I've read every one of your columns since you joined "Ask A
Filmmaker", and you've really been an inspiration; if I ever make anything
of myself in this industry I'll definitely owe part of that result to you.
Quick question: I know you're of the school that shooting film is the best,
if not only way to learn the craft, but if you had to pick a few texts that
are helpful to one's apprencticeship what would they be?

All The Best To You ~Akai

I studied still photography so would recommend the series of books by Ansel
Adams, titled The Negative, The Print etc. I don't seem to be able to
derive anything from looking at lighting diagrams in books about lighting -
but that may not be the same for everyone. I would encourage you above all
to take photographs and learn Tai-Chi. Photographs will teach you about
framing and chemistry, and Tai-Chi will teach you how to move in balance -
an essential requirement for hand-held cinematography and operating. Video
cameras are obviously another good tool, but beware the "ease" with which
they make an image.

I would like a source for the basics of film making. Not that I aspire to
be in the business; I just want to understand what is being done to enhance
my viewing pleasure and to be able to make better home movies. Any
suggestions? Thanks.

- Jay

How nice to hear from someone with modest aims! I can't give you a list of books as I am a practicing Cinematographer, not a teacher, but I'm sure you already searched your local library and found the books either too technical or too chatty. I would suggest that a home computer with the ability to import your home movies (like "imovie" on the Mac) and edit them is the best way to learn and understand movie making. Try making a simple scene of say "Dinner at Home" and figure out "eyelines" (how to make it appear that people are talking to each other), and try to shoot it "edited" in the camera. All the basic techniques of editing and sound shifting (track laying) and now available to the amateur, so go ahead and play then next time you watch a movie you'll be more aware of what they did.

My most agonizing problem with cinematography is understanding
completely the scientific and chemical aspects of light and film. As
a videographer I do pretty well, but when it comes to film, I rarely
hit the mark. Would you suggest any particular books, publications,
courses, or exercises that concentrate on these issues? Thanks a

There's several ways to learn about film.
1. Books. For technical matters involving exposure, chemistry and film
there's nothing better than the Ansel Adams series of books for stills
photographers. There's several complex books published on Cinematography
but I couldn't recommend any of them because I tried to read a couple of them
years ago and found them very dull.
2. Courses. The country is littered with courses both long and short: start
with the AFI if you are in LA or NYC is you are in NY. Their websites
probably have lots of links.
3. Take b/w Photographs and develop and print them in a darkroom. This will
teach you everything you need to know. (use a separate exposure meter).
Why? Because you learn about the relationship between exposure and the
print, and about contrast. Colour can come later, and is quite easy to
master once you've sorted the basics out.

What book would you recommend to someone interested in getting into cinematography? Also, I'm not totally sure of all the aspects the job entails, could you shed some light on that from your perspective?
-Jesse Mangold

When I was learning there was "Wheelers Principles of Cinematography" which was/is very dry and technical and most of which would not apply in todays world. (There might be a updated edition?). I think the best route is to learn the art of developing and printing in the stills darkroom because it is equivalent to what goes on in the lab, then enrol in drama school, or an English course and learn about drama. But I only say this because this is what I did and it seemed to work for me. In brief the job entails:

You need to be born with:

  • An innate sense of composition (a bit like "perfect pitch" if you are a musician)
  • A Sense of Humour
  • An elder brother or sister - this makes you tolerant!
You need to Learn (this does NOT mean you have to do a COURSE - but might...)