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The Essential Digital Video Handbook

New book by seasoned pro nails it By Charlie White

Essential Digital Video Handbook by Pete May If you're looking for a course in how to shoot and edit video, as well as find yourself some work in this highly competitive field, look no further than this book. I found its subtitle -- "A comprehensive guide to making videos that make money" -- to be absolutely accurate, because if you follow all the tips and techniques presented in this well-written handbook, you can't help but enrich yourself.

This $29 book (which can be found for $20.39 on Amazon), written by long-time pro producer, editor and shooter Pete May, is so packed with accurate and informative advice for DV shooters and editors, I wish I had written it myself. Even for those who have been shooting and editing for years, there's a treasure trove of information that everyone working in (or wanting to find work in) the video business needs every day.

There's lots of material concerning how to shoot great-looking video, where framing and lighting are not the only considerations when it's time to commit video to tape. There are astute explanations about how to get the best lighting for the least money, which instruments to use, and accessories that can make the difference between pro and amateur work. There are aesthetic suggestions on framing and how to shoot. Beyond that, there are also enormously valuable suggestions for the poor stepchild of video -- audio -- which many aspiring professional producers forget to give its due. And then there are crucial rules that even seasoned veterans sometimes forget. Among the gems of advice I found was the best explanation of the 180-degree rule I've seen in print, including graphics that show you exactly what this crucial shooting and editing concept involves.

I especially liked the way the author not only tells us how to shoot video, he suggests where and for whom to shoot video. Sure, lots of people have video equipment and many even know how to use it, but then getting someone to pay you to do that is another story. Here's where the "making money" part of that subtitle comes into play, and the book delivers these tips with suggestions you probably haven't thought of. May has a comforting and engaging style of explaining all this, too, that keeps you reading the book and learning as you go. Written in the first person, it reminds me of riding in a production van on he way to a big shoot with a kindly and helpful shooter and editor who has been on thousands of such trips, and is telling the reader, in a brotherly and knowing way, what to look out for. I only wish I had read a book like this decades ago when I was a struggling vid-kid, but no, I had to learn all these basic and advanced techniques the hard way.

May doesn't just stop with shooting and finding work. One of the most valuable sections I found in the book was the extensive chapter with razor-sharp explanations about the craft of editing. Often in books about editing (and in articles about it, too), you'll find discussions of this or that editing software, hardware characteristics, and various features of editing tools. Even though those facts and opinions are covered in the book as well, the most valuable lessons in the editing section are how to cut from one shot to another. You can tell that this author has tried cuts in all their nearly-infinite variations, and has learned what separates a good cut from a stinker.

Another part of the book that even seasoned producers will find valuable is the information about how to budget your productions. Presented in checklist form, I am tempted to cut that section out of the book and paste it to my office wall. You can tell that May has presided over numerous budgets, where he hasn't left out any possible contingency. If that's not enough, May offers you an Excel-based budget form on his Web site.

Beyond the written content, the book is liberally sprinkled with first-rate graphics, as well as easily-digested sidebars that offer tips and techniques that you can use in your work. The book's layout makes it easy to either read it cover-to-cover or skip around to the parts you need at the moment. I found reading the book to be a completely interesting and informative experience from start to finish. Overall, this is one of the best books about video shooting, editing and production I've read. It appears that the author invited us to draw from his expertise, pouring onto the pages his thoughts and experiences accumulated over years of successful production efforts, allowing readers to benefit from this vast experience. You'll want to read this book before your competitors do. Highest recommendation.

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