An interview with the author of the best-selling filmmaking book, Master Shots.
Jim Jarmusch was quoted as saying, “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
Christopher Kenworthy was listening. Chris has fueled our inspiration with his first three books called “Master Shots”. Volume 1 gave us “100 Advanced Camera Techniques”. Volume 2 gave us “100 Ways to Creatively Shoot Dialogue Scenes”. Volume 3 entitled, “The Directors Vision”, gave us 100 ways to stylize our movie.
These books act as a compilation of master shots that you can recreate on a small indie film budget. Illustrated with either stills from a film that highlight the use of the shot or with 3D graphic diagrams showing the blocking of the shot.
Included are the technical details on how each shot is set up, the focal length of lenses used, and the emotion that the shot should imprint upon the audience.
Now, Chris is added three new books. But these three new e-books have been brought to life by adding the use of video. The simple but fantastically effective ability to integrate both notes and highlights, these fuses together the best elements of traditional books with the ability to have video to re-enforce the concept.
- Master Shots Action
- Master Shots Suspense
- Master Shots Story
This intelligent filmmakers bible leads you through the setup of each shot. As filmmakers, we’ve all seen shots that we love and want to re-create in our own films. And by putting our own spin on them we want to create our own masterpiece. With these books, Chris has given us the ammunition to be able to do just that.
I spoke to Chris and we chatted about a variety of topics.
Your first books were such a success. When did you get the idea to expand them to this new e-book format?
It began as soon as the original Master Shots came out.
I had people writing to me saying, can you do video clips illustrating these. And initially my reaction was to say no because that’s not the best way to learn. The best way to learn is to visualize these things yourselves. But I found over the years that people just need a little nudge to see the things in action but I never wanted to do a DVD you send out with the books is just too complicated and it seems very old-fashioned now, so e-books that contain the video seemed like way to go we spent two years thinking about device like to shoot the material put it together and I what form of e-book would work. So that’s how we came up with it, just a lot of talking backwards and forwards over two years.
It is a fantastic concept! I’ve used your books in some of my classes that I’ve taught to illustrate the shot technique. The students love them because it gives them a great way to understand what’s happening. They felt more secure picking up a camera and shooting after that.
Yes and there really is no substitute for getting out there with your own camera. Even if it’s just the most basic camera in the world, and walking through that shot and seeing how it works.
But there is this lovely thing about being able to say, “click here”, and you can see the video in action and you say, “ah, ok”. Once you’ve seen a few of them and makes it much easier to decode the rest. So, if you’ve read the e-books then I think and then go to the print books now the 300 shots make a lot more sense than they would have done before. It was also really good way for me to test it out (the concept). I spent five years making the three master shots books and I thought, alright I really get to see whether the shots work the way I said they’d work.
I shot 75 of them and I did learn along the way and I managed to put some of that in the voice overs that go with the video some of the things that I picked up along the way I was drop in there to expand upon what’s in the print books.
Did you start out as a Filmmaker or Writer?
Which came first to you?
I was a writer from way back. Back in 1989 I became a full-time writer and I did that right through until 2000. I still do, I still write, but in 2000 I started making films.
I think when I was writing my last novel was called “Quality of Light“, I was obsessed with light all the way through it. I kept thinking as I was writing, imagine how this would be shot and when the camera would go for if I’m that obsessed by how it would be filmed maybe I should be filming things.
So also combined with the fact that around that time that was when equipment is just becoming that much cheaper and more usable and all that you can think was available. You could you finish a film with your desktop. Couple of years before that, you could not do it very easily. So I thought, well, now I’m trying and then that was that.
Now I’ve heard that you and I have something else in common. You like small crew and as I’d like to call it, you like to be “chief cook and bottle washer” all at the same time?
Yes. Sometimes it is because there’s no option. Budget sometimes is so tight that you end up carrying the camera and doing everything else. I have said on my last project, I said, I’m not carrying a dolly on to set ever again! It is not my job.(laughs)
And then I have had it where it was full crew you know where I don’t have to do anything. I have a driver take it to set and I have the luxury of that. I only had that once. But even and then I did like to choose the lens, instead of the cinematographer. Choosing the lens and I have a lot of input on the camera settings, in the lighting, and so yes I am very hands on. Well, interfering might be the word.
Now I’m intrigued. I mean I’m based out of Bangkok you’re based out in Perth him and I’ve been to Perth a couple times and it’s a beautiful area. Very, very peaceful, very quiet but kind of not where you would think of, for someone who is doing what you’re doing. What is it about Perth that draws you to it?
Well on the positive side I do love the light here. It is so glaringly intense that you have to put up scrims and work very hard not to have everyone squinting, but the right time of day this is incredibly clear light. It is like, imagine Hollywood on a day when the smoke is blowing away? It’s closer to that. I love the landscape, too. We have this flat area down to the ocean and then the small hills. But the truth is I’m only here because I can’t leave my kids here. I have to stay here and I can’t go anywhere else. And so I have to crimp out an existence in a place where there is a very, very small film industry. I mean it’s virtually non-existent but I do spend a lot my time doing real commercial work and got music video here and there and a lot of teaching. And just occasionally I get credit projects that make it worthwhile but when my kids grow up and have energy left I’ll go somewhere where with this industry.
I love the Asia Pacific region because there’s such a uniqueness about it in so many areas. So we’ve done some fantastic shooting in Mongolia and have been lucky enough to be able to travel around quite a bit.
Yeah! That’s a great thing! Well one of the problems at Perth I think, it’s the most remote Western city in the world. Where a long way from anything. On the other hand we’re not far from Singapore and there is a great film industry there so, it has not happened yet but I’ve often come close to just popping over there and shoot something and hopefully that realm.
Okay so let’s go back to the “Master shot series”. You started these, quite a while ago with the books. What was your original inspiration for it?
Well I’ve been reading books about setting up shots, I think it is called “Setting up Your Shots” which was published by Michael Wiese Publications and it was a good book! I liked it. But it was still a step back. It was very theoretical, “if you do this you have to…”, you know. It’s not really clear what you do. Again one small step will have one small effect or one small step will have large effect. It didn’t really tell me that. So now okay. I will decode some of this and watch more films with the sound off and see if I can work out what the cameras doing. And what I found out was vocabulary film that is been around since camera started moving and it just seemed that if I was going to write a book coz I have been thinking about it for a while. But that was the vocabulary I should share. And I picked out my favorite shots and just built and built from there. The idea is to build a site for people , look at this film, remember this moment of the film, this is why it worked. You can use it yourself, and it’s like a different way so you getting something out of it but a different effect.
Whom do you see as the main users of your books? Is it professionals? Is it students?
It’s funny because when I wrote it I was mentioning it could just be film schools and I think a lot of the buyers are film schools. But we have also found out that I got quite a few well-known directors who asked not be named. They take the book on to set with them and I had a couple saying, “really don’t tell anyone but I have the book”, “I gotta check it out every time I need it”, so that’s a beautiful thing to hear. There are some TV shows that I’ve been out to watch and I’ve seen the shots from “Master Shots” out there and I’d been used on certain shots.
But the bulk of the buyers I think are people such myself who probably didn’t go to film school and go okay how do I get the shots working better? I have shot a film and put all my heart and soul into it and it looks rubbish. So what do I do to make it better because I am not that experienced and the first time you get out there you set everything on medium lens, extend making distance from everything, your moves are arbitrary, and then when you realize that just a little bit of thought into it on which lens you to choose, where you put the camera and how you move it, what height is that, you can tell a story to just by a little careful positioning. I think that is a beautiful thing.
Absolutely! So tell me, have you actually used your own books since you’ve created them in your film making?