s performance is so pivotal to the success of a film.

The back of the book claims that the text is intended to help “directors, actors, writers, designers, producers and executives tap into the imagination and instincts, which will help them create the films they always dreamed of” but if the filmmaker works by previsualizing his intended shots ahead of time, they may find that Weston’s methods fly in the face of their plans. She seems to dislike this approach and does everything except state this verbatim. However, it should be possible to use this book as a way of expanding one’s concept of how a film should be shot and what a director should expect of their actors. What’s more, there is no reason that some of these techniques shouldn’t work within the confines of a filmmaker’s more rigid shot planning. There is certainly no law that says that the reader can’t take the information that feels useful to them and ignore that that doesn’t. There is no one way to make a movie any more than there is a single right way to approach giving actor’s direction.

Book Interview: Hitchcock’s Heroines

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Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: May 01, 2018

A Conversation with Caroline Young

From his early days as a director in the 1920s to his heyday as the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock had a complicated and controversial relationship with his leading ladies. He supervised their hair, their makeup, their wardrobe, and pushed them to create his perfect vision onscreen. These women were often style icons in their own right, and the clothes that they wore imbued the films with contemporary glamor.

Quite a lot has been written over the past few decades regarding Alfred Hitchcock’s use of women in his films—some of it from a scholarly or theoretical standpoint and some of it from a sensationalized tabloid angle that only serves to muddy the waters of responsible scholarship. However, it must be said that this new Insight Editions release of Caroline Young’s Hitchcock’s Heroines doesn’t quite fall into either…

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Book Review: The Making of Dunkirk

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Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: July 18, 2017

The Making of Dunkirk” tells the incredible story of how Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy) brought a historical moment in World War II to life on the screen using innovative film-making techniques that give the film a gritty, exhilarating realism rarely seen in modern cinema. Those who haven’t seen the film itself should correct their oversight soon. It tells the story of the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk, France, in a daring endeavor that saved them from certain defeat at the hands of enemy forces. Featuring a stunning ensemble cast that includes newcomers Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, and Harry Styles, as well as acclaimed actors Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy, Dunkirk offers a breathtaking glimpse at a turning point in the conflict determined by not only the ingenuity of the British forces but also the bravery of British civilians who sailed into war-torn waters to save them. The film has already received an incredible amount of box office and critical success—earning 3 Golden Globe Nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Score) and 8 Academy Awards Nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing).

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James Mottram’s coffee table account of the creation of Dunkirk gives a surprisingly comprehensive account of production. Interviews with the director and key department heads give the text a more authentic resonance and offers the reader first-hand accounts of the film’s creation. Of course, the information is richly illustrated with never-before-seen imagery from the shoot, concept art, storyboards, and other documentation. The accumulative effect is both enjoyable and informative, and the book is essential reading for fans of the film or for anyone who admires the director.

Book Review: The Coen Brothers – The Iconic Filmmakers and Their Work

Cover.jpgPublisher: Aurum Press

Release Date: November 09, 2017

Ian Nathan’s wonderful new book on the Coen Brothers and films can best be described as a career biography that blends “behind the scenes” information with scholarly analysis. It is an essential text for anyone with an affection for those with an affection for the Coen filmography. The in-depth and informative text re-examines their entire output with an emphasis on the films that they directed themselves. It covers their early lives to their indie debut with Blood Simple to their most recent release of Hail Caesar! Packed with stunning images from the Kobal archives, the book also mentions their upcoming mini-series, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

What’s more, the presentation is really quite special as the hardback book is housed in an attractive slipcase that is extremely sturdy. Everything about the book earns our enthusiastic approval and recommendation.