The Master Course
Read the review at Digital Media Net
Very rarely have I gone Ga-Ga over a DVD training series. Hollywood Camera Work by Per Holmes is a definite got to have DVD series for anyone wanting to master the craft camera blocking and staging.
The Hollywood Camera Work DVD series is a master course designed for Directors, Videographers, Cinematographers, and even 3D animators who want to improve their camera blocking and staging skills or those crossing over from one industry to another (video to 3D, etc.). With over nine hours of instruction complete with detailed examples and downloadable back up material, this is a stand alone course that exceeds many college and university film course.
This course was created by Grammy winner and director Per Holmes, who after leaving the recording industry began directing music videos and eventually features. Along the way Per discovered that the best way to be a director was to make sure he understood the language of narrative camera directing. In an e-mail discussion, Per expands on how the DVD course came about.
“I had learned from my previous career that it was creatively limiting to not have an exceptional skill set (I was a very good producer and songwriter towards the end, but a so-so musician), so I decided to train myself all over again as a director. Music videos don't teach much about narrative directing, and actually impose some very bad habits for narrative directing - most music video directors who transition to features never shift the paradigm, and never become very good feature directors. I didn't want to have one hand tied behind my back.
My main point was that I wanted directing to be a language I could speak eloquently, and convinced that there is such a language, I spent the better part of the next 5 years mapping it out. This involved first of all shooting 6-7 short films to train, reverse engineering hundreds of movies etc. As I found that I was very good with good actors, I turned to directing in 3D, which allowed me to block, shoot and edit 2-3 scenes a day, and thus train camera work many times faster. The reason for this obsession was first of all to create really excellent camera work that means something and has lots of production-value. But moreover, I was frustrated on the set, because I couldn't concentrate on the actors and blocking at the same time (this is a complaint of directors that I get from many actors). So I needed blocking to be so automatic for me that I could do good work without really thinking about it.
What was emerging here was a complete map of the craft itself of directing or visual storytelling. I felt that everybody could use this, so sometime in the fall last year, I decided to turn it into a course. The effort it took to create this is absurd - I very nearly gave up several times. But I felt that it needed to be done, and whether or not it would become a success, I would use it to clean up my knowledge, and to be sure that not an inch of my understanding had gone unexamined.”
The end result is a stunningly complete discussion of camera movement and framing. The closest thing I have found that comes close to covering the material presented in this DVD collection are the duo of books by Steven D. Katz, Film Directing: Shot by Shot and Film Directing Cinematic Motion. While the books are great reads full of examples, static shots in a book can’t even begin to convey camera motion like the Hollywood Camera Work course does.
Instead of having real live actors, and spending hundreds of thousands on hiring crew and gear, Hollywood Camera Work uses 3D animation with expressionless 3D characters to demonstrate the concepts and theories presented. The decision to go this route was a good one as you are removed from the virtual actors and must focus your attention camera techniques.
The nine hours of training are spread over six DVDs broken into three volumes. In the first volume, Stationary Blocking, the discussion focuses on a non-moving camera and gets the viewer up to speed (or review) on focus, shot selection, framing, the axis line, and looks at the psychology of camera/character placement.
Volume 2, The Moving Camera, builds from the first and introduces camera dolly and crane/jib moves that many may have little to no experience working with. While the content in this collection is well put together, the end user must realize that the only way to get the most out of these DVDs is to go out and practice these techniques for themselves. The Hollywood Camera Work website offers links to other companies and individuals who offer low cost alternatives to huge rigs and cranes.
The final volume, Staging High-End Scenes gives a real world example for the viewer to learn from. You begin with a script (that you can download from the site) and work through the staging and blocking of the scene and actors and then presents the entire scene to see how it all comes together.
If you have never spent a great amount of time watching a movie or television program focusing on how the entire scene was blocked and shot, you will after watching this compilation. Once you understand all of the material presented, the next show you watch will magically lay itself out in your minds eye and you will see exactly how it was staged, shot, and blocked.
Each lesson builds upon the previous, beginning from basic concepts to complex set-ups, and is very comprehensive.
One must remember that this is a course on how to direct high production value shots for film or video. This course does not go into discussion on how to direct actors or how to stage and block for reality based programming like talk shows, but it does get you to think about the staging and blocking of actors that will need to be done to get the shots you need.
I also like how versatile the series is. A beginning to intermediate director will gain from watching the series when it comes to learning how to set up their scene. Cinematographers and videographers will pick up tricks and techniques they did not get at school, or who are wishing to grow their shooting skills. In this age where 3D storytelling is becoming commonplace, animators can learn a great deal on how to create visually dramatic shots for their next project.
While designed with the professional in mind, the group who would get the most out of this DVD course is educators. The company is more than eager to work with educators to grant public performance rights or for study material outside of class. If Hollywood Camera Work had an educational discount of around $150 I would make it a required purchase for all of my video or film students.
At times the stoic characters and lack of a narrative becomes repetitious, but that is only because you as the learner should be focusing more on the language of camera movement and framing rather than the spoken.
The DVD series is delivered on DVD-Rs for the initial run due to budget issues (this was temporary and no longer the case - ed). I tested the DVDs on three different stand alone DVD players and three desktops without a problem. The only concern about having DVD-Rs is there is no copy protection. I spoke with Per Holmes about this and he did say that future releases will be shiny disk releases, but that still would not stop the would-be pirate.
Some may feel that the price is too steep for the content (current sale price $479), but when you consider that you would be paying three to four times that to take a course at a good university, the price seems very well placed.
Hollywood Camera Work is a true hardcore learning course. The content and examples are masterfully done. The content builds from basic set-ups to complex camera moves that will only add to your knowledge base. For any true cinematographer or videographer who is looking to make his/her shots work, you must purchase this training DVD. I give Hollywood Camera Work a Must Buy Recommendation.
For more information on the Hollywood Camera Work DVD, visit www.hollywoodcamerawork.us.