"Genre Filmmaking: A Visual Guide to Shots and Style" Book Review
Written by Danny Draven
2013, 252 pages, Reference
Book released on April 24th, 2013
Genre Filmmaking: A Visual Guide to Shots and Style is a self-proclaimed “visual guide to shots and style” reference guide filled with hundreds of photographs depicting memorable sequences from dozens of films. The book is divided into assorted genres and each section is filled with a large variety of readily identifiable moments in cinema. These shots are broken down by a descriptive title (ex. “The Scary Dolly Zoom”) and paired with three questions: “What does it look like?”, “How is it done?” and “When should I use it?” This is followed by an example from a particular movie that is given a brief synopsis, then identifies a specific scene and cites the work by title, director and release date. The three questions are answered in as few words possible and the limited text gives way to a series of pictures depicting the shot in question.
Films play as moving images that work on an emotional level as a direct result of the combination of actor performance, editing rhythm, composition of frame from one shot to the next and the presentation of music and sound effects (especially when discussing the appearance of the “jump scare”). While there are countless books dedicated to the diverse elements of film-craft, each attempts to address their topics with informed opinions or an analytical deconstruction of a specific element. Thoughtful essays provide insight as to why a particular example was chosen and how it is effective in the finished film. This book appears to be missing everything but the pretty pictures.
The ratio of photographic example to explanatory text discussing the relevance is unbelievably disappointing. The shots are presented without context or a frame of reference for anyone unfamiliar with the movie in question and the limited commentary is shallow at best. While the number of photographs is commendable, the screen caps provided are not the best examples of the shot being discussed, being generally either too dark or too small within the layout to clearly depict the action in question. Content also suffers from the confusing arrangement on the page, since several images are irrelevant to the shot being cited and are presented in varying sizes, which results in an excessive amount of vacant space per page. Much of the information would be better realized through detailed analysis for each image or at the very least the inclusion of a storyboard for the more complex series of shots.
What at first glance would appear to be an awesome addition to any film student’s library is ultimately the single biggest disappointment from the otherwise stellar collection of manuals released by Focal Press. Author Danny Draven has been a filmmaker for decades and knows the material very well, as evidenced by his earlier guide, The Filmmaker’s Book of the Dead. While that book was unbelievably informative and entertaining, Genre Filmmaking is anything but. I appreciate the effort, yet the content is provided in the wrong format. This is all style over substance and is at best a companion piece to a proper textbook or even to a DVD seminar with each segment receiving a thorough study. I understand the concept of a picture being worth a thousand words, but without a sincere analysis the material being celebrated is lost in translation.