Producing with Passion’s co-author, Tony Levelle, brings his filmmaking expertise to his first solo book, Digital Video Secrets. This book takes an introductory look at digital video production that makes it easy for anyone to jump into the technical aspect of filmmaking. Unlike some digital video production books, which are more about filmmaking on a digital medium, this slim volume is specifically aimed at the nuts and bolts of creating a film on digital video. As such, there are no chapters about scriptwriting or fundraising or distribution. Instead, there is an intuitive path through the basics of digital film creation, with a strong emphasis on cinematography and camera familiarity, as well as a decent look at audio. (Fortunately, Levelle seems to fully realize how good footage must be accompanied by great audio to work properly.)
With that said, let’s crack into Digital Video Secrets.
To provide an easy framework for people to follow, Levelle structures the entire book in the form of numbered secrets, starting with #1 and going to #107. At first, many of the Secrets seem contradictory, such as “Secret #17: Use a Tripod” which is later followed by “Secret #20: Shoot Hand-Held.” However, rather than self-contained secrets that can be read in any order, these are instead a progressive curriculum of mini-lessons that work to teach you different ways of obtaining footage. As such, each lesson should be tried individually to get you used to the technique that particular Secret is dealing with. This exploration in shooting encourages you to delve into looks and feels for visual storytelling that you might not do otherwise.
Because of the bite-sized tidbits of information, this book is extremely easy to understand.
Levelle’s main emphasis is largely from a cinematography perspective, covering all the different ways to acquire footage to get unique shots, angles, and capture crucial moments. As mentioned before, he also spends a decent amount of time on audio and suggests different ways to get good audio in different situations. After that, he returns to visual acquisition again, focusing on a variety of situations cameras come into play, from shooting films, to capturing documentary footage, to recording weddings, to documenting sporting events. He concludes the book by giving you things to look for when purchasing your camera, encouraging you to find a camera that is comfortable for you to use (and has good audio inputs) over finding a camera that has the best, newest visual specs. The appendix has a nice check list for you to copy and use when camera shopping so you don’t fall prey to over-excitement due to bells and whistles when you’re in the camera store and can focus on the important elements of what you need in a camera.
Covering lots of technical elements can quickly get boring and cumbersome, but because this book is so condensed, it almost never drags. Levelle’s writing style stays interesting throughout the book as you read it through.
This book is very reusable, as it is made up of so many filmmaking lessons. Additionally, it has lots of great ways to overcome filmmaker’s block through its exercises. (One of the exercises encourages you to go out and shoot a variety of subjects that come to mind and then edit them together into an interesting five minute film. This sort of behavior can unlock some serious creativity toward the film creation process for whatever larger project you’re stuck on.) Additionally, if you follow each of the mini-lessons to the letter, this book can take quite a long time to get through in the first place, considering one of the mini-lessons involves you shooting, editing, and posting online a short film every day for 60 days!
For $25, this is a pretty good value, especially for new filmmakers. For folks who want to get into cinematography or shoot their own films, I would put this alongside Mike Figgis’ Digital Filmmaking to have on your book shelf. More experienced filmmakers might find much of the content redundant, but should at least consider picking up a used copy or checking it out from their library.
Digital Video Secrets is a great beginning textbook for filmmakers and cinematographers to learn their way around video cameras and get a feel for what they are capable of. The information stored within this volume can definitely bring neophytes up to a very competent level and can help even experienced filmmakers improve the look and feel of their films.