Hollywood Camera Work is advertised as a master course in high-end blocking and staging. If you've never heard of blocking and staging that may explain why you find your attempts at filmmaking look amateurish next to what you see on the screen at the multiplex. Along with bad sound, lighting, and acting, poor placement of the actors and camera are the biggest mistakes for beginning filmmakers. It's the difference between films that look like bad home movies and films that tell an exciting, emotional story.
The first two DVDs start with the basic fixed camera setups. The next two DVDs get into advanced setups using dollies and cranes. Finally the last two DVDs put it all together and show how to stage complete scenes starting with the script, followed by staging diagrams, then a look at each setup, and finally showing the entire scene as it looks when cut together. Fortunately HCW assumes you know almost nothing about blocking, composition and how cameras work so the lessons are just as useful for a serious beginner as for an experienced filmmaker.
Per Holmes, the creator of the Hollywood Camera Work DVDs, was a both a successful music producer and music video director. He was puzzled that there wasn't a comprehensive reference on blocking and staging techniques and spent five years creating one of his own. Luckily he decided to share his work and HCW is the result of that effort.
The set consists of six DVDs comprising nine hours of instruction. The images are almost entirely of simple 3D models of actors and cameras illustrating the concepts. First with an overview shot of the set to show the staging followed by a view through the camera to see the effect. Excellent narration and titles accompany the images so everything is clearly explained. Nine hours sounds like a long time but there's a lot covered in this set and the pace is actually pretty fast so be prepared to pause and review often.
My criticisms? There's a lot to cover so be prepared to spend a day or two on each DVD or you may feel overwhelmed. At $399 the set is not cheap (about the cost of one class at a film school). I would like to see a printed manual included with some explanation and copies of the scripts and diagrams, but they can be downloaded from the web site. It would also be nice if the set got into color and lighting and how they play into composition.
A few lapses aside Hollywood Camera Work is a good learning resource for very serious filmmakers. It does a good job of covering one thing very completely. Highly recommended only if you can squeeze it into your budget and are serious about getting into this level of detail. (Note that the educational discount previously offered from this site is no longer available which made the cost of the course much more reasonable. Check with the publisher to find out if this product is still available.)