Stu Maschwitz, co-founder of The Orphanage and creator of Magic Bullet Software, sets out to fill a niche in the microfilmmaking market: Making action movies for no money. Now, there are a plethora of both excellent and not so excellent books on making low budget films, so what makes DV Rebel stand out? Well, Stu Maschwitz wants you to blow stuff up. He wants you to have helicopter gun ships in your $500 short. He wants you to have downtown San Francisco that’s filmed in Oakland and Ninja fights taking place with a backdrop of 30 foot flames. And he’s going to show you how.
This is a book aimed at the filmmaker who is director, producer, writer, effects supervisor, and editor rolled into one. As he explains very early in the book, his style of filmmaking is not for everyone. He uses an approach that is very postproduction heavy or in his own words ‘Computers are the Devil. And you will make a pact with them.’ If you are a filmmaker who does not intend to do your own post-production work, then the tech heavy second half of the book will be of limited value to you. Nevertheless, the first half of DV Rebel deals with production and planning with an eye to maintaining high production values. DV Rebel definitely subscribes to the Robert Rodriguez school of filmmaking, advocating detailed planning, shooting only what you need, using only what you have, then taking that right through to the final online and mastering process to produce a high quality finished product.
One of the most valuable aspects of the book is the workflow it offers, showing you how to plan and shoot for post. Stu applies the concept of reverse engineering to Indie filmmaking by taking big budget action sequences and discussing how to achieve the effects for minimal cash outlay.
The trade off for low budget, of course, is time. Many of the post techniques presented by Stu are fairly time intensive. However, since time is often the one thing many of us microfilmmakers have in abundance, I didn’t find that much of a drawback.
After Effects is his compositing and ‘onlining’ program of choice, so while many of his post production principles apply to other software, the specifics deal fairly exclusively with AE. There is however, plenty of value for users of FCP, as well.
The book also comes with a companion DVD containing quite a wealth of material. To help illustrate his techniques, Stu includes The Last Birthday Card, an action short he made in 1999 for $5000. He then explains, both in the book and on the DVD extras, how he achieved the effects, showing before and after, as well as the effect plates he grabbed. Considering he did this ten years ago, the effects are impressive. Although he won’t be winning any non-technical awards for the actual film – I have to admit I found it fairly corny – he’s definitely given it a big budget feel for a relatively small price tag, which is what the DV Rebel is all about.
The data section of the DVD includes some excellent animation pre-sets and AE scripts, extra chapter content (some of which I felt should have been included in the printed volume) as well as template projects for gunfire and bullet hits, letterboxing matte, gun scopes, night vision, handcranked film, and a sample project to practice online finishing.
And as a final sweetener, there is also Rebel Café , a low budget filmmaking forum site, free to join, with regular contributions and participation by the author.
What this book screams above all other is ‘user friendly’. Stu Maschwitz has a wonderfully casual style that clearly conveys the information yet injects all the enthusiasm he so obviously feels for low budget filmmaking. Combine this conversational tone with an excellent layout; lots of color photos, clear diagrams and ‘jargon watch’ box inserts and you have an absolute winner in terms of accessibility.
For a small size book that reads so easily and clearly, the amount and depth of information is deceptively large. It really covers a lot of ground from cinematic framing and lighting techniques through to compositing and onlining. The chapters involving editing and onlining are worth the price of the book alone, covering color grading/correction, digital mastering, digital re-lighting, workflow, software integration and more in a clear and logical fashion.
Due to the breadth of information being covered, some subjects receive relatively cursory attention. Maschwitz however, points the reader in the direction of specialist books on these subjects where needed.
The casual conversational style works extremely well in maintaining interest. It’s more like having your entertaining filmmaking buddy sit down with you over a few beers and pour his knowledge out while saying ‘come on man, lets grab the camera now and go do it!’. What keeps you reading is the feeling that everything he’s telling you is eminently possible. What stops you reading is the desire to pick up the camera and start shooting.
Stu really promotes his book as a field guide. He wants you to be out there making movies, not reading books about it. His final word in the book describes it as ‘not a book on how to fly a plane, it’s the emergency instructions in the seatback in front of you.’ To that end he has succeeded extremely well as it’s a volume I have already re-read in part and full several times.
DV Rebel really feels like several books in one. The extra content and support material provided on the DVD combined with the excellent user forums at RebelCafe.com puts this squarely in the ‘Big Baz Bargain’ category. Although the MSRP is $49.99, I commonly found it on bookseller sites for around $30, which is quite frankly, a steal.
Really an excellent book, and useful to all low budget filmmakers, not just those wanting to make action flicks. With the abundance of ‘how to’ filmmaking books in the world, what makes DV Rebel stand out is its marrying of guerilla filmmaking styles with high production values and the specifics of the post production process.
Stu Maschwitz’s no nonsense manner really allows his passion for low budget filmmaking to shine through. And with this book, Stu has created a wealth of material to both inspire and achieve your creative concepts.