The American Society of Cinematographers

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February 2012
Film Craft: Cinematography Online
by Mike Goodridge and Tim Grierson
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

The directors of photography interviewed in Mike Goodridge and Tim Grierson’s handsomely assembled Film Craft: Cinematography are truly the crème de la crème, a group of international cinematographers whose influence is indisputable. It would not be an exaggeration to say the majority of them are living legends.
Film Craft: Editing
by Justin Chang
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Justin Chang’s Film Craft: Editing, a collection of interviews with 17 film editors that is elegantly laid out with a plethora of gorgeous illustrations, is a book as straightforward as its title. Yet, like the editors whose work he profiles, Chang is a master when it comes to creating invisible art; the simplicity of his approach belies the remarkable depth and insight to be found in his conversations.

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Film Craft: Cinematography
by Mike Goodridge and Tim Grierson
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

The directors of photography interviewed in Mike Goodridge and Tim Grierson’s handsomely assembled Film Craft: Cinematography are truly the crème de la crème, a group of international cinematographers whose influence is indisputable. It would not be an exaggeration to say the majority of them are living legends. ASC members Vilmos Zsigmond, Michael Ballhaus, Caleb Deschanel and Owen Roizman represent just a sampling of the interview subjects in the volume, which not only places its emphasis on veteran maestros, but also makes space for rising stars such as Matthew Libatique, ASC, and Seamus McGarvey, ASC, BSC. Any publication that collects the insights of a group like that is must reading for serious filmmakers and students although the relatively strict format of the Film Craft series proves an occasional limitation at times.

Since most of the cinematographers covered in Film Craft: Cinematography are quite famous, there are already a large number of preexisting interviews with them in the pages of American Cinematographer as well as in other books; David Ellis’s Conversations with Cinematographers, Kris Malkiewicz’s recently revised Film Lighting and Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato’s seminal Masters of Light, to name a few. Some definitely overlap in information, but Goodridge and Grierson extract plenty of thoughtful reflections from their subjects, particularly when it comes to recent works that might not have been covered elsewhere. The strongest distinguishing feature of this volume as opposed to the others is the quality of the illustrations; like all the books in Focal Press’s Film Craft series, the book contains a surplus of gorgeous stills from the films under discussion. Yet the images go beyond mere coffee-table-book material to include shot lists, storyboards, diagrams and other documentation that offer an intimate look at the cinematographer’s process.

One wishes these handwritten materials were more abundant; the cinematographers’ papers on display are fascinating, but there are only a few such documents in most chapters, and none at all in some. Part of the problem lies with the need for the writers to adhere to the Film Craft series template, which mandates a specific length — all of the books in the collection are just under 200 pages — that restricts the amount of space that can be devoted to any individual cinematographer. The result is many of the chapters leave the reader frustrated by their brevity, especially since the sections on the most famous directors of photography spend their introductions rehashing biographical material readily available elsewhere. (Beginning each chapter with these “how-I-got-into-the-business” passages is another prerequisite of the Film Craft series.)

Nevertheless, many chapters contain information both new and extremely enlightening. The interview with Ellen Kuras, ASC, is a particular highlight, as she devotes equal time to technical and aesthetic concerns as well as to her philosophies regarding the managerial and interpersonal aspects of filmmaking. Her discussions of the daring cinematography in films such as Swoon, Blow, The Ballad of Jack and Rose and Summer of Sam singlehandedly justify the book — though there is plenty of additional justification to be found in the fascinating interviews with Christopher Doyle, ASC, HKSC; Ed Lachman, ASC, and others. Most of the directors of photography in the book are quite articulate about their processes, and their observations about color, light and composition not only illuminate the craft of cinematography, but also increase the viewer’s enjoyment of the individual films under discussion.

Goodrich and Grierson supplement the contemporary cinematographers’ conversations with “legacy” chapters that pay tribute to the legends of the past: James Wong Howe, ASC; Raoul Coutard, AFC; Jack Cardiff, ASC, BSC; Sven Nykvist, ASC, and Freddie Young, BSC. To study their work alongside that of the modern masters profiled in Film Craft: Cinematography is to be truly inspired, and that inspiration is more than enough to recommend the book in spite of the fact it leaves the reader wanting so much more.    

Focal Press
$29.95 paperback

Online Online Exclusive
Film Craft: Cinematography
Film Craft: Editing
by Justin Chang
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Justin Chang’s Film Craft: Editing, a collection of interviews with 17 film editors that is elegantly laid out with a plethora of gorgeous illustrations, is a book as straightforward as its title. Yet, like the editors whose work he profiles, Chang is a master when it comes to creating invisible art; the simplicity of his approach belies the remarkable depth and insight to be found in his conversations. An interviewer with the ability to extract illuminating observations from his subjects in record time, he packs his volume with information as useful as it is engaging and creates a book that is ultimately much larger than the sum of its already impressive parts. For while any given interview offers rewards when read in isolation, taken together, the pieces add up to something more ambitious in scope: an overview of the history, aesthetics, and technology of editing as pertinent to the work of film scholars and fans as it is to practitioners of the craft.  

Chang’s interviews with important contemporary cinematographers comprise the bulk of the book, and he achieves a balance between the usual suspects and accomplished but less well-known editors. Acclaimed industry veterans such as Michael Kahn (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List) and Joel Cox (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) are represented alongside art-house masters such as Liao Ching-sung (Flowers of Shanghai) and Herve de Luze (The Pianist), as well as cutting-edge action cutter Christopher Rouse (The Bourne Ultimatum). Most of the interviews follow a similar structure in which the subjects begin by talking about the ways they got into the business and then move on to specific examples of editing issues on particular films. Yet there is surprisingly little repetition or redundancy as the diverse approaches and techniques of the editors Chang has selected lead to a broad array of discussions.     

The book is filled with fascinating examples of the ways the editor’s craft altered the original script or shooting plan on now classic sequences: the famous transition from Peter O’Toole’s match to the desert landscape in Lawrence of Arabia, for example, was intended as a dissolve but changed to a direct cut thanks to a discovery Anne Voase Coates made at the Moviola. Coates also realized that two scenes meant to take place consecutively in Unfaithful worked better when intercut, a revelation that facilitated one of the most erotic and poignant scenes of the film. Throughout Film Craft: Editing there are examples of these kinds of happy accidents, and the cumulative effect is to teach aspiring editors how to think in a manner that facilitates such discoveries. Each editor provides instructive case studies in problem solving that will inform not only editors, but also screenwriters and directors, since the role of editing in telling the overall story of a film is a common thread.

Another common thread is the evolution of the tools of the craft, from the flatbeds used by editors such as Coates and Kahn early in their careers to the digital systems that have rendered such equipment virtually obsolete. As one might expect, different editors have different perspectives on this shift (Amazingly, Kahn didn’t make the transition to the Avid until The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse last year), and Chang does an excellent job of delineating the progression of the technology. He also pays tribute to editing pioneers in the form of a series of “legacy” chapters that appear intermittently in the book. These sections profile legends in the field, such as Dede Allen (Bonnie and Clyde, The Hustler), Ralph E. Winters (Ben-Hur, The Pink Panther) and Sally Menke, whose life and career were cut tragically short after one of her greatest triumphs, editing Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. These brief profiles supply added historical context to the already rich present-day interviews that make up the majority of the publication.   

Both the interviews and the legacy profiles are lavishly illustrated with gorgeous stills from the films under discussion, and each chapter incorporates beautifully designed sidebars that focus on specific films and scenes. Chang also adds sidebars that offer editing basics for students and novices, along with an excellent glossary that concludes the book. The material is all easily digestible but never superficial. Much as interviewee Lee Smith managed to put together a sophisticated philosophical treatise in the guise of a rip-roaring adventure when he edited The Dark Knight, Chang has made one of the most complex disciplines in film immediately accessible and entertaining here. A senior film critic at Variety, with Film Craft: Editing, he has proven himself to be as adept at explicating the creative process as he is at analyzing its end result.

Focal Press
$29.95 paperback

Flim Craft: Editing