The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition

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  1. Erica J. Dymond says
    11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Staggeringly Beautiful, Educational, and Innovative…, November 8, 2010
    Erica J. Dymond (Bethlehem, PA USA) –

    This review is from: The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition (Paperback)
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    I have read (and sometimes skimmed) no less than a twenty “similar” texts. Many proved a worthy teaching tool, but none were genuinely compelling. None inspired me to read every word, explore every thought, consider every theory … until now.

    As someone who teaches film-studies, I am constantly searching for a text which engages my students. It must avoid needless jargon (pointlessly pretentious) but acknowledge that the potential reader already has a love of “film” (actual “film” and not “movies”). Mercado’s text does this with grace.

    I can honestly admit that I had a childlike reaction to this piece. I literally grabbed a colleague’s arm and said, “Look! Requiem for a Dream! Amelie! In Bruges! The Professional!” And, in a state of complete rapture, I cracked open the book to the section on “tracking shots” … and emphatically tapped the pages with giddy glee and exclaimed, “Can you believe it? Let The Right One In!!” I would love to know how the author gained the rights to these works!! But, what matters most is that this text is not a rehash of the same ten films I’ve seen in every book (ever!) These are new, fresh, artistic-but-accessible films. These are works that you (and your students) will recognize (and adore). For me, half my “battle” is won when my students see these film-stills. They actually WANT to learn more about these films (and not just to earn an “A” on my quizzes).

    Furthermore, I admire Mercado’s playful approach (and so will you/your students). I assure you that I know nothing about sports (what-so-ever), but there appears to be a “Madden” approach afoot. A large still appears on the page and the author has circled areas of importance and noted in the margins why it “works.” It is pithy, informative, and perfect for visual learners (like film-studies majors!) Additionally, the black background is ingenuous (why don’t I see this more often?!!) because it makes the colors all the more vibrant. (Truly beautiful!)

    Finally, as the author explains the “Rules” with tremendous finesse, he does likewise with the “Breaking the Rules” segments. These well-supported, well-constructed sections highlight how an individual director broke a cinematic convention to his/her credit. One of my favorites is examining how the pan-shot in Wright’s Hot Fuzz is unconventional … and yet completely genius. Moreover (and mostly for educators), the author doesn’t merely state “here is a film which breaks the rules” and then offers a still. No. Mercado thoroughly explains the how and why. (And educator’s dream!!)

    I am frequently critical of new film texts (see my other reviews for proof). Most are mundane. Nearly all focus on films about which my students could care less (for better or worse, that’s a fact). With that said, this is now my favorite text on the topic (and I WILL be assigning it to my Spring 2011 classes). It is lush, intriguing, endlessly thoughtful, and such an amazing price! You really cannot lose! (And, the films?!! All such fantastic choices!!!! You will not be able to tear yourself from this book!)

    This text is “newbie-friendly” as well as thoroughly entertaining for those who work in this field. Every library needs this book. (And I sincerely thank Mercado for investing the time to create such a gorgeous book! It’s all I’ve been talking about for week!!)

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  2. Dennis A. Amith (kndy) says
    7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Magnificent! From a cineaste and filmmaker revealing the innerworkings of the cinematic experience, November 17, 2010
    Dennis A. Amith (kndy) (California) –

    This review is from: The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition (Paperback)
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    As a person who is passionate about cinema, quite often I love having discussions with other fellow cineaste about various shots. May it be the jumpshots from Jean-luc Godard, the powerful images from a Rossellini film, utilization of symmetry by Rohmer and Varda, extreme long shots of Resnais, the wideangle shot by Pontecorvo, visceral shots of Mallick, Jarmusch’s two shot and just discussing shots that impress us.

    For the budding filmmaker who is passionate about cinema, sometimes when you are working on your own short or independent film, it’s good to have resources out there that show you how others deconstruct cinema, may it be classic books by Bazin, Eisenstein, etc. Great cinema books but one may want something a bit more modern for today’s filmmaker that breaks down shots from these classic films to help us understand.

    Not everyone goes to film school, nor do they have access to cinema aesthete. They are passionate about film, want to learn more about composition and shots. And if you want something easy to understand, didactic and straightforward, I can easily recommend “The Filmmaker’s Eye” by Gustavo Mercado.

    Just reading his book, I had a smile on my face because the way it’s written, it’s user-friendly, it’s not cerebral or made to be academic, it’s like having a cool film teacher and discussing films and breaking it down. Films that are easily accessible and what I love about this book is that it utilizes images from those films to drive a point on composition. Well-written and just pretty much making it easy enough for those just deciding they want to be involved in cinema in some sort of aspect, can easily enjoy, read and learn from.

    Mercado breaks down the books in the following chapters:

    – Finding the Frame
    – Principles of Composition and technical concepts
    – Image System
    – Extreme Close Up
    – Close Up
    – Medium Close Up
    – Medium Shot
    – Medium Long Shot
    – Long Shot
    – Extreme Long Shot
    – Over the Shoulder Shot
    – Establishing Shot
    – Subjective Shot
    – Two Shot
    – Group Shot
    – Canted Shot
    – Emblematic Shot
    – Abstract Shot
    – Macro Shot
    – Zoom Shot
    – Pan Shot
    – Tilt shot
    – Dolly Shot
    – Dolly Zoom Shot
    – Tracking Shot
    – Steadicam Shot
    – Crane Shot
    – Sequence Shot

    You learn about each shot but also learn about aspect ratios, frame axes, the rule of thirds and Hitchcock’s rule.


    I read a lot of cinema books, I watch a lot of cinema and I love talking with friends about the various shots used in a film. “The Filmmaker’s Eye” is wonderful book, especially for the filmmaker and Criterion Collection, KINO, Masters of Cinema, etc. film collectors who watch these arthouse, international or well-revered cinema and just love what the filmmakers and cinematographers have done in capturing the scene with the right shot.

    Early on the book, even Mercado talks about filmmakers getting questions about shots and realizing that the audience have gotten something different than what the director intended. This was very good to read and to point out because people remember shots. For example, Mercado uses the Resnais 1961 film “Last Year at Marienbad” as an example of an extreme long shot, what a wonderful example! Especially for the panned shot using Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces” as an example (just to note, Almodovar uses various shots in this film that are just magnificent), the medium long shot of Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in “Leon the Professional”, visual examples definitely help a book.

    Rarely do you come across cinematography books that uses popular films to showcase examples. Many are in text or using independent video to show examples but Mercado uses large, high color photos to get his points across and this is wonderful. He’s passionate about cinema, various scenes from cinema and shares them with you. Detailed information of films from all over the world from various filmmakers and auteurs.

    But it’s the information that truly matters and Mercado does deliver in explaining the various shots and going into depth about them. Once again, it’s not to academic and easy to follow. As Mercado humbly shares his favorite cinematography-related books with the reader as well, the fact is that he has written a magnificent book and this is probably one of the coolest books I have read in cinematic composition. Highly recommended!

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  3. 5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    An outstanding guide for filmmakers and photographers, November 4, 2010
    M. Erb (Syracuse, NY) –
    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)

    This review is from: The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition (Paperback)
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    The Filmmaker’s Eye is a fabulous book conceived for filmmakers. The concepts can be applied to photography as well.

    This beautifully illustrated book is nearly a complete, self-contained course in cinematic composition. The author explains terminology used in the book to the extent that it is an excellent resource for learning the basics of cinematic and photographic principles. For instance the explanation of depth-of-field explains the concept very well and then continues to give several methods to change depth-of-field.

    The concepts that are presented are accompanied by well-documented examples from highly regarded movies. A thorough examination of the scene reveals the reasons a scene was shot in a particular way (“why it works”) and how shooting it in a different way would affect the final result.

    You are shown many correct and time-honored ways to shoot a scene and then are taught why “breaking the rules” is not only permissible but essential in some cases to help you make your story more compelling. Just some of the shot types that are explored are.. establishing shot, medium shot, zoom shot, pan shot, tilt shot, tracking shot, Steadicam shot, crane shot, sequence shot, and others.

    I cannot imagine how anyone reading this book could not walk away without a greatly increased understanding of cinematic composition. These concepts can be used by rank amateurs or hobbyists who use a basic camcorder as well as aspiring filmmakers. Many of these principles can be used by photographers. This book will help anyone working with Photography, Video or Film to tell more effective stories. It is an enjoyable learning experience and is an exceptionally well-written and engaging book.

    I give this book my highest recommendation.

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