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The Filmmaker's Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition Paperback – Oct 10 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Focal Press; 1 edition (Sept. 1 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0240812174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0240812175
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 22.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 567 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #31,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"Gustavo Mercado's beautiful book reveals the inner workings of the basic shots that create the cinematic experience. He reveals how visuals communicate to an audience. If you're a novice filmmaker or a seasoned professional, this book will broaden your visual horizons." -Bruce Block, film producer, author of The Visual Story, and visual consultant whose credits include The Holiday, Something's Gotta Give, Stuart Little, and Pretty in Pink

"Mercado's book is a great resource for aspiring cinematographers. Using a brilliant selection of images, both classic and contemporary, he eloquently analyzes the conception and execution of a shot. Most important, he manages to explain how to achieve an aesthetically beautiful image, while giving equal weight to the powerful role of cinematography in portraying the characters and telling the story." - Florian Ballhaus, cinematographer whose credits include The Devil Wears Prada, Marley and Me, Flightplan

"From understanding shot types and how and why they work to visual rules, technical considerations, and when to break the rules, this packs in practical considerations that will prove key to any filmmaking collection." - Bookwatch

"While Mercado's book is perhaps more for people who are serious about filmmaking, it has helped me understand the importance of knowing all the different angles from which one might possibly frame the exact same moment of the story, and how to decide on the one that most perfectly aids the story." - Christianity Today

"This is one of those rare filmmaking books that delivers more than its title promises. The Filmmaker’s Eye is about a lot more than just ‘the rules of composition’: it’s a beautifully illustrated, systematic guide to the visual language of film." - Learn About Film ( 

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Although I'm not into filmmaking, many of my younger friends are-and those that aren't are film buffs to some extent. I selected this book to garner enough information to be able to converse with them semi-intelligently when we're brainstorming about movies and books.

Gustovo Mercado, the author of The Filmmaker's Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition states: "Although there are other books out there that deal with the principles of visual composition, I always wanted to have a guide that specialized in the specific requirements that are inherent to the composition of shots intended for telling stories with moving images, also known as cinematic composition." Since he couldn't find such a guide, he decided to write this one.

It was never my intention to read this book from cover-to-cover, but as I skimmed through I got much more than I bargained for. The black-and-white and color photographs are very clear and beautiful, while the explanations for various types of shots are fascinating, especially since Mercado uses diagrams and pointers ("callouts" is how they refer to them). He also uses familiar stills from famous movies as examples of the various shots: The Godfather, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Clockers, to name a few. All these shots and more are explained in details that even I can understand: long shot, medium long shot, two shots, group shots, over-the-shoulder shots, macro shots, extreme close-up, close-up, canting, etc. A mind-boggling array of techniques...

I didn't get into the technicalities of lenses and equipment, but it's all there for you filmmakers and wannabe filmmakers. Mercado discusses why it all works and how it all co-ordinates to create brilliant cinematography.
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Format: Paperback
This book, by Gustavo Mercado is typical of the better-published titles in Focal Press' library. THE FILMMAKER'S EYE is a thoroughly instructional book on the principles of shooting a scene, or "Mise-En-Scene."

The book can be seen as a two-part discussion. The first being a brief introduction to the fundamentals of photography and explaining the basic concepts of:

Aspect ratios
Frame axis
Focal point & Field-Of-View
Normal, wide and telephone lenses
Shallow vs. Deep Depth-of-Field
Shooting Formats: SD & HD

The second, the remaining 90% of the book, is a look at almost 100 different movie scenes where Gustavo examines, for example, an "over-the-shoulder" point of view in the film, PULP FICTION between the two characters played by Ving Rhames and Bruce Willis as well as Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in Mike Nichols' unforgettable THE GRADUATE.

Gustavo breaks down angles such as a "Medium Close-Up" of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's titular character in the film, AMELIE; "Medium Long Shot" of Natalie Portman and Jean Reno in Luc Besson's, THE PROFESSIONAL; "The Subjective Shot" of Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in Jonathan Demme's, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS; and, "The Macro Shot" (to name a few) of Emile Hirsch in Sean Penn's film, INTO THE WILD.

There are also scenes from other films examined such as Pedro Almodovar's, BROKEN EMBRACES and Steven Spielberg's, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

Gustavo Mercado has hit a home run with the book and it is one that anyone interested in film studies and especially those interested in cinematography, editing or directing a feature should strongly consider.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I buy books, I look for information that cannot be easily found online or information that are scattered around on the Internet but is now organized into a single book. This is an excellent book that satisfy both things I just said.

Not only is the book informative, but the author's writing style and organization with real examples from actual movie scenes make it extremely enjoyable to read through. The author first makes the point as to why cinematic composition is important and how every element in a scene can work together to convey a solid, strong message to its viewers. He then goes through some basic rules in cinematic composition and finally discuss a list of camera shots used in movies.

Every page or two contains at least one example from an actual movie scene. The author first discusses a specific camera angel/shot, followed by how this camera shot is used in a movie scene. The book also digs into some discussions about the kind of equipments used, but this is a book about composition afterall so most of the discussions were still about compositions. Lastly, the author would discuss an example where the compositional rule was broken. It was kind of a brief discussion however.

Overall, this is a great book for someone who just started learning about making movies or videos. I think after reading this, I've come to appreciate how to position and frame my shots better in order to convey a unified message from a scene to the viewers.

Great book!
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This was a fantastic shot-by-shot overview. And it introduced me to a lot of films and filmmakers I didn't previously know about, which was a sweet little bonus. I am a beginner to this world and actually got this for work on graphic novels to beef up my visual storytelling and storyboarding skills. Although more useful for film and moving shots, it will definitely help me refine my personal style.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9eaf9318) out of 5 stars 94 reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ee32e94) out of 5 stars Cinematography Nov. 22 2010
By Sammii - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a professional cinematographer and camera operator I find this book to be a great reference. What differentiates it from other cinematography/framing books is the fact that it brings the reader's attention to the logic behind framing rather than just teaching the "types" of frames like other texts. Although it teaches some basic rules such as the rule of thirds, Hitchcock's rule, and the 180-degree rule, it actually goes into further detail and explains the logic of how basic cinematography framing has its own recurring visual language and conventions. In the book, there are actual frame grabs from renowned cinematographers used to exemplify and support what it teaches and how to break the conventions. The book is an absolute must have for aspiring cinematographers and filmmakers. All the technical information found in the book is a good introduction to teaching people framing for cinematography. It gets you thinking about of the art of cinematography. The only downside is probably the fact that it lacks information about raw video formats. However, that isn't the point of the book and it is the most interesting and engaging framing/cinematography book I have read in a while. It actually makes you want to go out and shoot! The book also makes reference to current movies like The Matrix, Oldboy, Amelie, The Shawshank Redemption, Sid and Nancy, etc. All in all I give it four out of five stars.
46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ee350fc) out of 5 stars Magnificent! From a cineaste and filmmaker revealing the innerworkings of the cinematic experience Nov. 17 2010
By [KNDY] Dennis A. Amith - Published on
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product
As a person who is passionate about cinema, quite often I love having discussions with other fellow cineaste about various shots. May it be the jumpshots from Jean-luc Godard, the powerful images from a Rossellini film, utilization of symmetry by Rohmer and Varda, extreme long shots of Resnais, the wideangle shot by Pontecorvo, visceral shots of Mallick, Jarmusch's two shot and just discussing shots that impress us.

For the budding filmmaker who is passionate about cinema, sometimes when you are working on your own short or independent film, it's good to have resources out there that show you how others deconstruct cinema, may it be classic books by Bazin, Eisenstein, etc. Great cinema books but one may want something a bit more modern for today's filmmaker that breaks down shots from these classic films to help us understand.

Not everyone goes to film school, nor do they have access to cinema aesthete. They are passionate about film, want to learn more about composition and shots. And if you want something easy to understand, didactic and straightforward, I can easily recommend "The Filmmaker's Eye" by Gustavo Mercado.

Just reading his book, I had a smile on my face because the way it's written, it's user-friendly, it's not cerebral or made to be academic, it's like having a cool film teacher and discussing films and breaking it down. Films that are easily accessible and what I love about this book is that it utilizes images from those films to drive a point on composition. Well-written and just pretty much making it easy enough for those just deciding they want to be involved in cinema in some sort of aspect, can easily enjoy, read and learn from.

Mercado breaks down the books in the following chapters:

- Finding the Frame
- Principles of Composition and technical concepts
- Image System
- Extreme Close Up
- Close Up
- Medium Close Up
- Medium Shot
- Medium Long Shot
- Long Shot
- Extreme Long Shot
- Over the Shoulder Shot
- Establishing Shot
- Subjective Shot
- Two Shot
- Group Shot
- Canted Shot
- Emblematic Shot
- Abstract Shot
- Macro Shot
- Zoom Shot
- Pan Shot
- Tilt shot
- Dolly Shot
- Dolly Zoom Shot
- Tracking Shot
- Steadicam Shot
- Crane Shot
- Sequence Shot

You learn about each shot but also learn about aspect ratios, frame axes, the rule of thirds and Hitchcock's rule.


I read a lot of cinema books, I watch a lot of cinema and I love talking with friends about the various shots used in a film. "The Filmmaker's Eye" is wonderful book, especially for the filmmaker and Criterion Collection, KINO, Masters of Cinema, etc. film collectors who watch these arthouse, international or well-revered cinema and just love what the filmmakers and cinematographers have done in capturing the scene with the right shot.

Early on the book, even Mercado talks about filmmakers getting questions about shots and realizing that the audience have gotten something different than what the director intended. This was very good to read and to point out because people remember shots. For example, Mercado uses the Resnais 1961 film "Last Year at Marienbad" as an example of an extreme long shot, what a wonderful example! Especially for the panned shot using Almodovar's "Broken Embraces" as an example (just to note, Almodovar uses various shots in this film that are just magnificent), the medium long shot of Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in "Leon the Professional", visual examples definitely help a book.

Rarely do you come across cinematography books that uses popular films to showcase examples. Many are in text or using independent video to show examples but Mercado uses large, high color photos to get his points across and this is wonderful. He's passionate about cinema, various scenes from cinema and shares them with you. Detailed information of films from all over the world from various filmmakers and auteurs.

But it's the information that truly matters and Mercado does deliver in explaining the various shots and going into depth about them. Once again, it's not to academic and easy to follow. As Mercado humbly shares his favorite cinematography-related books with the reader as well, the fact is that he has written a magnificent book and this is probably one of the coolest books I have read in cinematic composition. Highly recommended!
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ee35990) out of 5 stars The pictures are not acceptable in the Kindle edition! May 29 2011
By Simon Wood - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
(EDIT):* I have altered my original 1 star rating to a 3 star rating. This negative review deals with the Kindle edition of the book only. I have no doubt that the printed version is a 5 star product, as reflected by all of the positive reviews it has received. If there was a way to review Kindle products only then I would still give it a low rating, however as this review is inseparable from the printed edition I have split the rating - hence 3 stars*.

I downloaded the Kindle for PC program so that I could download a number of textbooks relating to film production. I had never used a Kindle before, but presumed it would be something like a PDF on the PC.

While the reviews of the book itself are good, a lot of this has to do with the large images captured from movies that have been broken down to explain the composition. These are full page images in the printed book for the most part.

However in the Kindle edition the pictures are very small, and extremely compressed. This means that the text in the pictures (that explains the composition breakdown - the whole point of the book) is pixelated and shows serious artifacting. In other words the pictures are small, and the text is next to illegible.

Now, I understand that the Kindle was probably not designed for picture heavy books (it works just fine on the text) - in which case they should not bother selling books like this on Kindle.

The Kindle edition of this book has been a complete waste of time due to the inept transfer of the pictures - whoever was in charge of quality control ought to have a rethink of what they are doing. This book is of no value without decent pictures as that is the whole point of the book (to deconstruct the images)!

Perhaps Amazon could look into re-scanning the offending images and updating this book?
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ebce180) out of 5 stars An outstanding guide for filmmakers and photographers Nov. 4 2010
By M. Erb - Published on
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The Filmmaker's Eye is a fabulous book conceived for filmmakers. The concepts can be applied to photography as well.

This beautifully illustrated book is nearly a complete, self-contained course in cinematic composition. The author explains terminology used in the book to the extent that it is an excellent resource for learning the basics of cinematic and photographic principles. For instance the explanation of depth-of-field explains the concept very well and then continues to give several methods to change depth-of-field.

The concepts that are presented are accompanied by well-documented examples from highly regarded movies. A thorough examination of the scene reveals the reasons a scene was shot in a particular way ("why it works") and how shooting it in a different way would affect the final result.

You are shown many correct and time-honored ways to shoot a scene and then are taught why "breaking the rules" is not only permissible but essential in some cases to help you make your story more compelling. Just some of the shot types that are explored are.. establishing shot, medium shot, zoom shot, pan shot, tilt shot, tracking shot, Steadicam shot, crane shot, sequence shot, and others.

I cannot imagine how anyone reading this book could not walk away without a greatly increased understanding of cinematic composition. These concepts can be used by rank amateurs or hobbyists who use a basic camcorder as well as aspiring filmmakers. Many of these principles can be used by photographers. This book will help anyone working with Photography, Video or Film to tell more effective stories. It is an enjoyable learning experience and is an exceptionally well-written and engaging book.

I give this book my highest recommendation.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ee35d44) out of 5 stars Very Nice for a Beginner June 23 2012
By Knife G - Published on
Format: Paperback
I am not a film maker, just a hobbyist. I found this book to be very helpful for getting a background on shot composition. It also has helped my son (in highschool) who is extremely interested in filmaking as a career.

The book starts off by explaining in very brief and basic language the basic compositions of a shot and the basic rules; rule of thirds, 180 degree, etc. It also goes in to small detail on lighting, focal lengths, zooming in/out, lenses, etc. Remember, this intro is not to teach you cinematography or how to set this stuff up as each topic would fill volumes. It is just a background so that as the different shots are explained later in the book, you have a rough idea of the basics. The next part of the book are the descriptions of the different standard shots that are commonly used in film. It covers long shots, close ups, extreme close ups, pan shots, zoom shots, to name a few.

Each shot discussion is structured with an introduction to the shot, a disected interpretation of the shot, the technical details and finally an example of breaking the rule. It starts by explaining the overall effect and uses of the shot. This is very useful as it gives insight to what the Director or DOP wanted to explain through film. Of course, this could be a feeling, a mood, or anything that needs to get across to the audience. The book then takes the concept and, using another shot example, the author disects the shot. Angles, lighting, positioning of the actor/action are pointed out graphically and more often than not, explainations of why a particular method was used. Technical issues are addressed next. This is where the author explains focal lengths, zoom, lighting and even addresses issues depending on the type of camera being used. Before closing the discussion of each type of shot, breaking the rule is lightly touched upon, again with an example. It shows that not all succesful shots need to follow a hard rule and there are always exceptions that fit a filmakers' needs.

I liked the fact it not only touches on using 35mm, but also camcorders, giving hope to amatuers that have to work with what they have and zero budgets. Another nice method of the book is that the language is simple and not heavy on the hollywood jargon.

In my pursuit of self learning filmaking, I have learned that there is no one book that will teach you to be the next oscar winner. But this one helped with understand the different types of shots and how they are put together to acheived a particular effect.