Book Report: The Filmmaker’s Handbook, by Ascher and Pincus

Whether you’re an old hand at filmmaking or a rank beginner you’ll find much to inform you in Steven Ascher and Edward Pincus’s tome, nearly two inches thick, The Filmmaker’s Handbook:  A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age. Having posted several dozen videos at YouTube I came to realize how pitifully little I knew about the art and craft of filmmaking, so I was delighted to find this resource.

the Filmmaker's Handbook picThe authors write cogently, and in a clear style fortunately, for there are many details to absorb.  There is so much breadth to the work that readers will want to browse and study just what speaks to their own needs and interests.  Although the title mentions the digital age, there’s a surprising amount of material here for filmmakers who still shoot and edit film.  I found those sections interesting from an historical standpoint, but skimmed them, because all my eggs are in the digital basket.

Here are a few specific and valuable things I learned from Ascher and Pincus:

 

  • I learned what NLE means:  non linear editor.  Filmmakers using celluloid edited linearly, splicing one piece of film to the next.  However, with a digital, non-linear editor one can experiment with many possibilities of combining the source material.  The source files themselves are not changed by one’s editing choices.  The editor merely gives directions about which portions of the source files are to be played, when, and how.
  • One’s editing application (the NLE) will run faster if one stores the source files on a hard disk other than the one where the NLE is installed.  I put an extra internal disk in my computer and keep nothing there but my video resource files.  Fewer crashes now when I edit.  Hooray!
  • I learned that to make editing easier one can down-convert high definition video files to standard definition ones. Standard definition files aren’t so severely compressed, so they can be edited more easily on average computers that don’t have adequate power to decompress files quickly.  I haven’t tried this, but the authors say that the look of down-converted HD files is not appreciably worsened.
  • I learned how complex and important sound editing is.  A good way to mix sound, the book notes, is to lay down many tracks, “checker boarding” the content so that one can see the texture of the mix just by looking at the layout of tracks.
  • I learned some tips for getting good sound in my videos, even without spending a lot. Having learned about “dead cats,” those furry wind jackets that one slips over the end of a video microphone, I went to the crafts store, bought some fake fur, and made one myself.  It works!
  • I learned how to use long shots, medium shots, and close shots to situate my stories, introduce subjects and interview them capably.

Well, that’s just a small sampling of the treasures in this book.  Because it’s so detailed, I found it made for great bedtime reading.  A few pages and I was out.  Think of the things I could have learned from it reading wide awake!

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