On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director Reviews

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  1. R. Hardy "Rob Hardy" says
    28 of 30 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    How To Make Movies, Good Movies, August 18, 2005
    By 
    R. Hardy “Rob Hardy” (Columbus, Mississippi USA) –
    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)
      
    (REAL NAME)
      

    Shaw said, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” In a strange way, Alexander Mackendrick fits both sides of that dictum. “Sandy” Mackendrick was an accomplished film director. After having worked in advertising, he started making films for the British Government during World War II. After the war he wrote scripts and he began directing. For the Ealing Studios, he made _Whiskey Galore!_, _The Man in the White Suit_, and _The Ladykillers_. Then he came to Hollywood, where he made the wonderfully biting _Sweet Smell of Success_. He could direct fine movies, and he did; but then he slipped into the “can’t do” category, not for any lack of talent, but because he was not much of a deal-maker, and resented having to negotiate details with the studios. He started teaching, becoming dean of the film school at the California Institute of the Arts in 1969. He continued teaching until his death in 1993, but now filmmakers and audiences can get a glimpse of what he taught, in _On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director_ (Faber and Faber). It is a sampling of his lecture handouts, some illustrated by his own sketches, that he delivered to students over the years, and shows the richness of his thinking on the surprising complexities of artistic decisions regarding even simple shoots on tiny films. Those who enjoy movies, but don’t know much about how they are made, will be astonished at how many details of technique the director has to consider before anyone yells “Action!” Those who make movies, or want to, could not do better than to study what Mackendrick has to say.

    Mackendrick emphatically agrees with Truffaut, who in his interview book with Hitchcock wrote, “Whatever is _said_ instead of being _shown_ is lost on the viewer.” (One of Mackendrick’s many slogans: “Movies SHOW… and then TELL.”) Always, regard to the audience is paramount: “Try to tell the story while always remembering that the audience has somewhere better to go and something better to do.” Like a good storyteller, use curiosity, expectation, and suspense to keep them buttonholed. The reader of this book will want to be familiar with certain films to which Mackendrick returns again and again, like _The Third Man_ or _On the Waterfront_, but not all the cinema is fine cinema. In a chapter titled “Plausibility and Willing Suspension of Disbelief,” he discusses the sci-fi film _Them!_ which he says is a “piece of nonsense” but shows solid, simple plot mechanisms, and follows the rule that “we are allowed only one major Incredible Thing” (Giant ants are invading!) while “everything else in the story should actually be logical, even over-logical.” There is rich advice about dealing with actors. A student who asked, “How does a director get an actor to do what he wants?” took Mackendrick off guard, as he had never asked the question in those terms. It’s the wrong question. “You don’t,” came the eventual answer, “You try to get the actor to want what you need.”

    Mackendrick knows you can’t teach the art and inspiration that directors have to have intuitively, though there is a useful chapter titled “A Technique for Having Ideas.” The craft involved in direction, though, has a possibility of being taught, and he has here covered the craft from scriptwriting through editing. I only sit in audiences for films (and the intimidating muster of factors Mackendrick brings up that the director must consider tells me I am in the right spot in front of the screen, not behind the camera), but I have a much better appreciation for what a director does after reading these fine instructions. I also wish that every director now working would simply follow these rules. The principles here, if followed universally, would benefit directors, audiences, and the quality of Hollywood’s output, not to mention its bottom line.

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  2. Nathan Jongewaard says
    8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    One of the very best books on filmmaking, April 11, 2008
    By 
    Nathan Jongewaard (Alameda, CA, USA) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director (Paperback)

    I have read many books on filmmaking and I have a film school degree (from CalArts, as it happens, where Mackendrick once taught). You can’t learn filmmaking from a book or from school, only by making films. Nevertheless, “On Film-making” comes as close as any book I’ve ever found to explaining precisely and beautifully the work of a film director. Whether you want to make films or are simply a film fan, this book will be an immensely rewarding and illuminating experience.

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