Filmmaker training, online?
April 17, 2008 10:59 PM   Subscribe

Suggest online or DVD resources for a new filmmaker to learn about lenses, film formats, shot composition, camera moves, dialogue staging, and other aspects of cinematography & directing?

I'd like to get good at directing film, and learning how to do this using books seems old-fashioned.

I want so see examples of shots using different lenses, film formats, compositions, camera moves, camera angles, etc. I've read Film Directing Shot-by-Shot, which is pretty good, but I think that seeing this stuff as a moving visual would be even better.

Is there a website with video tutorials? Or a DVD course somewhere out there?
Other resources I should think about? And I'm open to more book suggestions, too.

Thanks in advance!
posted by pseudostrabismus to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It's not a tutorial, but have you seen Visions of Light? It's a documentary about cinematography.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 2:21 AM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Under the "more suggestions" category, and I'm sure it's nothing you haven't thought of: listen to the great commentary tracks for great movies. For example, Citizen Kane has separate commentaries by both Roger Ebert and Peter Bogdanovich. The Godfather trilogy commentaries by Coppola are fantastic. I could listen to him all day. The Conversation, also by Coppola has a fantastic commentary wherein he discusses the symbolism behind many elements: the nearly-transparent raincoat, the building outside Hackman's window being torn down. The mechanical movement of many of the shots. Listening to that commentary years ago opened my eyes to how I watched any other movie after that.

Also, Hearts of Darkness, a Fimmaker's Apocalypse, although more concerned with the drama of making Apocalypse Now, does show a lot about the decisions and process of making a great film.

I like Copolla, can you guess? I think one of the reasons is that he is such a transparent and forth-coming person. He doesn't seem to feel the need to keep any secrets; he comes across as an honest and self-aware individual, and he excited about helping young filmmakers.

In addition to the book you mentioned, consider the numerous books dissecting the works of great directors.

(Not a filmmaker, just a film lover.)
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:58 AM on April 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I learned a lot from watching the Spike Lee's commentary on 25th Hour (a great, great movie in my opinion). He talks quite a bit about the cinematography in the movie.

Not sure if you are interested in documentary, but Albert Maysles's commentary on Gimme Shelter is pretty excellent. You learn a lot about classic film documentary making, sort of a nuts and bolts approach.

I'm not a filmmaker btw. I'm a photographer. But I'm very interested in film.

Another thing that's been helpful to me for understanding what's going on is to understand the equipment involved. Like...if you know what a crane looks like, you start to understand how a crane shot works. And then when you are sitting in the theatre, your like, oh, crane shot. It's not a big mystery.

You might check out classes at the Workshops in Rockport, Maine. They have some basic cinematography workshops, some quite long (like 4 weeks).

My guess is the best thing to do is read a good bit, watch amazing movies, try to figure out what they are doing, and then imitate it. And having a gazillion dollars to blow wouldn't hurt either. It ain't cheap.
posted by sully75 at 6:19 AM on April 18, 2008

Best answer: You'll definitely want to check out the homepage of Tom Schroeppel, the fella who wrote The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video; his site is here.

Make sure to page through his site, as there's lots of info there. His "Other Resources" page is quite useful -- you'll find there, among others, a link to, an unbelievably comprehensive guide to just the sorts of questions you're looking for.

This is one of the areas I teach, and these are the main websites I refer to. I can recommend some other books, too, if you're interested.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:08 AM on April 18, 2008

Best answer: has some very interesting and informative forums. is a good forum for the Panasonic prosumer cameras and you'll absorb a lot of information about cameras in general while there.

If your aim is to become a director, then what you really want is a relationship with a cinematographer. All the reading and studying and everything I did was instantly supplanted by a couple of lengthy conversations I had with the first couple of DPs I worked with. Even just interviewing DPs for the position taught me so much.

I'd suggest you try shooting a short, and getting a DP to work with you. Try shooting on HD with a camera that can be fitted with 35mm lenses, try recruiting some actors to work with, try experimenting and figuring out what works for you and your eye. Really, there's no better lesson than doing. And there's nothing like working with a great editor, as well. You should be able to find people willing to work for free, especially if your ideas are interesting and intriguing and they're looking to build their resumes.

In the end, as the director it's important to know what you want but not necessarily how to get it. That's what everyone else around you is for. Soderbergh and Rodriguez disagree, though.
posted by incessant at 9:21 AM on April 18, 2008

Best answer: Hollywood Camera Work has a series of excellent DVDs that are exactly what you're looking for. A bit pricey, but still much cheaper than one-on-one training with a real DP.
posted by melorama at 9:51 AM on April 18, 2008

Best answer: Even if you can just get out of the house a couple weekends in a row with a cheap digital still camera, you can take what you see in Film Directing Shot-By-Shot and figure out how you'd implement it in real life. The experience of going out and trying it in the wild will teach you a lot.

The first editing class I took in school had us go home and shoot sets of stills that illustrated long shots, close-ups, extreme close-ups, different angles, etc. We'd throw them on a timeline in Final Cut and figure out how to string together a story. Once we had that down, we moved on to actual footage, cutting to a script, etc.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:10 PM on April 18, 2008

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