After reading many books about writing and filmmaking, I have subsequently disavowed their relevance after looking at the credits to that writer or filmmaker’s name. For instance, when was the last time you saw, “Written by Syd Field”, on anything but a screenwriting book? He wrote one movie, in 1965. I don’t subscribe to the theory that those who can’t do, teach. And I’d much rather listen to someone whose opinion seems rooted in experience. Enter Mike Figgis. He’s a filmmaker after our own hearts. Despite having lots of success with his big film, Leaving Las Vegas, he chose to work with digital, expand the field and his horizons, take risks and push indie filmmaking further with digital than it could ever go with film.
Digital Filmmaking feels more like a couple of hours conversation between Figgis and the reader, and it’s the kind of conversation that’d make you sit up all night just to hear more. To that end, it’s woefully short. But in these 160- odd pages, Figgis teaches more than one often learns in years of film school and manages to make you feel the one thing you should most feel when you finish a book on filmmaking: “I want to make a movie RIGHT NOW!”
Because this is basically a book-length conversation, the readability is paramount. You could knock it out in a day if you have a lazy afternoon somewhere. The first few chapters are very technical as Figgis details his own experiences, the equipment he uses and likes, what he changes on it and how he works with it. For a novice, this is a section to wade through; for old hands, there’s the recognition when a camera doesn’t do what it’s supposed to and the joy of discovery when you encounter something you didn’t know it could do.
He’s not writing specifically for micro budget filmmakers, but this is one of the first books I’ve encountered that really feels like it is written not just for us, but for me. This is not a technical manual by any stretch; never does he specifically tell you how to do something with a specific piece of equipment. The generality makes it accessible to all filmmakers as we know what he’s talking about when he details techniques.
He takes you through the entire process of filmmaking, from choosing your camera, setting a budget, finding and deciding on locations, lighting, camera movement, working with actors, post production, music, on through to distribution. The only thing he didn’t touch on as much as I expected was the writing aspect. He’s written several films, including his spectacular script for Leaving Las Vegas, and I would have liked to hear more about that aspect of filmmaking, as a writer/director myself.
One of his main points is that we, as microfilmmakers and indie filmmakers, need to respect our equipment the way we would respect a full-on Panavision 35mm camera. There’s no difference, either is our weapon and must be respected. He laments that often the fact that though these cameras, lights, tripods, etc. don’t cost prohibitively much, we don’t treat them as the wonderful objects they are. I agree with this point, and I see this in a lot of microfilmmakers. We almost have a self-loathing quality and feeling that if we’re able to afford to buy it, it must not be worth all that much. It’s something that we don’t often think about, and Figgis snaps his fingers in front of our eyes and says, “Knock that crap off!”
Depth of Information
I mentioned that he doesn’t get into technical specifics, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a dense amount of information here. When he speaks in generalities, it just opens up the field in terms of range of price. He covers specific techniques on getting around issues in the filmmaking process, things he likes to do, things he’s seen done and likes. He uses examples from his filmography as well other films, giving us a little bit of homework to do, after we put the book down. I’ve already picked up a few of his suggestions.
He never proclaims himself to be right about any of this, but always humbly suggests things which make you think to yourself, “yeah this might be the way to go.” The most important aspect of the book is the information that validates that you can, in fact, make a film. Regardless of your budget, your experience, your technical know how, this is something that you are capable of doing. He goes a long way to separating the FEAR out of getting started.
Due to the conversational tone, I was wrapped up in this book from the first to the last page. He has a warm style and, for added enjoyment, you can imagine hearing his British accent as you read. There are many quotes I highlighted to be added to my list of inspirational filmmaking quotes. I don’t actually have one of those, perhaps I should. The breadth of information here touches on every aspect of filmmaking; so from someone interested in producing, to someone who aspires to be a gaffer, there’s something here for everybody.
After finishing the book, I flipped it over and read through it again. This was not to clarify things I didn’t understand, but was because I was on such a euphoric, filmmaking high. I wanted to keep that feeling going. This is a book that is so encouraging to anyone on any level to just go out and make a film, that I have a feeling I’m going to be reading through this book once before every production, just to get the adrenaline pumping. I would be willing to bet dollars to donuts that it’ll be the same with you. I personally picked up an extra copy just to loan around, so as not to lose mine to someone else.
Value VS Cost
$13 flat. Go ahead and order from Amazon and you’ll get it for eleven bucks. As I mentioned before, I got more value from this book’s 158 pages than I did from the thousands of pages (and dollars) I spent on books at Columbia College in Chicago, trying vainly to be a filmmaker. This is a must have. Even if it cost $20 it’d be a bargain.
On the first page of this book, Figgis says that he spent most of the early day has given us a great gift: INFORMATION. The most important thing for filmmakers wanting to get started is to actually make films, rather than waiting around for the opportunity to arrive for them to make them, as it likely won’t. Following Figgis’ example, more people at our filmmaking level should be inspired to go and do just that. The excitement to overcome the FEAR and make your film is the greatest gift Figgis could ever give us and I, for one, believe he has done so.