Through out the years I’ve read scores of books on movie making and other related subjects, and from those I’ve made a list of what I feel to be the 10 most effective, informative, and easy-to-follow books on filmmaking.
Each book below covers a different aspect of the moviemaking process from script to screen and is written by experienced professionals in the industry. Making a movie is no easy task, so don’t go running into the battle blind, arm yourself with these necessary tools and I promise you that once you read these books you will gain both the knowledge and confidence needed to make your film.
1. SAVE THE CAT – Blake Snyder
Hands down the BEST book on screenwriting I’ve ever read! Blake Snyder breaks down the screenwriting process into a few simple formulas that will make writing your script feel effortless, and the best part is that they also act as your own screenwriting cheat sheet so that you always know you are on the right path to writing a solid story. In this book you’ll learn how to write a winning logline, make sure your main character has defined primal goals, how to make sure you hit all your stories beats, the laws of a writing a good script, and much, MUCH MORE!
2. SHOT BY SHOT – Steven D. Katz
This book takes you through the process of shooting your film and really teaches you how to hone your craft of visualization so that your movie looks exactly like what you’ve created in your mind. Giving you some basics on shooting dialogue scenes and camera movements as well, SHOT BY SHOT is the perfect shooting book, especially if you’ve never filmed anything before. After reading this book you’ll have a good blue-print for what you need to do to in order to pull off your film. Note- This is probably the most well-known and commonly referenced book among filmmakers. If you go to a film school this will no doubt be one of the first books they will throw at you.
3. MASTER SHOTS – Christopher Kenworthy
The tag line on this book is – 100 ADVANCED CAMERA TECHNIQUES TO GEN AN EXPENSIVE LOOK ON YOUR LOW BUDGET MOVIE. This pretty much sums up how awesome this book is, seriously. The book gives you simple, easy-to-follow descriptions, theories, and visual diagrams behind each camera move and covers almost every category you could imagine including: Fight Scenes, Chase Scenes, Suspense, Dramatic Shifts, Revelations, Sex Scenes, Etc. This book will help your visual story telling immensely and allow you to have a blast as you try each camera move out.
4. THE DV REBELS GUIDE – Stu Maschwitz
Having spent 5 years as a visual artist for Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Co-founded The Orphanage, and created the Magic Bullet Software it’s safe to say that Stu Maschwitz knows what he is talking about when it comes to Digital Filmmaking. This book is the DIY filmmaker’s bible as it shows you how to make your action movie on even the lowest of budgets while still giving it a big-budget look. This book packs a big punch and includes a DVD with even more detailed tips, tricks, and tutorials.
5. DIRECTIING ACTORS – Judith Weston
I was first issued this book while attending film school and was assigned to read and use the techniques taught in this book. Now while I still feel that there is a big bullshit factor when filmmakers describe directing as an “art”, this book does contain several very effective exercises and techniques that allow you to coach your actors into giving you the performances that you need to capture on screen. The book makes you take a deeper look at the subtext of your characters and dialogue so that you understand the meaning of each action, and it also gives you very helpful techniques on how to effectively communicate with your actors. So if you are looking for a book on directing this is definitely the one you want.
6. GREENSCREEN MADE EASY – Jeremy Hanke & Michele Yamazaki
I’m including this book in the Top 10 for two reasons: 1. Many filmmakers today claim they “know” how to use Greenscreen but the truth is they don’t really understand how it works or the rules behind it to pull off a decent Chroma. 2. I feel Greenscreen plays a very important part in filmmaking today, even in the low-budget arena, and that it’s important for all filmmakers to understand it so that they can properly use it in their films. So as the title implies this book covers how to use a Greenscreen both in production and post-production and is a very informative and simple book to follow. A Must Have for any indie filmmaker!
7. ON FILM EDITING – Edward Dmytryk
Editing can make or break a film that’s why it’s very important to understand the basic rules/laws of film editing. Now while I think most editing can be learned simply through doing and watching your edit, this book covers in detail some great tips and tricks that most first time editors probably over look or might not even think about. Dmytryk also gives explanations behind each rule, allowing you to fully understand the meaning behind each action.
8. THE SOUND EFFECTS BIBLE – Ric Viers
This book is your one stop shot for sound! It contains every possible thing you could ever want to know about sound from how to read a sound wave to designing your own sound studio. This is a must read for anyone wanting to go into production, especially Directors because if you can understand how sound works it will allow you to avoid many problems during both production and post-production. Don’t underestimate the power of sound, use it to your advantage and bring a whole new life to your film that you never thought possible.
9. THE HOLLYWOOD ECONOMIST – Edward Jay Epstein
One of the most EYE OPENING books you’ll ever read! An in-depth look into the business side of the movie industry, if you’ve ever thought about doing a theatrical release you should stop and read this book first. The Hollywood Economist reveals secrets, trends, and numbers making the glamorous world of movies, look not so glamorous. If you want the inside scoop about how things work then this is the book to read, every first time filmmaker should read this book and get a better understanding about how things really work.
10. REBEL WITHOUT A DEAL – Vincent Rocca
I’m rounding out the list with Rebel Without A Deal because while it’s not a traditional “How To” book on film, it’s actually more informative than most “How To” books out there. This book chronicles the journey of filmmaker Vincent Rocca as he makes a low-budget movie titled “Kisses and Caroms” after being inspired by Kevin Smith’s “Clerks”. Vincent Rocca reveals the ups and downs of the roller coaster ride of seeking film distribution in this personal filmmaker’s journal. His day to day diary gives you an inside look at the struggles and successes that are to come once you’ve finished your feature film, so do yourself a favor and read this book and learn from a man who’s already been through the ringer and survived.
If there’s a book that we’ve missed or you think deserves to be in the Top 10, leave a comment and let us know what books have helped you learn the tricks of the trade!