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The Master Course
Read the review at DVXUser.com
For aspiring filmmakers, nothing is so alluring as a “film school in a box,” everything you need to know about filmmaking in a single package. A tall order, but “Hollywood Camera Work” makes a valiant attempt.
When we first saw this advertised (by one of our own DVX members) we were curious but skeptical, interested but cautious. We have seen so many products, whether it be books or CDs or DVDs, that make claims “Learn to Direct!” or “Learn to Make Films!” But then clicking on the examples provided on the site, we were immediately impressed. Starting from the very basics and working in progression onward, the makers of this set of DVDs claim that it covers every camera technique out there, and presented with this wealth of information, it’s hard not to believe them.
The instruction comes with graphic visual detail in a 3D environment. Gone are the days of staring at a diagram in a textbook. This shows you what is being discussed and also gives one practical real-world use for the techniques. Lessons are presented almost entirely with the use of 3D animation, with generic mannequins standing in for live actors. The advantage in this form of presentation is in precision and ease of understanding, and also in that the expressionless figures add no emotion to the scene; all effect comes from the techniques being presented. The style works well for any given lesson, but after a while, seeing the same five expressionless figures in the same generic settings over and over tends to get a bit tedious when watching a number of lessons in a single viewing.
And indeed, that’s not the best approach. While an enthusiastic beginner will be tempted to sit and watch one lesson after another after another, this set of DVDs isn’t meant to be a “course” so much as it’s meant to be a “reference,” a video encyclopedia of camera and lighting techniques. Each lesson, though it builds on the previous lessons, is a self-contained unit easily accessed through the DVD menus, so a viewer can access at will any lesson contained in the set. A beginner will find value in taking in the lessons sequentially, but even seasoned pros should be happy to have a quick-reference refresher on the shelf.
Either way, it’s best taken in small doses, for several reasons. While presented simply and straightforwardly, the lessons are deceptively deep and require some effort to absorb, which is needed for the following lessons. The information goes by very quickly and many lessons will probably require multiple viewings, particularly when the complex terms and diagrams start flying by. It can be a little confusing and overwhelming, especially at first.
But if you have ever wondered the best way to cover a scene with ten actors this may be the answer in getting you there. After ten minutes into the first disc we were not only hooked, but amazed at how simply it was presented. Things we may (or may not) have known suddenly became clearer in an "oh, yeah!" kind of way. It SHOWS YOU while explaining it -- not in a sketch. Not on paper. Not with some black and white 1980s photograph, but in full motion virtual world 3D animation. This collection is the definitive reference for professional camerawork techniques. It is the real McCoy. It is not a case of too good to be true. It is the real thing.
So much detail is spent on so many important topics (and just a fraction of what is covered):
SHOT SIZES AND TYPES (anyone green or pro can use this one), FOCAL LENGTH, FRAMING AND PERSPECTIVE, MANAGING THE LINE, COVERAGE, CONTINUITY, LETTER SHAPES AND CAMERA PLOTS, EXPANDING AND CONTRACTING TIME, MOTIVATIONS FOR CHARACTER MOVEMENT, COORDINATING FOREGROUND AND BACKGROUND, DEEP STAGING, MANAGING FOCUS AND RACK FOCUS, MIRRORS, HOTSPOTS AND SHADOWS, SCRIPT STAGING: PARALLEL STAGING AND KEYFRAMES, START ON, REVEAL, END ON, TIMED MASTER MOVE, MASTER PUSH, CLOSE PUSH, TRACK: PIVOT-REVEAL, BOOM AND CRANE and the last 2 DVDs have entire scenes and sequences not only scripted out but completely blocked and completed into a mini-production of sorts.
For those of you with dollies, you will really appreciate this, and for those of you that do not have dollies, you'll finally have that solid reason to get one done.
A dolly diagram. The overlapping tracks represent where tracks will be laid, but not all at once.
A typical lesson starts with a title page, a short description of why and when you’d want to use the lesson described, and then an in-depth demonstration with the mannequins. Through the initial lessons, many industry-standard terms are defined and employed, such as “close shot,” “one-shot,” “three-shot,” “reverse internal,” and so on, and are intentionally used so often as to quickly become second-nature. Shots are described, first shown from the point of view of the viewer, and then the scene opens up to diagram the camera locations used to create the shots.
The diagrams themselves can be confusing at first; the lessons tend to refer to camera locations as “cameras,” and diagram them that way, showing an individual camera for each location a camera will be in the shot, giving the impression – especially at first – that multiple, sometimes many, cameras will be used in the shot. In reality, a single camera will most often be moved to all of these positions, but a beginner would not immediately see it.
The confusion gets worse later when diagrams for “line” management are included, to prevent viewer disorientation in editing. Particularly in later lessons, the diagrams have so many lines and so many cameras and are paced so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to follow, which is where multiple viewings are not only helpful, but absolutely critical.
However, once grasped, the diagrams become invaluable.
A camera diagram, including two locations of “the line.”
The bottom line is that you get over 9 hours of instructional DVDs on camera movement, framing and blocking. Many “how-to” products merely settle for showing you where to put a camera to create a certain shot, but this material goes inside the camera to describe what’s going on when you do it, how the light is manipulated – so the viewer not only knows what to do, but also why it works. There’s a in-depth discussion of focal length and how it compares to the human eye, and how to produce perspectives not normally seen in real life. The physics of depth of field are a lesson unto themselves. The result is a much deeper understanding of technique then merely being shown camera placement or settings to achieve a particular result – the difference between being given a fish and being taught to fish.
Though the set is billed as being instruction in camera technique, there’s also a fair bit about other, more subjective and creative aspects of filmmaking. More than a little time is spent on editing techniques and artistic mood. Again, any course can tell you what the shots are and how to make them, but few will consider the emotional effect of cutting from one type of shot to another, or how to group shot types into a coherent visual story.
We all constantly ask each other "what should I buy for my DVX?" in the quest for that elusive accessory that will make us a better filmmaker. None of it will. This is completely worth your money. This is completely worth your time.
Anyone sitting through these DVDs will come out not only with more knowledge but practical skills to apply on set. (I know that after watching these that I have a new outlook for camera work. Suddenly things just seem to make sense! – John)
We completely recommend this class-A, professional series to anyone who is serious about becoming a better DP/Filmmaker. It is worth the time and money invested and will contribute tons to your knowledge base -- knowledge that will transfer to your work immediately.
Framing in Cinemascope with an example of depth of field.
John Hudson & Jarred Land, DVXUSER.COM