Category: Book Review

[REVIEW] Making Your First Blockbuster

The promise of Paul Dudbridge’s Making Your First Blockbuster initially seems dubious, or at best unlikely. A book about making a blockbuster, targeted at filmmakers who aren’t likely to be busting blocks any time soon. But while this title might be a touch misleading, its contents are not.

Dudbridge’s title rather implies his attitude and relationship with the reader: he does not talk down or condescend, but rather presents his information as though the reader were a colleague in the craft as opposed to a guileless beginner. You might not be making your first blockbuster yet, but this book is offering you the information to get there, with the assumption you are fully capable of doing so.

Before considering the book more closely, exactly what Dudbridge means by blockbuster should be defined. Rather than the likes of Jaws or Star Wars – as he mentions – Dudbridge uses the term more generally to refer to mainstream, action-oriented cinema. This can function on any budget, and he is quick to describe or explain any new concept introduced.

Someone with experience in filmmaking will not find the book laconic, however – Dudbridge is concise in introducing new concepts, preferring to spend time detailing examples and practical applications of these ideas. This is where Making Your First Blockbuster is at its most essential.

Rather than explain cinema, or describe only the effect of certain techniques or abilities, Dudbridge constantly applies this knowledge to the filmmaking directly. One way he does this is referencing to existing films. High quality image inserts (and a selection of colour plates) offer visual context for what is an inherently visual medium; exactly what Dudbridge means by the key light, fill light, and backlight might seem obscure to an amateur, but a captioned image is quick to elucidate the what might be lost in wordy description.

The films Dudbridge references are also either well-seen classics, or contemporary hits – this ensures that the scenes and moments he references should be known to a good deal of his audience, again aiding in the elucidation of his advice. But more than an analyst of cinema, Dudbridge is a practitioner. A such, his advice often goes further than theory and refers to personal experience.

While anecdotal reports may be a little less universal, these provide flavour, as well as the kind of insight generally lacking in books focused exclusively on concepts and theory of filmmaking. Most enlightening are his recollections of rookie errors: framing an explosion too wide; shooting a car chase too close; almost dropping a prop gun while visiting a very real bank.

These brief snapshots offer genuine, applicable direction for filmmakers, and help ensure that such easy mistakes can be sidestepped. Dudbridge writes that this is the book he wished he could have read at 18 – that much is clear. The text is structured just as a film is constructed: it begins with guidance on scriptwriting, and ends with the finalisation of sound.

Dudbridge’s intent is to offer some illumination at every step of the process, though his personal talents are reflected in this weighting. While scriptwriting is – as agreed upon by the book itself – a crucial element of the filmmaking process, Dudbridge’s writing on the matter is relatively surface-level. His advice is certainly useful, especially for newcomers, but doesn’t delve beyond simple ideas of character motivation and basic script structure.

Moving onto producing in the second chapter, there is again a sense of an outline lacking in close or personal insight. But as Dudbridge moves onto casting, acting, and the process of filming itself, he reveals his quality. Here his own varied experiences in cinema inform his writing, and a combination of technical detail and practical knowledge permit a relatively concise and consistently direct breakdown of the filmmaking process.

Perhaps most relevant to the book’s title is later still, at which point Dudbridge discusses stunts and effects work. This focus sets this work away from others of a similar ilk – rather than assume a low-budget filmmaker has no ability or inclination for complex effects work, Dudbridge presents an extensive and detailed overview of the field.

While this book is by no means a sole guide for visual or special effects, it considers the various legal, technical, and (importantly) artistic obstacles that might present themselves to those attempting to make explosive cinema. That last point should be emphasised – while the technical and practical are always forefront in Making Your First Blockbuster, Dudbridge never loses sight of the artform in his explanations.

Every technical trick or technique is always grounded (or perhaps elevated) by its artistic and storytelling purpose; it is not only what a thing is or how to do it, but what it means in a film. Much like George Lucas said, ‘a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.’


Filed under: Book Review, In Our Opinion, Promotion, Marketing and Distribution

[BOOK REVIEW] The Director’s Six Senses

“‘Director’ is not a description of what you do; it is something you become. You are a director 24/7. You should always have your ‘director senses’ alert.”

The idea that you have to use all of your senses to be a great director is one that the author of The Director’s Six Senses, Simone Bartesaghi, firmly believes in. Sight, sound and overall vision may seem obvious in their connection to directing, but the fact that smell, taste, and touch were also deemed equally as important was surprising to me. Of course, you can’t touch, smell or taste a movie. But these senses can be interpreted and must be considered when it comes to the filmmaking process.

Smell is such an elusive sense and it is interestingly applied by Bartesaghi as a metaphor for performance. He insists that it’s easy to “smell a lie” when it comes to a performance, but then again, every performance is a lie. It’s all a matter of playing pretend but doing it SO well that it seems true.

Films feel real because of the alternate realities they convey. They transport the audience member into that world and make them believe that, even if only for 90 minutes, it is all real. That’s why smell and the “stench” of a bad performance can be detrimental to the believability of a film.

“If what happens on the screen doesn’t feel right, if the behavior of the characters seems forced, then we snap out of the movie and the whole immersive experience is gone.”

Touch is the biggest sense to focus on when it comes to production design. Every human touches the lives of others and the world around them in some way, and their environment is a direct result of these interactions. As Bartesaghi says, “you’ll notice very quickly that their world is often a reflection of their identity.”

It is important to realise this when it comes to crafting the environment that will be shown on screen. A chaotic, creative character can live in a very cluttered and personalized home, but if their boss is a neurotic neat-freak, their work desk can be devoid of personality. This is because every scene should be a reflection of how the environment or other characters force the character to behave or interact.

“Touch is the perception of the environment. It’s important to remember that we are trying to portray on the screen the truth about our reality and it’s important that we pay attention to how, in real life, we react, perceive, and use things.”

Taste is another sense that doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think of directing, but it’s one that should be developed over time. This time Bartesaghi chooses to refer to taste as the feeling that is left and stays with you even after the film is over.  As director, you are in control of the story and can dictate how your audience feels as a result. It sounds quite manipulative, but it’s true.

If you want the ending to be so heart-wrenchingly sad that the audience can’t help but feel a piece of them die with the rolling of the credits, that’s your call. But to quote a famous uncle, “with great power comes great responsibility.” You don’t want to drive your audience away; you want to carefully steer them towards the ending reaction you desire.

The Director’s Six Senses doesn’t quite reach its full potential as far as sense related metaphors go. But, Bartesaghi redeems himself with the idea that a director’s senses must be alert and useful when it comes to noticing things others may not. That’s why this book, while at times a bit too on-the-nose, is a good resource for the aspiring filmmaker that’s interested in how to be a good director and not necessarily good at directing.


Filed under: Book Review, Directing, In Our OpinionTagged with: , , , ,

[BOOK REVIEW] Bulletproof, by David Diamond and David Weissman

Couching a story on paper is difficult enough as it is. Writing a story that is original, and works as a movie, and will not get shot down by movie executives is nigh impossible. Yet it is the mission that screenwriters give themselves on a daily basis all over the world. A number of screenwriting manuals aim to help you square that circle: some of them manage to do it. Very few screenwriting books are as helpful as David Diamond’s and David Weissman’s Bulletproof.

Diamond and Weissman have been screenwriters for decades, and collaborated to bring their work on the silver screen with Ivan Reitman (Evolution, 2001), Nicolas Cage and Brett Ratner (The Family Man, 2000) and Disney (Minutemen, 2008). Drawing on their extensive experience of the film and television industry, the duo manages to coalesce their wisdom in a concise and effective book. 

Those who are weary of any “how-to” screenwriting books forcing you to strictly follow given steps will relish Bulletproof. The established screenwriters take the budding storyteller by the hand and explain in a clear, no-nonsense fashion what are the building blocks of the script that are essential to a good story, and those that will get film executives to not shoot down your script and say yes.

Screenwriting step by step

By the time you have finished this book, you will have a thorough understanding of how to take an idea from its very fragile embryo stage to a draft you can submit to agents, executives and creatives. You will learn about the importance of genre, how to put together the dreaded one-pager, how developing a character and fleshing out an outline will make you the screenwriter you know you can be, all the way until the ultimate rewrite. 

Given the writers’ experience, it is not surprising that their manual is very practical: you will quickly figure out what works and what doesn’t, with illustrations from a classic such as Star Wars or Diamond and Weissman’s own Minutemen.

For the screenwriters who want to get their script done and their movie seen, Bulletproof is a must-have.

Buy Bulletproof from Amazon.

Filed under: Book Review, In Our Opinion

[BOOK REVIEW] Filmmaking For Teens: Pulling Off Your Shorts

Filmmaking can seem like a daunting task, especially for the first time filmmaker. When you’re a teenager, that process seems even more intimidating. In Filmmaking For Teens: Pulling Off Your Shorts 2nd Edition, Troy Lanier and Clay Nichols try to simplify the process by breaking it down to its bare bones.

The beauty of this book is that Lanier and Nichols know their audience. They come across as funny and down-to-earth in order to relate with their readers and avoid sounding like they are lecturing them. From the very beginning of Chapter One, Lanier and Nichols choose to acknowledge the fact that teenagers are individuals who may not like to follow rules. They take this generalisation and run with it for the whole book.

“You’ll make your own decisions, find new ways of doing things, make your own mistakes, and eventually wish you’d done what we’d suggested. That’s all part of the deal.”

Filmmaking for teens

Teenagers have a shorter attention span and the authors realise this. At the end of each chapter, a “reshoot” section is included to give a quick recap of each chapter’s main idea. This gives the reader an even better breakdown of what’s absolutely necessary when it comes to the filmmaking process.

Additionally, the book is full of useful tips and exercises to get the reader’s film concept created, screenplay done, and get an ideal number of crew members together. One such example of a useful exercise is what the authors call “blab.” In this exercise, the teen would give themselves 10 minutes to write whatever comes to mind.

“Just start writing. Anything. It could be a to-do list. It could be a letter to a favorite pet, anything, just get the pen or cursor moving across the page.”

They tell the reader to just keep writing no matter how nonsensical the ideas or words may seem. This concept of “blabbing” can lead to unexpected ideas. This exercise discourages teens from relying on typical clichés as ideas during conceptualisation and gets them to develop brilliant and refreshing ones. 

Lanier and Nichols even manage to make the editing process seem like a breeze. What is usually the longest part of the filmmaking process is simplified so that teens can get it done as quickly and painlessly as possible. In doing so, they make sure the readers’ films keep moving forward.

Overall, the authors want to make sure that their readers finish their shorts and set a deadline to do so. The book is their way to motivate teenagers to get a move on and actually accomplish their goal. It suggests setting a festival’s entry date as the deadline for completing the film. The authors then give useful information on how to submit the films, market them, and eventually distribute them.

In the end, Filmmaking For Teens doesn’t try to be something it’s not. The book isn’t trying to be the end-all-be-all authority on how to make a short film. It is a simple, easy read that gives good insight into the process of filmmaking without becoming overwhelming. It gives teens the things they absolutely must know and skips over the things they don’t. This book is a great starting point for young filmmakers looking to gain insight into the world of film. Lanier and Nichols’ main goal is to get the dreamers who love films off the couch and behind the camera, and any teen who reads this book can succeed in doing just that.

Our rating:

Get your very own copy of Filmmaking For Teens at your nearest bookstore, or from Amazon >HERE

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