Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: "Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics," Fifth Edition

Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics, Fifth Edition
Michael Rabiger & Mick Hurbis-Cherrier
Focal Press, Burlington, MA, USA
517 pgs.

So you want to be a movie director? Read this book. That’s it, you’re ready!

Comprehensive is too weak a word for the contents of the freshly updated “Directing.” In contrast to past tomes I’ve reviewed in the publisher’s FilmCraft series, this is not a string of anecdotal accounts about an aspect of the film profession. Possessed of a depth and scope far beyond what might suffice for laymen, this is a playbook for people who are serious about learning how to do this job called directing.

Film-school education has long turned away from the days when theory, interpretation, and critique held sway. The film industry is the quintessential capitalist/industrial venture – every movie a startup, an invention, an experience, a product, a gamble on the ability of the filmmaker to connect with a paying audience. And, like most artistic endeavors, you learn a lot more and a lot faster on the ground getting it done than sitting around thinking and talking about it. Film is a practicum: if you can’t make it happen, you won’t get far.

That being said, this would be the book to read before diving in to the daunting business of directing. The key to its effectiveness as an introduction, a classroom text, a reference work, or as a literal template for a specific film project is its straightforward, forthright style, peppered with both flashes of humor and a serious sense of purpose. The concern of the authors to be as clear and logical as possible is clearly felt, and the text is profusely illustrated with relevant stills and diagrams as well.

The organization of “Directing” is as impressive as the scope of work it suggests is the director’s responsibility is staggering. The book begins with basic premises through storytelling, film aesthetics, and cinematic “language,” on to preproduction, casting, working with actors, hiring a crew, breaking down the script, all the way through post and concluding with a friendly reminder to the filmmaker not to drink too much after the first screening, so that he or she can network more effectively.

Original author Michael Rabiger’s work has been seamlessly updated by Mick Hurbis-Cherrier, who writes with a similarly engaging thoroughness. (We are even treated to a photo of Rabiger’s father, makeup artist Paul, brushing Shirley Eaton down with gold paint for her memorable appearance in “Goldfinger.”)

The upshot for me, personally, after reading “Directing” is that I do NOT want to direct. It seems to demand a combination of the personality traits of Superman, Moses, Patton, and Renoir, with a double portion of the patience of Job.

A caveat – this is a text loaded with valuable content, and it means slow going and careful digestion for the reader who wishes to make full benefit of it.

“Directing” is exemplary not only in its address of its subject, but as a model for anyone who would seek to cover a subject thoroughly, with insight, and a healthy sense of how a neophyte should proceed. Really? You really want to direct? Read “Directing” and call me in the morning.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: "FilmCraft: Producing"

FilmCraft: Producing
By Geoffrey Macnab & Sharon Stewart
Focal Press, 2013


“The way I see it, my function is to be responsible for everything.”
n  David O. Selznick

“What is a producer? An enabler.”
                                    Jeremy Thomas

So what is a movie producer? A visionary who brings cinematic glory to life, despite all odds? A blackhearted bastard who reduces people and ideas to numbers? The new installment in FilmCraft’s anecdotal survey of cinema, “Producing,” does its best to answer the question. It’s a hallmark of the position that it is both so nebulous and so all-encompassing that you still may be confused about what it involves even after reading the book.

The producer does indeed do everything – from finding scripts and directors to back, digging up financing, generaling the logistics of the shoot, securing distribution, generating publicity – and anything else that needs to get done to make a movie come to life.

Despite the auteur theory, it’s the producer who picks up the Oscar for Best Picture each year, an acknowledgement of the ultimate responsibility of the producer to make things happen. And, although the titles of producer, associate producer, executive producer, etc. are flung about liberally these days, usually as an honorarium for a substantial cash contribution, the buck still does indeed stop with the producer.

“FilmCraft: Producing” follows its usual m.o., which is an anecdotal and not an analytical approach, lavishly illustrated. No fewer than 16 prominent contemporary figures, such as “Avatar”’s Jon Landau, Jon Kilik (“The Hunger Games,” much Spike Lee), Jan Chapman (Jane Campion’s long-time partner), discourse in cut-together monologues about their experience and approach. There is as well a quartet of profiles from the past – Selznick, Korda, De Laurentiis, and Balcon.

The variety of experience outlined here clearly demonstrates that a producer’s involvement and structuring of each project can be radically different. The highly structured, hierarchical paradigm of Hollywood’s Golden Age still exists, to some extent, and churns out international product efficiently. The American indie movement, where many of today’s top producers learned their trade in the DIY spirit of the time, is fading fast. The producer must constantly keep his or her skills honed and be ready to adopt new techniques – whether it means CGI or fundraising.

“FilmCraft: Producing” suffers a bit from its anecdotal approach in this instance. Unlike more concrete crafts such as editing and cinematography, producing is so ill-defined by nature that, after hearing from all the participants, the ultimate impact is less informative and cohesive than in other FilmCraft volumes.

If, as it is said in the book, that each film production is akin to creating a startup company, the demands of the job span both diplomacy and ruthlessness, exacting planning and foolish faith, persistence and energy. For those who seek information about the craft from highly respected industry leaders who are working now, “Producing” is a good place to start.

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