- It disagreed, using a tone of certainty, with standard definitions of shots in the language of cinema.
- It overemphasized "breaking the rules" to the point that it became vague.
Okay, great. But ... is that book good, or just omnipresent?
I'm glad you asked.
Who is it for?
Joseph V. Mascelli's book has long been a seemingly simple guide to practical cinematography. It focused on an approach breaking down the art into five components:
- Camera Angles
But ... ?
My issue with it has always been that the "Cs" would be better if restated as questions. For example, let's apply some "Ws" to the issue:
- What are the camera angles commonly used in filmmaking?
- What determines if one shot will edit well to another shot in continuity editing?
- What factors determine how a shot can be used in cutting a series of shots?
- Why, practically, is filming close-ups different from more general shooting?
- What factors in shot composition have an impact on the edit and the film?
What does it cover?
The book addresses examples of those Five Cs, using a dollop of theory but mainly demonstrating a practical approach. It gets right into "types of camera angles" and "filming techniques" as, essentially, lists with examples.
How well does it work?
The "this is how we do it" approach seems to lack the balance of an effective "because doing it this other way leads to this problem..." element that seems natural here. In other words, it's a guide, but would be stronger with a series of warning callouts presented in a clearer way.
As in: shoot a Medium Shot this way, don't shoot it this way because X, Y, Z.
There are, in fact, many "don'ts" listed --
"Don't show a player looking off-screen, then cut to what he sees -- and pan the camera around and end up on the player. This will jar the audience, because a person cannot see himself as he looks about! What starts off as a point-of-view shot becomes a straight objective shot, as soon as the player is included."And that's good advice, right? But read it carefully and the tonal issue of the book becomes clear: it suffers very much from the common problem experts experience when they begin to teach. Instead of being an expert on what material a student / learner needs, and then comprehending the best system to deliver that material, the book presents material (good material!) without a real understanding of the best way we will learn that material.
Think of the difference between "Here's the local building code ..." [ drops book on desk ]
"We'll show you how to make a chair first ... and then how those techniques are applied to a shed ... and then the additional skills needed for a barn ... and in volume 2 we'll get to house framing."
Okay ... but should I read it?
That's a tricky question. I think the best way to answer it is to take a close look at the work of the book's author. I mean, if he's a great cinematographer, it will probably be a great book ... right?
So, what did Joseph V. Mascelli shoot? Could I see any of it on Netflix?
Well, you can probably find:
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?
You can see the trailer for that here:
REALLY? HE SHOT THAT?
Yes. And a few other really, really odd films. I mean ... puzzlingly odd.
Read it in sequence with related books and form a bigger picture you can apply to your own practice.