The Master Course
Read the review at Microfilmmaker.com
Hollywood Camera Work boasts one of the strangest origins of any training tool I've ever heard of. Certainly the strangest origin of any training tool that has been adopted by as many parts of filmmaking society, from microfilmmakers to the Hollywood studio system.
Basically, Hollywood Camera Work was a massively labor intensive creation that started out as a project to train only one person: Per Holmes.
Per Holmes started out as a young filmmaker, then made it big in the music world as a producer of platinum-selling super groups. After dong that for awhile, he returned to his filmmaking roots to direct music videos and became obsessed with cinematography. So much so that, in the late '90's, he dropped out of music altogether in order to perfect his personal cinematography. The only way he knew to do that was to shoot and shoot and shoot short film after short film until every technique was drilled into his head. Or rather, he intended to shoot every technique he could find into a series of many short films, and then he planned to watch each one of those short films over and over until he had every technique drilled into his head.
Unfortunately, the human elements of short films got in the way of Per. He was continually reminded that actors grew tired of holding their cues, would wander out of framing, and would expect to take periodic breaks in order to get things to eat. All of these tendencies of human talent put a serious crimp in Per learning all the best possible shots, angles, and blocking to become the ultimate cinematographer.
Luckily, Per knew 3D modeling and rendering programs. At last, there was a way to showcase every single shot that was regularly being used in film without exhausting human actors or running afoul of SAG!
Per spent the next fifteen months (and over 4,000 man hours!) creating 3D models of people, cameras, cranes, dollies, gibs, and props and composing the ultimate DVD training tool for blocking and camera work that he could imagine. He discovered an extra benefit from the 3D models: camera work most speaks for itself when a viewer is not distracted by actors' expressions or body language.
So that this massive encyclopedia of cinematographic lore wouldn't prove overwhelming to newcomers, he created a streamlined introduction that would get inexperienced camera people up to speed on things like sight lines, the 180 degree rule, and proper film blocking, after which it would then dovetail into the more advanced techniques he had been striving to master for so long.
When he was finished, he had created over ten hours of training material that covered nearly every aspect of professional camerawork from the ground up. Spread over six DVDs, Per had indeed created the ultimate training guide. Not only did the DVDs relate to the actual camera operators and cinematographers, it gave a common language that directors could use to exactly describe the shots they were looking for from their DPs and camera people as well.
With all this said, how understandable are the DVDs for people who may not be as familiar with traditional shooting techniques? Actually, they're very understandable provided that you deal with them in discreet chunks, rather than trying to sit down at watch them all at once. If you fail to do this, there is a very real danger of becoming overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of information present in the DVDs, no matter how understandable any piece of the DVDs in fact are.
The best way to combat this is to simply realize how much data is present here and watch them accordingly. Treat each segment or couple segments as a bite size lesson. Watch a lesson at a time and process what you've learned. Done at that rate, you could easily absorb all of the information in the DVDs and begin to make use of them in a couple of months.
After you've gotten the hang of everything by watching it through in detail the first time, then you can rewatch them in their entirety as refreshers. Again, Per's goal was to have a rewatchable tool that would drill the terminology and usage of different shots and shooting techniques into your head through repetition.
As you can tell from the description in the Comprehension section there is a whole ocean of depth in this DVD series. It'll take time to absorb all of the elements of this DVD series, but it's time very well spent.
The first two DVDs are all dedicated to the stationary camera setup. The next two DVDs are dedicated to moving cameras, as those created through dollies, cranes, and jibs. The final two DVDs combine all the information shown in the first four and help you to see sequences and chains that you might set up shots in during an actual shoot. They actually go from the script to blocking to the final shoot in these, which is very helpful. (To practice later, you can even download scripts and blocking charts from the Hollywood Camerawork website!)
The things presented in these DVDs are the sort of things too many filmmakers never think through and then can't understand their problems with continuity and/or coverage after the fact.
Because of the density of material, it is not always the easiest material to keep one's interest. This can be helped a lot by watching it in smaller chunks that won't overwhelm you.
However, from a production stand point, a lot could have been done to improve the interest level by providing actual dialogue for the mannequins and having voice actors earlier in the DVD training. In the early training, a single woman narrates the different techniques crisply and cleanly. However, where it gets choppy is when she's describing certain scenes and using generic descriptors in lieu of dialogue. For example, one sequence went something like, "And so we cut to the blonde woman who says something, then back to medium shot of the brown man who says something...then back to the blonde woman who says something...then back to the brown man, who finishes the conversation."
All of that may have been technically accurate, but it makes a dense subject that much more difficult to follow and that much more difficult to stay interested in. This is especially crucial in the beginning, since the beginning is where you need to be paying attention the most.
As they get into later training, especially the last two disks, they do a great job of bringing in voice talent and actually having scripts. (As I mentioned earlier, you can actually download the scripts from their website.) However, I think it would have helped out a lot if they had brought in that scripting and talent earlier.
In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor problem and doesn't take away from the simple fact that they have managed to make Hollywood Camera Work interesting enough to sit through in the first place! To do so with this much information is a major achievement!
Reusability is clearly one of the main points for why this entire series was created.
I took just a few moments and came up with just a handful of examples of some the reusable applications. For example, they are:
Considering the depth of information and the amount of time it took Per to collate all this stuff, I think $329 is probably drastically underpriced. Go and try pricing this sort of training at any qualified trade or film school and see how many thousands of dollars they would charge for anywhere near this amount of information!
This is a great series of DVDs that excellently presents the most important elements of film blocking and camera work. While we as microfilmmakers have to stretch every dime to make our films, this is 2800 dimes very well spent. These DVDs will help make our films truly noteworthy and should be in every microfilmmaker's collection.
Review by Jeremy Hanke