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November 2012
Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work Online
by Michael Goldman
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Ever since he won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for Unforgiven 20 years ago, Clint Eastwood has been widely acknowledged to be one of America’s finest living filmmakers, a reputation critically and commercially successful pictures such as Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino have confirmed. Yet many of the book-length studies of Eastwood have come up lacking; on one end of the spectrum are Richard Schickel’s gushing but superficial authorized biographies; on the other, Patrick MacGilligan’s well researched but unnecessarily harsh takedown job. A great deal of material on Eastwood tends toward one of these two equally unhelpful extremes, which is why Michael Goldman’s Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work is so valuable.
3-DIY: Stereoscopic Moviemaking on an Indie Budget Online
by Ray Zone
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

For many casual filmgoers, 3-D in the post-Avatar era has come to be associated with animation and big-budget, studio-franchise movies — and with bloated ticket surcharges. Yet as with all other forms of filmmaking in the digital age, a parallel universe of do-it-yourself, independent 3-D has steadily emerged, with resourceful guerrilla filmmakers and gadget wizards inventing alternative methods of producing and exhibiting stereoscopic cinema. Their achievements are on gorgeously illustrated display in Ray Zone’s 3-DIY: Stereoscopic Moviemaking on an Indie Budget, a book that serves as a welcome corrective to the notion 3-D is just for Hollywood spectacles with nine-figure budgets. 
Final Cut Pro X for iMovie and Final Cut Express Users Online
by Tom Wolsky
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

A casual glance at Amazon’s list of books on Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing software reveals more that 100 publications on the program in its various manifestations, and last year’s release of Final Cut Pro X has unleashed a further onslaught of tomes. Not having read all of the dozen-plus books on X already on the market, this writer cannot authoritatively say which is the best, but it is hard to imagine a more thorough or readable starting point than Tom Wolsky’s Final Cut Pro X for Movie and Final Cut Express Users. The title of the book and its subheading (“Making the Creative Leap”) imply it is meant as a tutorial for amateurs and students ready to jump up from iMovie and Final Cut Express into the big leagues, but, in fact, the volume might be even more useful for professionals frustrated by Apple’s decision to scrap so much of what worked just fine in earlier incarnations of Final Cut Pro and Studio.

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Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work
by Michael Goldman
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Ever since he won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for Unforgiven 20 years ago, Clint Eastwood has been widely acknowledged to be one of America’s finest living filmmakers, a reputation critically and commercially successful pictures such as Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino have confirmed. Yet many of the book-length studies of Eastwood have come up lacking; on one end of the spectrum are Richard Schickel’s gushing but superficial authorized biographies; on the other, Patrick MacGilligan’s well researched but unnecessarily harsh takedown job. A great deal of material on Eastwood tends toward one of these two equally unhelpful extremes, which is why Michael Goldman’s Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work is so valuable. Though Goldman sometimes resorts to the kind of fawning hagiography that weakens Schickel’s writing on the director, he more than compensates for his occasional lapses with illuminating observations about Eastwood’s process that provide surprises even for the most die-hard students of Eastwood’s work.

Goldman, a frequent contributor to American Cinematographer and other journals, conducted more than 60 interviews with Eastwood’s collaborators, and the result is a book that eschews the standard mythology about the director in favor of new stories and fresh perspectives. After some initial sections that trace Eastwood’s career and offer general summaries of his preoccupations and techniques, Goldman delves into the nitty-gritty of various aspects of production, with chapters that focus on cinematography, production design, acting, editing and other disciplines and on the ways Eastwood and his colleagues approach them. Goldman supplements interviews with Eastwood with comments from virtually all of his key collaborators, including cinematographers Bruce Surtees, Jack Green, ASC, and Tom Stern, ASC, AFC, and the author’s skills as an interviewer are impressive, given the voluminous literature already available on Eastwood and his Malpaso production company. Goldman has an ability to extract heretofore undisclosed technical and logistical information from his subjects in a thoughtful and dense, yet completely accessible, manner. The book strikes just the right balance between readability and detail.  

The volume’s one weakness is a tendency to lay the compliments on a bit thick; all of the Eastwood collaborators Goldman interviewed clearly adore him, and their constant testimonies to his pleasant nature and civilized working conditions get repetitive at times. I bow to no man in my admiration of Eastwood, but it is a little difficult to see what kind of greater understanding is gained by the dozenth reference to his confidence or the umpteenth mention of his efficiency and lack of ego. Thankfully, most of this material is weighted toward the early chapters of the book, and as Goldman delves deeper into specific components of Eastwood’s process Eastwood at Work begins to yield real insight. Eastwood has long been known for his dark, low-key lighting style, and Goldman provides a compelling examination of how that style evolved through the combined efforts of Surtees, Green and Stern. Also, a terrific interview with camera operator Stephen Campanelli is packed with useful information about the interplay among him, Eastwood and Stern when conceiving and executing compositions and camera moves.

Perhaps Goldman’s greatest achievement is his exploration of special effects in Eastwood films and the director’s use of digital tools such as the Digital Intermediate to shape his images. The conventional wisdom on Eastwood is he is “old school,” and while plenty of evidence exists to support this theory in the director’s unfussy compositional style and avoidance of quick cuts, Goldman points out Eastwood has also never hesitated to use the latest tools when it suited his purposes. There are fascinating passages on the visual effects in Space Cowboys, Flags of Our Fathers and other films, as well as discussions of the ways Stern and Eastwood have used the DI to refine their palettes in recent pictures.

Throughout these sections and others, Goldman brilliantly sums up Eastwood’s methodology and explains exactly how it results in the remarkable dramatic and visual effects for which the director is known. From Eastwood’s reasoning for not using multiple cameras to his system of multi-purposing sets, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of utilitarian lessons in Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work that make it a vital read for film students and established craftspeople alike. Goldman’s access to Malpaso and Warner Bros. archives also gives the book a pleasing aesthetic quality as the interviews are illustrated with hundreds of gorgeous stills and original designs. Similar access has been granted to other writers before, but no one has done as much with the raw materials as Goldman, whose book stands as the finest tome on Eastwood’s methods to date.

Abrams
$40.00 hardcover


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3-DIY: Stereoscopic Moviemaking on an Indie Budget
by Ray Zone
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

For many casual filmgoers, 3-D in the post-Avatar era has come to be associated with animation and big-budget, studio-franchise movies — and with bloated ticket surcharges. Yet as with all other forms of filmmaking in the digital age, a parallel universe of do-it-yourself, independent 3-D has steadily emerged, with resourceful guerrilla filmmakers and gadget wizards inventing alternative methods of producing and exhibiting stereoscopic cinema. Their achievements are on gorgeously illustrated display in Ray Zone’s 3-DIY: Stereoscopic Moviemaking on an Indie Budget, a book that serves as a welcome corrective to the notion 3-D is just for Hollywood spectacles with nine-figure budgets. By interviewing more than two dozen 3-D filmmakers and presenting case studies of their work, Zone has provided a survey of the state of the art that is both inspiring and practical.

The impetus for amateurs and filmmakers outside the system to create 3-D has existed from the beginning: in his introduction, Zone describes how stereoscopic filmmaking was practiced by 8mm and 16mm enthusiasts in the 1940s and ’50s before Hollywood briefly embraced the format with films like House of Wax and Hondo. As a 1952 American Cinematographer article noted, 3-D was a practical format for the amateur long before it became commercially viable for studios and theaters. Zone’s opening chapter catalogs the various 8mm and 16mm formats that gained prevalence in the ’40s and ’50s, complete with illustrations from various technical journals and advertisements of the time. The revelatory beginning sets the tone for what is to follow in the book’s subsequent 300-plus pages.

After his historical overview, Zone jumps straight into case studies, which comprise the remainder of the text. In 23 chapters, the author interviews independent filmmakers about their own films, music videos, camera systems and workflows, with a heavy emphasis on do-it-yourself equipment. Indeed, readers looking for information on out-of-the-box 3-D cameras like the Panasonic AG-3DA1 or Sony DEV-5 will not find it here — nor will they find much theoretical or technical analysis of the ways 3-D works. 3-D novices will need to do their homework before picking up this book, which presupposes a certain amount of background knowledge on the part of the reader, but that homework is well worth doing in order to reap the rewards of Zone’s case studies.

Zone’s interviews primarily focus on filmmakers who have created their own 3-D equipment, often out of 2-D cameras and gear that has been repurposed for stereoscopic production. The benefits of such an approach are obvious: many of the directors and camera operators interviewed were able to produce 3-D work on miniscule or non-existent budgets simply by adapting 2-D methods and tools, and the handmade nature of their camera packages allows for very specific applications to each individual project. Each interview goes into detail about the movie or movies produced, the cameras and postproduction software employed and, where applicable, instructions on how to build the gear. Every chapter is lavishly illustrated with stills and diagrams, many of them viewable in 3-D with the glasses included with the book.

Each case study is useful in and of itself, and, collectively, the chapters represent a surprisingly wide range of approaches to 3-D. From filmmakers like Zoe Beloff, who still shoots in 16mm with a stereoscopic Bolex, to Ryan Suits, who used digital still cameras to capture his experimental film Plasticity, 3-DIY encompasses a variety of technologies and aesthetic preferences, giving the reader plenty of options for his or her own 3-D endeavors. The book also covers areas a less thorough author might have ignored, such as the specific technical considerations of recording and syncing sound for 3-D, and issues related to exhibition. After all, it is one thing to get a 3-D movie in the can, but it is another entirely to get it distributed and seen in its proper format, especially when working outside of the studio system. Thankfully, Zone’s book has plenty of information about film festivals devoted to the format and lists theaters, such as L.A.’s Downtown Independent, that have embraced independent 3-D. Thus 3-DIY offers an all-encompassing manual for filmmakers ready to take the step into three-dimensional filmmaking: a guide from pre-production to premiere, filled with nuts-and-bolts solutions to a multitude of problems.            

Focal Press
$34.95 paperback


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Final Cut Pro X for iMovie and Final Cut Express Users
by Tom Wolsky
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

A casual glance at Amazon’s list of books on Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing software reveals more that 100 publications on the program in its various manifestations, and last year’s release of Final Cut Pro X has unleashed a further onslaught of tomes. Not having read all of the dozen-plus books on X already on the market, this writer cannot authoritatively say which is the best, but it is hard to imagine a more thorough or readable starting point than Tom Wolsky’s Final Cut Pro X for Movie and Final Cut Express Users. The title of the book and its subheading (“Making the Creative Leap”) imply it is meant as a tutorial for amateurs and students ready to jump up from iMovie and Final Cut Express into the big leagues, but, in fact, the volume might be even more useful for professionals frustrated by Apple’s decision to scrap so much of what worked just fine in earlier incarnations of Final Cut Pro and Studio.

When Final Cut Pro X was introduced in June 2011, many filmmakers (this writer included) found it to be a strange mishmash of features from consumer and prosumer applications that inexplicably abandoned Final Cut Studio’s field-tested timeline and lacked several audio and color tools from FCS. Yet Wolsky shows that while Final Cut Pro X is quite different from Final Cut Studio and its predecessors, it has its own strengths and benefits that, when properly utilized, can be harnessed for superior effects. As Wolsky points out early on, Final Cut Pro X has more in common with iMovie than it does with earlier versions of Final Cut Pro, so more casual filmmakers used to that application will, ironically, have a leg up on their professional counterparts when adapting to the new software. Luckily, Wolsky presents his information in a conversational style equally accessible to users of all of Apple’s other editing programs; although iMovie enthusiasts will possibly find Final Cut Pro X more intuitive than users of Final Cut Express, Pro and Studio, everyone (including editors coming to this software from non-Apple platforms such as Avid and Adobe Premiere) can easily adapt by following the tutorials in this cleanly organized book.

In keeping with his background as an instructor, Wolsky presents the material as a series of lessons, most of which incorporate footage that can be downloaded from the book’s accompanying Website. Starting with key information on setting up one’s workstation, with particular emphasis on storage, monitors and optimizing the operating system, the author then takes the reader through each stage of editing on a project so that the user can learn by doing — an extremely useful way of absorbing the capabilities of Final Cut Pro X and making the principles concrete rather than abstract. Throughout the book, Wolsky is careful to point out distinctions among Final Cut Pro X and its predecessors and competitors although he largely focuses on explaining the ways X works and how to get the most out of its features. The “for iMovie and Final Cut Express Users” part of the title provides a convenient marketing hook and an entry point for the material, but it is actually more limiting than the book itself, which is a perfectly serviceable Final Cut Pro X manual with or without knowledge of the other applications.

In keeping with Focal Press standards, the book is heavy on illustrations, primarily screen grabs from Final Cut Pro X projects that clearly lay out in visual terms the principles under discussion. Each “lesson” also has a detailed table of contents at its beginning and a summary at its end so that readers can quickly go back to the book as a reference guide while editing their own projects. All of the information is very easy to pull back up within a matter of seconds. By the end of the 14 lessons, which take the reader from importing footage to final output, using Final Cut Pro X is second nature. Although the debate among editors over the application’s strengths and weaknesses will likely continue to rage, Wolsky’s book does point out a number of advances in terms of speed and usability that are hard to argue against. More important, the book serves as a comprehensive and highly readable guide to software that is likely here to stay whether Final Cut Pro and Studio users like it or not.          

Focal Press
$29.95 paperback
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