Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: Blue Book #8:Visual Storytelling by William C. Martell (Kindle, Nook)

The latest Blue Book is the biggest yet and also the... well, 'best' is such a difficult term to apply because all of the Blue Books have been amazing value and packed to the gills with excellent and essential information. But this latest one is really something special... So let's call it 'First Among Equals'.

Visual storytelling is an essential skill to master, yet something many screenwriters (especially those aong us who haven't had a film school education) often struggle with. So look to this e-book for inspiration, for hundreds of examples, and for some fundamental principles to help you think creatively about getting information across in a purely visual way.

Visual storytelling was at its most sophisticated during the silent film era, and the book starts off with analyzing two films by Murnau (The Last Laugh - no title cards! - and Sunrise, which won the first Oscar for best artistic achievement in 1927) and one by Buster Keaton (The General). And it immediately becomes clear just how much one can communicate to the audience without relying on dialogue - and how many options we have as screenwriters to achieve this. And we're also reminded just how much we can all learn from studying the history of the art form.

But it's not all a trip to the distant cinematographic past. Films examined here range right up to Rise of the Planet of the Apes and even this year's Academy Award winner The Artist. Another film getting the in-depth treatment is Pixar's Up!, which seems to be the most popular animated film for analysis purposes right now. I've read at least three manuals in the last month in which it was examined in detail.

Specific topics include telling us about your characters by showing them in action (in a screenplay, a character isn't what he or she thinks, but does), and especially by letting them make decisions; the importance of locations and how to contrast them with your characters; making goals visible; using time as a visual element; symbolism, metaphors and leitmotifs; and various and sundry screenwriter's tricks to make your scenes and characters come alive.

And at the end of the book, we discover which Blue Books will be updated next, and what other book projects mr. Martell has lined up. Nice to know there's still so much to look forward to.

So - the best written workshop on visual storytelling you can imagine, at a crazy low price. Every screenwriter and film student should read this.

You can get the book here:

And you can get Murnau movies from here:

And Buster Keaton's The General from here:

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