“You have to know the rules in order to break them.”
This oft-repeated cliché might be considered irksome if not for the fact that most everyone actually agrees with the sentiment. For first time filmmakers who understandably feel overwhelmed with all of the important choices and technical know-how that goes into creating even the simplest of short films, Paul Dudbridge’s digestible Shooting Better Movies: The Student Filmmakers’ Guide is a great resource to learning these “rules.”
Dudbridge understands his place as teacher, and rather than attempt to impart some profound wisdom, he instead compiles an easy to reference guide for the neophyte filmmaker. This means a balance of technical information (there is a breakdown of the elements that make up a screenplay as well as detailed information on camera settings: F-stop, ISO, ND Filters) as well as anecdotal wisdom he gleamed after various on-set disasters he vowed never to repeat. This approach ensures his tips are never too removed or academic, but rather he hopes this guide will assist an aspiring artist in gaining the on-set confidence that will allow their vision and instincts to take control in the creation of something great.
With reasonable thoroughness considering its shorter length, some of the technical chapters on camera settings, and on lighting, can be a bit dry and difficult to maintain a grasp on without working directly with the equipment Dudbridge discusses. Dudbridge does his best with making these segments a tad more compelling than a car owner’s manual through use of helpful diagrams and the aforementioned personal anecdotes.
Individual chapters on topics like screenwriting, cinematography, lighting and directing actors are not quite thorough enough to comprise the standalone guide for someone who wants to be a screenwriter, a DP or a gaffer etc. Rather, the strength of this book is that it exists for the indie moviemaker who (whether they like it or not) is going to be wearing most of the hats during production. Shooting Better Movies is for the writer-director-producer-DP who is also teaching their friend doing them a favor how to correctly hold a boom mic.
Most successful filmmakers go through this exciting period at an early stage in their career, and Dudbridge’s guide seeks to keep this time exciting by reducing stress for newcomers. He stresses the importance of preparation and knowing as much as you can going into the shoot, so that you will feel at ease to make the more creative decisions on-set. He gets all of the nitty gritty technical mumbo jumbo out of the way, so in a pinch, when you as a director are a little fuzzy on the exact math of the “crossing the line” rule, it will be Shooting Better Movies that you grab off your shelf. I know I wish I had read this guide before producing my first horror short a few months ago. MM