"FilmCraft: Editing" and "FilmCraft: Cinematography" Book Reviews

Written by Robert Gold

Published by Focal Press

FilmCraft: Editing
Written by Justin Chang
2011, 191 pages, Reference
Book released on November 17th, 2011

FilmCraft: Cinematography
Written by Mike Goodridge & Tim Grierson
2011, 192 pages, Reference
Book released on November 17th, 2011


FilmCraft is a new series from Focal Press that deconstructs the art of cinema by studying it from the inside. Each volume in the collection focuses on a different aspect of film production by gathering interviews with master craftsmen, who are able to relay a lifetime of experience in a series of intimate and informal conversations. The first two installments, Editing (Justin Chang) and Cinematography (Mike Goodridge and Tim Grierson), set a high bar for future volumes and are easily recommended sources of information and understanding.

Both of these books offer insight into the inspirations behind some of the most iconic images from the cinematic world over the past sixty years. The series provides a global perspective since the interviews are not strictly limited to American filmmakers. Many discussions include how the subjects are directly affected by advances in technology, including both non-linear editing and Hi-Def photography, as traditional 35mm film is steadily phased out.

FilmCraft: Editing and FilmCraft: Cinematography are oversized paperback books filled with rich and colorful photographic examples of the works being described. The layout maximizes the space and offers sidebar information relating to a specific movie or precise moment in a film to illustrate a point. Upon first glance each volume could be mistaken for a coffee table book were it not for the wealth of technical information found inside.

Filmmaking is a collaborative effort and there are countless anecdotes filled with information for students of film history within each installment. Casual readers will simply need to decide which topic is most appealing and pick either Cinematography or Editing (each book is content specific). Some highlights between the two books include editor Joel Cox (Unforgiven) as he reflects on three decades of working with Clint Eastwood, while Michael Kahn discusses editing films for Steven Spielberg including Raiders of the Lost Ark. Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky shares tales from The Empire Strikes Back and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and of several pictures he made with director David Cronenberg (Dead Ringers).

A very nice addition to the series comes in the form of the “Legacy” section (found in each volume) that devotes attention to many of the leaders of the industry who have since passed away, and their inclusion within these pages provides an opportunity to respect their contributions as well as gain an understanding of how influential their work has been to the film community. Highlights include the cinematography of Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes, The African Queen) and the editing of Sally Menke (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown).

In film school I learned you can’t really teach editing—it is more an organic process that comes from instinct. Each cut cannot be arbitrarily assigned or randomly placed, but rather must be felt. There is an emotional attachment that comes from the rhythm of a scene that keeps audiences focused to a point where they no longer notice the edits as they happen. The power of editing creates the pulse of the film and poor editing interrupts the flow of the narrative, reminding audiences that they are merely watching a movie.

Legendary editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The Godfather) offers his own philosophy on when you should cut in his own book In the Blink of an Eye, and the key comes down to a list of elements that he calls the “rule of six”. The finer points are reprinted in Editing and the top three criteria include the mandate that edits must (1) be true to the emotion of the moment, (2) advance the story, and (3) occur at the right moment rhythmically. He goes on to share his thoughts on the transition from traditional linear editing of film by hand and the advances into digital non-linear editing by computer.

'Movies are made in the editing room' is an old notion that couldn’t be more true. It is through the craft of the editor that strong performances are allowed to shine while lesser material is elevated, salvaged or completely jettisoned. Some iconic moments happen through “happy accidents.” Anne Coates confides that a jarring edit in Lawrence of Arabia is the direct result of simply not having time before a rough screening to put in a dissolve from one scene to the next as originally intended (Editing, Chapter 2). The power of the transition as a straight cut is stunning and she admits that today’s time-saving non-linear editing systems would have likely prevented such an occurrence.

Cinematography, in essence, is painting with light. The ability to convey a tone or attitude with the use of color or the placement of shadows is a feat that is not easily accomplished. The amount of information conveyed through lighting is limited only to the artist’s imagination. Christopher Doyle stresses the importance of the bond between a director and cinematographer and cites a favorite question by frequent collaborator Wong Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love) as encouragement to push beyond self-limitation: “Is that all you can do, Chris?” (Cinematography, Chapter 2). He goes on to explain the motivation behind the color palette selected for films like Chungking Express and Hero, deliberately holding back the introduction of a specific color until the story reaches a certain emotional level.

Michael Ballhaus shares tales from creating the first 360-degree tracking shot for Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Martha (Cinematography, Chapter 3) and the inherent challenge of hiding lights during the move. He also discusses the amount of research and planning that preceded filming Bram Stoker’s Dracula with special attention to early 20th century camera and lighting techniques. His work with director Martin Scorsese on films like Goodfellas challenged him to push how much information could be conveyed about a character with minimal dialogue, within a single elaborate camera move during an extended take.

Editing and Cinematography are both highly recommended reading for anyone who enjoys movies and has an interest in learning more about the process. There is nothing here that feels like a textbook, but the insight provided within can be held up against any film school lecture and benefits from offering the views of more than a dozen teachers. Take my advice and pick up these books immediately.



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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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