If you’ve ever been on a film set, you know that there’s no single way things are going to go. Unexpected situations pop up left and right – a light breaks; it starts to rain; an actor refuses to interact with the hired monkey you hired for exactly one hour on that particular Wednesday. Improvisation is necessary for survival, but difficult under pressure.
Coming up with solutions on the fly is even more difficult when you have no basics to build off of. This is where Christopher Kenworthy’s Master Shots comes in.
Now in its second edition, this book continues its legacy as a veritable dictionary for camera work. Whether you’re shooting fistfights, love scenes or anything in between, Master Shots will give you a backbone of technique from which your creative wings can flourish.
Hands-on directors will appreciate the direct format – a shot and a tutorial for each page, easy to leaf through and with no fluff – and screenwriters, if unfamiliar with the shooting process, will appreciate the terminology that arises in relation to each setup.
The book has been updated since its first release in 2009. Now, nearly 10 years later, the text has been revised in direct response to feedback from readers over the years. Every picture has also been reprinted in higher resolution, providing a clear map for shooting exactly what is needed. Examples are used from popular films that best demonstrate the shot in question’s impact.
On each page, the reader is given close step-by-step instructions for a shot. This includes camera angles and movement, as well as directions for actors. The tutorials also explain how these components combine to evoke the appropriate mood for a scene.
Kenworthy emphasises that budget is not an issue; these shots can be taken with any camera, handheld, despite many of the examples used being taken from some of the best-equipped films in Hollywood.
Although these shots are considered to be fundamentals, they are not meant to be taken as the only ones in existence. This list of techniques serves to encourage innovation on the reader’s part.
Again, though difficult, any filmmaker knows that improvisation is key. As Kenworthy says, “the pressure to get the job done without mistakes turns many a potential genius into a coward,” but with the help of Master Shots, directors caught in the moment can be familiar enough with the basics that they can mix-and-match on the fly with confidence, even improving upon the techniques they’ve learnt.
“The more techniques you know, the sooner you will be able to forget them and come up with your own.”
In his conclusive passage, Kenworthy equates himself to Yoda and urges the newly skilled director to “unlearn” the rules. Once you get through his book, you should be able to finagle that scene with an educated instinct and creative zeal.
Now, filmmaker, get out there and wrangle that actor and that monkey, professional-style. Buy the book on Amazon here.