Reading Around the Subject

 In General

reading around the subject

In the days when I was a school teacher, I used to issue course textbooks – especially to my A Level Ethics students – and I’d encourage them to read around the subject and make notes prior to writing essays for me. My motto was “read, learn, mark and inwardly digest!” I encouraged them to use HB pencils and make markings in the margins.

These days the boot is firmly on the other foot.  I now find myself prescribing the same medicine as I seek to carve out a second career in professional videography / independent film making.



My former A level students would all be given a series of textbooks:

1) a traditional, all encompassing syllabus-based textbook  (Libby Ahluwalia’s A Level Religious Studies for OCR);
2) a more zany, readable and enjoyable book (Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy by Noel Stewart);
3) a book on a specific topic (Peter Vardy’s “The Puzzle of Sex”).

On Saturday Amazon delivered three videography books for me to read around the subject round this autumn. Not that I am starting from scratch. By no means. They will be more useful as a refresher course, particularly in the case of the first two. I just love the covers. They speak volumes and I do, in part, judge a book by its cover. The marketing choices of the titles also impact well. All very clever.

Grammar of the Shot by Christopher Bowen and Roy Thompson

This is the essential traditional textbook for the film maker. You can see this from the picture of the spools of super 8 film projected onto a white screen and the word “grammar” in the title. A quick glance at the 6 pages of contents will reveal that it is comprehensive and authoritative. We’re into its third edition.

The book starts with the basics and then goes way beyond. The opening three chapters study the grammar of the shot and composition. Chapter four is devoted to lighting – and not just what you see but how you see it – and the fifth chapter is about shooting for editing. All very apt. The authors then take us into the realms of dynamic shots before providing some helpful insights into general working practices and guidelines,  rounding off the book with some timely advice on rules and rule-breaking.

How to Shoot Video that doesn’t Suck by Steve Stockman

Now that is an eye-catching title, with an even more over-the-top boast above it “Like two years of film school in 248 pages.” Why spend £18K on university tuition fees when you can buy this book for a tenner?

I’ll be honest, the American author successfully breaks the whole process of film making down into pithy statements, guidelines and bite-sized chunks that can be easily consumed and applied in the field. The beauty of the book is that it is easily accessible and very practical compared with Bowen and Thompson.

Color Correction Handbook – Professional Techniques for Video and Cinema by Alexis Van Hurkman

This one is heavy in every respect, with nigh on 650 pages. It will provide a massive challenge for me to read around this subject. It is the Bible for colourists, whose job  is not only to correct colour and exposure issues but to create a particular “look” or grading for the given film or documentary.

This really is high end, Holly and Bollywood stuff. But it asserts that it is for the likes of yours truly – those who want to comprehend the theory behind colour correction and colour grading and develop sound practices. After all the shooting and editing, this is the final process – the icing on the cake.  It ought to complement the online “Inside the Edit” editing course that I have been working hard at for the past 6 months.

So, there you have it. Three different books that will keep me busy over the coming weeks and months as I endeavor to deepen my knowledge and understanding of the craft that I am seeking to perfect. And yes, I will be reading all three books with an HB pencil in my hand and making copious notes to self.

Post script

I cannot post a blog on my website without incorporating a video. This is an education one  that features Peter Baron, who is an accomplished writer of A level Ethics textbooks and 6th form conference speaker. Peter is ably assisted by two of my former students Phoebe and James. The A level topic covered is the ethical theory of Utilitarianism.

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