The following guest post by Director Stew Redwine includes excerpts from The Five C’s of Cinematography by Joseph V. Mascelli.

In the technological Xanadu we storytellers know as the present day it is easy for outsiders, and some insiders, to forget the person telling the story and somehow think that the camera being used impacts the quality of the story being told. I can’t tell you how many times someone has watched something I’ve shot or directed, and really only had one pressing question at the end. Did they want to know who shot it? No. Did they want to know more about the creative inspiration and vision of the piece? No.

They wanted to know what camera we used.

If you think what camera you shoot on is the answer to great storytelling, then I challenge you with this… Go make a big pile of money doing whatever you want; like a brilliant new app or an alternative energy source. Once you have the cash, you can buy the very best camera. Then you’ll be able to tell the best story, right?

Wrong.

Cameras don’t tell stories, people do. Since we can all agree this is the case, there is really only one thing you need to tell great stories… YOU. However, none of us are born knowing anything about the tools of the trade. In an effort to improve the one tool all storytellers have in common, their mind, a must-have addition to their library is Joseph V. Mascelli’s The Five C’s of Cinematography. I picked this book up a few years ago, and I have learned more from it than any other resource on the subject. I’ve been to courses, classes, looked to chat rooms online, and experimented by trial and error; but none of those things have come close to the pure undistilled story driven explanation of cinematography found in Mascelli’s classic book. In his own words from the introduction:

“On many occasions during the years devoted to preparation and writing of this book, I have felt that defining, explaining, clarifying and graphically illustrating motion picture filming techniques in an easy-to-understand way – is impossible – but not quite. Most professionals instinctively know the right way to film the subject – but seem unable to explain just how they do it.”

Almost 50 years after the publishing of these words, I want to reassure Joseph V. Mascelli that he succeeded in explaining cinematography in an easy-to-understand way. He did this by explaining everything about cinematography in five categories that have one common thread; cinematography functions at its peak performance when it serves the story.

So what are the Five C’s? They are Camera Angles, Continuity, Cutting, Close-ups, and Composition. I want to share with you some of my favorite quotes from each one of the Five C’s. Consider this article the CliffsNotes version of the book; and, just like your English teacher, I strongly encourage you to read The Five C’s of Cinematography in it’s entirety in addition to this summary.

1. Camera Angles
“Camera placement is determined by narrative significance.”This is very important. Why are you looking at what you are looking at? Is it because it looks good, or because we need to see it to move the story along? It should always be to move the story along and never solely because it looks good.

2. Continuity
“Good continuity encourages the viewer to become absorbed in the story-telling, without bothersome distractions. The prime purpose of a motion picture, whether theatrical fiction feature or documentary fact film, is to capture and hold audience attention – from opening shot to final fade-out.” This entire chapter breaks down the nuts and bolts of photographing action in such a way that it makes sense on screen. I haven’t come across a better explanation of “the line” (action axis/maintaining dynamic and static screen direction) in any other book.

3. Cutting
“Always move players into and out of close-ups to allow cutting on action.” Cut on the action. This simple axiom of editing works every time. “It is possible to cut away to anything happening anywhere at any time.” Remember this. You are in the driver’s seat. You are the one putting one shot after the other. What do you want the specific series of sights and sounds you’re placing in order to mean? “Each shot should make a point. All scenes should be linked together so that their combined effect, rather than their individual contents, produces the desired audience reactions.”

4. Close-Ups
Close-ups should be made to count. The stronger the motive for using a close-up, the more the close-up can help make the story-telling truly effective! The consistent emphasis throughout the five sections of the book is this; every shot must serve the story.

5. Composition
“Good composition is arrangement of pictorial elements to form a unified harmonious whole.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, when you are telling stories for an audience you are not the beholder, they are. The most important set of eyes belong to the audience. Make sure you are making images that look good to your audience, and above all else, serve the story.

6. The Sixth C
In closing, there is a sixth C of Cinematography I would like to mention: Compliment. When you are in the process of shooting or have just finished watching a story you think looked great, make sure you tell the person or group of people who created it. After all, none of us are telling stories just for ourselves. As you continue to strive to be the best you can be take the time to compliment others on their own successes along the way.

Oscar Wilde said it best, “Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success”. The sixth C of Cinematography may just be the most important. Make sure you compliment others whenever you can. After all, we’re all creating for others, and we want to know if we succeeded in communicating our story.

Stew Redwine is a Los Angeles-based Director and FreshDV contributor. All quotations from The Five C’s of Cinematography by Joseph V. Mascelli – 1965 – Silman James Press