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The Master Course
Read the review at Digital Film School
I’m always dubious of anything ‘in a box’ - ‘Film School In A Box’, ‘Recording Studio In A Box’, ‘TV Studio In A Box’ - you know the sort of thing, because it’s impossible for tuition to be totally comprehensive in such a small packages. Hollywood Camera Work by Per Holmes on the other hand may well be the exception that proves the rule. I’ll stick my neck out now and tell you straight, if you’re at all interested in learning the craft of blocking and staging for the camera then you absolutely need this DVD series.
Aimed squarely at Directors, but with obvious crossover for Cinematographers, CGI specialists, Animators etc. the Hollywood Camera Work series contains more than 9 hours of the most complete instruction available on the subject, with detailed examples and downloadable back up material that puts most film school courses I’ve seen to shame.
Deciding that a background in music (he has a Grammy!) and directing music videos left him with little or no skill for directing narrative, and in fact actually left him with some very bad habits that he found hard to break, Per Holmes decided to spend 5 years mapping out the ‘language’ of film as he saw it.
This involved shooting a half-dozen short films as training, then reverse engineering hundreds of movies to see how they worked and finally using 3D to block and re-block without the frustration of having to leave actors standing around for hours at a time while he perfected the techniques. What he ended up with was a comprehensive understanding of the craft of visual storytelling and, seeing the commercial potential of his work, he decided to turn it into a course.
And what a course. Hollywood Camera Work presents the theories using 3D animated characters, and demonstrates them visually by moving the characters and the camera so you really see the techniques in action The results are, frankly, stunning. I’m a big fan of books - my shelves groan under the weight of many, many study books - but here, as the material is being discussed you watch the camera work unfold on screen, gaining immediate insight and understanding in ways that even the best books on the subject cannot hope to convey.
There are 6 DVDs (3 volumes) in total:
Volumes I & II - Stationary Blocking
Volumes III & IV - The Moving Camera
Volumes V & VI - Staging High-End Scenes
The first two volumes get you started on shot selection, focal length, framing and perspective, managing the line, coverage, continuity and so on, but it also covers motivations, expanding and contracting time, intimacy and the psychology of camera/character placement.
Volumes III & IV build on what you have learned from the first with staging and keyframes, then introduce movement using tracking, panning, dolly and more interestingly cranes/jibs. For me, this is where it gets really interesting as most of us rarely get any experience of using these tools.
In the last two volumes we take a (downloadable) script and work through the staging and blocking of the scene and actors using the 7 essential blocking steps, dealing with problems and choices until finally seeing how the finished scene eventually comes together.
Each comprehensive lesson builds on the one before, from basics to more complex set-ups, and beginners or intermediate directors will immediately gain from watching the series, however, it is firmly entrenched in camera movement and placement for narrative features/shorts, and as such does not cover talk shows, reality shows, documentaries or working with actors - other than staging and blocking them to get your shot!
Also, cheap they aint! Currently running out at $399 + $34.75 P+P (approx £212 all-in) they’ll put a dent in your wallet, but compared to even a weekend course let alone full-time film school, they are excellent value.
This series of DVDs is an absolute must-have for anyone with an interest in camera placement and movement, but despite how good it is, there is no substitute for actually getting out there and pointing a camera at some actors. Practice makes perfect and you need to get out there and experiment to really make use of any tutorial, but armed with Per Holmes techniques you have an excellent start.
Check out the Hollywood Camera Work website: http://www.hollywoodcamerawork.us
Review by Robert Grant