Originally published on ArtsHub.com.au

Film School: How to Watch DVDs & Learn Everything About Filmmaking by Richard D. Pepperman

Almost everyone likes watching movies. Despite how old we become, there’s something inherently exciting about dimming the lights, preparing a bag of popcorn and losing yourself in the imaginary worlds of film. From our favourite childhood movies to those we saw on first dates or first year out of school, film is a powerful medium that manages to move our most inherent selves. For a lot of screen gazers film also inspires. No doubt the actors, screenwriters and directors of the future have all at one time watched a movie and thought, that’s what I’m going to do.

So what better way to learn the ins-and-outs of the movie making process than from the comfort of your own couch? With Pepperman’s Film School – How to Watch DVDs and Learn Everything about Filmmaking, you can do just that and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a filmmaking course. Most university lecturers and Tafe teachers instruct students in the fundamentals of film by deconstructing the best scenes from the best films. With this book you can cut out the 9am tutorials and let Pepperman guide you from home, though it should be noted he is quick to point out ‘this text is neither a substitute, nor a competitor, to the many fine film programs. It’s a heads up for college bound film students; a very good guide for homegrown production people… and… offers a constructive overture for film faculties.’

A teacher at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and the author of previously successful film books such as The Eye is Quicker and Setting Up Your Scenes, Pepperman knows what he’s talking about when it comes to making movie magic. Instead of delivering a dry, by-the-numbers motion picture manual, Pepperman employs 50 films from around the world to enlighten enthusiasts and students alike, dissecting classics such as Rosemary’s Baby and Breaker Morant, to more obscure titles like Ju Dou. All genres are covered, and techniques practiced and perfected over a 70 year period are clarified in this 228 page volume to be read while viewing his selection.

Richard D. Pepperman

Rather than focus on the technicalities of filming these pictures, Pepperman divides his book into three broad sections that lay bare the cooperative storytelling techniques intrinsic to good films. According to Pepperman, Story, Place and Character are the foundation upon which films are built. These three main tenants are extrapolated on to include how the technical aspects of film-making (lighting, structure, etc) and more subtle considerations (irony, subtext), come together to create a work of art.

Indeed, Film School aims to illuminate the beauty of film by understanding its construction yet defying the limitations of its conventions. Pepperman demonstrates this approach throughout the text but sums it up with the story of an honoured cinematographer who taught master classes at film school. After screening numerous selections of his work the cinematographer quit, disheartened because his students constantly asked how he achieved a certain shot rather than why.

With Film School, you’ll learn a little of both the how and the why, as long as your video store stocks all 50 DVDs.