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   Book Review
   Digital Moviemaking 3.0
   Author: Scott Billups
   Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions
   Pages: 216 pgs.
   Topic: Making movies with digital equipment

   MSRP: $24.95

   Special Pricing:  Click Here
   Website: Michael Wiese Productions
   Expected Release: Available Now
   Review Date: February 1, 2008
   Reviewed By: Jeremy Hanke

Final Score:

Now available in edition 3.0, the Digital Moviemaking series of books goes back a number of years, helmed by author Scott Billups, who has been intricately involved in a lot of DP and effects work in commercials and specials for the likes of the History Channel, HBO, and the Discovery Channel.  Scott has worked in numerous areas of the Hollywood and upper indie markets. In this book, he explores much of the insight he has gained on the many different aspects of the digital filmmaking revolution and how it serves potentially, to replace 35mm film as the moviemaking canvas of choice.

As you can imagine, with a look at how digital can replace 35mm film shoots, this is not aimed particularly toward truly low-budget filmmakers; especially with Billups’ explanation that digital filmmaking will save you very little money, in comparison to 35mm film, with the single notable exception of post-production effects. For example, the cheapest, independent 35mm feature film I have ever seen had a budget of $128,000.00 that gives you some idea of the price point he would be minimally suggesting.

Despite the higher price-point mentality, it does have ideas from which filmmakers can learn. (More discussion on that topic in our Depth of Information section.) Having said that, let’s look at the specifics of Digital Moviemaking 3.0.

The understandability of this book is a very mixed bag because (after a brief introductory section) it starts with some dense information that’s a bit unwieldy, but then moves on to much less bulky material that’s easier to grasp. This causes the beginning of the book to be very heavy, which means that you have to plow through some difficult concepts shortly after the book’s introductory chapters. While Billups tries to make these things easy to understand, I personally found some of his early analogies very opaque. For example, he sought to explain digital camera color space and compression by utilizing the idea of colored crayons. Now, digital camera color space is a topic that I’ve had to research a lot for a number of articles we’ve done recently, so I’ve had to learn much about it from the ground up. As such, when I realized that he was going to explain a topic I already understood and tie it into crayons, I figured that it would be very easy to follow. However, I found the explanation so convoluted that I found myself confused, which feels even worse when the association is with kindergarten tools like coloring crayons. Now, everyone is learning style is different, so this may not be the case for all of our readers, but it was for me.

Now, once he got through the more heavy topics, he got into topics like Craftsmanship and, my personal favorite, Hacks, which were very easy to follow. Luckily the book is pretty well laid out to allow you to flip through to different sections you might want to read, so that, if you’re in a section that’s less easy to understand, then you can flip to another useful section that’s easier to comprehend.

Depth of Information
When I first received book’s press release, I thought Billups’s book might be similar to Mike Figgis’s (Leaving Las Vegas) book, Digital Filmmaking. However, upon reading Digital Moviemaking 3.0, I found that these two books could not be more different. Figgis’s book is very general and easy to read, whereas Billups’s book is very technical and dense (at least, at the beginning). Figgis’s book is designed for the ultra, low-budget filmmaker all the way through, whereas Billups’s book is not—at least, not at first. I say “not at first,” because it starts out with a Big-Indie-to-Small-Studio perspective, that I mentioned in the introduction, and then proceeds to a more economical viewpoint and then, by the time the book is done, it has shrunk to a truly no-budget mindset. The progression from budgeted filmmaking to no-budget filmmaking is very similar to the progression (in its understandability) from extremely dense to easy to follow.

To begin with, Billups explains that this is not a book for new camera owners or people who are dabbling in filmmaking; it is for professional people who want to make professional films and take their game up a notch. For those who cannot afford better cameras, lower-quality cameras can be used for festival material, which will then become a calling card for your ability to make a decent film, with sub-standard equipment. Once your name is out there, hopefully you will get filmmaking offers, thus gaining a budget that enables you to lay your hands on higher quality gear. You can imagine this book is not one that aims to appeal to people who want to make the next Blair Witch Project. Unfortunately, the way it is phrased would exclude the likes of Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez.

Once the intro is out of the way, the book continues with the implication that if you want to make a real feature film and cannot get your hands on a Viper (or similar over-$100K camera) then you have little chance of seeing your film receive any form of theatrical distribution. As such, if you have not received a budget from someone after a film festival, or from a kindly benefactor, then we must presume that your only hope is to save up your own money until you can get the newest and best camera, with the most resolution, or surrender your film idea as a lost cause. Ironically, this idea of the “newest” and “best” is argued against later, when Billups states that if you try to get the newest equipment, you’re likely to have more problems with it than with used items and, as such, you should avoid the newest, latest, greatest, etc. Since you have to get the newest and best gear, Billups then states that you should never buy, but always rent, because you will get newer, better-cared-for equipment that way. Finally, to save time, Billups encourages you to always rent at least two cameras, so that you can get the greatest number of setups in a given time period. All of these things have definite merits, but they do not work at all well in a price point of $30K or below, which is where our readership falls.

After this, he dovetails into some other options for digital cinema cameras, finally ending in a very detailed explanation of the Red camera, which is where the emphasis from Big-Indie/low-studio budgets slowly move, into truly low-budget Indie filmmaking. As a Red camera can be rented for about $12,000 a month, it is possible to make a film that includes the rental of one (or even two) of these cameras, for under $30K. You can tell that Billups (like me and most of the readers of our magazine) really believes that Jim Jannard’s Red camera company has the most capability to democratize the 4K digital filmmaking experience. In conjunction with this, Billups provides a lot of helpful information on the camera, from both press sources and his own friends, who have already purchased one. Granted, it does lack much first-hand experience from using the still-prototypical cameras, but that is to be expected with the extreme newness of them.

After getting past the section on Red, Billups goes into explanations of job functions in the digital filmmaking world and some mindsets behind getting money and showing at festivals. From here, he truly makes some forays into no-budget filmmaking, on through a series of very cool and thought provoking Hacks to wrap up the book. During this final section, his storytelling voice seems to change radically, going from the very studio-based perspective that started the book, to a push-the-limits, guerilla-style, and shoestring perspective. He gets into describing in-depth ideas for creating high-rez background mattes for green screen work with a $200 digital camera. He goes further in this topic by defining and utilizing Superplates to provide perspective and movement in green screen shots and shows logistically how using green screen cinematography can blow through as many as 20 pages of a dialogue a day. As an extra touch of inspiration, he describes the basics behind creating 3D actors for professional films and TV work using Poser and Vue and outlines useful programs and plug-ins that all filmmakers should own.

While his way of laying out the information in this book feels a bit haphazard, it may simply have been Billups’ way of showing how things currently exist in professional digital filmmaking and where things are headed. If that is the case, then it works. Although I wish there had been a little more explanation of that up front.

Attention Captivation
As you are by now already seeing a pattern, it should come as no surprise that this pattern continues in the area of attention captivation. The combination of heavier topics and bigger budget mindsets make the beginning of this book much less invigorating than the latter part of the book, in which Mr. Billups seems to be having the most fun and sharing the most creative ideas from his own arsenal of tricks and hacks.

The number of good ideas generated in this book, especially in the latter part, makes this a book that can give you some good ideas. While many of these ideas will stick with you after you have read the book once, many of them will need to be refreshed and need reading it a second or third time to remember.

Value vs. Cost
As for the technical aspect of this book, and the things that it covers, $24.95 is a decent price. However, I think a $19.99 price point would be a little easier to justify purchasing, for most people, especially since some of the information (like the long section on the Red) will quickly be outdated.

Overall Comment
Digital Moviemaking 3.0 feels a little uncertain as to identifying its main audience. Its progression from a studio mindset to a truly a no-budget mindset may have been an intentional way of showcasing evolution, but if that is the case, it still feels a bit uneven. However, Digital Moviemaking 3.0 does a good job of providing some very useful technical ideas for filmmakers, regardless of their budgets. In addition, for those who read through to the end, you will be rewarded with some truly excellent, creative hacks and ideas for no-budget filmmakers.

Depth of Information            
Interest Level            
           Value vs. Cost            
Overall Score           
JeremyHankePicture The director of two feature length films and half a dozen short films, Jeremy Hanke founded Microfilmmaker Magazine to help all no-budget filmmakers make better films. His first book on low-budget special effects techniques, GreenScreen Made Easy, (which he co-wrote with Michele Yamazaki) was released by MWP to very favorable reviews. He's curently working on the sci-fi film franchise, World of Depleted through Depleted: Day 419 and the feature film, Depleted.

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