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Book Review: The Lean Forward Moment: Create Compelling Stories For Film, TV, And The Web by Norman Hollyn

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The Lean Forward Moment is not about filmmaking techniques, but rather is a book about creating stories through the use of moving images. This book is not just for film, or television, but the techniques contained within can be used in any medium at all. It uses the author’s experience as an editor to help you refine and define the story you want to tell.

In reality, The Lean Forward Moment is about the editing process. One of the scariest processes when confronted with a large amount of footage is where to begin. The goal of this book is to give you the storytelling tools to make it easier to sort through the decision-making process and get coherent results. The Lean Forward Moment is 384 pages in length and is contained in 13 chapters.

Chapter 1, “How We Tell Stories,” begins by looking at the nature of storytelling and how to bring about change and drama in to what you are creating. In this chapter you will learn about creating change, what a logline is, and what “Lean Forward Moment” is.

Chapter 2, “Loglines for Our Films,” are important in that by doing an analysis of each scene and having a defined logline for your project, will help you find the Lean Forward Moments. This chapter looks at all of the films that will be used. Some of the projects include Alien, Coons, Finding Nemo, “For You” music video, the TV show Lost, and many others.

Chapter 3, “Writing,” can begin from different inspirations, but there is, in general, something that makes the writer do one story over another. This chapter looks at the script – do you even need a script, how to create an impact with your words, and moving toward your Lean Forward Moments.

Chapter 4, “Production Design,” is the process of creating the world that the characters live in. It involves the space that they move through, the colors that they see, and the objects that they handle. It is the visual style that audience experiences. This chapter takes a look at all of the things that go into production design including colors, set design, wardrobe, makeup, hair, and props.

Chapter 5, “Directing,” is the process of creating a unified vision of the project. This job sometimes is done by a director, or it could be a producer, or in the case of a commercial, the ad agency responsible for the spot. This chapter takes you through all of the different jobs that a director has to be responsible for through all of phases of production.

Chapter 6, “Cinematography,” is about taking what the director is trying to say with the project and getting the camera to capture it. It consists of the composition, blocking – the way people and objects are positioned, movement, and lighting. This chapter examines how all of these things are put together to make the directors vision come alive.

Chapter 7, “Editing,” is the task of assembling varying shots in sequence to put together the directors vision. This brings together the character arcs, the pacing, and the story shape. In the case of a feature film that lasts 120 minutes, there might be 40 hours’ worth of material shot. It is the job of the editor to take this footage and create the story that is to be told. Here you will look at mood, shaping the story, and building to the various Lean Forward Moments.

Chapter 8, “Opticals and Visual Effects,” are those things that, through the manipulation of the originally shot footage, results in a visually different image. In this chapter you will look at simple visual effects like fades, dissolves, and change of speed. You will also look at more complicated ones like ones used in the Matrix and how they can be used to move the story along.

Chapter 9, “Music,” is one of the most powerful tools in shaping an audience’s reaction to a film. When done correctly it can affect the audience’s comprehension of your story. Here you will see how music spotting can create change, how you can use style and tone to create change, and how to use music in general throughout your project.

Chapter 10, “Sound,” is something that is rarely noticed by audiences unless it is very loud, yet it is something that creates a sense of space in the audiences mind. There are those who work location sound as well as those who work post-production sound – with both having the same goal of telling the story the project is trying to tell. Here you will see how, through scene analysis you can effectively use sound.

Chapter 11, “Special Exceptions to the Rule,” is about when the questions you try to answer within your loglines and scene analyses differ within different genres of media. The fact is that you are still trying to tell a story. In this chapter you will look at action films, horror films, episodic storytelling, television series, Web series, commercials, reality shows, short films, and music videos.

Chapter 12, “Producing: Putting it all Together,” is really what the producer does. They help everyone else do their job well in which results in a coherent project. Here you will look at how the producer “sells” everybody on the project from the investors, to the actors, and other participants. They then pull together the collaborative efforts of the people involved, the graphic themes involved, and all the other little things to make the project a success.

Chapter 13, “The Dirty Little Secret,” pulls together the final thoughts on the use of the Lean Forward Moments within the film industry. You will also learn about the best ways to learn within the film industry, as well as some final thoughts on the Lean Forward Moment in general.

The Lean Forward Moment does an excellent job at drilling down and through all of the processes that make a video project come together to tell a story and how each part affects the final outcome. It provides a really great overview of the entire filmmaking process. I like the way it does not get bogged down in jargon and is straightforward in its approach to creating video.

I think the way the book takes you through loglines and scene analysis really drives home the point you really need to understand you’re trying to accomplish within your project. I like the way it balances the use of popular films with ones that are perhaps lesser known outside of certain circles. The Lean Forward Moment will be especially useful for those who are just getting into video — both film students and other creative people wanting to create stories that people will want to watch. I very highly recommend this book.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.