|If you are a filmmaker you should have this book...
When I first agreed to review this book I figured that it would be a couple of hundred pages recycling what many other books have already covered and take a couple of evenings. Boy was I surprised! The book is substantial in size, weighing in at a little over 500 pages and two and a half pounds.
In NONLINEAR EDITING: STORYTELLING, AESTHETICS, & CRAFT author Bryce Button has compiled an encyclopedic look at the role of the editor that belongs on the shelf of every filmmaker, not just editors. In fact, this book might be better titled Filmmaking from the Editors Seat since it deals with narrative, creative, technical, and personal issues way beyond making edits work. It has something for everyone who is or wants to be a filmmaker. In addition to the authors lucid text, there are a number of practical exercises, interviews, internet URLS, and book lists for further readings.
The 13 chapters are divided into 4 sections: Preparing for the editing process, understanding story and its importance, technical and aesthetic principles and procedures, and dealing with the job (and clients).
The first section starts off with a chapter about developing yourself to become a filmmaker. It includes ways to inspire and develop your creativity and understand the power of imagery, pace and rhythm as well as the job expectations and opportunities available to editors. The chapter concludes with lists of the types of tools available to editors to help them in their work.
The second chapter gets into preparing for and starting the edit process. It includes a good overview of the need and ways to organize before starting and how to get started. Questions to ask are listed and their relevance explained, and there are also good tips on making the workflow pleasant and efficient. It's hard not to like a chapter that includes a section titled UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF THE NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.
Chapter 3 offers an good introduction to many concepts of filmmaking that are important in editing, from the written script through directing, basic principles of shots and lighting, and understanding the physical performance of the actors. The chapter also takes a quick look at the history and development of editing and includes thumbnail encapsulations of major theories. Film school students should recognize much of this chapter and those who worked their way up the ranks in the real world will get a taste of film school.
Chapter 4 is brief but valuable, emphasizing fundamental story themes and the role of the editor as storyteller. If you've heard of Joseph Campbell but don't know what he contributed to understanding narrative archetypes here's your chance to learn. Also discussed are the nine basic story lines.
If you're wondering why Chapter 4 is in this book and not just in one about screenwriting, Chapter 5 makes clear how an editor can be instrumental in overcoming plot and character problems in a film. The editor IS a storyteller as this chapter demonstrates.
Chapter 6 starts the how-to portion of the bookhow to make connections between shots and sequences to create meaning for the viewer. This is where the hands-on editing lessons start. Having absorbed the preparatory conceptual foundations of the previous chapters, everything starts coming together as the author examines many rules and guidelines for successful editing. This means more theory, but now it is applied in practical ways. It is also refreshing to find a text that appreciates the role of comic books in the education of a filmmaker.
Chapter 7 moves back into the realm of the cinematographer to help the reader understand the aesthetic (and technical) aspects of image design and manipulation. This chapter on the basics of color and composition is no substitute for formal training in image design, but it does provide an excellent introduction to the subject and indicates how important it is to storytelling in a visual medium. It also does a good job preparing the reader for the next chapter.
Chapter 8 is about compositing, from simple titles and picture-in-picture boxes superimposed over video to blue- and green-screen keying, motion graphics and transfer modes. Several helpful color pages are also inserted in this section, which demonstrate more clearly various design principles and other aspects of editing. It is a fact of life that editors today are being called on more and more to create animations and graphics, previously the domain of animators and designers, and this chapter will help editors understand the opportunities and challenges of these previously specialized areas.
Chapter 9 completes the hands-on section of the book with some very specific and helpful tips on editing and sweetening audio and preparing it for use by others. There is much more to editing audio than setting levels and adding some EQ, and even experienced editors will discover new and useful information in this chapter. Audio is one of the most under appreciated aspects of filmmaking and this chapter goes a long way to help understand how to make it work better for you. Of particular interest in this chapter is a useful glossary of audio terms used in audio post-production.
Having gotten this far, beginners will have a good understanding of basic theoretical and practical aspects of editing. Editing as a career, however, involves more than just knowing how edits work. There are also the business aspects of finding work and making sure that the checks clear the bank. Should you be a freelancer or look for a staff position? The next three chapters give you guidance on how to choose the right path for you, how to get started (even listing internet URLS that help job seekers), and once you've started how to keep both your sanity AND your clients. Yes, it really is possible! There are also a number of suggestions on how to keep advancing your knowledge of both the business and the craft of editing.
If no other chapter makes this book well worth its cost, Chapter 13, USEFUL LISTS, will. People who like checklists will love this chapter. It condenses extensive practical, hands-on experience and knowledge into bite-sized chunks that act as both efficient tutorial and refresher. Lists include GENERAL EDITING RULES, PREPARING FOR POST, a JOB FLOW SHEET, a COMPOSITING WORKSHEET, an explanation of 3:2 pulldown, INTERNET CONSIDERATIONS, and BOOK REFERENCES. Although maintaining platform and application neutrality through the book, this chapter also provides lists of tips for working efficiently with the Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro, and Media 100, arguably the three most common professional editing applications.
The final chapter lists the contents of the CD that comes with the book. The CD contains a wide variety of useful items including: files for the exercises in several chapters, demo software, shareware, media files, and useful documents (including a basic budgeting spreadsheet, Photoshop templates for PAL and NTSC title and action safe areas, and even a copy of POETICS, Aristotles seminal work on narrative.) There are many applications and files that work on Windows and Palm OS-based PDAs, but most are for Mac OS9 or OSX.
If you get the impression that this is a comprehensive book, you are correct. Every aspect of editing is touched upon, creating a breadth of knowledge that is rare in filmmaking books. But it is not a perfect book. There are many good interviews sprinkled throughout the book but their layout is unconventional: rather than having an interview set as one long section it is interspersed with the chapter text: the interview is on one page, the chapter text on the other. This can be confusing at first, but you should get used to it after a while. The number of typos suggests that the proofreaders didn't read sections of the book, especially at the beginning. Many are subtle, but there are a couple that are glaring, and occasional words appear to be left over from previous versions after a sentence was rewritten. Computerized grammar and spell checkers should have spotted many of these.
Most terms are explained adequately, but many are not. A glossary at the end of the book would be a welcome addition to the next edition of the book.
Some of the authors suggestions are a little beyond the scope of most editors, such as his suggestion to learn how to create fonts. Understanding typography is useful for selecting fonts for titles, but designing fonts is way beyond the call of duty for editors. Most full time graphic designers don't even design fonts.
It is very apparent that Button Bryce is an experienced, knowledgeable filmmaker with a passion not only for learning, but also sharing his hard-earned knowledge with others in a way that is both pleasant and rewarding. If you are serious about improving your knowledge and skills as a filmmaker, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of this book and keep it handy.
I give it 4.9 cows and a strong buy recommendation.
Although the book encompasses a tremendously broad range of subjects it is at the expense of depth of coverage. Many times while reading the book I felt like I was reading the abbreviated Monarch Notes version of great literature: you get the basic story line but not a full understanding of or appreciation for the original material. In the authors defense, many separate books have been written on the various subjects and he generously lists many so that you can find them elsewhere. Furthermore, he repeatedly reminds the reader that many ideas are presented in a summary form so that you get a basic understanding of them and hopefully are inspired enough to find and read the original texts.
Overall the text is clear, concise, and conversational, but occasionally it gets rather dry, especially when covering academic editing theories in Chapters 3 and 6. I doubt many readers will want to rush out and read up on Semiotics or Benjamin Whorfs Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis after these chapters, but at least you will get an idea of what to expect from film school. Rather than try to explain these theories, it might be better just to mention that they exist and where to find the appropriate texts.