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   Training Review
   Cinematic Storytelling
   Author: Jennifer Van Sijll
   Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions
   Format: Instructional Book (257 pgs.)
   Topic: Cinematic Concepts

   MSRP: $24.95
   For Special Price: Click Here

   Website: Michael Wiese Productions

   Read Sample: Click Here
   Release Dates: April 25, 2005

   Review Date:
November 15, 2005
   Reviewed By: Kari Ann Morgan
Final Score:

I recently reviewed a great debut film from a new microcinema director (you can read my review of her film, Ascension, here). The story and shooting style were fairly direct and straightforward; but--as this movie showed--just because the script didn't call for Michael Bay-style camera moves, it didn't mean that the shots had to be boring! A lot of beginning filmmakers (and even some that have more experience) can feel that they have to have lots of swooping crane or dramatic steadicam shots in order to have a great-looking movie. This isn't true. In reality, if you don't know how to effectively use the camera in the first place (visually speaking, not technically), you have no business putting it on a crane or steadicam; these devices cannot fix a visually uninteresting or inappropriate shot.

Enter Cinematic Storytelling. Using some of the most iconic and well-known films as examples, Jennifer Van Sijll explains how to use visual composition, lenses, editing, sound effects, transitions, camera position, and much more to give emphasis and convey information and emotion in your movie.

One of (the many) cool things about this book is that you don't have to have had any prior experience working with cameras to be able to understand the material. If you can read English and can look at the picture examples given (still photos from various films), then you can understand the concepts conveyed in the book.

Concepts and techniques (such as montages, intercutting, visual foreshadowing, etc.) are defined and clarified; even very subtle techniques that are almost unnoticeable in movies are pointed out and their effect explained. (For example, in describing the X-axis in screen direction, Van Sijll notes:

"As Westerners we read left-to-right. If you rented fifty studio-made movies, there's a good chance that the 'good guy' will enter screen left every time. When the 'good guy' moves left-to-right, our eyes move comfortably. Subconsciously, we begin to make positive inferences. Conversely, the antagonist usually enters from the right. Since our eyes aren't used to moving from right to left, the antagonist's entrance makes us uncomfortable. The screenwriter exploits this by transferring our learned discomfort to the characters" (4).
The author then goes on to show stills and a script excerpt from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train to illustrate the effect of this principle.
Images included in this book
range from The Graduate... effects shots in the Fritz Lang
masterpiece, Metropolis.

Depth of Information
The book covers a tremendous amount of information, starting with the conventions of stationary camera techniques and progressing through editing, sound, lenses, camera movement and positioning, lighting, and finally, environment (location, wardrobe, props, etc.). However, each topic has still photos of at least one movie that exemplifies that certain technique, as well as an explanation of its dramatic value. This latter part is essential, because it's pointless to just talk about certain camera shots, effects, movements, etc. if you don't explain why they are important or what they are effective for. Additionally, the techniques are explained in the context of the movie photos, thus illustrating their effect.

[Quick side note: Jennifer Van Sijll draws from both old and new movies as examples. From Fritz Lang's 1927 milestone Metropolis, to Citizen Kane, Psycho, Pulp Fiction, The Piano, and Requiem for a Dream, all of the films she picks are excellent for viewing. You might want to add the "example movies" in this book to your Netflix or Blockbuster rental list. (Not like it's probably already long enough as it is!]

Interest Level
I found that it was very easy to maintain interest in this book. Truth be told, I was rather skeptical at first when I was informed that I'd be reviewing a book entitled Cinematic Storytelling; I was expecting a textbook-sized tome with simple drawings and technical words. Not so. The format is very easy-to-follow; each chapter has approximately between 4-10 sections, with each section usually covered in one full page. This makes for quick reading and easy comprehension. There are no big, technical-geeky words to wade through, and the explanations and summaries are brief, but detailed and thorough.

This book is definitely a must-have investment for a filmmaker; whether you are just starting your first short or are working on your tenth full-length feature, this is a book you'll want to have within reach while planning your shot sheets and/or storyboards. And you'll probably find yourself coming back to it again and again with each new project you do.

Scenes from the all time
classic, Citizen Kane...
...present good examples of
shot layout and lighting.

Value vs. Cost
While the listed retail price this book being $25, it is worth far more for the information and ideas it provides. If you've never taken any kind of cinematic layout class (and even if you have!) this book is well worth the price. This book helps you to make the maximum impact with your main artistic tool: the camera itself. Just like writers understand the impact of their words, and painters understand how colors are used on their canvas, so must the filmmaker understand and know how to use the camera without relying solely on special effects and equipment.

Overall Comment
This book belongs on the shelf of anyone interested or involved in filmmaking, storyboarding, camerawork, cinematography, producing, and/or directing. Too many filmmakers--both microcinema and "big Hollywood"--don't fully understand the purposes and implications of various shots; this book will help you make the best use of your time, equipment, story, planning, and ideas.

Depth of Information            
Attention Captivation            
           Value vs. Cost            
Overall Score           

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