Filmmaking Book Recommendations

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For years now I’ve been asked what books I would recommend to people interested in learning more about filmmaking.   Many of the people who ask me are photographers moving into motion,  DPs moving into directing, as well as every day people moving into some aspect of filmmaking, screenwriting and/or directing.     So here you go!   

The following are a list of books that deal with filmmaking which I would recommend.  They range from the technical to the anecdotal – but there is something to learn about the craft of making films in each of them.  I have broken them down into three different sections: Screenwriting, Filmmaking, and Post-Production.  

Please feel free to share your own favorite books on these subjects in the comments section – a person can never learn too much!    Many of these are available in both print and (in my preferred form) electronic download.

Lastly – if you’re not the "reading type" and are more of a "visual" learner – you can always check out some of the video HDSLR courses I’ve done for CreativeLIVE here.


Save the Cat – Blake Synder


Entertaining read that focuses on movie structure and the key beats you need to hit when writing screenplays. Utilized on films like How to Train Your Dragon, this book opens up the back of the watch and lets you see the essential gears that make movies tick.  Basically: once you read this book you’ll never be able to watch a film in the same way again – so be warned…  you’ll be analyzing everything you see from that point on!


The Writers Journey – Christopher Vogler


Screenwriting staple that builds upon Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. This book highlights the quest every hero must undertake on any adventure. The go to reference of Darren Aronofsky when working with screenwriters. 



Art of Dramatic Writing – Lajos Egri


Classic book that breaks down the tenants of drama. Widely referenced in the filmmaking world. 



Adventures in the Screen Trade – William Goldman


Fun and informative behind the scenes look at Hollywood through the eyes of one of the most successful Oscar-winning screenwriters, William Goldman. Goldman’s screen credits include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Misery, and The Princess Bride. 



The Tools or Screenwriting – David Howard and Edward Mabley

Interesting breakdown of the different elements that many successful screenplays have in common.  this book focuses mainly on structural elements, such as "the plant" and "the payoff" that assist in crafting a solid, "well-told" story.  Additionaly, practical examples of these elements in use are provided through the likes of such films as "Citizen Cane" and "One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest."


Rebel Without a Crew – Robert Rodriguez


Amazing account of how Rodriguez broke into the film industry at the age of 23 with his $7000 film, El Marichi. Tons of useful and inspirational information on how to make a movie on the cheap.



First Time Director – Gill Bettman


Awesome book for getting to the heart of what makes a successful first time director. You only get a few shots in Hollywood and this book breaks down how best to make the most of those opportunities. 



Hitchcock – Francois Truffaut


Lessons from the master of suspense as written by another legendary filmmaker. The book is an interview of Hitchcock discussing the lessons he learned from a lifetime of filmmaking. 




Directing Actors– Judith Weston


Essential reading for developing techniques to pull the best performances from your actors.   This is one of the most widely referenced books on directing actors out there – it strives to move directors away from "results oriented direction" (telling your actor to "be angry" for example), and give them director a larger tool box full of more creative and efficient techniques for shaping  performance.  At the very least you’ll walk away with a better understanding on how to better communicate with the actors you work with – which is critical for any director.



Making Movies – Sydney Lumet


A quick read on the directing process of Sydney Lumet. One of the best directing books out there. Lumet directed films such as The Whiz, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network. 




Film Directing: Shot by Shot – Steven D Katz


A graphic approach to understanding cinematic language and how best to block out your shots. One of the most important skills to cultivate. 

This book is part of almost every single film student’s required reading.


The Director’s Vision – Geoff Andrew


An encyclopedic look at 250 different directors from various countries and periods of filmmaking that describes their visuals style and consistent themes throughout their work.  Each profile also includes a shortlist of recommended viewing and a list of other directors that have similar aspects to their filmmaking.  An incredible reference for film connoisseurs and practicing directors alike.


Cinematography for Directors – Jacqueline B. Frost


 I found this very interesting given that I come from a photography background.    It was nice to see how many directors that DON’T necessarily have an eye come to working with DPs.   This gives great insight to both DPs and Directors on how to form a stronger and more productive (see: collaborative) relationship on set.   While not a "must have" book by any means – it’s a great "different" read if you will.


The DSLR FIlmmaker’s Handbook – Barry Andersson and Janie L. Geyen


 This is a good thorough book if you’re new to DSLR filmmaking.   You can really get a good grasp on many of the basics that a lot of others might take for granted.   It does a thorough job of examining the technical language, challenges, and gear used in DSLR filmmaking.


Cinematic Storytelling – Jennifer Van Sijll

As a visual storyteller I found this to be a very nice read.  Again not a "must have"but I did find it quite enjoyable. 



Changing Direction: A Practical Approach to Direction – Lenore De Koven


This is another great book for the director searching for practical advice on how to better work w/ actors.   Dekoven has been a teacher to many young filmmakers and puts together a very specific, step by step approach to interacting with actors in what is a clearly written book.


The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers – Mark T. Conra


Love for the Coen Brothers’ work aside, this is an interesting read because it is a collection of criticisms that focus not on the stylistic makings of film, but the philosophical underpinnings.  And while the Coen Brothers’ philosophies tend to exist somewhere in the range of utterly nihilistic (see: No Country for Old Men), to the passively nihilistic (see: The Big Lebowski), it is always interesting to read how thoughts and ideas about life are woven into narrative, as it is often the bigger ideas behind stories that are more interesting than the story itself.


Film Art: An Introduction– David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson

This book is required reading for almost every  entry level film critical studies class.  Yes, it reads like a text book – but it is full of incredibly useful information about the art and analysis of films, giving the reader a new perspective on how to read films – from their literary design all the way to their most formalistic aesthetics.


In the Blink of an Eye – Walter Murch


Editing theory from one of the masters of our time, Walter Murch. Murch’s editing credits include The English Patient, Apocalypse Now, and the Godfather films. 



DV Rebels Guide – Stu Maschwitz


The ultimate guide to making your low budget film look big by utilizing post production strategies with off the shelf tools. Written by long time visual effects guru Stu Maschwitz who has worked on visual effects on many large Hollywood films. 



After Effects CS5: Studio Techniques – Mark Christianson


The most comprehensive guide on how to accomplish photo real visual effects using Adobe After Effects. Christianson has worked on the visual effects of many large Hollywood films.




Color Correction Handbook – Alexis Van Hurkman


One of the best resources for understanding  digital color correction.