Directing The Camera by Gil Bettman (book review).

One of the reasons I’m also looking at books like ‘Directing The Camera’ by Gil Bettman is because some of you folk have ambitions to make films, even short ones for Utube. So learning how the professionals do it and applying their techniques can only improve your own directing ability. Publisher Michael Wiese specialises in how to film books across all the film jobs so it’s always worth having a look at their catalogue for areaswhere you have difficulties.


Don’t underestimate yourself as a prose writer in not learning something from this book. Think of your own dialogue scenes and how static they are when people are talking. Understanding how an action sequence works teaches pace which is one of the foundations of writing. Likewise, anyone who is a producer or storyboarding will also benefit from understanding the needs of a director so there’s something here for everyone.

Bettman is also a director turned teacher and having director Robert Zemeckis providing a forward should point out his credibility rating in case you’ve never heard of him. There are six main examples from film and TV films provided throughout that you should recognise. Advice is given for all levels, including teachers to ensure the lessons are learnt. Rather interestingly, there is also some insight into how to handle insecure and/or problematic actors which is in sharp contrast to stuntmen and women who really want to push the edge of what can be done.

An interesting thing Bettman points out from the onset that directors these days are brought in for their technical expertise and less because they can direct actors who are left to do their own thing and choices which rather startled me how much things have changed in recent decades. I had a think about that and do wonder if that’s always beneficial to the actors, especially from reading from elsewhere how they like some information from that department.

Likewise, there are only two directing methods currently used, primarily because they are seen as the way to make money at the box office. One is to study how Spielberg does his films by keeping the camera moving than from a static position because it is a key element in selling a film to the audience. The other is the Snoopy Cam by keeping up and personal all the time to the actors. I can’t help feel there is a similarity to losing scientific dogma here with no director prepared to find some new way to do direct things, so maybe that’s the next evolutionary step, providing they are given the opportunity to experiment. In the meantime, learn the directing rules from these techniques.

Which is where I will start because the storyboard, as seen in many film books I’ve reviewed, is the film bible. It actually reduces costs by having all the preparation ready and not having people hanging around too long on the day when getting film footage. Everyone knows what is needed and getting it done, including the second unit director. About the only thing Bettman doesn’t explain is why does it take ninety minutes for a camera lens to be changed. I learnt a lot of new things too. I’d always assumed that a telephoto lens was used for distance shots when its actually used for close-ups. For those of you currently creating amateur films, understanding the difference in lenses and what they do will certainly help you to improve. Bettman also explains how to do this with a digital camera which I’m definitely sure is a preferred option. With films recorded digitally these days, seeing how the material can be cut together will also make you ensure you get enough footage in the can, so to speak.

Something that is also telling is experience. On page 90, Bettman points out that the director is often least experienced compared to cameraman and stunt organiser who have more films under their belt, so I’m less surprised how these can often rise higher in the ranks from time to time and gives valuable experience. Don’t forget, a director usually has a turnaround of a film every two years, although some are prepping their next film while in the middle of their current one.

As you can tell from the size of this review, I learnt far more in quite a short length of time. The book is an oblong softcover, mostly, I suspect, because it allows the film sequences to be spread across the pages better. Bettman also gives reference links so you can see these clips moving on-line. If you can’t attend his classes then this book is the next best thing and if you want to improve your craft or even get some ideas for prose, then ‘Directing The Camera’ will point you in the right direction. That’s a wrap.

GF Willmetts

December 2014

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 183 page oblong enlarged paperback. Price: $26.95 (US), $29.95 (CAN), £15.30 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-166-8)

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