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George Castro

Books?

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Hi there.

 

Basically I want to get into Filmmaking and in the art of cinematography. I background is CG Character Animation, but I'd like to get more into Live Action mixed with CG films.

 

I think that like any discipline, cinematography cannot be learned through 1, 2 or 10 books, and it's usually hands on experience that will give me the most knowledge. Still, i need a place to start and my lack of funds does not allow me to go to film school.

 

Also, not sure if it matters, but my plan involves learning and practicing with mini-dv and probably going into HD eventually. Not that i desire to skip film, but that I'm really comfortible with the digital technology...Not sure if that's a mistake when getting into cinematography, but i'm sure you'll let me know :)

 

Ok, with all that said, I need advice on what books to pick up to get me started? I've asked others about this and this is what they've recommended:

 

Cinematography and Film Lighting by Kris Malkiewicz

 

I've glanced/skimmed through these books at local bookstore and have to admit they seem older than other books. The Cinematography book seems to be about "Film" cameras and process. I don't want to sound ignorant to the great (expensive) art of Film, but would this benefit me if i'm going the digital route? I'm sure they have a wealth of info, but are they for me?

 

Other books recommended to me are about interviews with cinematographers like the following:

 

Masters of Light

 

and

 

Contemporary Cinematographers on Their Art

 

Are these beneficial to someone starting out? I can see the value in them if a person with some experience with cinematography reads them and understands what they're talking about... Or maybe i would understand them? and would the info help me in my pursuit of learning cinematography?

 

These are some other books I'd like to get info/opinions on:

 

Cinematography: Image Making for Cinematographers, Directors, and Videographers

 

Cinematography : Screencraft

 

Both of which i found on your book page: http://www.cinematography.com/shop/books.asp

 

As you can see there's lots to choose from out there, but there's always good and not so good material. So who better to ask then the pros :D

 

Thanks for taking the time to read this and helping a newbie out.

 

God Bless,

George

My Website

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I read them all when I was a beginner, and then some. If you really are interested in this subject, you won't be able to stop at one or two.

 

I just worked on the new edition of "Cinematography" (so it's not out yet) -- it is primarily aimed at the student / beginner using 16mm but some of the basics covered in other chapters -- like filters or lighting or sound recording, have some relevance to DV shooters. But obviously there are some good DV books out there.

 

"The Filmmakers Handbook" is also a good guide and it covers video as well as film.

 

"Film Lighting" is very applicable to video shooting though -- exposure, filters, lighting equipment, lighting styles are all relevant to video, just not any mention of film emulsion.

 

If you really want to be a cinematographer, it's a big mistake to focus only on DV books. A cinematographer is primarily a visual storyteller and has to know lighting almost more than anything else, the camera stuff being easier to learn. Lighting will take a lifetime to master. You shouldn't become too narrowly focused. Study great movies for cinematography, old and new, big-budget and little. Ultimately, you can get more out of reading Greg Toland talking about shooting "Citizen Kane", even though that was an old b&w movie, than you would out of technical texts about DV. Not that you shouldn't read those too. But keep one eye on the big picture.

 

Ultimately, any cinematographer is format independent, in that what makes them worth hiring is not based on a particular recording format. Or to put it another way, they have to be able to handle any format that comes along. I've been a film shooter that's had to learn about digital. So don't be a digital person who doesn't understand film. You're going to have to learn both.

 

It's something I've always believed in, even from my earliest Super-8 movies as a teenager - model your work on the best examples of the artform, regardless of their budget or format. Don't take an attitude "they had a lot of money so what's the relevance to me and my work?" That's being small-minded. You will learn what is applicable to your own work -- most of the greatest images in movie history were created with pretty basic equipment, especially if you're talking about the greatest close-ups in movie history. You can't really say "oh I can't light my close-up like that because they had millions of dollars."

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Hi,

 

> You can't really say "oh I can't light my close-up like that because they had

> millions of dollars."

 

If you're standing there with three redheads and some 216, and they had 10Ks into ten-foot silks, then sure you can. This is why I stopped getting American Cinematographer - it's of only the most peripheral relevance to me to know how "Planet of the Apes" was lit. It's like a cab driver reading Ferrari Magazine.

 

Phil

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We're talking about a CLOSE-Up Phil. Surely you can look at an amazing close-up in a big-budget feature shot with 10K's through silks and recreate that look with three redheads and a frame of 216?

 

The point isn't to use the same GEAR as they used - besides, some of the greatest close-ups were shot for 3-strip Technicolor movie using carbon arcs for 10 ASA film stock. The point isn't that you need to use the same equipment to get the same quality of lighting in that close-up. You can transpose that into what you do have to work with.

 

It's like saying there's no need to study a Vermeer painting because you aren't going to be able to shoot your close-ups in Holland.

 

If you have no interest in how the best cinematography is being accomplished because they are working with more money than you, then what ARE you studying? The best video EPK interview lighting of all time? Is THAT what's inspiring you as an artist? Is THAT your role model to aim for? Because you'll achieve it.

 

You have to see yourself as where you want to eventually be and prepare for that future. If what you really want to do twenty years for now are video shoots with three redheads, then I guess you have the right attitude. Forget learning about how bigger productions are made because you'll never shoot anything with a bigger budget ever. Is that really what you want?

 

When I was a college student at UCLA, shooting Super-8, couldn't get into the film program, etc. I was reading "American Cinematographer". Using three redheads would have been a LUXURY to me at the time. So I guess even reading a trade paper on local video low-budget production would have been the height of hubris, huh? I mean, it was far from where I was at at the time.

 

It's like saying that a painter shouldn't study the great masters because he'll never be that good. He should study other beginner's work at his same level.

 

On the other hand, if what you're really saying is that you have no interest in regular narrative filmmaking and therefore the exploits of cinematographers shooting features have no relevance to your work, THAT I can understand. But don't say that because you use a 1K open-face and that film had a 10K fresnel, the way that other film was shot is meaningless. Unless you truly believe that never in your life will you possibly be given access to a 10K.

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The issue is, Phil, is if you are a cab driver and aren't interested in race cars, then why would you read about Ferrari's? But if you are interested in race cars and maybe even hope to be a race car driver someday, then maybe you should read about Ferrari's.

 

So if you're not interested in how bigger-budgeted movies are made and have no interest in ever shooting one, then obviously what's the point about reading about them? But just admit that rather than talk about how you're so low-budget that there's no point about reading what people with more money are doing.

 

My fear for most of my career has been that I'm TOO knowledgeable about how to work with low budgets and am not prepared for when I'm thrown a bigger project with more money. I practically have to force myself to keep up with technologies that I am years and years away from using. I still have never worked with a Dino light or a 24-light MaxiBrute, for example. I've never worked with a big dimmer board. The total number of Steadicam shots and crane shots in my 27 features could probably be counted on both hands. I've never used a Lightning Strikes. Last year was the first time I used a remote crane and a rain tower. Last year was the first time I did extensive greenscreen work for a feature. Last year was my first union feature.

 

Imagine if I had said "only big-budget movies have lots of visual effects so why bother learning about that stuff?"

 

Besides, even on these small features, the directors don't only look at other small features as guidelines. We look at shots from bigger features and directors will ask me "how did they get that look?" What am I going to tell them? "Sorry, I don't bother learning about how bigger movies are made."

 

For example, the film I'm about to shoot, the director really like the way "Madama Sata" was shot, not a huge budget movie. I missed it in the theaters but I found the "American Cinematographer" article about it that mentioned that it used Vision 200T and Vision 500T both skip-bleach processed. That's useful information.

 

In fact, the magazine has run articles over the years on many indie features including two of my own. You're throwing the baby out with the bath water if you refuse to read the magazine because they also have articles on big budget films. Just because 90% of the magazine may seem irrelevant to you, what about the 10% of real information that might be applicable? Besides, what may be of interest regarding a big-budget film might be something easily transposable to a smaller film -- for example, a certain filter and film stock combination.

 

If I seem passionate about that magazine it's because it was my REAL film school, back when I was 20 and couldn't get into any film schools and hung out at the libraries of UCLA instead. I would't be here today if it weren't for that magazine. Where ever here is.

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If I seem passionate about that magazine it's because it was my REAL film school, back when I was 20 and couldn't get into any film schools and hung out at the libraries of UCLA instead.  I would't be here today if it weren't for that magazine. Where ever here is.

Well said Dave, that is true for many, many people in this industry. AC is one of the few mags in any industry that you can actually LEARN something from. Because of the length of its history it is now nothing short of THE authoritative source of the history of cinematography. You're probably the guy that keeps out bidding me for old issues on ebay. ;)

 

As for me I read everything about cinematography, even if it's the umpteenth book about the basics. I recently came across a few cinematography books at a small local library, they were 60's and 70's era and didn't really cover anything I didn't already know, except one contained an in depth examination of the older Panavision anamorphic lenses which are still in use today. I find I get just a little bit of new information or insight from everyone of these books and with the books I own I read them at least 5 times.

 

I don't know about others but I feel that one of the unique duties of a cinematographer is to be able to reproduce any look desired by the directors. It's also your duty to try and expand those techniques. Cinematographers need to be artists but they also need to be well versed technicians.

 

To expand upon the cab driver analogy, I believe it's like your real job is being a professional driver and you should be able to effectively drive a cab, a Ferrari race car, a Mack truck or jump a triple on a dirt bike if you have to!

 

Also I would like to say there are some books a cinematographer must read like Paul Wheelers "High Definition and 24p cinematography." It's a great resource for the "How to" of production with the Panavised Sony HD camera. If you want to shoot indie features in the future you are most likely going to come into contact with this camera.

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Hi,

 

> If what you really want to do twenty years for now are video shoots with three

> redheads, then I guess you have the right attitude

 

It's certainly not what I want to do, but being entirely practical about it, it's almost certainly what I will end up doing irrespective of what I want.

 

Phil

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> If what you really want to do twenty years for now are video shoots with three

> redheads, then I guess you have the right attitude

 

It's certainly not what I want to do, but being entirely practical about it, it's almost certainly what I will end up doing irrespective of what I want.

And with that perspective, you are defining your destiny to be sure that's all you ever do.

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Great info, especially great insight from you David Mullen. From the sub conversation that started here, i also got the impression that I should probably subscribe to American Cinematographer magazine along with the books i get :)

 

Now the only thing i have to figure out is what 2 books i should start with (as it's all i can afford for the time being)

 

Thanks again for your insight.

 

George

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If you live in a major city or one with a good university and library system, you could try and check out some of the books from the library to see which ones you really need to own.

 

"American Cinematographer" and "ICG Magazine" are two of the only magazines that regularly cover how current narrative movies are photographed, so I consider them as must reads if you're interested in that subject.

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Hey David,

Forgive my newbieness in Cinematography as I'm just now getting into it as I've mentioned. I've been going around looking at articles and websites, and low and behold, your name seems to pop up everywhere :) Do you have a website or interview link to learn about you David Mullen? :) As for the first books i think i'll start with will be:

 

Digital Moviemaking by Scott Billups

 

and

 

Film Lighting by Kris Malkiewicz

 

and also a subscription to American Cinematographer.

 

I think these will help me figure out if i want to make a career out of this or more as a hobby and stick to 3d for my career... we shall see.

 

Thanks again for all the info.

 

George

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No idea but probably not this year. Maybe the end of the year. I have no idea how long the publishing "post" process is actually -- although I did typesetting and print ordering work twenty years ago for Transamerica Insurance Company.

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I recently came across a few cinematography books at a small local library, they were 60's and 70's era and didn't really cover anything I didn't already know, except one contained an in depth examination of the older Panavision anamorphic lenses which are still in use today.

 

jlamarking, where did you read that? I tried to find more data on older anamorphic systems, but didn't find much. I'd appreciate if you could tell us the book/magazine title.

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I really like Reflections. It's a cool book based on workshops taught by famous cinematographers at USC. They have stills from the shoots and lighting diagrams, etc...

 

It's worth checking out...

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jlamarking, where did you read that? I tried to find more data on older anamorphic systems, but didn't find much. I'd appreciate if you could tell us the book/magazine title.

Unfortunately, I can't remember what it was called. I don't live in that town anymore but I drove over there and wouldn't you know it the book was checked out. maybe it'll show up in a few weeks.

 

Other than that it was a foot square 2 inch thick hardbound book. It was called something like "The Camera Handbook." It had basic info on cinematography and at the back it had a section on then new (I guess 70's) camera systems. It had a list of the old series of lenses with the focal lengths, stops etc. with some technical drawings.

 

David could probably get this information for you faster.

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Hello,

 

I began to read this thread and I want to share my experience. A friend of mine who introduced me to this board is on the same boat that I am, total novices when it comes to cinematography. The difference is that he has been reading American Cinematographer since 1988 because he loves filmmaking. All the time in his head he thinks about shot composition, how they lit this and that, what type of camera and the always plays this guessing game and looks out for quirks and stuff that I couldn't think of when looking at a movie, commercial, etc.

 

To tell you how crazy this guy is about cinematography and how I realized how much I was missing, I invited him to watch Pirates of the Caribbean with me when I got the DVD. He thought, since I am also in the process of starting a cinematography career, that we were both going to study the lighting of Pirates of The Caribbean and he brought his issue of AC with the article about P(irates)O(f)T(he)C(aribbean). I played along since I never seen someone so enthused about the art of cinematography and he made me rewind, and replay scenes while reading and drawing diagrams based on the article.

 

Needless to say, I was impressed to see him break down an analyze the lighting of a movie like he did, and I was impressed with his knowledge about the art and craft of cinematography that I invited him to one of the sets I was gaffing on and he and the DP of the short I was working on hit it off like there was no tomorrow, and so much knowledge my friend has amassed that at one point the DP was consulting him on how to light certain scenes. I saw my friend go at it like someone who has been doing this for many many years.

 

Why I am writing this ? because even though my friend chose a different career path way back 20 years ago ( meaning, he decided to get a steady paycheck ) he never stopped reading and learning about cinematography even though he couldn't actually do it because his work prevented him from doing it until about a year ago when he decided that he has had enough of his career ( meaning he made a lot of mone selling his stock options ) and decided quit his work and jump into cinematography.

 

My point, he dreamed of playing with the big boys one day, and even though he is far from it, and beleive me he is *FAR* from it, this guy knows more techical stuff than some of the people I have worked with, and as a good friend of mine once said to me, "If you are good enough to bullshit your way into a job, you deserve it".

 

In order to get big, you have to think big.

 

Thanks David for your contributions to this board and everyone else here.

 

Rob.

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Sweet reply Rob! I will most definetly be subscribing to American Cinematographer right away. Even while reading posts here, I'm already looking at films a different way. Thanks to all who participate here.

 

George

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