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   Training Review
   Setting Up Your Scenes
   Author: Richard D. Pepperman
   Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions
   Format: Instructional Book (245 pgs.)
   Topic: Film-Comparison Book

   MSRP: $24.99

   Special Pricing:  Click Here
   Website: Michael Wiese Productions
   Release Dates: October 15, 2005

  Review Date: February 15, 2006
  Reviewed By: Jeremy Hanke
Final Score:

Due 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.

This is not, in fact, the case.

Rather, 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.

To 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.

As 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.

Depth of Information
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.

Basically, the author opens with a general introduction for the book and then plops the following data into a segment for each film:

  • film notes - name, story concept, running time stamp, setting, and main characters
  • a script excerpt for the scene
  • the scene's Value - an explanation of why the author feels this scene is important to the film
  • the scene's Subtext - the themes before and after this scene in the film
  • the scene's Shot Set-Ups - descriptions of shots arranged from longest shot to closest
  • random pictures from the scene,
  • Great Choices - a section that explains why the author thinks everything in this scene is so cool

Is 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.

Additionally, 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.

Interest Level
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.

Value vs. Cost
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.

Overall 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.

Depth of Information            
Interest Level            
           Value vs. Cost            
Overall Score           

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