So, you decide to go into filmmaking. But instead of pursuing the Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino route, you want to make a name for yourself in… commercials. Sound crazy? Not really. At least one major filmmaker got his start by making what is largely considered to be the greatest commercial of all time. I’m referring to Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking 1984 Mac commercial that aired just once, during the Superbowl of that year. (If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out on Youtube.com). And that isn't even bringing up folks like Spike Jonze and David Fincher who got their start in the similar art of music videos.
Commercials are not just a major pillar of commercialism; they are ultra-short films that must, in 30 seconds or less, persuade the audience to use their product. They need the same attention to detail and preplanning that goes into a film, but have to be much more direct and compact.
Mr. Richter does an excellent job of explaining the ins and outs of making commercials, from the business side of things to filming and post-production. He walks the reader through the process of making a commercial, using one of his most recent projects (a commercial for Ford and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) as an example. After explaining how the business of a commercial director works, he describes the process of putting together a treatment, as well as all of the details to be considered in pre-production (shots, casting, crew selection, location, production design, schedule, etc.) He then proceeds to the actual filming process, including the different types of shots that can be used (a lot of this will depend on the type of commercial you’re doing), lighting, etc. Post-production covers film development, editing, special effects, and sound editing. The last part of the book takes a look at international commercial-making, giving brief descriptions of major commercial markets; this last part also includes an appendix with loads of helpful resources and a glossary.
This book is pretty easy to understand. Having the writer walk you all the way through one commercial from preproduction to completion is very helpful. Richter’s writing style is concise and professional, while at the same time laid back and humorous, so it’s easy to read and not too pedantic. He also includes a lot of examples of his work, so it’s easy to follow what he’s talking about. If you don’t know anything about filmmaking, I wouldn’t recommend this book to start out with; you’ll get more out of it if you have a basic understanding of the filmmaking process, pre-and post-production, editing, cameras, lenses, etc.
Depth of Information
If you ever wanted to know what all goes into becoming a commercial director, it’s all in here. One of the things I love to see in instructional books like these are interviews with or contributions from people who have a lot of experience in the same field. It is always helpful to hear insight from others about what does and doesn’t work, what they’re looking for, etc. This book has many such contributions from people who are major players within the world of commercial advertising.
However, as far as it pertains to microfilmmakers, it's a mixed bag. I got this book thinking it would have some good suggestions that could be applied to making movie trailers (which, when you think about it, are movie-commercials). While it does give you an idea of how to boil ideas down to their most succinct and powerful core, there are a few differences. The biggest difference is that, with a commercial, you have to go out and plan and shoot all of the footage. With a trailer, the film has already been shot and must be trimmed down into a 30 second span, so it's an obviously different workflow. (For more in-depth coverage of trailers, feel free to read our new article on how to create a compelling film trailer.)
While the trailer element might be different, for microfilmmakers who are interested in making the new micro-length films (which are typically between 30 seconds and a minute) this book would be invaluable. It would also be useful for a lot of short filmmakers in general, as it is often easier to make longer shorts when you've first learned to encapsulate your ideas into 30 seconds.
Richter intersperses the straightforward explanations with pictures, interviews, and the walk-through case study. I personally like this, because the additional material (interviews, examples, etc.) really adds to the general information the book covers. Additionally, his writing style is engaging, thus making the book enjoyable and easy to read.
If you’re seriously considering a career in making commercials, I highly recommend this book. It is one that you will definitely keep returning to for information, advice, and guidance, especially since the world of commercial advertising is complex as well as competitive.
Value vs. Cost
At $34.99, this is the second-most expensive book we’ve reviewed… the most expensive being the training book for Adobe Premiere Pro 2! To be quite honest, I don’t really know why this book is so much. When it comes to price, I look at how much helpful information the book contains, and then compare it to the prices of books with similar content. I’d put this one on par with The $30 Film School; that book is less expensive than 30-Second Storyteller and has a similar amount and quality of information. As such, I think that this book is a bit overpriced for what it brings, and I wouldn’t recommend paying more than $25-30 for it. And while even that might sound a bit steep, it is well worth it for what you get.
While it is geared specifically for commercial directors, it is also helpful for microfilmmakers wanting to learn how to advertise their films or who want to make the new breed of micro-length films. And, of course, it is a must-have for anyone wanting to work in the world of commercial advertising. Richter does an excellent job of outlining the process of becoming a good director, as well explaining in detail all that goes into making a top-notch commercial. The book is easy to follow, and includes great materials that add to the general information. And while I fully support paying for what a book is worth, I think this one could stand to be a bit cheaper; if you’re an aspiring commercial-maker and can get a good deal on this book, I highly recommend getting it.