Film Directing Shot By Shot by Steven D. Katz (book review).

May 2, 2019 | By | Reply More

I wasn’t reviewing publisher Michael Wiese Productions when they first released Steven D. Katz’ book, ‘Film Directing Shot By Shot’ so I came into this 25th anniversary edition with an initial surprise that it is both bigger in size and page count than their usual product. Much of this difference is because this book covers storyboards from a lot of films, including an unshown scene from ‘Blade Runner’.

When I came to it, my jaw-dropped. Remember that we thought director Ridley Scott couldn’t count how many Replicants Deckard ‘retired’, even if Katz can’t spell Harrison Ford’s character ‘Deckard’ correctly. This is that scene. If that doesn’t make you rush to buy this book, nothing else will. In many respects, I can see why it wasn’t used in the film as it wasn’t in the city but out on a farm and broke the pace, although something like it does appear in the second film. I think I would have rewritten the scene.

Although Katz points out that it varies from director to director as to how detailed they get their storyboard artist to depict scenes, there is some magnificent art here which should appeal to the art lovers amongst you. As storyboards are practical comicstrips, those who are learning the techniques will find them useful as well. It’s also pointed out that Hitchcock was a fan of comicbook techniques and employed them in creating his films so the actual filming was more the downside for him. There’s storyboards from ‘The Birds’ here, too. Oh and if you’re planning to direct films, then this book is also for you. Have I missed anyone out reading here?

To put this book together, Katz required co-operation of a lot of directors, including Steven Spielberg, using his ‘Empire Of The Sun’ storyboards. Oh, the first jaw-dropping is seeing the original art for ‘Citizen Kane’. As Katz points out with Ralph McQuarry’s concept art for ‘Star Wars’, this has been going on for many decades before storyboarding became commonplace. Directing is all about planning and ever more relevant today. Some of the info will make you smile, especially as you see how artists showing shaking. So obvious but not what you expect.

It’s interesting seeing how computer drawing boards has entered the storyboarding game now, although I think I would have pointed out that there are cheaper drawing screens that are just as good as Wacom out there for those on a budget. It’s also interesting seeing that the software is used to animate through the scenes or just using the layers to go through what is required. Oh, the same also applied for ‘Poser’ for those who need help drawing figures. The Japanese use ‘Clip Studio’ for manga and have readymade figures there as well. For the developing directors, I do think showing some alternatives to the top range equipment would have been helpful than having them stopped at the first hurdle.

What is so good about this book is there is so much visual information that if you weren’t informed before, then you will be afterwards. Knowing the language of film will at least help you be better informed in communicating what you need to do or happen.

What might surprise a lot of readers is what Katz focuses most on for several chapters is how to film a conversation and would certainly be a telling lesson for comicbook artists than to just have talking heads. Positioning and emotional impact all have their needs and often so subtle that I expect you’d only notice it when it’s done wrong. Likewise, the presenting of information and background story by visual clues saves a lot of verbal explanation although I wish Katz had explained how this is done in the scriptwriting stage without dictating scenes for the director. When this is extended to crowds, then there are lessons for prose writers in how to deal with small crowds and how only the leading talkers talk and the rest listen.

Don’t think this book is devoted to conversation pieces. The move over to various camera angles is a tour de force for directors in setting up a shot and you get to see the equipment and placement visually. From there, you move into how to get from one scene to another in all kinds of ways and if you are conversant with a lot of films you will quickly understand the form and how things have moved digitally. With the latter, a High Definition digtial ‘print’ means you get a version identical to the original master with nothing lost to damage. Seeing the scale of digital format sizes is literally a matter of scale and if you’re into numbers, should recognise your computer monitor numbers which is the third level up.

I know I point out film books that you should own but this is the granddaddy of them all and agree with the hype on the back of the book, ‘The only film directing book you may ever need.’ It really does cover everything you need. The only problem now is what do I say when I come across another book on film directing. In the meantime, I’ve given you enough reason to own this book even if you’re not into film direction. Don’t wait for another printing.

GF Willmetts

April 2019

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 386 page illustrated enlarged paperback. Price: $34.95 (US), £25.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-6159-3297-9)

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Category: Movie books

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About UncleGeoff

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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