26 October 2009

On Backgrounds, Books, and Cocktails

I have no idea if this will be of use to anyone, and if it is, wonderful.  If not, well... hell.

My background and training is an odd cocktail.  My training in film consisted of:

* My grandfather renting films he felt I should see from the time I was in kindergarten from the Wayne County Public Library.  I grew up watching silent film and black and white classics, and formed a love of "monster movies," especially Ray Harryhausen flicks, in addition to every conceivable genre.

* Majoring in percussion performance at one school, and then composition at Berklee, scoring student films, and realizing I took a 10-year detour down the wrong (yet somehow right) path. Gave me a sense of the rhythm of a film, an internal metronome, and the best way around licensing music - write my own.

*  My father - a photographer.  I learned the important of image, and of capturing a particular moment just so.

*  My mother - an English teacher.  I learned the evils of double negatives, and a love of mythology through watching Clash of the Titans with her (Harryhausen again!)

* Comic books.

* Lots and lots of reading.

* And most importantly - experiencing life.

When I made the conscious effort to switch over to film from music, I took it upon myself to start an intensive self-education, reading everything I could get my hands on, rewatching classics (thank you Netflix), and developing my skills.

What I want to do here is make a very, very short list of the books that have helped me along my way.  If I went into the films that inspired me, I'd have to write a book (though I may occasionally do an essay on one of them from time to time).

The "how to" film book industry must make a killing on some of the useless titles out there.  There are literally countless "make a film for ten grand" books out there.  Most are complete crap.

Here are the ones I consult regularly that aren't crap.

* Hitchcock/Truffaut - One of the greatest filmmakers of all time interviews one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.  Need I say more?

* Stephen King's On Writing.  Simply put, the finest book on writing out there.  His story is inspirational, and his honesty about his work is refreshing.  No bullshit, and I appreciate it.  Bottom line - pick a situation, find your characters, and write.

* Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.  Another writing book, warmly written, with the sage advice of the "one inch frame."

* David Mamet's On Directing Film - Based on a series of classes Mamet taught at Columbia, he brings his multi-discipline approach, enforcing that the story must be told through the cut.

* Sidney Lumet's Making Movies - Next to Hitchcock/Truffaut, my favorite book on film, by one of the few remaining American masters of film.  Lumet's love of the medium is infectious, and I challenge anyone down on themselves and their prospects to not find themselves becoming more hopeful after being engrossed in Lumet's passion.

* Will Eisner's Comics & Sequential Art - Considered the bible of comic book storytelling, Eisner's genius can be transferred to film, as indeed, the book is about the two things comics and film have in common - visual storytelling.

That's pretty much it.  There was my occasional dalliance with the likes of Messrs. McKee and Truby, but they encouraged an over-analytical approach to something that all of us are able to in one way or another - tell a damn story.

Because no matter what - story (not to be confused with plot) is all that matters.


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