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: 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

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: Film Craft: Directing

9780240818580

Publisher: Focal Press

Release Date: June 8, 2012

The FilmCraft book series focuses on specific disciplines within the film-making profession using interviews from noteworthy professionals in the field. This volume by Mike Goodridge features interviews with 16 directors, and profiles of 5 other directors.

The directors interviewed in this volume are:

Pedro Almodóvar
Olivier Assayas
Susanne Bier
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
Guillermo del Torro
Clint Eastwood
Stephen Frears
Terry Gilliam
Amos Gitai
Paul Greengrass
Michael Heneke
Park Chan-wook
István Szabó
Peter Weir
Zhang Yimou

The directors profiled are:

Ingmar Bergman
John Ford
Jean-Luc Godard
Alfred Hitchcock
Akira Kurosawa

There will certainly be those that question Mike Goodridge’s choice of directors, but it would be nearly impossible to include every relevant director in a single volume. The directors chosen come from very diverse backgrounds, making the individual interviews unique and valuable. Any reservations that one has are likely to fade once they start reading the book.

There is a wealth of conflicting information (and advice) related to the readers. The idea that holds the volume together is that there are as many approaches to directing a film as there are film directors. The one constant piece of advice is the importance of trusting and being faithful to one’s individual vision.

The featured directors talk passionately about their craft, and engage the reader immediately. The text is illustrated with wonderful photos, set drawings, and storyboards that make the book a visual treat. FilmCraft: Directing is truly addictive! It will be a treasured addition to the libraries of anyone who loves the cinema, and a wonderful inspiration for future filmmakers.

Review by: Devon Powell