The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry

October 2011
3D TV and 3D Cinema Online
by Bernard Mendiburu with Yves Pupulin and Steve Schklair
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

When Bernard Mendiburu published his book 3D Movie Making: Stereoscopic Digital Cinema from Script to Screen in 2009, the jury was still out on whether or not exhibitors and audiences would embrace 3D as a viable art form rather than a passing fad; as a result, much of Mendiburu’s time was spent trying to convince the reader that 3D was here to stay. Only two years later, partly as a result of the game-changing release of Avatar in December 2009, there are thousands of 3D-equipped screens in America, and television networks like ESPN and Discovery are broadcasting 3D content.
Directors Tell the Story Online
by Bethany Rooney and Mary Lou Belli
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

…Bethany Rooney and Mary Lou Belli’s Directors Tell the Story sets out to fill the void; as directors of series, including Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Monk, the authors have hundreds of hours of experience between them and, thus, have first-hand knowledge of what it takes to mount television productions on tight schedules and modest budgets.…
Voice & Vision, 2nd edition Online
by Mick Hurbis-Cherrier
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Director Alexander Mackendrick (Sweet Smell of Success) once said one cannot teach film, but one can learn it — an ironic statement from a man who spent the last decades of his life as an instructor at the California Institute of the Arts. Filmmaker and teacher Mick Hurbis-Cherrier refers to Mackendrick’s quote early on in his book Voice & Vision and then spends the next 600 pages proving it wrong. 

Archives
Book Reviews
online archives. go
3D TV and 3D Cinema
by Bernard Mendiburu with Yves Pupulin and Steve Schklair
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

When Bernard Mendiburu published his book 3D Movie Making: Stereoscopic Digital Cinema from Script to Screen in 2009, the jury was still out on whether or not exhibitors and audiences would embrace 3D as a viable art form rather than a passing fad; as a result, much of Mendiburu’s time was spent trying to convince the reader that 3D was here to stay. Only two years later, partly as a result of the game-changing release of Avatar in December 2009, there are thousands of 3D-equipped screens in America, and television networks like ESPN and Discovery are broadcasting 3D content. Although filmmakers, critics, and bloggers still engage in heated debates regarding the quality and future of the medium, with the recent decline in 3D ticket sales causing some to argue 3D is already on its way out, the reality is stereoscopic filmmaking is probably here to stay. Given both the proliferation of new tools and the rapidly expanding demand for product (not to mention the proliferation of misinformation about the technology), it was essential Mendiburu update his previous tome. His new book, 3D TV and 3D Cinema (with contributions by Steve Schklair and Yves Pupulin) is more than a mere revision, however; it is an all-inclusive guide to the theory and practice of stereoscopic production incorporating the experience of some of the best minds in the field.

The book opens with a helpful overview of how 3D has evolved in the last few years, along with a summary of its most common applications. It is a fascinating lesson in recent history as the author explores the sophisticated relationship between the evolution of HD and the evolution of 3D. Mendiburu, a stereographer and digital-cinema consultant, assumes a certain level of expertise on the part of the reader and dives right into some fairly detailed technical discussions; those new to the world of 3D filmmaking are likely to feel overwhelmed a few pages into the second chapter, which focuses on the intricacies of stereoscopic camera units. Thankfully, the author provides an extensive glossary at the back of the book; readers with minimal knowledge of 3D and its tools and concepts would be advised to read this section before attempting to penetrate the more demanding technical chapters. Like the rest of the book, the chapter on 3D rigs and cameras is extensively illustrated with helpful stills and includes sidebars by 3D professionals who supplement Mendiburu’s writing with examples and perspectives from the set.

This approach characterizes subsequent sections on image processing and monitoring, aligning and calibrating cameras in production, correcting or converting images in post-production, and recording and managing data. The author examines these and other topics, considering a variety of applications, with particular emphasis on the demands and pitfalls of live-event recording, and he skillfully compares and contrasts different methods and tools. He also debunks a number of myths that have generated a great deal of controversy in the entertainment press, such as the notion 3D conversions are vastly inferior to films actually shot in 3D. Mendiburu points out conversion is merely a visual-effects tool that can be used beautifully or horribly, and with the right amount of time, money and artistry, conversion is as legitimate an expressive tool as any other. (In any case, even movies allegedly shot in 3D, such as Transformers: Dark of the Moon, use a sizable amount of conversion in post.)     

Throughout 3D TV and 3D Cinema, Mendiburu brings in commentaries by other authorities on stereoscopic filmmaking that broaden the perspective of the book and share specific production experiences. This approach reaches its full fruition in the book’s final chapter, “Stereoscopic Experience from the Front Lines,” which consists entirely of in-depth interviews and essays exploring complex theoretical and practical approaches to 3D cinematography. The wildly varying quality of current 3D productions and post-conversions has inspired raging debate among audiences and professionals alike, but it is clear from this collection of writings the technical and artistic means to create great 3D art exist if only filmmakers educate themselves. Anyone interested in beginning such an education would be wise to find a place on the bookshelf for Mendiburu’s volume.

Focal Press
$49.95 paperback


Online Online Exclusive
Directors Tell the Story
by Bethany Rooney and Mary Lou Belli
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

At this point there are so many directing textbooks clogging the market one has to assume little more is to be said on the subject — what could possibly justify yet another how-to book on the filmmaking craft? Yet for all the publications aimed at budding young Steven Spielbergs and Martin Scorseses, relatively scant attention is given to the unique demands of television; most directing textbooks focus on the feature world even though there are fewer jobs and opportunities there than in the constantly expanding world of broadcast and cable television. Bethany Rooney and Mary Lou Belli’s Directors Tell the Story sets out to fill the void; as directors of series, including Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Monk, the authors have hundreds of hours of experience between them and, thus, have first-hand knowledge of what it takes to mount television productions on tight schedules and modest budgets. While their book tends toward the superficial at times, it offers enough insider detail about the specific requirements of helming TV series to make it worth a read for students interested in that medium.

Although the subtitle of the book is Master the Craft of Television and Film Directing, its content is heavily slanted toward TV, and rightly so, for the authors are at their best when drawing on their own work to illustrate their points. As a general overview of the director’s craft, Directors Tell the Story offers nothing that is not found in other, superior tomes, such as Gil Bettman’s First Time Director, which remains the standard against which all other directing textbooks must be measured. Rooney and Belli do not delve as deeply into the elements of visual style or the complexities of working with actors as Bettman does in his more thorough volume, and many of their lessons will seem obvious to readers with any kind of filmmaking background. This is primarily a book aimed at novices and students.

That said, as an introductory textbook it serves its function well, with an expertly organized structure and well chosen illustrations. The writers take the reader through the process of directing a television episode one clear step at a time, from breaking down a script and organizing the shoot to running the set and supervising post. Although the authors stress the importance of having a vision, their tome is not much help in that direction; it does not inspire the reader to think creatively in the way Bettman’s book or Alexander Mackendrick’s On Filmmaking do. Rather, Directors Tell the Story is at its most valuable when dealing with those elements specific to TV directing, such as dealing with show runners or adapting to a six-act format that must accommodate commercial breaks. There is also a fine section titled “Being a Director,” in which the writers give personal accounts of their origins in the business and their tips for managing the psychological demands of directing. While some passages in Directors Tell the Story tend toward the superficial or regurgitate concepts well covered in other publications, it is in these more direct, personal accounts the authors distinguish themselves and offer something new that comes from their intimate knowledge of life on the soundstage.  

Another advantage of the authors’ experience is their access to other professionals who are called upon to provide additional perspectives. Throughout the book, the writers include “insider info” sections in which they interview actors, cinematographers, assistant directors and other collaborators to find out what each member of the cast and crew looks for in a director. These sidebars are brief but contain a number of valuable insights that nicely complement the premises of the main text. Along the same lines, the book concludes with a series of essays in which established television directors explain how they got their first jobs. Given that this tome is aimed squarely at beginners and film students, this final passage is in some ways the most valuable section of the book as it suggests a wide variety of paths into the TV business. Ultimately, the stories from these directors as well as the authors themselves provide Directors Tell the Story with enough useful information to make it worth a read for aspiring television directors although it is far from a definitive volume on the subject.

Focal Press
$25.00 paperback


Online Online Exclusive
Voice & Vision, 2nd edition
by Mick Hurbis-Cherrier
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Director Alexander Mackendrick (Sweet Smell of Success) once said one cannot teach film, but one can learn it — an ironic statement from a man who spent the last decades of his life as an instructor at the California Institute of the Arts. Filmmaker and teacher Mick Hurbis-Cherrier refers to Mackendrick’s quote early on in his book Voice & Vision and then spends the next 600 pages proving it wrong. From conception to release, every phase of the filmmaking process receives attention in Hurbis-Cherrier’s dense yet accessible volume, a comprehensive textbook on the intersection at which practical considerations and artistic inspiration meet. Mackendrick might be right in the sense no book or class can substitute for an on-set experience, but anyone arriving on set armed with the knowledge contained in Voice & Vision will have a distinct advantage.

The author begins with several chapters dedicated to screenwriting and visual storytelling, topics that one would assume had been thoroughly exhausted in other filmmaking manuals. What distinguishes Voice & Vision is not necessarily the newness of its ideas, but their breadth, concision and organization. The screenwriting chapters are emblematic of Hurbis-Cherrier’s approach as a whole, which is to pack as much information onto each page as possible and to incorporate a wide range of methods and perspectives. He avoids the schematic and reductive formulas common to many screenwriting books, instead giving the reader useful and flexible tools with which to create a wide variety of stories. His is a vision that can accommodate the approaches of Steven Spielberg and Mel Brooks and those of Abbas Kiarostami and Terrence Malick.

Hurbis-Cherrier goes on to explain other facets of filmmaking with comparable diversity and clarity in subsequent chapters. It is hard to think of a step in the process he ignores as everything from production management and contracts to lighting and the presentation of cinematic time and space is covered with equal depth and precision. The material is expertly organized into sections that take the reader through the stages of production in roughly chronological order; each chapter builds on what has come before it to give a thorough overview of filmmaking theories and techniques. The author’s background as a college instructor serves him well here as he turns the chaos of film and digital-video production into a highly readable narrative easily digestible by readers who are new to the medium.  

The book is rich enough to offer considerable rewards for those filmmakers who are slightly more advanced and experienced as well. Hurbis-Cherrier is particularly adept at dealing with the myriad contradictions characterizing film as a discipline, from the fact it is a collaborative medium needing to be driven by a single vision to its schizophrenic nature as an expressive art form that is simultaneously an expensive business driven by economic considerations. The great achievement of Voice & Vision is its ability to contain all of these ideas and reconcile them; it provides clear, usable strategies for creating works of personal integrity without ignoring financial, logistical and administrative issues. Rather than shortchanging the technical and line-producing aspects of production in favor of creative issues or vice-versa, Hurbis-Cherrier incorporates a fully integrated approach.

All of these concepts are clarified through an exceptional use of illustrations and references. On the production-management side, Hurbis-Cherrier supplies templates for all the necessary forms, schedules and charts and explains them line by line; when exploring aesthetic topics, he explicates his concepts with examples ranging from the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Jean-Luc Godard to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The hundreds of references are impeccably selected to make complex issues regarding light, composition and space understandable without oversimplifying them. Additional clips, stills and forms can be accessed on the tome’s indispensable accompanying Web site, www.voiceandvisionbook.com.

The author’s skill at selecting filmic references is matched by his ability to find pertinent quotes from other filmmakers and by his use of sidebars (labeled “in practice”) sharing anecdotes from various sets. Hurbis-Cherrier’s approach is appropriately eclectic; whether the reader’s dream is to create avant-garde independent films or Hollywood blockbusters (or any of the variations in between), he or she will find relevant advice here. To top it off, the author ends the book with lengthy lists of recommended readings and films and a wide range of Web resources. Additional resources exist on the aforementioned Web site, which, like the book itself, is impressive in both its breadth and depth. Taken in conjunction, Voice and Vision and its Web site offer so many applicable lessons they end up providing inspiration as well as instruction. Armed with Hurbis-Cherrier’s information, readers will be ready to hit the ground running as they embark on their own projects.

Focal Press
$54.95 paperback


Online Online Exclusive
www.voiceandvisionbook.com