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: 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 Green Screen Handbook (2nd Edition)

Book CoverPublisher: Focal Press

Release Date: November 15, 2014

Jeff Foster’s textbook on green screen production methods is intended to be a comprehensive educational resource for beginners. While it covers every aspect of the green screen process (the screen itself, lighting, compositing, etc.), it is quite vague and not terribly in-depth despite the wealth of photographs that provide visual examples to clarify the text. It makes for a reasonably solid introduction for filmmakers, but anyone looking for detailed instruction will have to find it elsewhere.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Directing the Camera

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: January 1, 2014

Gil Bettman’s “Directing the Camera: How Professional Directors Use a Moving Camera to Energize Their Films covers a topic that many books on film directing rarely discuss in any great depth. Since the text covers an aspect of film directing that is often ignored, Bettman’s book is an easy recommendation.

Screenshots illustrate the various points made by the text, and readers can watch the actual film clips discussed in the book on a special website. This helps the reader to understand the concepts being discussed a great deal. Bettman is occasionally repetitive, and he often fails to provide any in-depth technical information. However, this is probably a good thing in many ways. The book serves as a primer for those beginning their filmmaking education. It should be used as a basic foundation for young filmmakers to build their visual vocabulary.

Future filmmakers should be happy to have this on their shelves (or inside their Kindles).

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition

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Publisher: Focal Press

Release Date: September 1, 2010

“I always wanted to have a guide that specialized in the specific requirements that are inherent to the composition of shots intended for telling stories with moving images, also known as cinematic composition. The reason for the differentiation is simple: the composition of shots for movies has developed its own set of conventions, sometimes appropriating concepts from other art forms (like painting or still photography), but also creating its own aesthetic principles and visual language because of its unique characteristics (the fixed size of the frame, the movement of the subject and/or camera, the technology used to capture images, the way images are shown in conjunction with other images, etc.).

 As you can probably guess, I never found such a guide, so I decided to write The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition to fill the gap in this critical area of filmmaking. This book combines, for the first time, a specialized, focused guide to the most common and basic shots of the film vocabulary, from the extreme close up to the extreme long shot…” -Gustavo Mercado

Gustavo Mercado’s book is an essential read for anyone wanting to work in the film industry. This is especially true if they plan to direct a film, or work as a cinematographer. The book opens with general information about composition. This overview covers such topics as aspect ratios, frame axes, the rule of thirds, balanced and unbalanced compositions, and image systems. The information learned in the opening pages is essential for the reader to get the most out of the following chapters.

These chapters cover the various different shots that one finds in films (Close Up, Medium Shot, Long Shot, Dolly Shot, Zoom Shot, and etcetera). Each chapter is exactly six pages in length. The first page contains a screenshot that provides a visual example of the kind of shot the chapter will discuss, and second page gives an overview of this particular type of shot. The next two pages provide another example of this kind of shot, along with text to explain why the shot works. The fifth page does into the technical considerations that one must understand before trying to achieve such a shot. Finally, the sixth page provides a screenshot (or a series of screenshots) from yet another film. The text included on this page discusses how one might subvert the rules in order to achieve unique results with this kind of shot (or how to break the rules).

This is an excellent introduction to cinematic composition. It is certainly the best resource on this particular topic that I have read. Mercado wisely uses screenshots to illustrate his text in a way that the reader can quickly grasp the material. Film schools should use this book in their curriculum (if they don’t already).

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Setting Up Your Shots: Great Camera Moves Every Filmmaker Should Know (2nd Edition)

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: July 1, 2008

Jeremy Vineyard’s book was never intended to be an in-depth examination of shot construction. At 147 pages (not counting the index and reference pages), the book acts more as an introduction to certain cinematic techniques. Vineyard’s strength is his straight forward and easy to understand style. Unfortunately, this strength directly leads to the book’s weaknesses. There is not an abundance of information about these techniques included in the text, and one wonders if most people that would be reading this book wouldn’t already be aware of these techniques. Most are discussed in other texts relating to filmmaking, and include more in-depth information. For example, Gustavo Mercado’s “The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition” covers a lot of the same territory in a more comprehensive manner, and it is no less straightforward. One might recommend “Setting Up Your Shots” to beginners, but those who already have a basic knowledge about cinematic technique will probably want to skip this one.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Master Shots – Volumes 1, 2, and 3

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: April 1, 2012

Christopher Kenworthy’s Master Shots: 100 Advanced Camera Techniques to Get an Expensive Look on Your Low-Budget Movie (2nd Edition) is a study of shot techniques. As the title suggests, the book describes (and illustrates) various shots and when one might wish to use such a shot in their film. Each technique is illustrated with examples from well-known feature films and computer-generated diagrams that clearly establish how one can achieve these shots. Kenworthy simplifies his writing in a manner that makes the book an easy reference and a fast study.

Each shot is explained in 2 pages. The first page is a textual description of the shot. It elaborates on how to achieve the shot, and when one might wish to use this approach in their film. The second page is a series of photographs that clearly illustrate what is stated in the text. It is an efficient way to get the information across to people, and an enjoyable way to spend an evening. This book has the potential to inspire writers, directors, and cinematographers to think visually. One can use these examples to expand the artist’s visual vocabulary.

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: August 1, 2011

Master Shots Vol. 2: 100 Ways to Shoot Great Dialogue Scenes follows the same approach as the first book, but the shots in this volume are dedicated to handling dialogue scenes. Kenworthy offers more elegant methods to capture dialogue scenes than the standard “shot – reverse shot” approach. Dialogue scenes are often more difficult to present in an effective visual manner than action scenes. Many of the techniques in this volume offer ways for the filmmaker to shoot the entire dialogue scene in a single shot. These particular techniques will require a lot of rehearsal, and excellent actors to achieve good results. Some low-budget filmmakers might not have these luxuries, but it certainly doesn’t hurt for them to be aware of these methods.

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: August 1, 2013

Master Shots Vol 3: The Director’s Vision: 100 Setups, Scenes and Moves for Your Breakthrough Movie is the third book in Kenworthy’s Master Shots trilogy.  The book follows the same format as the two previous volumes, but focuses on more advanced (and often more general) setups for directors that prefer to tell their stories visually.

Indie filmmakers and film students will certainly want these books on their shelves (and in their hands). The examples illustrated in these volumes can be used to stimulate ideas for different shots that are unique to an artist’s personal vision.

[Note: Kenworthy also has a series of interactive “Master Shots” e-books available for purchase.]

Review by: Devon Powell