In his revised introduction to Shot By Shot, Steven Katz quips that he used to say new filmmakers had a hard time finding practical experience and equipment.
Now, he writes, ‘the greatest opportunity for filmmakers since the first screening of a movie in 1895 is right now’.
But despite this world of more accessible tech, ‘movies are still told in pretty much the same way today as they have been for more than a century’. This is why Shot By Shot is still relevant as it reaches its 25th year in print.
Katz’s filmmaking bible is more nuanced than an equipment guide and more straightforward than a book on narrative theory. It works as an intermediate that helps one understand the language of the camera and how it can impact an audience.
There are four parts to this book that guide the reader from concept to execution: Visualization: The Process, Elements of the Continuity Style, The Workshop, and The Moving Camera.
Visualization: The Process tells you how to express your pre-production vision, from storyboarding and character design to script drafting and camera tests. Katz also uses this chapter to tell us what continuity style actually is, and why it’s so important.
The most exciting part of this section includes examples in the forms of storyboarding, panels and digital ‘previs’ from popular feature films. These films weren’t picked at random, either. Moonrise Kingdom, The Big Lebowski, and Deadpool are all exemplary of meticulously crafted visuals.
Elements of the Continuity Style gives the reader a vocabulary for shot composition. It’s also a guide to making your story come across well through your editing.
‘[Editing is] understanding the relationship between the emotions and themes of a story and how framing them through a lens emphasises, alters, and shifts the audience’s perceptions.’
The second half of the book, which includes The Workshop and The Moving Camera, applies the basics of continuity style to the actual filming process. It helps filmmakers with elements like dialogue staging, frame depth, tracking shots. A newly added section entitled Short Cuts takes you a step further and goes through a day on set.
With its traditional outlook, Shot by Shot gives you the tools, the rules, and countless examples of how they’ve been employed in film history. The rest, Katz says, is down to the filmmaker.
“There are no formulas for making a good scene, no good ones, at least….Shot by Shot should bring you a little closer to developing into a craftsman. The art part is up to you.”
Grab yourself a copy of this essential read here. And get out into the big wide world of directing.