Book Review: Cinematic Storytelling

Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know

Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know

Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know
By Jennifer Van Sijll
Michael Wiese Productions, $24.95, 257 pages
ISBN: 1-932907-05-X

What a fascinating book for a scriptwriter to read! At first, you think “This isn’t meant for me—it has chapters on camera lenses and camera positions, and wardrobe and sound effects! That’s stuff directors and cinematographers and other people work with.” From understanding the medium you’re working in, comes better work.

Jennifer Van Sijll’s Cinematic Storytelling provides 100 film conventions (as mentioned in the full title) in concise, two-page examples. The pages are index card-like in their brevity, but are so well-done there is no need for extra words. First, she lists the filmmaking element, such as “Motion,” and gives an explanation. Next, she gives a film example, such as E.T., and explains the scene pictured in stills and how the particular scene conveys the element. If needed, she lists a script note or two and then explains what the dramatic value is of the element. Lastly, she lists a few other films that can serve as examples. The page with movie stills also contains the scene’s script passage to show how the element was written. A writer will find the pieces of script excellent examples from which to learn.

Van Sijll’s layout and logical progression through the different elements of film, from frame composition to locations and lighting, are easy to follow and almost Zen-like in their simplicity. Despite that simplicity, they do make an impact and stay with you long after you’ve put the book down. You’ll find that when you sit down to write, you’ll try and put those elements into your script with just a few well-chosen words (so not to look as if you’re trying to direct). There are no exercises or homework and there is no general format information
or advice on what the latest trick is to get your script seen. This is straightforward instruction presented in an easy-to-follow way.

After each chapter, Van Sijll inserts a “Chapter Credits by Film Element” index where you’ll find a segment on each film she’s highlighted. Within the segment, you’ll find its release date, writer, director, production company and distributor. It’s an unconventional scriptwriting book, for sure, and definitely worth checking out. Van Sijll teaches at San Francisco State University, holds seminars, and also works as a script analyst for producers. I enjoyed this book thoroughly.

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