Cinematic Storytelling by Jennifer Van Sijll (book review).

Author and scriptwriting teacher Jennifer Van Sijll explains from the start that her book, ‘Cinematic Storytelling’, is more to do with imagery than script that sinks into the viewer’s eye. Starting from silent movies, the information had to be presented visually and through the one hundred examples presented here shows how the emotion of the scene is given, tying in with how we absorb information. Hence, cinematic or picture storytelling.


In her introduction, Van Sijll points out how we read scenes like we do our reading from left to right but I can’t help wonder how the foreign countries whose people read from right to left watch our films. Do they flop the films to make it easier for them?

Something that kept coming up was the various film terms used. I mean did you know that a realistic sound is actually called a diegetic sound? Likewise, if you’re writing a script, don’t select specific songs because the fees might be beyond the production cost although I guess no one can stop you saying, ‘something like…’ Mind you, considering how many films use songs these days, there must be a cut-rate in bulk to stay in budget.

Only ‘Metropolis’, ‘E.T.’ and ‘2001’ are the only SF films noted in depth with the likes of ‘Blade Runner’ as a runner-up. It is with ‘2001’ and the transition between flying bone and satellite in orbit that I discovered the technical term ‘match-cut’.

A wide-angle lens will exaggerate movement and a telephoto lens bring anything closer to the viewer and there is an example here for those who haven’t understood the difference from a previous review.

Van Sijll has a love for Orson Wells, especially ‘Citizen Kane’, considering the number of times the film comes up. Mind you, after a while I also noticed ‘The Piano’ getting a similar treatment. Assuming this is part of Van Sijll’s lectures, it wouldn’t surprise me that both films come under a lot more scrutiny compared to the rest as they contain many of the elements she describes.

If you’re out to improve your film directing skills then this book is an asset for making the most of your scenes. This doesn’t mean you have to copy but knowing what makes a particularly scene effective can be an applied learning curve.

For those who want to develop their film directing skills, seeing analysis of specific scenes in famous films is rather useful. With some of them, they are almost subliminal for the effect on the viewer and I had to think about what I had actually taken in at the time.

Something I wished Van Sijll had gone into was how much of this was purely director and not the film editor cutting the scenes together, which is an important part of their work. She does point out that the script and final film doesn’t always match but that’s also likely to be because of the director spotting something during prep and filming. Even if I’m wrong on this, I think that should have been covered.

For writers wanting to learn from this for prose, picking scenes that can add impact, subliminal or otherwise to the reader, there is something to take on board here so it can stretch across the mediums.

GF Willmetts

March 2015

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 257 page horizonal enlarged paperback. Price: $24.95 (US), £11.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-157-6)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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