Cinematic Storytelling® The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know by Jennifer Van Sijll
Review by Beverly Nault

Part how-to for directors and filmmakers, part encyclopedia for screenwriters, Van Sijll’s trademark niche, “visual literacy,” is now a required class at top film schools. In her book that’s become required reading for the students, she dissects a wide range of techniques for camera angles, movement, editing, sound, props, and music among dozens of other elements to add subtext, exposition, and metaphor.

When sound was first added to the medium, moviemakers lamented the addition of dialog, predicting that the art intended for visual storytelling would lose its effect. Van Sijll’s techniques are designed to help the industry avoid “talky-talk” exposition and use creative elements to avoid “literature transferred to the screen.”

If you’ve received notes that your screenplay has too much dialog, not enough subtext or reads like a novel, Cinematic Storytelling could help with new ideas for rewrites. From wardrobe to weather, location to lighting, Van Sijll uses scenes and screengrabs from classic movies to illustrate each concept.

While screenwriters are cautioned against “directing” the film or describing camera placement, Van Sijll considers the screenplay the first opportunity for effectively implementing motion and other techniques besides action beats and dialog. The book’s screenplay excerpts “demonstrate how master screenwriters have incorporated cinematic storytelling into their scripts without disrupting the read or directing-the-director.” (Kindle location 277)

The book can be read cover to cover, or as a “dictionary” to see how other writers and directors have used the elements in classic features. I found a few typos, but the book reads quickly, and is well organized. The index itself is a valuable resource.

Jennifer Van Sijll has an MFA from USC’s Department of Cinematic Arts. She consults on screenplays, videos, marketing campaigns and commercials. Her clients include film studios, corporate venues, ad agencies, and independent writers and producers. Representative clients include Google, Pixar, Universal Studios, China Central Television, Juniper Networks, Seagate, Microsoft, Attik, and Nestle. She teaches her visual literacy seminars and workshops all over the world.

About Beverly Nault: Beverly Nault was a technical writer for an aerospace software company before she began writing creatively for publication. In 2011, her first novel, Fresh Start Summer, and memoir Lessons from the Mountain, What I Learned from Erin Walton, written with actor Mary McDonough, both released. Since then, Bev’s had ten novels and several short stories published. She’s been a freelance editor for fiction and non-fiction writers, a first reader for a literary agency, and staff acquisitions editor for the literary journal, Eastern Iowa Review. Bev lives in Mesa with her husband Gary where she dabbles in tennis, and excels at spoiling their three grandchildren.

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