to it's similarity in look to the recent Cinematic
Storytelling and the similarity in name to 2000's
Setting up Your Shots by Jeremy Vineyard (which
is also reviewed in this issue), many folks might
see it in a book store and assume that it is designed
to give you extra camera shots to add to your arsenal.
is not, in fact, the case.
Pepperman has taken a number of films over the past sixty
years and broken them down by crucial scenes and the content
therein. The goal is to show you how a variety of films
have set up their scenes in the past, how they must have
been shot, and how these scenes added to the film as a
whole. Additionally, this book attempts to deal with the
cycles of shots, from long shots to close-ups, which form
the film's 'beats,' or visual tempo.
Richard Pepperman's writing is extremely analytical, breaking
down key scenes from more than thirty films in an almost
algebraic approach. While this does provide a fair amount
of raw data, it isn't the type of data that is readily
absorbable. As such, if you are not of an extremely analytical
mind-set, you'll probably feel sort of like you've been
grinding through the encyclopedia after a few pages.
make matters worse, many of the films that are mentioned
in the book are not ones that you probably have seen,
which is especially problematic since the shot descriptions
are listed as they would have been shot, not in the order
they were edited. While there are some well known films
like The Bridge Over the River Qwai and The
French Connection, the rest range from moderately
known to completely obscure in American culture.
the films Pepperman looks at become more modern, he abandons
American films completely, choosing instead to focus on
more obscure foreign films like 1996's Kolya from
the Czech republic or 1995's Badkanke Sefid from
Spain. What this means to most American filmmakers who
read Setting Up Your Scenes is that they are going
to be familiar with almost none of the films in the book.
And, while a reader can get some sense of what's being
described through the script quotes and the pictures,
it is nowhere near as understandable as if there had been
a good mix of films that you might have seen. Touching
on the likes of Memento and Fight Club for
American films and touching on foreign films like Amelié
and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon would have made
the book much easier to digest.
There's a lot of data stored in Setting Up Your Scenes,
specifically on shot choices for some of the important
scenes of over thirty movies. However, the layout is a
bit of a mess.
the author opens with a general introduction for the book
and then plops the following data into a segment for each
notes - name, story concept, running time stamp, setting,
and main characters
script excerpt for the scene
scene's Value - an explanation of why the author
feels this scene is important to the film
scene's Subtext - the themes before and after this
scene in the film
scene's Shot Set-Ups - descriptions of shots arranged
from longest shot to closest
pictures from the scene,
Choices - a section that explains why the author thinks
everything in this scene is so cool
there anything wrong with the data that's provided?No. However, none of it is mixed together
in an easily understandable manner, making the book feel
like it is a stack of compiled facts rather than a tome
of interpreted information. It would be like announcing
to a room full of guests that you are serving chicken
soup, then expecting them to make their own helpings by
first eating raw celery, then raw carrots, then uncooked
noodles, then finally chicken and allowing their stomachs
to churn it into a liquid. Yes, all the nutrients are
there, but most people would not find this the ideal way
to partake of chicken noodle soup. It would have been
much better if all this raw data had been mixed into an
information soup that could be easily understood and digested.
even the segments that should make sense in their subcategories,
are strangely difficult to come to grips with. For example,
because the shot layouts are laid out in the order they
were shot, rather than the order that they were edited
in, it's difficult to truly grasp the visual 'beats' Pepperman
talks about. Instead, you simply get a feel for how the
camera set-ups were done, which is of a more limited usefulness.
I'll be honest, with the lack of easily referenceable
movies, out-of-order screen captures, and the strangely
compiled facts, Setting Up Your Scenes did not
hold my interest well. For professors who are leading
film studies classes or for film analysts, this would
be a fascinating book full of data. However, for those
who are more interested in learning easily useable techniques
for filmmaking, they would be advised to look to Cinematic
Storytelling or Setting
Up Your Shots, which are also published by MWP.
As I mentioned before, this would be a very reusable resource
for film studies teachers to help them decide which films
to show a class. Additionally, it would make a great textbook
for those classes. For analysts, this would make a good
compendium of data for the more than thirty films that
are covered in it and could easily give you a framework
for setting up your own analysis of other films. Others
aren't likely to reuse this book often.
As a film text book compiled from some of the more fringe
films in a variety of cultures, Setting Up Your Scenes
is a great value. ($20 vs. $40-$50 for most college text
books.) However, for any other use, Setting Up Your
Scenes will probably be something that would be best
checked out of the library before you buy.
Comment The idea of trying to learn from a variety of films',
their use of content, and their layout is a good one.
Additionally, its attempt to focus on shots in a visual
harmony of beats is also a good idea. However, the mix
of oddly compiled facts with its difficult to digest style
makes Setting Up Your Scenes extremely complicated to
absorb in anything but a classroom setting with the accompaniment
of the films that are mentioned. As such, this is a book
that would work out well as a guide and textbook for film
studies professors and is great for film analysts, but
is definitely not a how-to guide for low-budget filmmakers.