Even if you’re at the top of your game or currently getting hands-on at an intensive filmmaking school program, it can pay dividends to do some additional learning behind the scenes.
Thankfully, for those who live and breathe the craft, there are more than a few excellent books in which to immerse yourself and get even further ahead of the game…
… in fact, it could be argued that there are too many to choose from. With this in mind, join us as we separate the wheat from the chaff with:
9 Best Books on Filmmaking and Directing
The following is a summary of the best filmmaking books written by filmmakers, for filmmakers. Naturally, any list of this kind features a certain level of subjectivity, but all of the below are industry renowned titles and come highly recommended.
The Filmmaker’s Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age (2013 Edition) by Steven Ascher and Edward Pincus
A staple of filmmaker’s bookshelves for well over a decade, the latest edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook has revitalized all of the essential knowledge which it has become known for and brought it right up to date. If you don’t own this book already, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
On Directing Film (1992) by David Mamet
David Mamet is heralded for both his on-stage work (for which he has won Pulitzer and Tony prizes) and also his work on the screen, having ratcheted up a couple of Oscar nominations. As such, Mamet has more than a few nuggets of wisdom to share throughout the pages of On Directing Film, making it a mandatory read for directors… or really, anyone working in film.
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (1999) by Peter Biskind
While not a manual on filmmaking, Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders is essential reading in order to fully understand the foundations on which modern-day Hollywood was built. We could have chosen any title by this highly engaging cultural critic – Down and Dirty Pictures is also highly recommended – but Easy Riders is a great place to start.
Directing: Film Techniques & Aesthetics (Fifth Edition, 2013) by Michael Rabinger and Mick Hurbis-Cherrier
Another must-read for either those at filmmaking school or looking to make a career hop over to the director’s seat. What isn’t covered on the profession in this book could probably fit on the back of a postage stamp. From start to finish, this truly is one of the most comprehensive books ever written – and frequently updated – on the art and science of directing.
How to Shoot a Feature Film for Under $10,000 (And Not Go to Jail) by Bret Stern (2002)
Coupled with one of the more authoritative, traditional tomes on filmmaking listed here, Bret Stern’s very liberating approach to the topic will have you on the road to becoming an indie maverick in no time. How To Shoot a Feature Film For Under $10,000 is guaranteed to revolutionize your approach to problem solving (and hopefully make you a much better filmmaker in the process.)
On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director (2005) by Alexander Mackendrick, edited by Paul Cronin
Alexander Mackendrick’s seminal volume on the craft of filmmaking has long been an industry standard text, and one that has helped countless individuals find their own cinematographic eye and achieve success in directing. Following the great director and teacher’s death in 1993, the various handouts he would give to his students were collated by Paul Cronin and presented in this book (with a foreword from Martin Scorsese.)
In the Blink of an Eye (2nd Edition, 2001) by Walter Murch
As a thought-provoking treatise on the practicalities and aesthetics of cutting film, In the Blink of an Eye is a book everyone who works in editing should read. Don’t be put off – this isn’t a technical manual on the hows of editing, but more of a meditation on the whys.
Legendary director Sidney Lumet didn’t see filmmaking as magic, so this magician was more than happy to share his secrets. Lumet wasn’t just a visionary–he was very much a workman, and believed having a clear, firm control of his set would lead to a smooth production that would allow everyone, from crew to cast, to do their best. The five-time Oscar nominee backs up his ideas with sample shot lists and schedules and other practical templates filmmakers can use to this day.
While Mexican director Robert Rodriguez is now more known for his blockbuster epics like Alita: Battle Angel and the Spy Kids movies, Rodriguez first rose to prominence with his independent film El Mariachi, which he shot with only $7,000. One way he saved money was by serving as his own editor, cinematographer, writer, producer, director, and film scorer–roles he still fills for many of his much higher-budgeted films to this day. His guerilla-style, ultra low-budget take on indie filmmaking is detailed in his book Rebel without a Crew, a must-read for filmmakers who don’t have millions of dollars at their disposal to make the movie of their dreams.
Read any other excellent books on filmmaking that we should be checking out and including here? Don’t hesitate to drop your suggestion in the comments below, and let’s chat books! And check out NYFA’s filmmaking programs to learn more about movie making.