The title, Filmmaking For Dummies, kind of says it all. How to make a film if you know little to nothing about filmmaking. Bryan Michael Stoller seeks to impart some valuable information to you, the beginning filmmaker, that will help you along in the process and, hopefully, help you avoid some of the most common and detrimental mistakes along the way.
Stoller takes us from the very beginning: finding/writing a story all the way to distribution. He covers everything in between and offers many helpful insights and tips along the way.
If you know little to nothing about the process of filmmaking and yet still have an uncontrollable desire to make a film...you need to check this book out. However, be forewarned, that some of the things he discusses or suggests that you need will require a larger budget than most of us have at our disposal when we get started.
Stoller writes in such a way that the most novice among us can grasp what he's saying. For the more technically proficient, he offers little technical insights, too. The good news is that even if you're not technically proficient and don't understand technical jargon, you can skip over these technical tidbits and still not lose any pertinent information about making your first film.
If the amount of information in this book came in the form of an avalanche, you'd be buried with no hope of ever being found. Even though that seems to be a bit of a negative analogy, it is actually meant to be positive.
There is such a wealth of helpful information contained in this book that, if you apply it, it will put you far ahead of the learning curve that most of us independent filmmakers started on. Granted, there are some things in the book that your modest budget will not allow you to do (i.e. deciding whether or not to shoot in the U.S. or in Canada; for most of us, our country of origin is the only viable option). That notwithstanding, applying the things that are within your power and budget to apply will help you create an outstanding first film...and subsequent ones for that matter.
Even with this wealth of information, keep in mind that this is one book that is meant to give you a thorough overview (which is clear and the author makes no attempt to mislead you). Stoller himself even states that you may need to go to a specific resource to find more in-depth information on a particular subject.
I will make the assumption, and I feel it's a rather safe one, that if you're considering purchasing this book that you have a fairly strong interest in making a film. If that assumption is correct then you will find this book most interesting, as well as helpful.
Some of the tech speak can get a bit dry, although Stoller tries to explain it well, and can at times be hard to follow if the technical aspects are new to you. But, like I said earlier, much of the technical jargon is integrated in such a way that you can skip it and not miss the essential information that will be pertinent to making your film.
With that said, everything else flows smoothly and maintains interest as Stoller defines terms that would otherwise become unwieldy and dry.
Is it possible to know everything about something? NO! If you're on the ball you'll find yourself in a constant state of learning and, as such, will always benefit from a resource that you can constantly go back to as a refresher. Due to the amount of information that’s crammed into this book, you may pick the book up again and find something that you've never noticed before that will revolutionize your current project.
Is this book worth the cost? You bet it is. This book is a great resource for the beginner and for the more seasoned low budget filmmaker. The information is practical and helpful for the filmmaker on any level. Particularly if you're itching to make your first film, the first $20 that you spend should be on this book. Seriously, don't spend a dollar until you've read through this valuable resource. I didn't get to read this book before I made my first films and in retrospect it would have made for an even better production, at least on my end of it. That's not to say that the projects were bad. On the contrary, we did a lot of things right, but the information in the book would have given me insights that I didn't have at the time.
This is my favorite part of these reviews because it's kind of like my own personal monologue...and I like that. So, with everything I've said so far in mind, let me add a little personal seasoning to the mix.
One thing in particular that I'd like to reiterate here (a point that Stoller makes, although I'll rephrase) is that the smartest thing you can do as a first-time filmmaker (in conjunction with reading this book) is to find people that know more than you and are smarter than you. This will help make your first project better than it otherwise would be. Surrounding yourself with people that have more experience than you is not admitting weakness, but rather it reflects your commitment to making your film the best that it can be. This is what I did on my first film and it saved me. While we all still learned so much from the experience, I know that if I had tried to do it alone, it would have sucked altogether. Since I surrounded myself with people that knew more than I did and people that were good at what they did, the film came out very well.
While this book has its value to both the novice and the more seasoned filmmaker, those of you that have made films before will find some of the information to be "common sense." For example, you know that your film is doomed without a good story and you probably know how to write or spot a good story. Even so, there are many things in this book that I'm going to start applying to my next projects, even though I have a handful of them under my belt already, including one that’s won some rather prestigious awards.
I mentioned earlier that some of the suggestions that Stoller makes will not be possible on the kind of budgets that most us have to work with. I mentioned the "which country do I film in?" as an example, but you also will, most likely, not be able to build a sound stage or create elaborate special effects, and, with very few exceptions, you most certainly will not have $20,000 to get sync rights for a song. However, Stoller eludes to what I like to call "writing for your budget." Whether you're writing your great story or using someone else's story you must keep budget in mind with regards to location and effects. Good advice. You will more often than not be relegated to working with locations that you have at your immediate disposal, although through building connections and relationships with others in your community, the possibilities become much greater.
Stoller talks of alternate forms of payment for your cast and crew. Yes, yes, yes, and yes. You must cover their meals, but bartering for credit in the film or volunteering for their next project...these are valuable and perfectly fine means of alternative payment. And as for as locations and/or finding people to cater your set...ask. The worst thing someone can say is "no" and you've lost nothing. (Usually. But that’s another story altogether--though, people who read editor Jeremy Hanke’s editorials probably know what I’m referring to.)
Let me also state, more pointedly, something that Stoller mentions: the four most important things about your film are story, audio, acting, and lighting. The kind of camera you use will not make your story or performances better. Make sure you don't skimp in any of these areas.
As far as acting goes, you can find talented people who are willing to work for the experience and the addition to their resume. Don't simply cast your buddy who thinks he/she can act. Have auditions. And, if you don't know enough about what good acting looks like, find someone who does.
Here's the only place that I really disagreed with Stoller. He says that "acting is easy...we all act every day...." In essence, it shouldn't be hard to find good talent. It is true that there are plenty of people who will be willing to be your "talent," but they might not be talented. There are plenty of talented people as well, but you have to do the leg work to find them.
Not every one can act! Acting like you're surprised with the "surprise party that you already knew about" in real life is not the same thing as acting surprised when there are at least ten other people in the room with you, 1000+ watts of lighting instruments shining on you, and a camera ten inches from your face.
And with that said, not every good actor is right for a certain role. So, audition, audition, audition!
I've rambled long enough. Here's the brass tax: aside from my differing opinion with Mr. Stoller on the acting issue, this book is seriously a wonderful asset to any level filmmaker's library. You'll find yourself going back and referencing things for all your future projects.