As a one-time photography student who’s inner shutterbug has recently reawakened after decades of dormancy, I’ve amassed a large collection of books on the subject as a general refresher course on the basics (which are all pretty much new to me, now, seeing as how the last SLR camera I owned used actual film). Of these many books, it seems that all of my personal favorites come from a company called Focal Press, as not only are their books geared more toward the serious enthusiast, but they’re also real easy on the eyes, with loads of gorgeous and inspiring photos, and a hip design that makes them a joy to read (and re-read).
With Focal Press’s new Film Craft series, the “focus” switches to from still photography to the art of motion pictures, and the first two volumes in the series, Editing and Cinematography, start things off with a bang. As someone who pretty much eats, sleeps, and breathes cinema, it should come as no surprise that I’m as fascinated with the filmmaking process (so much so that I’ve even dabbled in it myself, with decidedly mixed results) as I am with the finished product. As an “outsider” seeking a better understanding of said process, and having read countless volumes on editing and cinematography, I can safely say that these Focal Press titles are some of the most handsomely crafted, insightful, and downright “user friendly” books of their kind.
The books are presented in an easy-to-read conversational style, with the author’s holding “discussions” with various legends in their particular field. Mike Goodridge and Tim Grierson’s Cinematography offers up a who’s-who of celebrated lensmen, including Vilmos Zsigmond (The Deer Hunter/Close Encounters of the Third Kind), Vittorio Storaro (La Luna/Last Tango in Paris), Jack Cardiff (Black Narcissus/The Red Shoes), and many more. The conversational style of the book makes it feel as though the reader is sitting in on some sort of round table discussion between a group of master filmmakers, with each offering a tremendous amount of insight into their craft, as well as reminisces of their most celebrated works.
Justin Chang’s volume, Editing, takes a similar approach, offering interviews with some of the best editors in the business, including folks like Walter Murch (The Godfather films/Apocalypse Now) and Lee Smith (The Dark Knight/X-Men: First Class). Chang’s book is especially informative in that each of his subjects breaks down some of their favorite scenes in a frame-by-frame format, sharing some of their tips and tricks for burgeoning editors. With this book you’ll develop a tremendous appreciation for film editing and its impact on the final product.
Both titles are attractively laid-out with lots of sidebars and breakout boxes, lavishly illustrated with hundreds of black-and-white and full color photos, and both feature inner-flaps on the front and back covers for convenient bookmarking. It’s the attention to little details like this that always make reading Focal Press titles such a joy, but the quality goes well beyond the superficial; these are some serious film-school-quality educational materials whose content rivals some of the pricier textbooks that line my shelves (yeah, I’m a nerd like that).
Whether you’re a working pro, a fledgling filmmaker, or cinema enthusiast like myself, this new collection from Focal Press is an invaluable resource, filled with pro tips and entertaining and informative essays that will thrill both film nerds and neophytes alike. Highly recommended!