The DV Rebel’s Guide: Book Review

Check out what just turned up in my mailbox the other day! It’s hard not to be excited about a book that tells you how to find cheap armaments, orchestrate helicopter gunship attacks, and blow up buildings and cars! The DV Rebel’s Guide is “an all-digital approach to making killer action movies on the cheap,” written by Stu Maschwitz. It’s such an expansive book that it’s difficult to classify, packing detailed descriptions of almost every production process in filmmaking into just over 300 pages (and no, those bullet holes don’t go all the way through).

Stu Maschwitz is a name you should know. Formerly an ILM effects artist, then co-founder of The Orphanage, and creator of Magic Bullet and Colorista, Stu is a master of post-production technique.

The first half of the book covers the basics of directing, storyboarding, how to make some of your own camera gear, lighting equipment types, and editing. It’s not incredibly in-depth when it comes to writing and logistical pre-production, but it’s very helpful stuff, and he also breaks down several large Hollywood movies to describe exactly how certain things are accomplished. Then he dives into effects basics and book really gets going.

The second half of the book is packed with post-production info ranging from cinema’s technical history to detailed how-tos of cutting-edge techniques. Everything from where to get guns to how to shoot guns shooting things is covered precisely, as well as digital stunts, bluescreen compositing, and crowd replication. However, its greatest strength is in describing how to clean up and color-correct your final footage into something that look more like Hollywood cinematography.

The digital grading tutorials revolve around onlining your film in After Effects, starting with cleaning the video and then grading it for maximum effect. This is what I’ve always done with my projects, and thanks to Stu, I’m now doing a better job. Advanced color theory is explained and demonstrated, and he shows how to build scene-specific palettes using DeGraeve’s image-based tools or the color picker (personally, I prefer Adobe’s superb kuler system).

The book also includes a DVD, which contains several image control presets and scripts that will turn your copy of After Effects into a tool to rival any expensive dedicated color grading system. These plugins were written by Jeff Almasol and the author, and can de-artifact, optimize, relight, and grade your footage, as well as add gradients, diffusion, vignettes and other lens effects using After Effect’s native power. These alone are worth the price of the book.

The DVD also includes versions of Stu’s short film “The Last Birthday Card” in various stages of production, treated and untreated DV files from an edited chase scene in an After Effects project for you to dissect and then regrade yourself, and several squib clips you can add to your own films. There are also several neat After Effects tools for adding muzzle flashes, sniper scope effects, and other fun action movie staples to your film.

In short, this book is the perfect introduction for beginners wanting an introduction to all areas of modern filmmaking, but it is also a must-read for pros wanting to learn more about digital color space or advanced color correction, and the included tools and video clips make it a required purchase for anyone involved in film or video production. Buy it now.