Visual Storytelling by Morgan Sandler - A Pre-Release Review

BOOK REVIEW – Visual Storytelling by Morgan Sandler

As most of my friends that have been unfortunate enough to sit through a film with me would know, my pet peeve in films is usually dialogue. Sometimes the amount coupled with the level of exposition seems unnatural, and personally, I’d much rather a film SHOW me something than TELL me something. I know this isn’t always the case, and dialogue is beautiful when it’s done well – but I like the idea that I have to constantly engage with what I’m seeing and question why I’m seeing it in order to gain more insight into the narrative or that particular character. It’s as if the filmmaker and I have some unspoken understanding – they acknowledge we’re intelligent enough to understand their visual cues. Enter Sandler’s ‘Visual Storytelling’…

After reviewing ‘Getting It Done: The Ultimate Production Assistant Guide’ (which, I’d assert, actually is the most ultimate guide I could find), this next book landed on my desk. It had me at the tagline:

“How to Speak to Your Audience Without Saying A Word” – Okay, I’m in.

The book really should be obligatory for anyone thinking of writing or directing their first film. Your first films are your chances to make mistakes, learn from them and discover yourself as a filmmaker. That being said – this could probably help you curb a few of those initial screenwriting errors from the get-go. After working on pre-selection at a couple of festivals now, the films that always stick with me are the ones that use the medium to its fullest and tell the story in equal parts dialogue to visual storytelling.

Sandler explains the complexity of visual storytelling but in an accessible way, coining his own layman terms for certain common errors, including his concept of “some guy syndrome”. A cinematographer himself, Sandler highlights techniques to aid visual storytelling from the first reading of the script to the shoot. He covers every visual tool in detail, from the direction and intensity of lighting to the lenses and focus used. His emphasis on colour and emotion resonate throughout the book, and he reflects on his own journey as a cinematographer making this a brilliant read for those aspiring to be in his position.

When talking about the tendency to associate dramatic lighting and vivid colours with getting noticed as a cinematographer, Sandler writes one of my favourite quotes in the book:

“Cinematography should be invisible to the general audience. As soon as they are aware of it, the magic vanishes.”

The book focuses on ways to enhance your story through visual tools without distracting from your dialogue. Filling in the gaps in our knowledge with pictures instead of words, and exploring the ways to evoke emotion in your audience through your technical choices. Sandler not only includes an in-depth guide to camera movement and terminology but also highlights the importance of motivation when deciding to move the camera.

Overall, this book is incredibly useful both to those new to film or to any cinematographer looking to improve their craft or exploring different genres. It is less of a how-to guide and more of an overall reminder of what to consider when making your technical decisions. The book covers the basics of technical terminology but quickly moves on to what each choice can convey and imply when used.  Sandler constantly reminds you that every decision is based on the resulting emotion it creates, reinforcing the idea that creative decisions should be made with the audience in mind. Not only can this book be a useful guide to aspiring cinematographers, but there is also a lot to be gained by directors, actors and screenwriters alike.

The book is available via Amazon from September 1st, 2018.

five stars

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Kathryn is an MA graduate in Film and Television from The University of Bristol. After moving from the depths of the countryside, Kathryn has swapped fields for filmmaking and has recently worked as a Production Assistant for Baby Cow. Kathryn continues to make informative (read: hilarious) videos with fellow Raindancer Dusan, and hopes to pursue a career in the film industry to financially support her cat.

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