‘How to Shoot a Motion Picture’ by Ivan Watson


‘How to Shoot a Motion Picture, twelve golden rules for better camerawork.’

I picked this book up in a charity shop, published in 1979 by The Macmillan Press Ltd, ISBN: 0-333-25630-1, Author: Ivan Watson.  This is a great little book that simply sets out twelve golden rules that professional film-makers follow to produce professional looking films that amateur film-makers can follow.  Although this book was written forty years ago for home cine-camera users most of the book is still valuable to the digital camera operator as it mostly covers camera angles, continuity, movement, POV, sequence, camera movement, etc.  Only a small section is out of date, referring specifically to correct use of film choice of cine-cameras and film editing including the synchronization of sound to cine-film.  Not at all relevant to modern day editing but interesting all the same.

I have copied the book’s summing-up page, on the last page of the book, which has done done all the work for me to both highly recommend this book and sum-up it’s contents.

It is a pity that this book is no longer in print, I firmly believe that with only a small amount of work to update it to reference digital technology this book would be on the students required reading list.  This book de-mystifies the expression ‘film-language’ and simply lays out rules to follow in order to be able to make a descent enough film for putting forward for critical assessment or competition.

(Page 119, How to be  a Better-Than-Average Cameraman)

Twelve Golden Rules For Better Camerawork.

  1. Economise on screen-time by shooting only part of the action to represent the whole.
  2. Whenever you introduce anything new, use a re-establishing shot to enable the audience to relate once more to the general scene.
  3. Always start a new scene or change of location with an establishing shot.
  4. when filming action that is broken down into related shots, change the angle and image size every time you stop the camera.
  5. to obtain a three-dimensional effect, shoot, where ever possible, at an angle of about 45 degrees to the subject.
  6. when you re position the camera to break-down continuous action into separate shots, or take alternating over-the-shoulder or point-of-view close-ups opposite players, keep the camera within a 180 degree arc, on one-side of the action line, for each shot in the sequence.
  7. Start the camera before the subject enters the frame and stop it after the subject leaves the frame.
  8. Wherever possible, a panning shot should be proceeded and followed by a static shot.
  9. The foundation of any interior light set-up for close shots should be a key light, a fill-light and a back light.
  10. When you compose a scene try, as far as possible to keep it simple.
  11. In any filming situation where you wish to heighten suspense by expanding screen time, make full use of creation close-ups or cut-in shots.
  12. If you have an artistic or dramatic reason for doing so, ignore all or any of the Golden Rules whenever you please.


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