Stephen McNeice takes a look at ‘The Filmmaker’s Handbook – A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age’ 

The Filmmaker’s Handbook (2013 Edition) – A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age by Steven Ascher & Edward Pincus (published by Plume, RRP £21.99) has its work cut out for it. The risks involved with writing a ‘comprehensive’ overview of the practical & technical aspects of filmmaking are many, but most significant of all is the ever-shifting digital landscape. By the time you research the topics, put together your tome and get it published there’s a very high chance what you’ve spent all your time on will be already rendered obsolete. A book on digital filmmaking written even three years ago is effectively useless now. Plus, there’s the not insignificant complication we call the Internet – the immediacy of online writing ensures Phillip Bloom and the like will always be several steps ahead of the printed word. Some basics of filmmaking never change, but the specifics have in recent years been in endless flux.


Steven Ascher – revising the popular book he originally co-authored with Edward Pincus – gives it a good shot though. The guide does make liberal use out of the phrase ‘as of writing’, but as of writing this review the information contained in the handbook is more or less representative of current trends and technology. The likes of the ARRI Alexa, Thunderbolt, Final Cut Pro X, cloud-based editing systems and 48 frames-per-second all get a look in – often brief mentions, but at least they’re acknowledged and ensure the book feels pertinent & useful.


The book is less concerned with individual brands and technologies, however, and much more interested in giving an all-encompassing guide to the filmmaking process. The result is a dense but undoubtedly comprehensive walkthrough of the various stages of production. This isn’t a book you just sit down and read casually: each chapter tackles a specific area (cameras, sound, editing, lighting, producing & distributing the movie etc…) in quite a bit of detail. Only the most committed independent director will feel the necessity to study every single chapter in depth. The book is far too jargon-heavy to be considered a light read, but you’d be hard pressed to find a production or postproduction concept that isn’t given a page or two attention. You won’t emerge as an instant sound recordist or post-production engineer, but you’ll find a solid grounding in the ideas & technology involved. Even well versed filmmakers could benefit from the straightforward breakdowns of tricky concepts – very few film professionals are jacks-of-all-trades after all, and the book’s early chapters particularly work well as a tight, to-the-point overview of production processes.


The subtitle gives away the predominantly digital focus, but there are many sections retained from earlier editions examining the various practicalities of good old analogue formats. The book is broken down into seventeen chapters, each with a significant number of subsections. This does lead to unfortunate moments of repetition – chapter one, for example, introduces data management concepts, which is expanded upon in chapter two, revisited in chapter five and further repeated in the numerous post-production chapters. While the chapters themselves tend to follow a relatively logical flow, it can be a bit frustrating when topics are discussed in bits & pieces over the course of several hundred pages. The book is generally written in a straightforward, manner that will predominantly benefit complete newcomers. While there’s a wealth of useful information for more knowledgeable filmmakers, there are moments when the simple, factual writing assumes the reader is a bit too ignorant. Sample quote: ‘most camcorders have a microphone (also called a mic – pronounced “Mike”)’. Later chapters are unapologetically technical, however.


In general the book’s 800 pages contain a wealth of potentially useful practical advice and helpful breakdowns of potentially convoluted subject matter. With a couple of subsections excepted, the book is far more concerned with the practical aspects of movie production than the artistic ones (mise-en-scene concerns being a bit of both). It’s also primarily written from an American point of view – while HD technology is increasingly rendering traditional PAL / NTSC divisions less significant, there are brief sections that will prove less relevant to an Irish readership (notably the final chapter on producing and distribution). Still, a majority of the content is universal, and as an overall reference guide it mostly deserves its self-proclaimed ‘comprehensive’ status. Used in conjunction with the more up-to date blogs and journalism – and, it goes without saying, actual practice (what’s the point in theory if you don’t use it?) – the printed – or indeed e-book – edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook earns its keep in a digital world. Until 2015 rolls around and it is rendered basically useless, of course.


  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: PLUME; New edition edition (2 Aug 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452286786
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452286788
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 4.4 x 22.9 cm

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