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Product Reviews
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Hollywood Camera Work is advertised as a master course in high-end blocking and staging. If you've never heard of blocking and staging that may explain why you find your attempts at filmmaking look amateurish next to what you see on the screen at the multiplex. Along with bad sound, lighting, and acting, poor placement of the actors and camera are the biggest mistakes for beginning filmmakers. It's the difference between films that look like bad home movies and films that tell an exciting, emotional story.

Per Holmes, the creator of the Hollywood Camera Work DVDs, was a both a successful music producer and music video director. He was puzzled that there wasn't a comprehensive reference on blocking and staging techniques and spent five years creating one of his own. Luckily he decided to share his work and HCW is the result of that effort.

Hollywood Camera Work The set consists of six DVDs comprising nine hours of instruction. The images are almost entirely of simple 3D models of actors and cameras illustrating the concepts. First with an overview shot of the set to show the staging followed by a view through the camera to see the effect. Excellent narration and titles accompany the images so everything is clearly explained. Nine hours sounds like a long time but there's a lot covered in this set and the pace is actually pretty fast so be prepared to pause and review often.

Hollywood Camera Work
The first two DVDs start with the basic fixed camera setups. The next two DVDs get into advanced setups using dollies and cranes. Finally the last two DVDs put it all together and show how to stage complete scenes starting with the script, followed by staging diagrams, then a look at each setup, and finally showing the entire scene as it looks when cut together. Fortunately HCW assumes you know almost nothing about blocking, composition and how cameras work so the lessons are just as useful for a serious beginner as for an experienced filmmaker.

My criticisms? There's a lot to cover so be prepared to spend a day or two on each DVD or you may feel overwhelmed. At $399 the set is not cheap (about the cost of one class at a film school). I would like to see a printed manual included with some explanation and copies of the scripts and diagrams, but they can be downloaded from the web site. It would also be nice if the set got into color and lighting and how they play into composition.

A few lapses aside Hollywood Camera Work is a good learning resource for very serious filmmakers. It does a good job of covering one thing very completely. Highly recommended only if you can squeeze it into your budget and are serious about getting into this level of detail. (Note that the educational discount previously offered from this site is no longer available which made the cost of the course much more reasonable. Check with the publisher to find out if this product is still available.)

Recommended

Hot Moves - The Science Of Awesome is an interesting DVD set that disects some of the most spectacular camera moves that you've seen in big effects movies.

Per Holmes, the creator of the Hot Moves DVD, is adding to his set of filmmaker learning tools. His first product was Hollywood Camera Work which teaches how to block and stage scenes for movies using computer generated 3D visuals. Hot Moves is both a sequel to Hollywood Camera Work in that it extends what is taught in that product, as well as a stand-alone course in creating stunning action scenes.

The product consists of one DVD totaling almost two hours of instruction. Each lesson consistes of overview shots showing camera placement and movement followed by the view through the camera to see the effect. Explanations and titles accompany the lessons so everything is pretty easy to understand. Two hours may sound like a long time but a lot is covered in the DVD.

After an introduction there is a quick recap of the important concepts you need to know from the original Hollywood Camera Work set so you won't be lost in terminology. Then you are taken through the concepts of parallax, pivots, keyframes, grid theory, stacked moves, angles on a path, rolls and other techniques to create a sense of awe and disorientation in any viewer. The price is reasonable for how much material is presented. The illustrations are all very clear and repeated enough times that you will completely understand them. Beyond simply learning a set of techniques, no matter how extensive, what you will really get from this DVD is a new mind set of looking for more effective ways to film scenes for emotional impact.

My criticisms? Most of the computer generated scenes feel like they are rendered in "draft" quality. That doesn't keep you from learning but I did find it a bit distracting to have leaf shadows flickering on and off as the camera dropped down on a resting subject. Because we are used to such slick productions in the movie theater it would be nice if the quality of the renderings in this set was up to the same standard. You will also soon realize, and it is pointed out in the narration, that many of the effects will require booms and dollies as well as computer generated effects that are far beyond the budgets of most indie filmmakers.

My few criticisms aside Hot Moves is an good learning tool and might open your mind to new possibilities in filmmaking. (Note that the educational discount previously offered from this site is no longer available which made the cost of the course much more reasonable. Check with the publisher to find out if this product is still available.)

Recommended

Visual Effects for Directors review

A Good Overview Of Directing Visual Effects

If you are a director or DP you probably don't spend a lot of time wondering if the scene you are shooting is about to become a post-production nightmare.

But you should.

More and more today's films are depending on visual effects to raise the production values bar and still meet budget constraints. But many beginning directors and DPs don't really understand digital visual effects and don't know that a little bit of knowledge can make the difference between an easy post-production fix and a complete disaster.

After the actors are gone to other projects and the sets are broken down is no time to realize the camera angle has made what seemed like a simple shot a complete post-production nightmare.

This DVD is a good introduction to some of the issues you may have in post production with visual effects.

Per Holmes, Grammy-winning music producer, music-video director and creator of the Hollywood Camera Works Master Course in High-End Blocking and Staging, has created this new over-view on how visual effects are done and what a director needs to do to make sure they will work in the final edit.

Beyond that this course shows you how some of the effects you would like to include in your film might be done on a budget that many high-end indie filmmakers might be able to afford.

What's in the Visual Effects for Directors Course?

What you get is a box of seven DVDs with more than 11 hours of detailed, clearly explained videos on how many types of visual effects are actually accomplished.

Many complex concepts are explained in simple to understand visuals with clear narration. The course shows places where you can go wrong and simple changes that will make a scene work, both for best storytelling, and to facilitate post-production.

My Take on Visual Effects for Directors

I watched the entire 11+ hour set in two sittings. The presentation of every concept is well paced, clearly illustrated and nicely narrated. Even some very difficult to grasp concepts, such as various compositing methods, are surprising easy to understand.

A major problem with a course of this type is trying to balance theory with details about the practical tools you need to use. Because products change and new products appear constantly this type of course could quickly become outdated if it was too closely tied to particular brands and versions of the tools.

Although Visual Effects for Directors necessarily uses specific software and hardware to illustrate concepts, it sticks to theory in the explanations so newer or different brands of tools should probably work as well.

The course strikes a pretty good balance between how particular tools work and the underlying theory that most tools rely on.

While it's possible that a new piece of software sporting some as-yet unrevealed technology could change all the rules it is unlikely the material in this course will be completely outdated. All of the concepts in this course are very basic to how digital effects have been done for a number of years.

This is a very good launching pad for getting into visual effects.

Any serious student or fan of SciFi, special effects or modern movie making would probably enjoy this product. Only the high cost is going to prevent a very wide audience from experiencing it.

For the intended audience of Visual Effects for Directors the cost may seem reasonable compared to the time they will save over trying to learn these concepts and techniques any other way.

Summary

It is important to note that Visual Effects for Directors doesn't teach you how to do visual effects. It just presents the complex theory behind making digital effects work.

Any very serious director or DP should consider this product. It will also be of some interest to beginning 3D artists and post-production specialists, but may seem too elimentary.

If you can afford it and have a need to start learning the basic theory of visual effects then I can recommend you consider this product.

The Hollywood Camera Work site has a generous selection of clips and images from the course so you can decide if this course is right for you before you buy. (Note that the educational discount previously offered from this site is no longer available which made the cost of the course much more reasonable. Check with the publisher to find out if this product is still available.)

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Recommended Finding an Entertainment Lawyer
Most entertainment lawyers are located in Hollywood or New York but options closer to home are probably available. Note that I do not have direct experience with any of these law firms or individuals and will not accept any liability for damages resulting from the use of their services. You will need to do your own research to see if they can be of value to you.

Lawyers.Com offers an excellent way to search for entertainment lawyers in your local area. Enter the type of lawyer and the city/state where you live and you will get a list of attorneys to contact in your area. You should always interview the lawyer and get and check references before you hire them.

Mark Litwak offers many interesting articles on various aspects of entertainment law on his site.

Gordon P. Firemark in Los Angeles offers an entertainment law newletter you can subscribe to.

Heraty Law out of New York claims to work with small businesses and has a selection of articles on entertainment law on the web site. From their links page they look like they have a sense of humor.

Harris Tulchin is an entertainment attorney who offers to answer entertainment law questions by email. Mr. Tulchin is also one of the co-authors of The Independent Film Producer's Survival Guide which is probably the best source of answers to how-to business questions regarding independent filmmaking, and entertainment law in particular.

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Get Dov S-S Simens\' Film School on DVDs at a substantial discount only through this link
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The Filmmaker's Basic Library has all the top-rated filmmaking resources.

 

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