Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Digital Filmmaking by Mike Figgis (2007)

Digital Filmmaking by Mike Figgis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This guide to filmmaking in the early 21st century reads like an anti-Michael Bay manifesto

Blurb: In this indispensible guide, leading film-maker Mike Figgis offers the reader a step-by-step tutorial in how to use digital film-making technology so as to get the very best from it. He outlines the equipment and its uses, and provides an authoritative guide to the shooting process - from working with actors to lighting, framing, and camera movement. He further dispenses wisdom on the editing process and the use of sound and music, all the while establishing a sound aesthetic basis for the digital format.

This is a handbook that will become an essential back-pocket reference for the digital-film enthusiast - whether your goal is to make no-budget movies, or simply to put your video camera to more use than just holidays and weddings.

Thoughts: Mike Figgis is the creative genius behind such movies as the Oscar winning Leaving Las Vegas and the important film experiment Timecode, he's been an artist, a musician and an actor; he's a man who's witnessed all aspects of film making and been there at the birth of the digital age. Currently he's a professor of film studies at the European Graduate School in Switzerland. This book was destined to be a fascinating read for any aspiring film maker and it didn't disappoint.

I reached the bottom of page one, at which point I read the following and knew I was going to have some fun with this book:
“I made my first film on 16mm. Then I began using 35mm. Then I began working in Hollywood. And I began to really understand how films were made by professionals. I have to say I wasn't very impressed.”
When so many of my peers in film school were talking about making zombie or gangster films and flying off to Hollywood I wanted to make my own Mike Figgis type movie - feasible too because we were poor students with free access to equipment - but at the time there was no interest in low budget digital filmmaking, we were tought the traditional way is the only way. Where was mumblecore when I was at film school?! As Mike Figgis points out, traditional methods no longer need apply when using digital stock instead of film.

This is an inspiring read, I had to keep putting it down to flex my straining creative muscles in some way because everything he discusses works as encouragement. His attitude towards creating cinema is incredibly refreshing and more appropriate than ever. Five years after this was written technology has evolved exponentially and really, truly, there should be nothing stopping anyone who wants to make a film from making a film.

Some of my major issues, the ones blocking me from getting out there and doing rather than talking about it, are addressed by Figgis to such an extent that I may never question the tools at hand again. No longer will I feel like iMovie is an inferior product and not worth my time, no longer am I blaming my lack of expensive high definition camera for my fear of failure. If Mike Figgis says that a home camera manufactured in 2006 is of good enough quality then it's damned well good enough for me. There's an anecdote that features a surreptitious conversation with Terry Gilliam that is both amusing and pertinent, in which they discuss the quality of iMovie and the embarrasment they feel at admitting it where they might be overheard by more affected film types.

It's not just his enthusiasm for the digital tools at hand that appeals to me it is his approach towards the basics of cinema as well.
“The function of camera movement is to assist the storytelling. That's all it is. It cannot be there just to demonstrate itself.”
I've lost count of the number of times I've turned a film off because the director thinks that constantly moving his camera is achieving something more than making the audience feel seasick so for me that one statement marks Mike Figgis down as somebody who should be leading a new generation of film makers.

Further viewing suggestions:

Timecode (2000) Dir. Mike Figgis
Cold Weather (2011) Dir. Aaron Katz
Leaving Las Vegas (1995) Dir. Mike Figgis
Kill List (2011) Dir. Ben Wheatley

Additional reading:

Rebel Without A Crew
Down and Dirty Pictures

View all my book reviews


  1. Ahhh I need to read this NOW. Really good review here, will comment further on it once I've read the thing!

    1. I'd send you my copy but I'm already on the hook for giving it to somebody else because I thought there was a spare one on the shelf at work. I hope you enjoy it.

  2. Nice review Toby. This sounds like a great read. Might just give it a look.

    1. For any aspiring film maker this is a great read. It's short and to the point too. If you haven't been to film school and aren't encouraged to make a film anyway by Figgis then I'm not sure what you'd need to get you going.