Practical Moviemaking: A Handbook for the Real World

Every year, hundreds of American film schools graduate thousands of aspiring filmmakers. Very few of them, however, leave school prepared for the challenges that await or are fortunate enough to secure the financial backing of a major studio. This practical guide provides all necessary information for newcomers to the profession to get a movie made, information often left out of film school curricula.

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Practical Moviemaking: A Handbook for the Real World is a how-to manual for film school graduates who are about to enter the world of professional filmmaking. The book presents the first-person advice of Joseph Wallenstein, head of physical production at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. The book succeeds at being both educational and entertaining and should be picked up by any film school graduate who finds that she or he is dwelling on the question “now what?”

Wallenstein separates Practical Moviemaking into twenty-one chapters that cover every aspect of filmmaking: producing, breaking down [End Page 50] a script, scheduling, budgeting, finding and managing locations, acquiring a crew, working with actors, and so on. The book also features three appendices, including one devoted to the construction of an old-school production board (Wallenstein claims that building one by hand really helps you “know” your film) and another—“Quotes from Chairman Joe”—that offers filmmaking advice in aphoristic form. Wallenstein’s assertions that “your budget will go up before it comes down” and that “talent is not necessarily a predictor of temperament” (232) are among the most sage of these quotes.

Practical Moviemaking’s ultimate value stems from Wallenstein’s years of producing experience. The author’s real-world stories offer guidance to those grappling with such questions as should I buy production insurance, do I need security detail on my shoot, how do I deal with an unhappy crew, and even what do I do when the script calls for animal cruelty? Indeed, the book may have been better titled “Producing in the Real World,” given that each chapter, or topic, is explored from the producer’s perspective. Those looking for a book on the nuts and bolts of cinematography, sound recording, or story development should look elsewhere, as should those interested in independent film-making and documentary or anyone hoping to work outside the mainstream.

Still, Wallenstein’s war stories, anecdotes, and opinions set Practical Moviemaking apart from other books on production. This concentration on personal experience will appeal to some readers—especially those who like hearing about the shenanigans of Hollywood (including trouble with angry teamsters, actors who insist on doing their own stunts, and actresses who will not come out of their trailer in cold weather)—but may turn off others. When moving through Practical Moviemaking, the reader has to understand that he or she is reading a text that is both a production manual and a memoir.

Luckily, Wallenstein does adeptly combine advice with humor, and this production manual crossed with a memoir makes for a fun and educational read. It should also be noted that Practical Moviemaking is an incredibly optimistic and encouraging book. Film school graduates worried that they will never pull off their first feature will find that Practical Movie-making effectively demystifies the filmmaking process while taking the complexities of production seriously.


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