I read a lot of filmmaking books for this site. While I love the geeky, detail-oriented books, I’m always also on the lookout for a well-rounded filmmaking book that provides a useful overview of all aspects of filmmaking. In Barry Andersson’s DSLR Filmmaker’s Handbook, I have found just such a book.
While the title is not inaccurate — the book does indeed orient toward making films using DSLRs, or Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras — it would actually be of great value to any beginning filmmaker, regardless of what camera they plan to use.
That’s because Andersson and his Wiley editors have done a great job explaining and illustrating the basics of filmmaking: topics like camera stabilization, camera motion, lighting, sound and data management.
The section on camera settings is very good, and contains information on calibrating the color on your camera which I have not seen elsewhere. As someone who is constantly updating lens advice, I have to acknowledge that the info in this book is super-solid and better-organized than I’ve ever managed to do.
The emphasis is definitely on Canon DSLRs over those by Nikon or Sony or other companies. While you might expect this to be a drawback, I actually see it as a plus. Canon is the most popular brand (at time of writing) for DSLR filmmakers. By not bringing in other cameras, the book is able to stay focussed. And 98% (figuratively) of the information is camera-agnostic anyway.
Likewise, the book explains audio syncing for Final Cut X and Premiere Pro, not Avid MediaComposer. And it has a basic description of how to upload to YouTube and Facebook, not to Vimeo.
What I would like to see in the next edition
In a rare omission, the book explains the difference between 29.97 frame rate and 30fps — but not 23.976 and 24fps. Knowing your frame rate input and output and how that’s going to work through the whole production and post-production workflow is one of the critical pieces of information for a filmmaker (or at least the people working for the filmmaker) to know. It’s also a common trap I’ve seen mess people up. It’s a little technical, therefore difficult to explain, but the short version is that if you shoot everything 23.976 (and check your camera’s manual, because it may say 24p on the display when it is actually 23.976), then there are established workflows to go from there to theatrical release or home video or television. I hope this gets clarified in future editions.
Beyond that, I only wish for more content. The book does a great job of breaking down the lens and camera-buying/renting decision by cost, and I would love to see the same approach with lighting and sound equipment. I understand when something is in print, you don’t want to put actual numbers on it which will become quickly outdated. But some general guidelines on how to put together packages for different budget levels and different kinds of shoots would be equally useful in these categories.
This book earns my highest recommendation. It is easy-to-read, concise, clear and accurate. New-to-moderately experienced filmmakers will find it very useful, especially those who are into being hands-on with as many aspects of film production as possible. It works well as both a textbook and as a reference (I spot-checked the index). For any particular subject, with the possible exception of DSLRs, there are other resources that can provide greater depth and nuance. But as a total-package book on filmmaking, this is truly one of the best I’ve seen.