14 May 2010

Book Review and Giveaway: 101 Things I Learned in Film School

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Neil Landau's 101 filmic tidbits are ideal for anyone interested in knowing more about the world of film. The information provided can really help a film student or a film buff learn something new or be reminded of an obvious that got lost over time (my case numerous times).  However, explanations of different shots and mis-en-scene sit side by side with  advice on how to develop characters and general, life philosophy type commentary. In other words, you do not have to be a film student or a film buff to enjoy this book. For example, one bit of advice says, "In fantasy stories, set the rules early, clearly, and simply." Whether you are into watching, reading, or writing, that's relevant. 

While reading, I found myself marking practically every other page as a reminder to use that bit in my film class. I probably will be organizing class periods around quotes/images from the book (I'll give full credit to Landau and Frederick) in the coming semester. Or better yet, on those days where I've been slacking and don't have a lesson plan, I'll just flip the book open to a random page and go from there.  For example, a random flip brings up the following:

Give your characters the anonymity test.
Each character's voice should be distinctive and idiosyncratic.  When writing or reviewing a script, cover up the characters' names to see if you can tell who is speaking.  If the lines are interchangeable, the characters are too similar.

Thank you Landau for not only providing me with a great lesson for my film students, but also for an in-class activity we can use!  Outside of wanting to use Landau to do my job for me, I also think this is just a handy book to have around.  I can see myself flipping it open from time to time to read a random tidbit or even reading a couple pages and then watching a movie to compare the lessons with reality.

One lesson I thought you guys would appreciate:

Film, novel, television, or stage?
Film is best for stories that can be told visually and that demand a satisfying resolution.  Novels are most appropriate when the psychologies of characters are explored in detail, when the writer's prose style is essential to the story's aesthetic experience, and the ending is particularly ambiguous.  Television series suit ideas that can be developed over time.  Series involving doctors, police officers, and lawyers are common because the opportunity for new plotlines is virtually unlimited.  Serialized dramas (soap operas) offer open-ended plotlines that can run for decades.  Stage plays are suited to complex ideas that can be effectively dramatized via dialogue and a limited number of characters and sets.

For me, ideas like this are thought-provoking.  Do I agree with Landau?  What do I think distinguishes these four situations?  Are ambiguous endings really better in novels than in movies?  What movies have I watched that had unsatisfying resolutions?  Will Jerry Bruckheimer ever stop making the same tv shows over and over again?  Man am I tired of doctors and cops. And so on...

Each bit of knowledge is accompanied by artwork from Frederick which I found highly enjoyable because, well, who doesn't like pictures?

Not only do I get to tell you to read this book, I actually get to offer you a chance to win it. Grand Central Publishing has super kindly offered to provide 5 giveaway copies. If you are interested in receiving a copy, just let me know in the comments section and be sure to include your email address. 

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions, Hogwarts Reading Challenge, Non-Fiction Five,


  1. This sounds really interesting... seems like it would help someone in terms of writing too!

    Please enter me:


  2. Oh my! Please enter me several times! I was just muttering to myself while reading this review that I NEED this book. These are great, thought provoking questions! I can't say for sure whether I subscribe or not, but are good tests to apply to books and movies. I think the general public pays to see a movie that resolves itself. I personally don't, but I think I may be a little strange. But I always find myself asking why a book can be so good on paper but so sucky on film. It isn't always a bad director or bad acting. Hmmm...I must ponder this.

  3. Hooray! I was just getting ready to write you and tell you my copy arrived. (Thanks for recommending me as a reviewer.) I read the first few pages, and I was very taken with it, especially since I'm trying to figure out how to effectively coach my daughter in her film studies.

    And I had the same thought Jenny had -- many of these strategies apply to writing too, especially fiction.

    I often find myself using film analogies with my writing students (I hope these kids are film buffs *LOL*) For example, when explaining how to write an introduction, moving from a broad concept to a more specific one, I will describe a movie camera gradually zooming in on its subject.

    I hope to post my review this weekend, and I will link to you.

  4. Yes, I am interested. I am toyed with the idea of writing a screenplay so this book would be a terrific reference/introduction. Per your list of why/when a film is best or a play or a novel to tell a story - this is why I love reading book then seeing the movie: when 'they' do manage to take an idea novel and portray it well on the screen, I am so fascinated with HOW they did it.

  5. Oooh! I would like. I love to know the how-it-works of story.

  6. I would love to be counted in for this giveaway (if you are posting overseas). I am intrigued as to how the whole thing works so would love to win this!

    Thank you for hosting.

  7. Since five of you signed up, you all win! I kind of like that! I've sent your names and blogs to the publishing house, so hopefully Brianne will be contacting you soon to get the relevant information!

  8. I like the "Give your characters the anonymity test" - so true! And thanks for explaining what works best in film/novels/stage/tv... makes sense!

    Guess I'm too late for the giveaway but that's okay, will add this to TBR :)

  9. Mine arrived yesterday! THANK YOU!


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