Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lights! Camera! Action! Learn to Speak Film by Michael Glassbourg

Years and years ago, when humans were mostly hunters and gatherers, people would sit around a campfire and someone would tell a story.

Story was the thing that brought people together--how the band of hunters brought down the mammoth now roasting on the fire, how the berry pickers escaped from the bear--these were their adventure stories. And the flickering shadows from the fire gave rise to tales of ghosts and the spirits that might surround them.

What event today can have five hundred people assembled in a dark room for two hours or more except to spontaneously laugh, cry, scream, or mumble "Wow!" A film, of course.

If the performing arts began with story, the theater is our cave, and the movie is our shadows on the wall. Michael Glassbourg's Learn to Speak Film: A Guide to Creating, Promoting, and Screening Your Movies (Owlkids Books, 2013) brings together a taste of the history and craft of filmmaking. The three elements--story, or script, pictures or photos, and motion, film--are set forth, with the skills, talents, and pooling of crafts that turns a story into film--are discussed in some detail in five chapters: Through a Lens; From Ideas to Script; Lights, Camera, Action; Postproduction; and lastly Getting It Out There.

Glassbourg's opening section takes the young would-be moviemaker through the basic steps, learning to see first through a still camera's lens and then through the video camera, how to arrange sets, costumes, and "the talent," performers who act out the story, and the editing, and screening of their short film.

Then the author focuses on the "professional sound stage" and the many skilled writers, performers, and craftsmen who bring an idea through the script-writing, casting, set or location choices, set, costume, and makeup design, music scoring, and rehearsals, all production processes which much be completed or in progress before the cameras are ever turned on. Then the real work of the director, or directors, begins, with placement of the actors, camera angles, lighting, sound quality, and most of all the management of the "talent," the actors who must play the roles of the characters in the story to be filmed. And even when the raw film takes are "in the can" and the "wrap party" is catered, the job is only half-finished.

What follows is the craft, art, and talent of postproduction--film editing, continuity editing, sound balancing, dialog redubbing, and special and sound effects--all major jobs involving many artists and craftsmen with different specialties. Who knew, for example, that continuity editors go to work scrutinizing every shot in every scene, looking for flubs, such as an actor in a restaurant scene who drains his glass on camera, but when the camera returns to him for his next lines, has a full glass in front of him? Who knew that there was such a thing as a foley editor, who adds appropriate background sounds--footsteps echoing, brakes squealing, waves breaking--or an ADR , "automated dialog replacement," editor who decides when actors must return and redub lines that were muffled or flubbed in the original sound track at the same high level as the rest of their performance? The musical sound track, often a significant part of the film (think the da dum da dum theme of the shark in Jaws) must be "mixed" with the sound effects and voices of the actors to good effect. Opening screens and credits must be written and filmed, mixed with their own music, and spliced into the film. And finally the final cut of film must be test-screened, evaluated, and marketed, requiring filming and scoring the trailer, designing the EPK (electronic press kit) and advertising graphics, and selling it to festivals and movie theater chains, a part of the filmmaking  process that calls for quite different skills from its beginning as a story needing a screen play.

In Learn to Speak Film: A Guide to Creating, Promoting, and Screening Your Movies the author walks the reader through the entire process, tossing in cool bits of film lingo (when do you get a grip and when do you need a gaffer?) along the way. For middle readers who love movies and wonder what those jobs are that win Oscars, and for those who think they would like to have a place in the making of films--from acting to CGI to makeup artistry--this book is a must read for young people and a must-have for libraries that serve this group. School Library Journal calls it a "delightful soup-to-nuts guide" to the process of filmmaking.

For young people who are beginning to consider where their interests lie, this book and its companion books in the highly rated Owlkids How to Speak series--Learn to Speak Music: A Guide to Creating, Performing, and Promoting Your Songs, Learn to Speak Fashion: A Guide to Creating, Showcasing, and Promoting Your Style, and Learn to Speak Dance: A Guide to Creating, Performing & Promoting Your Moves--are recommended for their excellent overview of their subjects, but also for noting the myriad of ancillary job opportunities beyond performance that these enormous industries offer to the arts-minded young person.

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