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.

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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 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: Film Techniques and Aesthetics (5th Edition)

Directing Cover

Publisher: Focal Press

Release Date: January 24, 2013

Michael Rabiger and Mick Hurbis-Cherrier offer young filmmakers one of the most comprehensive texts available on film directing. In fact, the book is designed for the classroom and offers all of the information that one might learn in film school (at a much lower price). Those who read and learn the information provided within these pages are bound to develop a foundational knowledge on the subject in which they can securely hang more focused and specialized information.

What’s more, the information earned here should be digested by not only those looking for a career in Hollywood but should also greatly improve the efforts of any low budget independent producers. Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics (5th Edition) earns an overwhelmingly enthusiastic recommendation.

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 Innocence of the Eye: A Filmmaker’s Guide

The Innocence of the Eye

Publisher: Silman-James Press

Release Date: October 1, 2002

Ed Spiegel’s The Innocence of the Eye: A Filmmaker’s Guide is a rather lucid study of film language, and an affectionate memorial of Slavo Vorkapich (who was once the head of the film department at USC). Vorkapich had coined the phrase, “the innocence of the eye” to describe film’s unique qualities. He had influenced a number of visual artists, including Saul Bass (who is unfortunately referred to as “Sol Bass” in the book).

Spiegel’s main objective is to relay a basic understanding of film’s visual language (and how one should exploit this language). The book is not unlike other books on film language. While the principals discussed in the text are important, other books seem to relay the same information (and often in more memorable ways).

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