Per Holmes – Hollywood Camera Work – The Master Course
There are very few things that can get me up at 5.00am to study and develop new skills but this unique and truly remarkable training resource from Per Holmes is one of them. I wanted to learn how to shoot drama properly in order to raise my directing skills. I knew I really needed to improve my knowledge of camerawork so when I came across this 6 DVD box set at hollywoodcamerawork I thought I’d give it a whizz.
Anyone can point and shoot a camera, but mastering camera work can take years to learn. In this Hollywood Camera Work Master Course, Per Holmes provides you with a fast track way of acquiring key industry camerawork skills. In fact with over nine hours of instruction complete with detailed examples and downloadable back up material, this is a stand alone course that exceeds many college and university film courses.
High end blocking and staging are the devices, camera positions, camera angles and camera moves that a director uses to tell a story through the medium of film. It is quite obvious that a really good knowledge and application of the rules of blocking techniques will greatly enhance your filmmaking.Yet most books, videos and many film schools barely touch the basics. The Master Course is a powerful system of blocking and an unprecedented language of camera work, which may fundamentally change the way you direct. The course was created by director Per Holmes, who spent over half a decade developing an all-inclusive language of high-end feature camera work for personal use, and then realized how much others would benefit from these techniques he shares his knowledge with us in this comprehensive 6 DVD box set. Even for experienced directors, these DVDs are incredibly useful. This is a precise training resource that will help you develop incredible camerawork skills. A lot of the techniques here are fabulous for elevating your camerawork from the “student film” level that you’ll see from a lot of other training books into what is recognizably the same style used on Hollywood films and top level TV shows.
The Master Course is far beyond any current filmmaking program, and is intended for professionals who want to take their blocking skills to the highest level, and those who are crossing over from another discipline, but can be used by filmmakers at any level who are committed to mastering high-end directing. Skilled camera work adds tremendous production value to everything you shoot.
Shooting drama is tough – any experienced director will tell you that it’s more than simply pointing a camera or two at the action to get coverage. A well used camera is a key storytelling device and can be used to create much of the emotion in a scene. It can make an actor appear powerful, alone or afraid, simply by the use of precise composition of the shots, the cuts between them, and the way the camera itself moves.
Camera work is a fundamental skill that directors, editors, cinematographers, scriptwriters and actors all need to know about – as well as, of course, the cameramen. It is, in effect, the skill that defines film-making – the art of creating a moving picture. Really understanding the hows and whys of great camera work is a skill that most videographers don’t possess.
The Master Course comprises of six DVDs lasting a total of nine hours; the course starts from shot sizes and simple framing with static cameras, using moving cameras and ending up taking you through the construction of several complete scenes. With an intelligent and well scripted voice-over explaining how the camerawork is affecting and enhancing the visual story-telling, all the characters on screen are five simple computer mannequins. They are not actors – they can’t walk, they can’t talk, and they can’t gesture, except with their heads. They have zero expressive ability! This is great because (and this is a key point) all the emotion in the scenes comes from the camerawork, not from the actors. Working within these self-imposed limitations, Holmes shows you how to make the same character look threatening, desperate, trustworthy, or suspicious, just by changing the camera angles.
Knowing where to place your cameras is just the start of it. Holmes also shows you how to combine the task of director, editor, set dresser and lighting director into the camerawork. Starting from the script, he shows how to direct the movement of actors and extras in order to bring out the important aspects of the story, how to cut between cameras in order to manipulate the viewer’s attention, and how to dress and light sets to create interesting spaces that photograph well.
Are you ready for a revelation? Storyboarding is an inappropriate tool for filmmaking. Let me quote Per Holmes on this: “Storyboards are basically 2D, every shot is a new shot, and a new camera set-up. You’re thinking sequentially and discretely. Film is about showing a 3D world in 2D, so you have to learn to think in 3D.” Holmes’s innovative approach is to create keyframes. These are the shots that are most important in a scene. You then figure out where to place the cameras to achieve those shots and how to get there through cutting and editing. “It’s about thinking backwards,” he says. “It looks like we get great shots by accident, but it’s all carefully planned.” The result is seamless, flowing camerawork with a high degree of artistry, which works equally well for drama, action, comedy, music video or any other type of film.
The nine hours of training are spread over six DVDs broken into three volumes. In the first volume, Stationary Blocking, the discussion focuses on a non-moving camera and gets the viewer up to speed (or review) on focus, shot selection, framing, the axis line, and looks at the psychology of camera/character placement. Volume 2, The Moving Camera, builds from the first and introduces camera dolly and crane/jib moves. Volume 3 Staging High-End Scenes gives a real world example for the viewer to learn from. You begin with a script (that you can download from the site) and work through the staging and blocking of the scene and actors and then presents the entire scene to see how it all comes together.
While the content in this collection is well put together, the end user must realize that the only way to get the most out of these DVDs is to go out and practice these techniques for themselves. The Hollywood Camera Work website offers links to other companies and individuals who offer low cost alternatives to huge rigs and cranes.
What’s bad about it? Sometimes the material can be a little dull and the single voice of the teacher, whilst pleasant, starts to become a little monotonous, but the quality and sheer information density keeps it from getting too dry. However, this Master Class training is a much more useful educational resource than any book. On a cautionary note one must remember that this is a course on how to direct high production value shots for film or video. This course does not go into discussion on how to direct actors or how to stage and block for reality based programming like talk shows, but it does get you to think about the staging and blocking of actors that will need to be done to get the shots you need. The performances are a little wooden!
I thought that I had a fair idea of at least the basics that Per covers in the first four or five chapters of the DVD, but I learned a massive amount within the first 30 minutes – from terminology to use of space, all explained remarkably clearly. And it just keeps getting better – in particular, the chapters on storyboarding and shot sequence construction are revolutionary and brilliant.