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On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director Paperback – August 11, 2005
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About the Author
Alexander Mackendrick directed several films, including The Man in the White Suit, which earned him an Oscar Nomination for Screenwriting. He died in 1993.
Paul Cronin is the editor of Herzog on Herzog.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Mackendrick is one of an elite group of filmmakers who excelled in both screenwriting and directing. His insights are profound. His "writer's wall" quotes are equal to the entire content of many other books on screenwriting.
Mackendrick is basically the bridge between classical and modern cinematic writing. He emphasises that what is going to happen NEXT, as opposed to what is happening NOW, is the core of good storytelling. He also teaches that the preparatory period before a significant event AND the after effects of that event are equally or more dramatically significant than the actual event itself (as demonstrated by a movie like Reservoir Dogs). Mackendrick's book is one of the few which covers such advanced concepts as negative action, activity versus action, and plot density. The only area I don't agree with him is his dislike of flashbacks (although he has valid reasons).
I judge a book by how many notes I take when reading it. I took a lot of notes when reading this one. Now go and buy it!
A couple of low-star reviews call this "dry" and to me, it is not -- it is passionate and written with conviction. But it is very nuts and bolts, drilling down into the elements of film storytelling in a way unlike any other text I've ever read. So yes, as another low-star review said, it is "didactic" -- trying to teach you something. Chances are you, like everyone else without Mackendrick's breadth and depth of experience, have a lot to learn. I know I did, and still do. But this book closed a LOT of loops for me. BUY IT.