The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry

May 2011
Color Correction Handbook Online
by Alexis Van Hurkman
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Plenty of books about color correction are on the market, but for sheer scope, depth and accessibility, it is tough to beat Alexis Van Hurkman’s Color Correction Handbook. A lavishly illustrated, meticulously written guide to color timing, it jams more than 500 pages with essential information for graders, editors and cinematographers alike. 
The Film Editing Room Handbook, 4th edition Online
by Norman Hollyn
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

When editor Norman Hollyn published the first edition of his Film Editing Room Handbook in 1984, cutters were still physically splicing film on flatbeds, and assistants were responsible for keeping track of countless rolls of 35mm film and mag stock; not only were digital systems like Avid and Final Cut Pro yet to be invented, but also even the word “workflow” was not a part of the editor’s everyday vocabulary. Now the digital revolution has almost completely transformed the editing room, and Hollyn’s updated fourth version of his tome has left the world of celluloid behind for an all-inclusive look at the way the editing room operates today. 
The Lean Forward Moment  Online
by Norman Hollyn
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

To say film is a “collaborative medium” is to express a sentiment so commonplace it is almost a cliché, yet few screenwriting manuals acknowledge this reality in any meaningful way. Although there is a plethora of screenwriting “how to” books on the market, most of them are strikingly limited in their approach, failing to take into account the ways in which color, music, space and other visual components are essential to cinematic storytelling. Since the age of low-cost digital cameras and editing equipment allows many aspiring screenwriters to take matters into their own hands and direct their own material, a more complete foundation in the art of conveying meaning and emotion through images is essential. Thankfully, Norman Hollyn’s The Lean Forward Moment points the way toward a new, more immersive method of learning the ways to tell stories on screen.

Archives
Book Reviews
online archives. go
Color Correction Handbook
by Alexis Van Hurkman
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Plenty of books about color correction are on the market, but for sheer scope, depth and accessibility, it is tough to beat Alexis Van Hurkman’s Color Correction Handbook. A lavishly illustrated, meticulously written guide to color timing, it jams more than 500 pages with essential information for graders, editors and cinematographers alike. From the initial stages of setting up a work environment to the final output for film or television exhibition, Van Hurkman’s tome covers a vast array of techniques and tools equally applicable to student filmmakers coloring their own projects in Final Cut Pro and professional colorists in Digital Intermediate suites. By adopting an “application agnostic” method and attacking color from a multitude of theoretical and practical perspectives, Van Hurkman has crafted a definitive textbook on the subject.

The book begins with an excellent tutorial on building a color-correction suite and then moves on to a series of chapters that delineate the colorist’s job in all of its facets, from the basic steps of balancing shots and correcting errors of color and exposure to more subjective stylistic alterations. Focusing on the fundamentals of color and contrast adjustment, HSL (Hue, Saturation and Lightness) qualification and the use of shapes, video scopes and grade management, the majority of Van Hurkman’s writing is applicable to virtually any grading system; when relevant, however, he provides sidebars regarding issues particular to Apple Color, DaVinci Resolve and other applications. He also makes useful distinctions among various types of filmmaking; often, for example, he notes the subtle differences when grading documentaries as opposed to fiction films.   

As a professional colorist, Van Hurkman supplements his explanations of the ways to achieve certain effects with equally important explorations of why one should use specific techniques and tools; his book explores the technical and creative sides of color timing without shortchanging either, and his emphasis on the creative thought process is what gives the Color Correction Handbook functionality regardless of the software one being used. By focusing on the ideas behind the techniques, Van Hurkman teaches the reader the way to think in a manner that allows for those techniques to be adapted to visual-effects and editing programs as well as more dedicated color-grading applications. Yet his writing is nothing if not precise — each grading task is described in a step-by-step explanation of implementation, with the author striking the perfect balance between the universal and the specific.

The breadth of Van Hurkman’s approach extends to his use of academic and theoretical writings to expand the colorist’s knowledge of visual perception. He supports his aesthetic premises with references that extend beyond other filmmaking guides to information culled from sociological studies and academic papers, among other sources; this gives his book a well-rounded perspective far richer and more thought-provoking than one ordinarily finds in technical manuals. There are also detours along the way for lessons in film history, practical tips on working with collaborators and clients and in-depth discussions of broadcast legality and quality control — in short, this is as thorough a survey of the theory and practice of color timing as one is likely to find.

Aside from its comprehensiveness, Color Correction Handbook also distinguishes itself with its exceptional clarity. The technical language of color timing can be obscure for the novice, but Van Hurkman makes even the most difficult terminology and concepts accessible through unambiguous language and a generous supply of detailed illustrations that elucidate complex principles without oversimplifying them. The majority of stills are taken from projects Van Hurkman personally timed, allowing him to provide a firsthand perspective on the process with explicit accounts of the ways he achieved his effects. Readers who wish to try their own hands at the material can access the raw, uncorrected source footage on a DVD that is included with the book; this disc contains 158 QuickTime files that can be imported into any grading application that handles Apple ProRes media. The DVD also contains two useful PDFs, one a reference guide to broadcast-safe settings, the other a discussion of film grain and digital noise. By experimenting with the clips on the disc while keeping a copy of the Color Correction Handbook close at hand, one can take the equivalent of a master class in color timing without ever leaving the house.  

Peachpit Press
$59.99 paperback

Online Online Exclusive
The Film Editing Room Handbook, 4th edition
by Norman Hollyn
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

When editor Norman Hollyn published the first edition of his Film Editing Room Handbook in 1984, cutters were still physically splicing film on flatbeds, and assistants were responsible for keeping track of countless rolls of 35mm film and mag stock; not only were digital systems like Avid and Final Cut Pro yet to be invented, but also even the word “workflow” was not a part of the editor’s everyday vocabulary. Now the digital revolution has almost completely transformed the editing room, and Hollyn’s updated fourth version of his tome has left the world of celluloid behind for an all-inclusive look at the way the editing room operates today. With detailed chapters on visual effects, digitizing material and sound and music editing, The Film Editing Room Handbook reflects the changing parameters of the editor’s job in a medium characterized by constantly evolving technology.  

The book is aimed squarely at assistant editors, as it focuses less on the creative decisions that go into editing than it does on the administrative, logistical and organizational components of the cutting room; its subtitle is “How to Tame the Chaos of the Editing Room,” and over the course of 290 pages, Hollyn explains how to do that. He begins with a survey of the basic equipment and supplies needed to keep any editing workspace running and then moves into the nitty-gritty of working as an assistant editor: dealing with complex workflows and data, managing footage, handling paperwork and outputs, etc. He also calls on his experience as a sound, music and picture editor for 40 years to address the all-important interpersonal requirements of the job. Often using entertaining anecdotes from his own career, Hollyn conveys the necessity for diplomatic skills when communicating with directors, producers, vendors and other crewmembers. Given that the author has worked with some of the best filmmakers in the business (including Sidney Lumet, Bob Fosse and Francis Coppola), his firsthand accounts contain a lot of wisdom for aspiring editors.

The most valuable aspect of Hollyn’s volume is its attention to the blurring of lines between positions that has emerged in the wake of the digital revolution; the distinctions between picture and sound editing, editing and color correction, and editing and visual effects have broken down as innovative software applications have enabled more and more work to be done at the editor’s workstation, and The Film Editing Room Handbook fittingly addresses all of these disciplines. It does so in, as one would expect from a book that stresses the importance of orderliness, a clear, well organized manner: Hollyn structures his material so it reflects the general order in which various issues will arise during a production, and he illustrates his points with applicable documentation (camera and sound reports, crew and workflow flowcharts, graphics from editing screens, etc.). He also creates an imaginary project and crew to which he refers throughout the book in order to show the reader the ways his principles would be applied to an actual production.

Hollyn acknowledges that the technology is changing so quickly assistant editors will always have new things to learn and wisely gives most of his attention to issues of process rather than equipment; most of what he teaches is applicable whether one is cutting on Final Cut Pro, Avid, Vegas or any number of other editing systems. The material is also designed to have relevance across a wide array of budgets and genres, with occasional sidebars on the unique requirements of specific types of filmmaking, such as documentaries. All of the information is essential for assistant editors as well as aspiring directors and producers (and production managers, assistant directors and line producers) who will find more efficient ways of planning and executing their shoots based on the lessons Hollyn imparts. In addition to his methodical descriptions of each step in the post-production process, the author provides insights into areas often ignored by editing guides — areas such as marketing, DVD supplements and television versions. He wraps it all up with a fine chapter on the most important part of the assistant editor’s job — getting the job in the first place — and concludes the book with an excellent glossary of editing terminology. The result is a handbook that accomplishes what good editors always strive for: a work that gives a clear, accessible shape to complex and valuable ideas.

Peachpit Press
$39.99 paperback

Online Online Exclusive
The Lean Forward Moment
by Norman Hollyn
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

To say film is a “collaborative medium” is to express a sentiment so commonplace it is almost a cliché, yet few screenwriting manuals acknowledge this reality in any meaningful way. Although there is a plethora of screenwriting “how to” books on the market, most of them are strikingly limited in their approach, failing to take into account the ways in which color, music, space and other visual components are essential to cinematic storytelling. Since the age of low-cost digital cameras and editing equipment allows many aspiring screenwriters to take matters into their own hands and direct their own material, a more complete foundation in the art of conveying meaning and emotion through images is essential. Thankfully, Norman Hollyn’s The Lean Forward Moment points the way toward a new, more immersive method of learning the ways to tell stories on screen.

An editor and teacher by trade, Hollyn has decades of experience in learning the ways to create “Lean Forward Moments” — moments that deeply affect an audience on an emotional and intellectual level, and he has organized what he knows into an elegantly structured and entertaining book. The first major section of The Lean Forward Moment consists of a series of loglines for preexisting works ranging from The Battleship Potemkin to The Matrix. Although this chapter is probably a bit more exhaustive — and exhausting — than it needs to be, it does a nice job of training the reader to distill a story to its essence. Hollyn takes 19 pieces of filmmaking (including not only feature films, but also shorts, documentaries, student films, music videos, commercials and television series) and provides brief synopses, along with analyses of key scenes; each of the sections is illustrated with useful stills as well as instructions on how to access specific moments via DVD or the Web. The diverse selection of films Hollyn chooses bodes well for the rest of the book; after all, any storytelling theory that encompasses the work of Jean-Luc Godard and Season One of Lost is clearly going to have broad applications for the reader.

After this introductory chapter, Hollyn moves to sections on specific disciplines: writing, production design, directing, cinematography, editing, opticals and visual effects, music and sound. In these passages, the book really delivers, as the author uses specific examples from both popular and overlooked masterpieces to illustrate core storytelling principles. The screenwriting chapter, for example, dissects sequences from Citizen Kane and The Godfather, as well as the documentary Into the Arms of Strangers, to explore issues relating to point of view, structure and clarity. Hollyn excerpts text from the scripts themselves to analyze the ways the writers use not only content, but also the actual screenwriting format and layout on the page to guide the cast and crew, and then discusses the translation of that writing to the screen. In just a couple dozen pages, he uses the work of Francis Coppola and other masters to teach invaluable lessons in the art and craft of the screenplay.

As Hollyn continues with chapters on visual design, he continues to reference classics such as The Godfather and Kane to great effect, but he also broadens his scope to encompass student films and Web series — in other words, media that might be more in line with the resources and ambitions of the readers of this book. By using detailed stills and synopses, the author is able to provide concrete examples of situations in which filmmakers operating on low- or non-existent budgets have shown the same kind of precision and intent in their aesthetic choices as Coppola and Orson Welles. Late in the book, Hollyn even addresses the ways the principles of the “lean forward moment” can be applied to non-broadcast formats such as wedding videos or corporate and educational films — a helpful addendum for the many readers who are most likely earning a living in other areas than the worlds of big-budget, studio filmmaking or music videos and commercials.         

All of these chapters are superbly illustrated with stills, diagrams and, in the case of a detailed analysis of a particular scene from The Godfather, floor plans that clearly and concisely teach the reader how to think in terms of space and movement. Hollyn also provides a helpful appendix with recommended books, magazines and Web sites, many of which are excellent sources for more in-depth technical information than can be found in this book. Ultimately, The Lean Forward Moment is more a guide to theoretical and conceptual thinking than it is a nuts-and-bolts filmmaking primer; there is not a lot of technical detail, but the book provides a strong introduction to thinking in visual terms that will serve neophyte filmmakers well.  

New Rider Press
$44.99 paperback

Online Online Exclusive