Anyone who has worked in the film industry for any length of time has most likely found him or herself on the receiving end of a layman’s question like, “What is a best boy?” The same query might apply to a grip, gaffer or anyone else who toils on a set — after all, movies have their own distinctive terminology and lingo, a vocabulary that can sound like a foreign language to the uninitiated.
Veteran camera operator Dave Knox, who has worked on such films as Dirty Dancing, The Silence of the Lambs and The Age of Innocence, has clearly heard these kinds of questions many times. In response, he has written a reference book that is as entertaining as it is useful. Strike the Baby and Kill the Blonde is a glossary of on-set terminology that includes everything from equipment and crew positions to types of film theory, and Knox’s writing style makes all of these topics interesting for both newcomers and pros.
After opening his book with an amusing introduction describing his own early struggles with film nomenclature and his subsequent love affair with the filmmaking process, Knox presents an A-to-Z listing of just about every conceivable production-related term. The volume includes standard technical terms relating to cinematography (focal length, prime lens, etc.), duties of both above- and below-the-line personnel, and types of takes and compositions. What sets this book apart from other film glossaries, however, is Knox’s attention to informal slang, which makes this perhaps the only film reference guide that can elicit laughter from the reader (as when Knox defines a “Phil Collins”: a two-foot bounce board that is small, square and white).
The material is arranged in a way that allows the reader to dip in and out while searching for specific definitions, but Strike the Baby and Kill the Blonde is also that rare reference guide that can be read cover-to-cover as a sort of primer on filmmaking practice. This is because Knox’s definitions, while specific, are not dry or academic; to the contrary, he often editorializes with personal anecdotes and references to other filmmakers that bring the terms to life. Knox also helpfully places words within definitions that have their own entries in boldface, so that a novice can follow even the most obscure references simply by cross-checking a few terms.
The guide will be most useful to film students and craftspeople just starting out in the industry, and casual fans will enjoy the colorful secret language that exists behind the scenes. Yet the engaging writing style and truly comprehensive nature of the book make Strike the Baby and Kill the Blonde a worthy addition to any movie professional’s shelf — in fact, even a reader who is familiar with all the terms will appreciate the book on a completely different level, thanks to Knox’s wry sense of humor. His ability to craft a book that is so simple and accessible, yet which works on so many levels, is to be applauded.