Exploring Movie Construction & Production: What’s so exciting about movies?
John Reich, Genesee Community College
Pub Date: 2017
ISBN 13: 9781942341468
Publisher: Open SUNY
Conditions of Use
The provides a fairly general introduction into the study of film that would be accessible to community college learners but a bit too simplistic for students taking a film class at a four year college or university. While the book covers some key... read more
The provides a fairly general introduction into the study of film that would be accessible to community college learners but a bit too simplistic for students taking a film class at a four year college or university. While the book covers some key terms in film studies, as well as genres and narrative structure in film, it offers relatively scant historical context and little to no engagement with key figures and movements within film history (i.e. the Lumiere Brothers, Georges Melies, Soviet Montage, French New Wave, Italian Neorealism, etc.). Similarly, film examples used in the book are largely American or Western European. Diverse and important film cultures from places like Japan, India, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe are largely absent, which is problematic. While there is some discussion of film terminology, I found much of this pretty limited (apart from narrative and genre terminology). More emphasis on and analysis of mise-en-scene, editing, cinematography, sound design, and acting would be needed for this to be a useful Intro to Film textbook for undergraduate students. Finally, as far as I could tell, there was no glossary for terms.
The book has adequate accuracy, but relies quite heavily on online sources that are not always backed up by scholarly materials. There are occasional errors (i.e. saying the Musical is not a genre—many film scholars would disagree with that!) in the book but none that are so deeply problematic as to make the book unusable. I think the bigger issues is what is missing in the book in places. This affects the bigger historical accuracy of the picture the author is painting of film history and the evolution of cinema.
The book includes some helpful, embedded videos on Youtube to orient the reader. Some of these, especially a few of the tutorials, are quite useful (I’ve used some of them in my own film classes before). However, the book tries to focus most of its analysis on only three films (there are embedded Youtube videos for them) and I find this strategy, and the film choices, problematic. First, three films cannot remotely reflect the long and diverse history of cinema. None of the films are from the silent era, so that seemingly gets bypassed despite its significance. All of the films feature white casts and are made by straight, white men. Women directors are not represented. People of color are not represented. These selections provide a view of cinema that reinforces problematic inequalities within the industry that in our current #MeToo moment is not an effective teaching strategy in my opinion. I think this would also be fairly off-putting to contemporary, diverse student populations who might be excited in new developments taking place in the film industry (i.e. more women directors making high profile films, films made by and for people of color like the recent Black Panther film, etc) but end up disappointed that the class erases difference via its central three film examples. These are some of the biggest reasons why I would not use an open source book like this in my class.
On the whole, the author writes clearly and concisely with an aim of being accessible to an average reading audience. Some students might find the writing style to be too simplistic and/or repetitive in places.
The book is generally consistent in its terminology and framework, the latter of which is set up in the Introduction.
I did not find the chapters would be easy to break up into segments for reading (and I certainly wouldn’t assign the book to be read in a linear fashion). While the structure might work for some instructors, I found it incompatible with how I typically teach my Intro to Film classes.
The book is broken up into a number of chapters, some of which work better in terms of structure and organization than others. A few of the chapters have a lot of written text with no visual imagery to break it up or illustrate ideas. These would be less accessible and engaging to students. In contrast, the chapters that incorporate more visual images or embedded videos achieved a better structural balance. I still feel like the book is missing some necessary chapters to make it a comprehensive textbook for an Intro to Film class at the undergraduate level.
There were no real problems with the interface, and as mentioned before, an advantage of an open source electronic textbook like this is the ability to include embedded streaming videos to illustrate ideas and information presented in the chapters.
The book has a few noticeable typos and some awkward, choppy sentences but is otherwise decently edited to ensure grammatical accuracy and consistency.
As I mentioned in a previous comment, engagement with cultural diversity is far too limited in this book. The three main films the book revolves around feature white casts and are made by straight, white men. Women directors are not represented. People of color are not represented. These selections provide a view of cinema that reinforces problematic inequalities within the industry that in our current #MeToo moment is not an effective teaching strategy in my opinion. I think this would also be fairly off-putting to contemporary, diverse student populations who might be excited in new developments taking place in the film industry (i.e. more women directors making high profile films, films made by and for people of color like the recent Black Panther film, etc) but end up disappointed that the class erases difference via its central three film examples. These are some of the biggest reasons why I would not use an open source book like this in my class. Similarly, other tangential film examples used in the book are largely American or Western European. Diverse and important film cultures from places like Japan, India, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe are largely absent, which is problematic. Finally, I had problems with the author’s recurring use of hypothetical genre and narrative scenarios involving a fictional “Jack” and “Suzie”. The author consistently refers to these two characters in gender essentializing and heterosexual terms. This erases the possibility for LGBTQ+ identities in cinema and reinforces heterosexuality as an expected dominant status quo. This framework would not be culturally relevant to or supporting of a diverse student population.
So far this is the only available open textbook on film available in the library. It’s not yet up to a standard that would be appropriate to replace the current textbook that I use but I hope the library will get some other open textbooks on film in the future that might be a better fit for me and my students.
The book explains at the start that it is an “aid to anyone who does not have a good background” in film and is most useful in a film appreciation course. While I see why this book is focused on students’ personal interests and reasons for... read more
The book explains at the start that it is an “aid to anyone who does not have a good background” in film and is most useful in a film appreciation course. While I see why this book is focused on students’ personal interests and reasons for watching film, I think that using hypothetical film plots with characters Jack and Suzie – rather than using real film examples – is a misstep. Film appreciation courses seem like an opportunity to introduce students to films major and minor and to invite them into the discipline. That won’t happen with hypothetical examples. Why make up a slapstick plot when you can just summarize one of the great moments from Marx Bros, Chaplin, or something? I am happiest reading about the actual films, like the massively underrated example Detour or the story breakdown of The Front Page, which the author includes as two of the three main examples. I appreciate the “Further Viewing” section as well. I also think the historical notes about the Production Code, Great Depression, and Paramount Decision are all apt, but the film studies vocabulary comes from Merriam-Webster and Urban Dictionary. Why not use accessible definitions from film scholars?
Some of the analysis of the historical periods is a bit simplistic – for example, there were plenty of surprising and challenging female characters in the 1920s, not to mention some more conservative or traditional gender roles later. For more on this topic, see “Cultural Relevance.” I was also struck by some of the generalizations that the author makes, be they the reason people go to the moves (what about experimental film?) or that all comedy is either slapstick or satire, period. I understand that this is a product of trying to make the material accessible for students. That said, these kinds of simplistic distinctions can cause two kinds of problems: first, students might bring in counter-examples with films of their choice, or, second, students will cling to these strict definitions and refuse to entertain more complex or intellectually challenging counter-examples. The second section of the book on Production provides a litany of terms that are mostly defined clearly and properly. (That said, is a sequence a string of scenes? I never heard that before. Counterpoint: I like the author’s definition of continuity editing very much.) The average score is a 3, if this section is a 4 out of 5 and the previous one a 2.
This seems very easy to update in terms of its chronological history of film at the beginning. This is also an example of how the hypothetical film examples (with Jack and Suzie) prevents the book from becoming dated. The film examples the author has chosen have withstood the test of time as “important films.”
The language is clear and easy to understand. If anything, it can be too simple, such that any sophistication or nuance between something like genre gets lost. I particularly admire the discussion of how story is built: this seems particularly useful for aspiring screenwriters (see “Consistency”).
I think this book belongs in a film appreciation class, but the discussion of story and theme makes me wonder if this even better suited to a screenwriting class (or, at least, the first section is). My concern, as I have addressed above, however, would be that future screenwriters should be looking at classic film examples, not hypotheticals. The second section of the book focuses on Production and asks students to imagine themselves as different professionals. I appreciate how, in this unit, terminology like cinematography and mise-en-scene are introduced to the student. That said, while a screenwriter and a filmmaker have complementary skills and work, this attention to "theme" is not sufficiently medium specific for my tastes. It seems more useful for a screenwriter, not a film studies student.
This seems very easily divisible. I can also see professors assigning parts, but not all of, this text. For example, I am intrigued by the section about jobs in film (Production) but would want to use existing film studies scholarship to introduce my students to historical trends using real film examples.
I think the flow is logical, but I think “Construction” here really means Screenwriting, Production meaning Making. This is more than an appreciation textbook: this is for majors who are primarily interested in filmmaking. Otherwise the trajectory is clear and appropriate.
I downloaded it as a PDF and had no problems with navigation or graphics. I like how the author refers the reader to YouTube videos, in addition to providing images and illustrations of conceptual and cinematographic concepts.
I might like to add a few commas where there aren’t any, but this reads as clean and clear.
While race comes up in the chapter about character, it is missing from the capsule history of film, which focuses overwhelmingly on gender. The lack of real-world film examples means that are minimal representations of diversity. The gender angle is very productive and present here, but let’s get some intersectionality in here! The focus here is exclusively American cinema, no world cinemas.
The book is not a comprehensive text about film, but then it does not claim to be. The focus is limited in scope and depth. It first offers a simple overview of basic elements of film and story and then discusses elements of production. read more
The book is not a comprehensive text about film, but then it does not claim to be. The focus is limited in scope and depth. It first offers a simple overview of basic elements of film and story and then discusses elements of production.
Historical references are sometimes simplistic and lack depth, particularly in the decades section, where more detail could be provided about the political and social aspects that defined each decade. Some statements had the tone of opinion rather than scholarly research. The text overall treats film as entertainment rather than a serious art form.
The topics in the book will retain their relevance as much of it draws on genres and basic storytellling. The three films included for viewing are older, but are classics that will always be appropriate in any discussion or study of film.
The writing style is not at the expected level of sophistication for a college course. It does not succeed in challenging the reader to promote analysis and understanding, but if offered as a textbook in a face-to-face classroom setting, the teacher could draw out more from students with the questions and prompts provided. For a course that is exclusively online, the text alone may not engage students adequately.
The writing throughout is consistent and maintains a steady voice that does not distract the reader.
The topics are organized in such a way that easily lends itself to focusing on a specific topic or idea and is laid out nicely for building upon those ideas and tying them together.
The book is nicely organized with a natural flow of ideas that makes it easy to follow.
Reading via ePub demonstrated a flawless interface.
Grammar was accurate throughout.
There was not a great deal of variety as far as cultural references, but there was nothing that stood out as insensitive or offensive.
The book was written in a rather simple style that did not seem in line with college/university teaching. While it provides basic information about some aspects of film, it does not lead the reader to a depth of analysis expected at the college level. For a fundamental overview of film genres and story structure, it meets the mark. It did not address film as an art form, but treated it more as a form of entertainment. The use of the hypothetical Jack and Suzie was not as effective as providing examples of character interaction and motivation from real films that the reader could watch, but there were relevant lists of related films after some sections. It was disconcerting to see Wikipedia as a source in the bibliography.
Teaching Cinema classes myself, my expectation is a textbook that covers all the main areas of moviemaking, both thematically and technically. Speaking about themes, the section dedicated to film genres should be expanded: it gives very little... read more
Teaching Cinema classes myself, my expectation is a textbook that covers all the main areas of moviemaking, both thematically and technically. Speaking about themes, the section dedicated to film genres should be expanded: it gives very little space to documentaries; it does not mention docudramas or biopics. It also does not include a key genre in American cinema, the social problem film. Finally, there is no mention about the fact that many art films made by directors like Fellini, Wenders, Kurosawa, Welles and others, cannot be categorized in a genre. From the point of view of moviemaking, Part II (Production) examines more technical aspects like Cinematography, Editing, and Sound. It is good that the text is supported by effective images, and that every section ends with a practical assignment; although, this section lacks many important technical elements. The part related to Cinematography is short and generic, and does not provide specific examples – with pictures – of use of different shots and angles; furthermore, describing close-ups and extreme close-ups the author makes reference only to faces, while there are countless examples in cinema of close-ups and extreme close-ups of objects, details, or other parts of the human body, especially hands. Movement, as well as Mise-en-scene, are included in Cinematography, without distinguishing three very different aspects of movement: the movement of the actors in the scene, the movement of the camera, and the apparent movement of the movie camera caused by zoom lenses. The author does not mention the distinction between black and white and color: therefore, he does not make any reference to the artistic use of black and white in the age of color films (for example, Woody Allen’s Manhattan), nor more complicated cases of presence of color in black and white movies (Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List) or movies that make use of both color and black and white for specific artistic purposes (Wim Wenders’ Der himmel über Berlin - Wings of Desire). The section about Editing is clear and includes nice explicative pictures, but it mentions only the classical style of narrative editing. Another element that is very important in Film Studies is Acting, but there is no section dedicated to this topic. Index and glossary are good, but the Bibliography needs to be re-made from scratch; in fact, it does not make reference to actual manuals and texts of Cinema theory: it is mainly made of Wikipedia entries and definitions from Dictionary.com. If this text is aimed to college students it should also provide essential tools to help students to understand the basics of academic research. High School students are required not to quote from Wikipedia in their assignments, so it should be very confusing for a first year student to be assigned a text that relies almost entirely on these kind of sources. This is probably the most serious flaw of the entire project, and it explain its vagueness
The content is accurate but sometimes a little vague (please refer to the previous section).
The text is sufficiently up to date, but I still think it needs to be reviewed according to suggestions I made.
The text is clear and comprehensible, easy to access even for people who have never taken a film class before. I like the way the Introduction is focused first and foremost on the pleasure and the excitement to watch a movie. “Do you love a movie but when asked why, you can’t explain it?”, is one of the questions contained in the introduction. The focus of the author, is to give to the readers the tools to understand a little better how a movie works, and how this pleasure is generated. In this sense the introduction is effective in addressing students who have never taken a cinema class before. It is also positive that the author quotes former students; it makes the introduction friendly and mindful of the students’ opinions.
The text is consistent but needs improvements.
The book is very well divided into sections that could be assigned at different times. A positive aspect is the size of the book, which is short and concise, probably rather inexpensive even in its printed form. The book is structured in an introduction, two big chapters or parts dedicated to two key aspects of moviemaking: Construction and Production, followed by a Conclusion that mainly contains two assignments, a Production Assignment and a Cinematography Assignment.
The topics are well presented logically and clearly, but several topics are missing (please see the section "comprehensiveness").
I read the book in a printed form, so I cannot comment on the interface.
Grammar is fine, as it should be expected in a college level textbook.
The book is not insensitive nor offensive, but it is focused only on American cinema. In particular, all the references to themes are connected only to American historical events, like The Great Depression, World War II, social changes in the 1970s, etc. Given the big difference between American, European, African, and Asian cinema, if the aim of the author was to make a textbook focused only on American cinema, this circumstance should be mentioned in the title. European, African, and Asian cinema should be at least mentioned; even better, there should be a section that takes into account the cultural differences between different cinematographies.
The book at some level is probably more conceptually ambitious than it should be. As suggested by the title, the book covers both Construction and Production elements. Either of these topics on their own could and probably should make for a full,... read more
The book at some level is probably more conceptually ambitious than it should be. As suggested by the title, the book covers both Construction and Production elements. Either of these topics on their own could and probably should make for a full, lengthy textbook. What's important to grasp about this textbook is that it is based in a formal framework that is more literary or theatrical rather than filmic and it really is only engaging with Classical Hollywood cinema and the according cinematic practices. Within that framework, the textbook does engage with key points reasonably well.
I think one of the main weaknesses of the text is the lack of citations, specifically in relation to film scholarship. Philosophically, I do grasp the importance of open-source and accessible material for students, however I think the book suffers from a generic, rather than a specific, discussion of theme and story elements. The "Jack and Suzie" device used throughout the text has value as a mental or workshop exercise, however the text leans far too much on what are hypothetical examples than examples from actual films (which would perhaps be the duty of teaching professional to locate and screen during class). The text does utilize fair definitions (even if the author does not fully acknowledge counter-arguments) but would be bolstered by supporting statements and more variety in points of view on topics such as genre.
The text itself is based in a framework that could be easily updated to identify or include more recent examples.
The book is reasonably clear throughout from a writing standpoint, though it veers a touch too far into the broad rather than the specific. For example, the discussion of theme by decade reads as way too broad and missing the specific examples that would be necessary to construct a strong argument. The text fails to acknowledge the history of the industry, the consent decree, the development of television, corporate mergers, and other industrial realities that have influenced what kinds of films are made.
The book is reasonably consistent and establishes a framework, though it's not a framework that I've seen in the majority of other textbooks. I think the book would be stronger if it identified more broadly as a narrative analysis handbook and cut out the production discussion, or went into more detail about how production elements connect to narrative construction.
The book appears to be easily broken into small parts to provide definitional foundations for novice students engaging with the academic study of film for the first time.
I think where the text suffers is in the two-part structure. Again, each could be its own textbook. Where this is a problem conceptually is that the book doesn't fully consider not just the technical aspects as technical, but also as important to filmic theme and film grammar. How does production influence construction? Does film start with the image or with the written word? I think there is more argument to be had than the text suggests.
I did not notice any distracting elements in the interface. Images and text elements were very clear. I downloaded and read the text as a PDF.
I did not notice significant grammatical errors in the text.
Here, the text must be understood as really only emphasizing one slice if cinematic practice. Within that slice (culturally Western, Hollywood films), the text makes a fair introduction to basic film and storytelling elements.The book elides issues of cultural diversity and takes a firmly non-critical approach to the influences of Capitalism and cultural assumptions in Hollywood film.
This book has some value for introductory film studies courses and perhaps comparative literature courses. Specific segments of the text provide very clear, easily communicated definitions for the student who is just beginning to approach film from an analytical perspective. The exercises are easily manageable and offer good starting points for assignments or classroom discussion. I would be unlikely to structure an entire course in the way that the text is organized, but it does provide some strong sections that could be incorporated into a course.
The writer covers broad aspects of the movie making process but paints each concept in very broad strokes. Although many different ideas are covered, it seems to be missing a great deal of information. For instance, there is no discussion... read more
The writer covers broad aspects of the movie making process but paints each concept in very broad strokes. Although many different ideas are covered, it seems to be missing a great deal of information. For instance, there is no discussion regarding "film form" or "what makes a film," instead the information is often times presented as opinion first with "facts" to back up the idea. It seems that this is the start of a good entry level text but there has to be more visual content and examples to back up concepts/claims.
Although the content had a good general idea about the construction of films, it seems that the text was very biased toward the writers opinion. For instance, he states that an audiences enjoyment of a film is solely based on its "theme" as opposed to to a variety of other elements. I found this comment to not be factual and instead was of the author's opinion regarding the audience's film experience, ultimately leading the reader to view it as fact. There were other moments that his opinion created very reductive concepts regarding much deeper and conceptual elements (i.e. narrative, characters, direction, genre, etc.) I also found these concepts were not on par with other available texts that cover similar material.
The books use of available, copyright free, and public domain material was rather interesting and I appreciate its use, however one of the bonuses of taking a film studies class is watching a variety of movies from different eras, cultures, and content. Using mostly films from the first half of cinema's history worked (and stuck with the open source idea) but a better variety of required films would help the author better develop the content and explain concepts/ideas better. He did offer additional (optional) films to view but ultimately these were not required and had only a limited description with the author's biased opinion on its content. Perhaps not limiting the films could broaden the text's appeal and relevance.
The concepts were fairly clear to me as a reader, but some of that could be prior understanding of the content. For a first time reader, some ideas could be incorporated better. For example, he often used fake (unproduced) film narratives to explain particular terms and concepts but as a reader this made it much more confusing. Ultimately, this got in the way of the text informing the reader about the idea, and instead focused on an illusion of a non-existent film that did not clearly explain the concept. Oftentimes, these explanations were so wordy that the text became difficult (and at times dull) to read.
The author defined many of the terms consistently but the explanations became a bit muddy. He would often use a perceived equation to better explain some concepts but these were never fully realized and made the text more confusing as opposed to simplify the idea. Also, these equations appeared to be formulated by the author's personal opinion as opposed to more commonly understood views of each concept. Possibly explaining why this equation was being used could help its incorporation.
Overall, each section was divided appropriately but many times there were large, uninterrupted chunks of text. Since film is a visual medium, a few sample photos/stills/frames could help the reader better understand the ideas presented. This is a perfect example of how a picture could be worth a thousand words.
The strength of the text is how its structure follows a narrative film's production process (pre-production followed by production and ending with post production.) The author even hints at this near the end but the text could stand a few more edits to better incorporate and streamline the material.
The interface was clear and one page easily followed the other. The main issue revolves around the incorporation of images that appear to be buried at the end of the text and could be better used throughout the content as opposed to an afterthought left at the end of the text.
The book appeared use appropriate grammar.
The use of dated examples did not provide the most diverse or culturally relevant text. As stated in other comments, the use of additional, more modern and diverse examples could better influence and inform the readers regarding new concepts and ideas regarding filmmaking as an art form.
This text is a good starting point but does need some work. It is a little too subjective and leaving out a definition/explanation of film form keeps the text from moving forward. Finding additional material and not being so reductive could also help the text. It should be noted that I found the title very odd and misleading, when I think "movie construction" it leads me to believe this is about set building and not film craftsmanship.
This book in specifically targeted in its objective and thus it is not a particularly comprehensive treatment for the subject. It does not contain an index or glossary, but each chapter does conclude with a number of helpful resources. read more
This book in specifically targeted in its objective and thus it is not a particularly comprehensive treatment for the subject. It does not contain an index or glossary, but each chapter does conclude with a number of helpful resources.
The content of the book is pretty accurate and the book does a good job in addressing its stated objectives.
The book uses classic film examples and timeless principles of film construction and production. For these reasons, the book is one that will have a good shelf life and can be updated easily.
I found the writing quality to be a weaker element of the project. The author repeatedly uses the device of citing dictionary definitions of terms, something as the lead to a chapter, and sometimes many times within the same chapter. Sone of the transitions are clunky. Some of the early discussion is anecdotal in nature based on the comments from the author's own school. I really like the premise of this book, but I do think it would be stronger if reworked for style and if more scholarly citations were added.
Consistency is good. The book utilizes a defined structure and tone and stays with this throughout
The book is successful in its modularity. It could be generally assigned as stand-alone units by chapter, although there are some references backwards and scaffolding.
I think the structure and flow of the book are both good the style and content issues already cited above not withstanding
I read this book in iBooks and everything worked great. The coding of the text and links seems very good. Text boxes were set aside in shading as they should be and images looked good.
The grammar is pretty good but the style could be raised a notch.
The book is centered on three classic films that are widely available from the earlier days of cinema. The films are relatively homogenous, but the principles explored in the text are quite universal.
I think this book operates from an effective premise and is a valuable resource. The author uses three classic films available for free on YouTube and a hypothetical project to take the reader through the stages of film construction and production. Leading the chapters with questions is effective. I like the formulas that illustrate the various stages of the process. The discussion of character is very good and thought-provoking. The chapters on the technical elements of production are pretty comprehensive and will give introductory students a good basis for understanding how movies are made. The "Further Viewing" recommendations at the end of each chapter present a range of very good suggestions. The concluding section bring the whole book together nicely. The book contains a few assignments at the end that can help students apply what they've learned. While this work lacks some of the depth and scholarly citations of other works on this topic, it does provide a great deal of useful information and a valuable structure for students and instructors in an open access format.
Table of Contents
Part I: Construction
- 1. What Is the Theme? Why Do We Need It?
- 2. What Is Genre and How Is It Determined?
- 3. What Are the Mechanics of Story and Plot?
- 4. How Are the Characters Portrayed?
Part II: ProductionPrologue
- 5. What Is Directing?
- 6. What Is Cinematography?
- 7. What Is Editing?
- 8. What Is Sound?
Conclusion: What's So Exciting about Movies? – Novice Answers
About the Book
Exploring Movie Construction & Production contains eight chapters of the major areas of film construction and production. The discussion covers theme, genre, narrative structure, character portrayal, story, plot, directing style, cinematography, and editing. Important terminology is defined and types of analysis are discussed and demonstrated. An extended example of how a movie description reflects the setting, narrative structure, or directing style is used throughout the book to illustrate building blocks of each theme. This approach to film instruction and analysis has proved beneficial to increasing students' learning, while enhancing the creativity and critical thinking of the student.
About the Contributors
John Reich received a B.A. in theatre from Buffalo State College in 1976 and an M.A. in speech with a theatre and journalism concentration from Kent State University in 1979. He has been teaching Film, Speech and Interpersonal Communication at Genesee Community College since 1998. He published an article entitled “I’ll Take Education for $100”, in Innovation Abstracts in 2011, which discusses a method of teaching film in the classroom. This article was the precursor that led to formulating the idea and concept for this textbook. He also published an article, “How to Transform Fear and Hostility into Enthusiasm” in Teaching for Success in 2009 that discusses how to help students get over their nervousness when taking a Public Speaking course.