Categories
Cinematography Directing Low Budget Filmmaking

Book Review: Film Directing, Shot For Shot & Cinematic Motion

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: August 14, 1991

There aren’t very many books about film directing that can be described as “absolutely essential.” Steven D. Katz has written two such books, and Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen is one of them. You would be hard pressed to find a film student or even a film director who isn’t familiar with the text. It’s the book that future filmmakers must read as a foundation to build upon.

Katz blends textual knowledge about shot composition, staging sequences, pre-visualization, depth of frame, and camera techniques with visual illustrations to make the concepts that he teaches clear and easy to understand. The result is a book that one might wish to read before each and every production in order to clear the cobwebs. One might even wish to use it a quick reference while visualizing your film and planning its shots during pre-production.

Over 750 storyboards and illustrations can be found throughout the book—including never before published storyboards from Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (although some or all of these have been published in other books since this book originally hit the shelves). This book would be a very good place for burgeoning filmmaker’s to begin their education, but it belongs on every filmmaker’s shelf no matter how deep their well of knowledge.

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: May 15, 2004

This follow-up to Shot for Shot concentrates on various methods that directors use to create sequence shots and how to compose and choreograph scenes for the moving camera. Katz uses numerous diagrams and storyboard illustrations to communicate the various concepts that the book discusses. It’s a more focused book than Shot for Shot (which is more of an overview of the visualization process), and future filmmakers hoping to further develop their craft will certainly want to add this to their libraries.

Categories
Directing Screenwriting

Book Review: Cinematic Storytelling

 

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: August 01, 2005

Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know isn’t exactly one-stop shopping when it comes to screenwriting, but it makes a nice supplement as it discusses conventions that are largely ignored by the structure-centric tomes that saturate the market. Jennifer Van Sijll instead focuses on various specific elements that are an important part of the language of cinema and in doing so leans into the director’s territory. However, in including script excerpts, the reader sees how such conventions are suggested by the screenwriter as photos illustrate her points.

Many of these will be familiar to most of those who are interested in filmmaking, but the book may still give these people a new way of seeing these conventions or at least serve as a refresher course (which can also be helpful). There are probably other books that go into these issues in more depth, but brevity might actually be a positive attribute for those who are simply looking to revitalize their memories or prod their imaginations. In any case, it is recommended for beginners.

Categories
Low Budget Filmmaking Sound Design

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.

Categories
Cinematography Directing

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.

Categories
Directing

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.

Categories
Low Budget Filmmaking Producing

Book Review: Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign (2nd Edition)

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: July 01, 2016

John T. Trigonis offers readers the benefit of his real world successes in the Crowdfunding arena as he walks the reader through the crowdfunding process and relays all sorts of advice along the way. Much of the information here is more generalized due to the nature of Crowdfunding. Each campaign has its own set of unique obstacles and must be handled in its own unique way. However, the book gives the reader the confidence to move forward and explains the basics in a way that will allow them to utilize this information in the way that best benefits their campaign. Those planning such an endeavor might do well to invest in this useful text.

Review by: Devon Powell

 

 

 

Categories
Cinematography Directing Low Budget Filmmaking

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

Categories
Cinematography Directing

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

Categories
Cinematography Directing

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

Categories
Cinematography

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