Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

Reading List

Published : 1st October 2003


One thing I think is lacking is sort of an intermediate/advanced-level contemporary cinematography book, something that bridges the general cinematography books and the interviews with working cinematographer books.

Kris Malkiewicz's "Film Lighting" sort of falls into an intermediate-level category but it needs to be updated. Blain's book is so all encompassing that it also falls into both the intermediate and the beginner categories.

I think the problem though with being too "contemporary" is the risk of getting stylistically outdated quickly. Plus publishers are less interested in books that can't be sold to beginners and students, and they hate paying for color reproductions and rights to publish stills from movies. Kris Malkiewicz has told me of the problems with the reprinting of his "Cinematography" book over the years, from the publisher's change to B&W illustrations only to the request that any future updating to include digital issues not add to the overall page count, which is tough.

One possibility would be a book that covers the cinematography of ten films, let's say, in complete depth, from technical information to artistic design, etc. Maybe one could be a classic B&W film, another a classic color film, then the other eight contemporary films with a variety of looks, and a couple probably should be digital productions.

David Mullen ASC
Cinematographer / L.A.



David Mullen wrote :

>One possibility would be a book that covers the cinematography of ten >films, let's say, in complete depth, from technical information to artistic >design, etc.

Then you could start a collection of books. Let's say one or two per year with the deep coverage as you mentioned. That way would be possible to avoid "the stylistically outdated"....Weird AC doesn't have a regular collection of this kind.

Santi Trullenque
Young director wants to be a great director
Barcelona

Movie of the week: You only live once (Fritz Lang)
Book of the week: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Samuel Taylor
Coleridge) Record of the week: Happy songs for happy people (Mogwai)



Being the vice-chairman of the ASC Publication Committee I would be very interested in a list of books that you feel would be good for the beginners, intermediate, and professional cinematographers. Also, if a book could be published what would be the elements that you feel would be most important.

Thank you.

Respectfully,

Roy H. Wagner ASC
Director of Photography



David Mullen ASC wrote :

>Maybe one could be a classic B&W film, another a classic color film, >then the other eight contemporary films with a variety of looks.

Also a variety of budget ranges...perhaps Mr. Mullen could write a chapter on Northfork? Not all of the films should be large-crew, big-budget productions.

Jeff Kreines



>One possibility would be a book that covers the cinematography of ten >films, let's say, in complete depth, from technical information to artistic >design, etc.

I have emailed David privately on this matter, but I can't help but to rise the challenge publicly also : which ten films?

If one was to do a book discussing the cinematography of ten movies - what would be the ten you would pick? Huge decision.

Now be careful here : it is easy to start talking about "my ten favourite movies," or "the ten movies that changed my life," or "the ten movies that had some really pretty pictures."

What we want to talk about are "the ten movies/projects in which the cinematography is so significant that it deserves to be talked about as an integral part of the visual story and as an important part of the history/heritage of filmmaking."

OK, I know it's a very long sentence, but that is the premise. I'm not trying to make a bumper sticker, I'm trying to start a useful debate.

I've got my own list, but I want to hear from you folks.

[Which makes me think: why confine it to feature films? As a cinematographer; I can think of a number of commercials, short films and even documentaries that have had a significant impact on my life, my thinking and my practice as a professional cameraman. Let's open this up: things that are shorter than 85 minutes can also be important parts of the heritage of cinematography. How about Chris Marker's "La Jette?"]

Fire away. The great thing about opinions is that everybody’s got one.

Blain Brown
DP
LA

PS : If your list doesn't include "Citizen Kane", "Seven Samurai" and "Apocalypse Now"...the jury can not consider it a valid entry. (Just kidding) but sort of serious; just being controversial to start a healthy debate, I don't know the "emoticon" to represent that. Maybe.



Blain Brown wrote :

> which makes me think: why confine it to feature films?

Well the choices should be accessible.

Perhaps there should be a companion set of the chosen projects on DVD -Taking the idea a bit further, a repackaging of each of the feature's DVD's with a running DP commentary that directly or loosely ties in with the book.

Next thread, Watching and listing list.

Cheers,

Eric Swenson



Well, I don't think you'd necessarily have to pick the ten best photographed films ever made, but the criteria might be that they vary in stylistic approach, the technology employed, maybe even budgetary constraints, yet were all artistically worthy of discussion, and they probably shouldn't be too esoteric and also should be researchable (in other words, it might not be worth writing about a film with almost no documentation, no ability to interview the filmmakers, etc. since there would be little to reveal about how the cinematography was executed.)

I guess one question would be whether to take a historical approach -- skip through the decades with an example from each -- or just cover "contemporary" films made in the past fifteen to twenty years (an arbitrary line, I know.) Part of me would love to read a definitive chapter, let's say, on the 3-strip Technicolor photography of "Black Narcissus", but it would be hard then not devoting most of the book to films of the past.

In order to be more than a reprint of an "American Cinematographer" article, I think the chapters would have to be pretty detailed, maybe even researching things like equipment package lists, camera reports, notes by the cinematographer, new interviews with the DP and key people like the Gaffer, 1st AC, etc. - just to get glimpses of the whole production, big and little. I remember once having a discussion online with restorer Robert Harris about what film stock was used for "Vertigo" because even though it turned out to be the available Eastmancolor stock of the time, 5248 (25ASA), it seems that there were some camera reports listing the future 5250 (50 ASA) mixed in there, perhaps because Kodak gave some rolls to Hitchcock/Burks to test, or perhaps they got shuffled in from some later production.

I'd love to see a camera report from "Lawrence of Arabia" or "2001"...

David Mullen
Cinematographer / L.A.



On a practical standpoint as an instructional document rather than an historical one, I'd vote for contemporary movies, say within the last 20 years. This way much of the techniques and equipment discussed would still mostly be applicable. While I personally find the historic notes fascinating, I think a description of a certain bit of kit as used on set that I could go rent the next day would be quite useful.

What would be nice would be articles that ran the gamut from big Hollywood features to tiny indie films that were still able to create distinctive looks given vastly different constraints. It's terrific to read about a Libra-3 head off a Super Akela crane combined with a few dozen 18ks, but it can be quite educational to discover what's possible with a small tungsten package and a 16mm camera with a doorway dolly.

Mitch Gross
NYC DP



Mitch Gross wrote :

>On a practical standpoint as an instructional document rather than an >historical one, I'd vote for contemporary movies, say within the last 20 >years.

On the other hand Mitch, it really gives a perspective to read about the way certain cinematographic problems were solved back in the day, doing it all in camera.

Mr Samuleson emailed a diagram once of a crane shot from a Polanski film that used large mirrors and camera choreography to create a shot that would otherwise been very difficult to do.

That was very cool because it really required some inventive planning rather than a phone call to a CGi house while sipping a Mocha Latte supremo.

Mark Smith DP
Oh Seven Films Inc.



I understand your point, Mitch, and certainly that would be the more marketable approach. It's just that lately I've been more and more inspired by older movies more than contemporary ones -- I guess in my search for "fresh" ideas, I seem to get more out of non-contemporary approaches!

However, I think it would make more sense to stick to contemporary issues and solutions and put historical examples in another book.

David Mullen
Cinematographer / L.A.



>Then you could start a collection of books. Let's say one or two per year >with deeply coverage as you mentioned. That way would be possible

Cinefex for Cinematography - I would love the idea. A high quality book-like publication that covers maybe two, three current movies and one from the past per issue. A concept like this would be a winner in my opinion.

Now we just have to find somebody as dedicated as Don Shay to run it. And do it in today's publishing world.

Cheers,

Lin Sebastian Kayser CEO
IRIDAS
Adalbertstr. 32
D-80799 Munich Germany
www.iridas.com



....Also a variety of budget ranges...

What about films from all over the world too?

Chris Maris
UKDP
www.chrismaris.com



Not sure about 10 (that's a tough list to come up with extemporaneously), but I have to say that one of the finest photographed films, and yet I rarely hear it referenced, is "Nadja" (1994, Michael Almereyda).

As much as love the technique, even if the pxl WASN'T in it, it still would be among the greatest, in my meagre opinion.

David Obuchowski



Blain Brown wrote :

>...which ten films? If one was to do a book discussing the >cinematography of ten movies - what would be the ten you would pick? >Huge decision."

I'd dare to say impossible decision. It is impossible to pick up just ten films. Why just ten when you can/want to know more about tons of other films? I guess the best option is to start a new collection of books that publish several titles o compilations per year. But I mean serious books with deep coverage about all the issues raises here (equipment package lists, camera reports, notes by the cinematographer, new interviews with the DP and key people like the Gaffer, 1st AC, etc...) as Mr. Mullen mentioned.

If DVD's new editions includes interviews or audio commentary with directors or DP or other involved people why not to recover those DP (from contemporary and older movies) and have new interviews, etc...

About the criteria, well, that's not my job since I have no idea where to start for, but as a reader, I'd like to go deep into more than ten films and it'll be pretty cool to have a regular collection of books. 2 or 3 per year as other areas do, ex : the Faber & Faber scripts collection. They have this wonderful and large collection of books. So, this could be a choice.

Ten is not enough, maybe then thousand...

I agree 100% (another lovely expression of yours) about "things shorter than 85'" like "La Jette" or even Tim Burton's "Vincent", or some memorable music videos and stuff like that...

See you

Santi Trullenque
Young director wants to be a great director
Barcelona

Movie of the week: Dolls (Takeshi Kitano)
Book of the week: Diaries (Yasuhiro Ozu)
Record of the week: Hyacinths and Thistles (The 6ths)



>Well, I don't think you'd necessarily have to pick the ten best >photographed films ever made, but the criteria might be that they vary >in stylistic approach, the technology employed...

Absolutely. The goal is NOT to make a "top ten" list of our "favourite" movies.

The idea is to make a list of the films about which we can say "these are examples of cinematography that you can learn something important from."

It's not about being the "most beautiful" or the "most dramatic." The idea is choose things that present the amazing variety of how cinematography can contribute to the filmmaking process.

Think about it. Sometimes we go to the set and our goal is (for example) "Make this glass of beer appear to be the most desirable thing on the planet." and the next day we go in and the idea is "Make it look like cheap home video."

All of them legitimate filmmaking goals; and all of them our responsibility to execute on time and on budget.

This is not going to be a simple list to put together.

One thing I have always loved about being a cinematographer is that you never stop learning; there is always something new to try, some new approach to explore, more ideas to talk about.

Blain Brown
DP
LA



I must have gone out to get popcorn. I'm confused. I thought this conversation was about reading thus the reason for my question as to what the membership might consider the list of books that you would recommend for students, advanced, and professional film students.

Roy H. Wagner ASC
Director of Photography



> I must have gone out to get popcorn. I'm confused.

It got sort of sidetracked when I started talking about a proposed intermediate-level cinematography book. There are a lot of beginner's and "intro to" books out there, a number of comprehensive textbooks (like Blain's, one of the best), and some great professional reference books (like the ASC Manual.)

The "intermediate" books to me tend to be the interview books like "Cinematography Screencraft" and "Masters of Light", something that might not speak as immediately to the beginner but something that does not go too deeply into the minute details of production either. What I was proposing was something like what "Cinefex" magazine does for visual effects – study the cinematography of a single film in-depth including prep and production details, artistic intent, technique, post, release, etc. Sort of the "more than I really needed to know but thanks anyway" type of information.

Anyway, we started discussing what ten films, let's say, made in the past decade, would be interesting to read about in such depth.

David Mullen ASC
Cinematographer / L.A.



David Mullen ASC wrote :

>What I was proposing was something like what "Cinefex" magazine >does for visual effects...

But more like Cinefex USED to be. If you read them now it's a simple listing of (VFX) houses and a roll call of names of the people who worked on the shows. Kinda thin on the "how we did it" content compared to the first 5 or 10 years.

Not that it's totally Don's fault, he's just trying to give credit where credit is deserved, it's just that shows nowadays are so big and the VFX work gets divided up into little chunks. Movie credits are reading like phone books. Each roll is at least six songs long.

Hmmm. I do remember a period when Cinefex simply read as an ILM newsletter. All the big shows being done by George's facility so perhaps David, another example would be to go in-depth like the old ASC magazines. You have plenty of the good ones in your files like the Star Wars and Close Encounters issues. Those were pretty cool.

Cheers,

Eric Swenson
VizFxDp On-Set Super
http://www.ericvfx.com
IATSE Local 600 Dp and Supervisor



Hi,

>But more like Cinefex USED to be. If you read them now it's a simple >listing of (VFX) houses and a roll call of names of the people who >worked on the shows.

Actually I don't think it's even that, and I don't think it's about crediting people. The problem is that the answer to all special effects questions is "We wrote a plugin/shader/MEL script to do it."

"Say, Bunky, how did you get that shot of the guy falling five hundred feet, going through a wormhole, blowing up the underwater defence cannon and then evaporating the world's oceans with his X-ray eye beams?"

"Well, we wrote a special shader plugin and scripted it in MEL...."

This is why I never pursued 3D graphics. When it was Lightwave and Amigas we faked everything up with cleverly-drawn image maps.

Phil Rhodes
Video camera/edit
London



Phil Rhodes wrote :

>The problem is that the answer to all special effects questions is "We >wrote a plugin/shader/MEL script to do it."

Hahahahaha. Sour - but true.

Just the other day a director entrusted me with a bundle of their precious old issues of Cinefex, inc' issue #1 (Star Trek the Motion Picture) and various others - they're a Douglas Trumball nut - and I was in hog heaven flicking through them. To think that people used to built scale models, light them, with real lights, paint backgrounds with paint and paintbrushes, then film them with film and lenses! How primitive we were.

Just out of interest, are beards and plaid shirts still mandatory at ILM?

Tom Townend,
Cinematographer/London.



>The problem is that the answer to all special effects questions is "We >wrote a plugin/shader/MEL script to do it."

Although this is often the case, some of us (those who can't afford ILM) are still sometimes forced to be clever. Unfortunately, many producers will ask what options they have for a shot, and when faced with 3-4 hours of production time vs. "do it all in post with CG" they will often choose the latter, whether it's destined to produce the best result or not.

For many smaller CG-centric "visual effects companies," there is no alternative. When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.

Mike Most
VFX Supervisor
IATSE Local 600
Los Angeles



>The problem is that the answer to all special effects questions is "We >wrote a plugin/shader/MEL script to do it."

Ha - that's me!

Which I guess means I can't let this one go by without commenting...

First of all, we (like several facilities) still have a large physical production unit filled with very talented people: building models, painting them, lighting them and filming them with real cameras. One of the opening shots of Terminator 3 (last feature I finished working on) - the view of destruction looking over the seabed - was a forced perspective model shot, not to mention all the practical stuff of Stan Winston's. And of course every film we worked on this year was also filled with similar stuff - it was a particular pleasure for me to go and watch them filming the model pirate ships in the tank out back whenever possible.

Secondly, there's a lot more to CG than writing plugins, shaders or scripts. I do all those things every day, but that's not really what characterizes it for me. As far as I'm concerned my job involves taking the beautiful sets and props that have been built and painted (often by people who have made the move from physical production) and lighting and shooting them. I spend my day working with cameras and lights with the same properties of those I worked with before I came to CG, and working out how I can achieve the effects the director and supervisors are looking for. The problem solving techniques are much the same, and the main significant difference for me is just that I push everything around with one hand and I only ever have the monitor to look at until I see the shot on film.

I guess perhaps the problem may be that the visual effects industry is in danger of becoming so fascinated with the technology we use that we forget that the important thing is the craft of filmmaking. I'll try and remember that next time someone asks me about my work on a movie!

Willi Geiger
Technical Director
Industrial Light + Magic