Friday, July 1, 2016

Book Review: Michael W. Dean's $30 Film School (2003)

Michael Dean's $30 Film School
The cover of Michael Dean's excellent $30 Film School really says it all – "write, finance, direct, produce, shoot, edit, distribute, tour with, and sell your own no-budget DIGITAL movie." Your humble critic would be remiss, however, if I didn't go into the details as to why this book is one of the most important tools available to an artist. It doesn't matter whether you're making films, playing music, writing books or slapping paint on an old piece of plywood, no matter what kind of art that you are creating (or aspire to create), you owe it to yourself to read $30 Film School. Why? Because author Dean goes beyond the nuts and bolts treatment of how to make your own low-budget film and lays out a lengthy, holistic and people-friendly philosophy for making art the DIY way.

Michael Dean is no neophyte to the creative world. He was the primary songwriter and bass player for the mid-80s San Francisco band Bomb, which recorded a couple of indie and one major label album, and he continues to write and play music today. He's written and marketed a novel, and has crafted two hefty and useful tomes in $30 Film School and its companion, $30 Music School. Dean is also the producer/director/cameraman of the documentary film D.I.Y. Or Die, which features interviews with folks of various artistic persuasions, from musicians (Ian MacKaye, Mike Watt, Ron Asheton) and poets (Maggie Estep, Beth Lisick) to indie filmmakers (Richard Kern) and music producers (Steve Albini). It's the story of the creation of D.I.Y. Or Die that lead to the writing of $30 Film School.

For those who want the cold, hard facts along with a dose of punk-inspired philosophy, Dean provides plenty of technical information and helpful shortcuts. The book thoroughly explains the ins-and-outs of digital video, the benefits of DV versus other film and video formats, the trials and tribulations of computer editing, proper audio editing and other aspects of low-budget (but not low quality) filmmaking. Dean goes into details on specific software and hardware that it available to digital filmmakers and covers DVD authoring, video distribution and the many legal aspects of filmmaking.

It's in the less-tangible areas of filmmaking that Dean excels, however, the chapters on fundraising, producing and directing a film all showcasing the author's hard-won experience and "treat people right" philosophy that every aspiring artist should follow. Information on publicity and marketing your film, touring with the film and interviews with other artists fill out the 500-page guide and an enclosed CD-ROM disc offers demo software, film clips and various forms and other tools created by Dean.

With $30 Film School, Dean shares the knowledge gained not only from his yearlong D.I.Y. Or Die project, but also from a lifetime of working mostly outside the system, of making music and film and literature with an independent spirit. Dean's writing is fluid and entertaining, reading more like a conversation with a new friend than like a boring old technical manual. $30 Film School is packed with information, but it's the subtle ideas that Dean injects between the lessons that serve the artist best. Highly recommended for any creative mind, Michael Dean's $30 Film School is the best of a new breed of user-friendly guides, a book that will inspire the reader to reach for the stars and never settle for less. (Cengage Learning, published May 13, 2003)

Originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2004

Related Content: Michael W. Dean's $30 Music School book review

Educate yourself, fool!

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