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

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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

Book Review: The Citizen Kane Crash Course in Cinematography

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: September 1, 2008

“I’ve known only one great cameraman: Gregg Toland, who photographed Citizen Kane.” -Orson Welles, 1967

David Worth’s “The Citizen Kane Crash Course in Cinematography: A Wildly Fictional Account of How Orson Welles Learned Everything about the Art of Cinematography in Half an Hour. Or, Was It a Weekend?” is probably the most unusual book about cinematography that anyone is likely to read. Every one has heard that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” If information is a bitter pill, Worth has wrapped it in a pound of fudge.

We are warned in the book’s introduction that the text that we are reading is a work of “R-Rated” fiction. This is certainly the case. While the book is essentially about the basics of cinematography, it is disguised as a salty story featuring Orson Welles and Gregg Toland. Since the fictional portions of the book take up most of the text, there is very little room for an in-depth study of cinematography. As a matter of fact, the first real morsel of practical information doesn’t appear until page 28!

This would probably be a good recommendation for beginners that dislike dry textbooks. However, opinion is likely to be divided between those that enjoy Worth’s text for the quirky story that it tells, and those that are disappointed with the lack of more in-depth information.

Review by: Devon Powell