How to How-to

  By John Veldhoen

Edward Pincus is a documentary filmmaker living in the United States, he studied photography and philosophy at Harvard, and Steven Ascher, also Harvard alumni, taught filmmaking at MIT. Both have worked extensively in the documentary form, and together they have authored “The Filmmaker’s Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age”, which is now available at The Camera Store.

The book is what it says it is, avoiding the glut of self-help that plagues the “how-to” market. The Filmmaker’s Handbook is how to how-to, it is intelligently written throughout, and the examples and selections that Pincus and Ascher make are gracefully chosen; there is brilliance in using a still of Anna Karina in Jean Luc Godard’s Vivre sa Vie to expound on the possible virtue of lens flare. I was pleasantly surprised to see a complex topic like persistence of vision addressed, not to mention so deftly. In fact, the DIY vibe in this book is carried through with such wit and execution, I felt like there is even a Situationist aesthetic, in place of vibe. Filmmaking teeters on the brink of art, but as films get made they get reified (refried) into mush, with all the nutritional content lost. The thought was, once, if people had access to the means of production, if the audience became capable of making their own movies, there would be occasional bursts of genius.

I keep thinking of how Matthew Barney was called by the New York Times, “the most important artist of his generation”, and it makes me consider that however commodifiable, cinema, or video now, is still the place one should turn to make a total work of art. Barney talks in interviews about how he doesn’t read very much, but it always seemed to me he must know a fair amount about artistic stances, like performance art, and site-specific sculpture, since so much of his work seems to involve those positions. Which is maybe my only insight into a book like “The Filmmaker’s Handbook”, and the reason for my cautionary tone. Despite the “nofilmschool” (the name of a popular blog) sensibility of this book, there is still plenty of reason to go to film school, even if it isn’t to study film, exactly. The fact is, people rest on their laurels, and depend on passing and past titles for authority. It is a tough road to hoe, after a while, learning everything under the sun, as every autodidact knows. Pincus and Ascher take a different approach, hybrid, taking what is good, and working constantly with what they’ve been given, and participating in good faith to relay what they know, as what they have learned.

I went for a walk the other night, over the bridge and the river, to a little bookstore on the other bank, next to what was once a repertory movie theatre. The ownership has changed in this shop, and the basement is now filled with odd books that come in seemingly at random, so one has to pick through, in order to find treasures. I happened, on the evening in question, on a book published by Steidl called “Pull my Daisy”. It is a photonovel, of the same film (available online), directed in 1959 by the photographer Robert Frank, and written by poet/novelist Jack Kerouac. This movie is so beautiful to me, and the book, it has been suggested, is a holy object. The film is an apologue of expressionism, it is what I wish I saw when I went to the cinema, like John Cassavetes’ movies feel, or Roberto Rosselini’s. If more people made movies, maybe I’d get to see more good movies that were autonomous expressions of feeling, and desire, and joy, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

“The Filmmaker’s Handbook” is a penultimate aide to that end, it decodes the alphabet soup of codecs, explains how lenses work, how lighting works, and how the studio process works. It helps to know how things work before one goes off and tries to tell a story that has little or nothing to do with the procedures of how things work, so I can recommend this big, dutiful, actually comprehensive book without any reservation. Our video guru Jordan pointed me to it, I should hasten to close saying, he fully backs what the book is, and credit to him, he has actually internalized the contents, and knows it well.

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.