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Film School on a Bookshelf: 15 Recommended Books for Aspiring (and Expert) Filmmakers

07.17.12 @ 4:23PM Tags : , , ,

One of the reasons this site is named “No Film School” is because of the widespread availability of excellent materials for self-teaching these days: almost every movie is available on disc or online, DVD special features often make for great learning tools, and there are plenty of books on the topic. Oh, and digital cameras are cheaper than the film cameras of decades past, when access to a celluloid-shooting camera was a major reason to go to film school. While we hope this site is itself a good resource for learning, there are so many good books on filmmaking that we thought we’d start recommending and compiling them. Here are 15 of our top recommendations.

As one of our goals with No Film School is to make film education accessible to folks who can’t afford film school, we’ve also listed used prices right in the widget (most of these books also have Kindle versions if you click through). The books here are suggested by myself, Mar Belle, Christopher Boone, Joe Marine, and Justin Minich. Happy reading!

The Filmmaker’s Handbook, 3rd Edition by Steven Ascher & Edward Pincus

The Filmmaker’s Handbook is the quintessential book for filmmakers of any skill level. It is jam-packed with information on every aspect of making a movie from pre-production all the way through to post-production and distribution. For the most part the book goes into explaining the technical aspects and common issues in working with film, video, lenses, sound recording, editing, and lighting, but it is written in a style that makes these topics rather accessible. It also gives a good overview of fundamental techniques and aesthetic considerations in all the aforementioned topics. If all that weren’t enough, the appendices are full of tables on data rates for digital formats, depth of field, hyperfocal distance, lens angle/focal length, as well as instructions on how to calibrate a video monitor. And for those die hard people who still use film there is plenty of supplementary info on cement splicing, synching rushes, comparisons of running times for different formats, and splitting mag tracks. In short, like the quote from The Independent on the cover says it’s “The bible — updated”. - J. Minich

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Just because we recommend a book here doesn’t mean you should do what the book tells you to do. As I say in the comments disclaimer for this site, “you don’t have to agree with us to learn something,” and I feel similarly about the ubiquitous Story by Robert McKee, which is famously featured on-screen in in Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation. McKee likes to pretend that by using the word “form” instead of “formula” he’s encouraging originality, but I remember thinking after reading the book in college that Story was most useful from a “learn to walk before you run” standpoint. Whatever you want to call them, it’s helpful to know the forms/formulas/principles/rules of screenwriting, even if you’re just going to forget about them when you’re knee-deep in your draft. Besides, if you’re submitting your screenplay to producers or studios, it’s likely that whoever’s writing coverage on your script will have read Story or one of its myriad contemporaries, and if you’re getting notes on structure or form, it can be helpful to know your (fr)enemy. - RK

On Directing Film by David Mamet

This is one of the few books I read in college that really made me question everything I’d ever considered about movies. Mamet may be best known for his theater work, but he’s also come into his own as a filmmaker. On Directing Film is short and sweet, and can easily be read in a day, but the ideas that he puts forth will leave you thinking about what makes a film good long after you’ve put it down. From his ideas about screenwriting to the process of directing, Mamet encourages you to consider that film is a visual medium, first and foremost. He argues that juxtaposition is more important than what is contained within each shot — it is the meaning between shots that will move a film forward, and scenes should be composed in the least interesting way possible.

When it comes to his actors delivering dialogue, he proposes uninflected acting to Bressonian proportions. Like the French master himself, it is the connection between the images on screen that matters more than the performance of the actor. To me, it’s not a how-to book (though its title would suggest otherwise). My advice is to read it, think about it, but don’t let it influence your work unless you want it to. You may not like the book or Mamet’s advice in the end (many don’t), but it’s going to force you to think about the process of filmmaking in ways you’ve probably never thought of before. – J. Marine

The Hollywood Standard: The Complete and Authoritative Guide to Script Format and Style by Christopher Riley

I originally added The Hollywood Standard to my bookshelf based on John August’s endorsement, when he announced on his site “I’m going to cede all formating concerns to [this book] which can answer newbie questions and let me focus on other points of word-pushing.” This book is not a how-to and it doesn’t contain career advice — it is simply focused on formatting. While there is no “final word” on any screenplay formatting debate and any rule you think is an “industry standard” is just as likely to be broken by your favorite writer, I find it helpful to have a resource that can help you figure out how to deal with text message conversations, flashbacks, song lyrics, and syntactical issues. No matter what genre you’re working in, one goal for your screenplay should be for it to read well, and knowing some best practices formatting-wise can always help in that regard. - RK

In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch

In the Blink of an Eye takes it all the way back to the basics, not unlike the David Mamet book (and it’s also based on a lecture). Even if some of the techniques are outdated, the actual psychological impact of editing is just as important as it’s ever been. Knowing why edits work and when to cut is the most important thing an editor can learn, and Murch proposes that there are basic rules editors should live by.

Murch develops a few ideas that are extremely useful to editors, with the most interesting being the rule of six. Basically, there are six criteria to make a cut in (in order of importance): emotion, story, rhythm, eye-trace, two-dimensional plane of screen, three-dimensional space of action. The audience should be able to ignore all of the individual aspects of a movie and remember how they felt while watching it –which is why emotion is number one. Throughout the rest of the book, he introduces many other intriguing ideas about editing, and thankfully, they’re all technology-agnostic. - J. Marine

The Name of this Book is Dogme95 by Richard Kelly

Years before Lars von Trier espoused the virtues of Nazism at Cannes he sat down with Thomas Vinterberg and drew up a filmmaking manifesto comprising ten rules dubbed the Vows of Chastity which they christened Dogme95. Fellow Danes Kristian Levring and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen joined the two originators and the Brotherhood was formed with its mission to strip filmmaking back to a level of purity not dissimilar to the work of the French New Wave’s practitioners.

In The Name of this Book is Dogme95 journalist Richard Kelly sets out his journey of initial discovery of the movement and documentation of its main players through interviews captured for the documentary The Name of This Film Is Dogme95. Regardless of your feelings about the films released under the Dogme95 charter — the initial crop (The Celebration, The Idiots, Mifune, The King is Alive &

Julien Donkey-Boy) are amongst some of my favourite cinema — the central concept of stripping cinema back to its fundamentals without a reliance on the bevy of tools filmmakers have at their disposal, is a very empowering message to take onto set with you. - MB

Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez

In the days before Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, the options for funding an indie film were limited: you could max out your credit card(s), take out a loan, ask family, friends, or whoever you thought had money and might give you some, or if you were lucky you could get a grant. Robert Rodriguez on the other hand, subjected himself to medical experimentation to raise the $7,000 he needed to make El Mariachi. And he made the entire movie with minimal equipment and no crew. We’ve all heard stories about directors’ humble beginnings and their rise to success, but I think all too rarely do we get a detailed account of just exactly what they went through to get where they are, and that’s what I love best about Rebel Without a Crew. It’s essentially his semi-daily journal that he kept starting from his guinea pig days all the way through his feverish dealings with Hollywood and festivals. Rodriguez went through a lot physically, emotionally, and financially, but he persevered by virtue of his hard work, thorough planning, and creative problem solving. If ever there was an inspiring example of what an indie filmmaker can do on a low budget, this is it. - J. Minich

The Reel Truth: Everything You Didn’t Know You Need to Know About Making an Independent Film by Reed Martin

If you want to make your mark in the film industry from an independent angle, Reed Martin’s The Reel Truth contains real-world knowledge interspersed with interviews with everyone from directors like Doug Liman to producers like Christine Vachon, to multitudes of agents, managers, executives, and distributors. With so many books on filmmaking already on the market I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book titled “everything you didn’t know you need to know,” but this was all stuff that I wished I’d known years ago. Some of the technical aspects of the book are already dated due to how rapidly cameras and software have changed since the book’s 2009 release (though Martin also makes the unfortunate mistake of repeatedly mentioning 3K as if it were an actual format based on the assumption that RED’s “$3K for 3K” SCARLET would come to fruition), but overlook these small quibbles and you’ll get a very helpful insider’s look at the machinations of the indie film industry. I don’t know if they make this required reading at any film school, but they should — this is not a book about theory or craft but about how the industry actually works. I can’t recommend The Reel Truth highly enough if you’re at all interested in the independent side of the industry. - RK

Shooting to Kill: How an Independent Producer Blasts Through the Barriers to Make Movies That Matter by Christine Vachon with David Edelstein

So many people, including DIY filmmakers, don’t really know what a producer does. Christine Vachon, producer and founder of Killer Films, shoots straight in this memoir about exactly what a producer does – which is whatever it takes to get the movie made. Shooting to Kill chronicles Vachon’s experiences of becoming a producer in the 90’s with honesty and wit. Vachon gives readers an intimate look behind-the-scenes to understand how she and her producing partners practically willed into existence some of the more challenging and memorable films from the decade – Poison, Kids, Safe, I Shot Andy Warhol, Happiness, Velvet Goldmine, Boys Don’t Cry – shepherding the careers of Todd Haynes, Todd Solondz and Mary Harron, among others.

Part how-to, part diary, altogether engrossing, Vachon brings her passion for making daring independent films to this book, making this a fast and necessary read for all aspiring filmmakers. -CB

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind

Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film
by Peter Biskind

Confession: I hated history in high school. It was my least favorite class. I really could’ve cared less about the dates and key figures that my history books deemed worthy to know. Why? Two reasons: first, high school history books cover topics that interest me very little; and second, textbooks aren’t exactly known for gripping prose. Shocking, I know.

Nevertheless, I believe if you are pursuing a career in filmmaking, you need to know your history. To that end, Peter Biskind’s pair of books, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Down and Dirty Pictures are absolute must-reads to understand how studio films completely changed in the 1970’s (arguably the best decade for daring, evocative, independently minded studio films) and how the independent film industry emerged with such force in the 1990’s. From countless interviews with all of the key players from both decades, each of these books provides a fascinating chronicle of the stories behind the stories. These are two history books you won’t want to put down once you start to read them – and yet another lesson in good stories, well-told. -CB

Poetics by Aristotle

Countless books have been written on how to write a screenplay. You can read any number of them, and they will mostly tell you the same things. I don’t really recommend any books on how to write a screenplay. Anyone can search the interwebs and figure out the screenplay format. Reading screenplays of produced films will teach you more than any of those books. The real question is, “Can you write a good story?”

The basis for all of the advice on storytelling comes back to Poetics by Aristotle. If you listen to successful screenwriters talk about what you need to know about how to write a screenplay, they repeatedly tell aspiring screenwriters to go back to Poetics:

Aaron Sorkin: “The rules are all in a sixty-four-page pamphlet by Aristotle called Poetics. It was written almost three thousand years ago, but I promise you, if something is wrong with what you’re writing, you’ve probably broken one of Aristotle’s rules.”

John Logan: “If you want to be a successful screenwriter, here’s the secret…Here it is, I’m going to tell you. This is what you have to do, it’s great – don’t tell anyone. You have to read Hamlet and you have to read it again and you have to read it until you understand every word. And then you move onto King Lear. And then maybe you treat yourself to Troilus and Cressida. And then you know what? Then you’re going to go back and read Aristotle’s Poetics until you can quote it.”

Craig Mazin here: “Frankly, I would much prefer to see people go online and read a free public domain copy of Aristotle’s Poetics, which I think has more actual philosophical meat behind it about what the point and purpose of drama is, both good and bad.”

And Craig Mazin here: “What is useful when you are writing a movie is what Aristotle, going all the way back to Poetics, called ‘unity.’ And that is, at its core, an argument, and what I call a central dramatic argument: an assertion that is the answer to a question, that you could agree or disagree with, but ultimately is at the… It is when people say, “What is this movie really about?” It’s about that.”

So, don’t take my word for it. Take theirs and study Aristotle’s Poetics. Again. -CB

True Fiction Pictures & Possible Films by Hal Hartley

Whether you agree with the idea of the director as auteur or not there are filmmakers whose work is clearly theirs through and through and Hal Hartley definitely belongs on that list. In True Fiction Pictures & Possible Films Kenneth C. Kaleta and Hal Hartley work through the director’s body of singular work across a series of interviews and email correspondence conducted between 1999 and 2004, discussing his progression as a filmmaker outside of the mainstream.

This isn’t a book that will instruct you how to make a film, rather its interviews illuminate how Hartley makes his films and how he’s continued to do so on his terms and in his voice for almost 30 years and at the end of the day what’s more inspiring than that? - MB

Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul by The Film Collaborative, Jon Reiss, and Sheri Candler

We blogged this book during its free release, but even though it was available for free I spent a few bucks on the Kindle version (which is listed separately for some reason) so I could keep track of my highlights for later reference. Like The Reel Truth, Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul is a practical book about the vagaries of the independent film industry — it isn’t designed to improve your storytelling skills, it’s designed to improve your knowledge of all the distribution options currently available. Real-world experiences and numbers are hard to come by, but this book finds a way to provide them through interviews, case studies, and guest chapters aplenty (not to mention the considerable collective experiences of co-authors Jon Reiss, Sheri Candler, and The Film Collaborative). Don’t let your film leave home without it. - RK

The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories by Frank Rose

As I wrote about The Art of Immersion previously, the book “provides an overview of all the changes taking place in our connected, interactive, game-ified culture, more than justifying its lengthy title in the process. As someone who’s interested in interactive storytelling in addition to more linear film narratives, I found the book to be packed with flavor crystals of brain candy (how’s that for an endorsement?).” To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky (as famously quoted by Steve Jobs), “don’t skate to where the puck is, skate to where it will be.” If you replace “puck” with “storytelling,” The Art of Immersion effectively traces the path of the puck and points to where it’s going. - RK

These fifteen books are really just the starting point of a conversation. What will really make this post a valuable resource is if you chime in with your own favorites. So, how about it — what books on filmmaking would you recommend to fellow filmmakers?

[Bookshelf photo by Maarten Takens]


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 60 COMMENTS

  • john jeffreys on 07.17.12 @ 4:42PM

    “I didn’t go to film school. I went to films.” – Tarantino

    some books about film ive been forced to read at my school:
    “the film director prepares”
    “the screenwriters handbook”
    “save the cat” (oh god i fucking hated this book so much; its content and approach to writing and creativity is the most cancerous mentality ever and is the sole reason as to why hollywood films are so inane these days)

    some other cool bullshit that helped me grow and be aware of myself and my place as filmmaker/visual artist/media scholar in the post-00′s:
    Cyborg Manifesto (Donna Haraway)
    Homo Sacer (Agamben)
    Is Google Making us Stupid? (the infamous article from the atlantic)
    Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream (Jay Stevens)

  • I don’t know why people don’t seem to recommend this book, ‘Directing: Film Techniques & Aesthetics’ by Michael Rabiger. I came to believe that most of them don’t about this gem.

    I know this sounds cliched but,
    If you are not going to film school and want to learn the CRAFT.. this is the book! The exercises in the book are a great way to hone your skills in not just directing, but also in editing, sound design, cinematography etc. It also prepares you to make decisions like a professional director does. This book is just pure GOLD.

    Heavily recommend this book to anybody seriously interested in filmmaking.

    • Rabiger is a very good resource. Read that one senior year of college, and it sits on my desk, not on the bookcase in my closet.

    • Rabiger also wrote the book on docs, Directing the Documentary. I’ve bought a lot of film books (including a few of the ones listed above) but if I had to throw all but one of them away, Directing the Documentary would be the one I’d keep.

    • Yes, thank you for mentioning Rabiger. I also like Ken Dancyger’s books, especially “Alternative Scriptwriting,” where he breaks down genres in a way that I haven’t seen in many books. Rabiger also wrote “Developing Story Ideas” which I find really helpful as well.

  • Hey Koo, you should include “Moviemaker’s Masterclass” from Laurend Tirard…. That’s one of the books that I enjoyed the most, with “In The Blink”!
    Love your site bro!

  • Cinematography: Theory and Practice by Blain Brown

  • One of my favourites i read early on was “How to Shoot a Feature Film for Under $10,000 (and not go to jail)” by Bret Stern. Informative and comical.

  • As well I hardly recommend “Cinematography: Theory and Practice” by Blain Brow.
    This book explain technical stuff with the goal to express your story.
    A must ! Technology knoweledge gives sense for story telling.
    I learn everyday ! Thanks Ryan for these books, your website and its community

  • If I could recommend only one book to an aspiring filmmaker, it would be “Voice and Vision: A Creative Approach to Narrative Film and DV Production” by Mick Hurbis-Cherrier. It’s an essential, concise reference of the entire filmmaking process, from beginning (coming up with an idea) to end (distribution). I read this book after years of film classes and felt it was a perfect distillation of many or most of the things that I learned in those classes, along with a few things that I hadn’t learned, or had not learned in such a clear way.

  • Andy Chappell on 07.17.12 @ 7:14PM

    Here are a few of my favorites, In no particular order…
    ‘On Film-making’ by Alexander Mackendrick
    ‘My Last Sigh’ by Luis Bunuel
    ‘Notes on Cinematography’ by Robert Bresson
    ‘Sculpting in Time’ by Andrey Tarkovsky
    ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’ by Francois Truffaut
    ‘Directing: Film Techniques & Aesthetics’ by Michael Rabiger
    ‘The Five C’s of Cinematography’ by Joseph Mascelli

  • John Melville on 07.17.12 @ 7:59PM

    The best book on filmmaking is ‘ON FILM-MAKING’ by Alexander Mackendrick who directed classic films like ‘Sweet Smell of Success,’ It consists of some of the lectures he gave at Cal Arts when he ran their film school so perhaps it runs counter to this idea that film school is not worth going to.

    • I completely concur. I’ve read nearly all the books on that list and none of them touches Mackendrick’s book. The best book on filmmaking I’ve ever read, with intelligent analysis and dozens upon dozens of gems.

      • I actually have this very book sitting by my bedside… but I haven’t read it yet so it’ll have to wait ’til the next installment!

  • Cinematography: Theory and Practice should no doubt be at the top though it might be a bit too technical for some.

  • For any documentary filmmakers who haven’t read it, ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote is a favorite of mine. It is essentially a documentary in the form of a book, where the events surrounding a gruesome murder are described painstakingly and with complete detail. As far as documentary filmmaking goes, this story shows how even stories based on true events, you are shaping reality.

    • In Cold Blood is so good they made three movies out of the story, that’s saying something.

      • It really is an incredibly cinematic story. There’s maybe even a 4th. ‘Into the Abyss’ by Herzog comes to mind too, since he does essentially the same thing Capote did uncovering the story of and the community surrounding a murder.

  • For any documentary filmmakers who haven’t read it, ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote is a favorite of mine. It is essentially a documentary in the form of a book, where the events surrounding a gruesome murder are described painstakingly with complete detail. Beyond the facts of the crime, you still don’t know what exactly the “truth” is. As far as documentary filmmaking goes, Capote shows how even with stories based on true events, you as a director are ultimately shaping reality.

  • I really enjoyed ‘Digital Filmmaking’ by Mike Figgis. Fun read, lots of valuable stuff, inspiring for indepedent & guerilla filmmaking. Eisenstein’s ‘Film Form’ is quite heavy but includes key fundamentals. I simply adored Mamet’s ‘On Directing Film’. Must have read it at least 15 times… Don’t know about his ‘Bambi vs Godzilla’ or whatever it’s called. Anyone know if it’s worth reading? Does it add to his previous book?

  • just to add to the this great list and in my opinion a good foundation to understand the why behind each setup
    Grammar of the Film Language by Daniel Arijon

  • I recommend two books: Narrative Comprehension and Film by Edward Branigan; The Phantom of the Cinema by Lloyd Michaels.

  • “From Reel to Deal” by Dov S-S Simens – Very realistic step-by-step approach to independent film making. Probably the only book I’ve read that not only offers up good advice but backs it with solid instruction.

    “Rebel Without a Crew” was inspiring and a fun read but don’t expect Rodriguez’s story to reflect the independent film world today

    • I agree bro.. I learned so much reading from reel to deal. i’d recommend that one for sure. i’d also strongly recommend these:

      -”How NOT to make a short film: Secrets from a sundance programmer”
      -”Film Lighting: Talks with Hollywood’s Cinematographer’s and Gaffers”
      -and also “The bare bones camera course for film and video” by tom schroepple

  • Werner Herzog’s “Conquest of the Useless” is the best book i’ve read on filmmaking. It’s based on his diary from the time he shot “Fitzcarraldo”. While it doesn’t give you any practical advice per se, it gives you an idea about what really matters in filmmaking. He reflects upon all the (tremendous) obstacles they had to overcome, why he didn’t want to shoot in a studio, how working in an unfamiliar environment (the deepest jungle) for months affected him, his inner struggles as a filmmaker, and so forth. When I read it for the first time I simply couldn’t believe I was reading diary entries. The virtue of his writing is unbelievable, although I can only speak for the original german text.

    If you are not quite sure yet if filmmaking is the thing you want to do in your life, after reading this, you will.

  • The 4 books I consider essential – 1 is in the article, 1 in the comments as they are by filmmakers with the experience, genius and generosity to contribute more than the obvious, surface aspects to filmmaking.

    (1) Something like an Autobiography: Kurosawa

    (2) I will second Scuplting in Time: Tarkovsky. A filmmaker many more people should watch.

    (3) in the Blink of the Eye: Murch – plus he’s got some great articles on mixing online that are a must for filmmakers.

    (4) DV Rebel’s Guide – Stu Maschwitz. How did you miss this one? I consider this the “If you only read one book about digital filmmaking”. Everything from technical to creative, Stu hits the all the critical points – from casting, to directing actors to important of sound plus so much great practical technical advice. It’s the spirit of “Rebel with a Crew” (Rodriguez writes the intro) but for this time. You should do a post on this gem.

    • Oh, man. Can’t believe I missed the DV Rebel’s Guide. Next time we do a book roundup it’s in there for sure — I used several techniques from that book in my webseries The West Side.

  • Just read “The Art of Dramatic Writing” by Lajos Egri. Highly recommended.

  • My top 3 additions:

    “Movie Business Book” edited by Jason E. Squire

    An absolutely essential book for everyone who want to be a part of this industry. You have to understand how films work not only on a creative level, but on a business one too. This is one of the if not the best book on the subject of film business.

    “The Power of Film” by Howard Suber

    Organized as an improvised movie terms dictionary, this book contains a lot of useful info on tens of subjects, from Acts to Wounds and beyond — it’s all there.

    “Directing Actors” by Judith Weston

    Another essential book on directing which is dedicating to a traditional approach to working with actors, which is basically the core of a director’s work.

    And as a bonus, check out books by Mark Travis, this is an untraditional approach to directing actors, some like it, some don’t, but it is a really powerful stuff, he also hosts seminars where you can see how it works in person and participate as a director or as an actor.

  • Just adding: The Visual Story – great book, a must have

  • Glad to see someone finally mention a book on acting. I’ve started the Actor’s Art and Craft (about William Esper) and it looks promising.
    Will check out Agamben’s Homo Sacer and Conquest of Nothing. After all, after you learn how the camera works, you should be interested in life/lives, right?. In philosophy, I’d recommend “After Virtue” by Alasdair MacIntyre.
    Books on film editing were a surprisingly great help for understanding direction (Edward Dmytryk’s On Film Editing, for example, or Murch). I also like critic David Bordwell, since he led me to directors like Mizoguchi.
    Other advice: try to borrow most books – or pass them on after you’ve digested them. They get in the way.

  • Let me add a few books to the list:

    Alexander Mackendrick’s “On Filmmaking”

    Probably one of the few books on filmmaking written by one of the truly great directors.

    Also, although maybe only tangentially related to film , these texts on the history of literature, poetry and Aesthetics. Some of them from the perspective of Comparative Literature studies:

    Aurbeach’s foundational text on Comparative Literature, “Mimemis: The Representation of Reality in the Western World”. The one and only book on the history of narrative style.

    Frazer’s “The Golden Bough”, an encyclopaedic essay on poetic motifs in western literature:

    Robert Grave’s “The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth”

    Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music”… impossible to understand the purpose of art without it. Only the Walter Kaufman translation, only that one.

    Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space”

    My point being that Aristotle wrote his “Poetics” in the 4th century BC, and a LOT has been written on the subject since then, I mean, LIKE A LOT. He simply began the study of Aesthetics. Studied he must be, but his words and thoughts have evolved greatly since then.

    If you’re still curious for more, Terry Eagleton is probably one of the brightest and most lucid of Aestheticians alive. His ‘Why Tragedy Gives Pleasure” is equally amazing. And, why not, let’s chuck some Schiller in the bag, grab “On the Aesthetic Education of Man”.

    Happy reading!

  • Read the Bible. No, seriously… read it.

    I also really like Joseph Campbell’s work.

    • And don’t forget to seek wisdom for yourself inside and outside of the text… You are not wise because you know or understand philosophy, you are wise when you receive wisdom. Don’t read, but write. Don’t think, but do. The best way to learn about making movies is to make one.

  • Great list. I’d have to add ‘Directing Actors’ by Judith Weston (apologies if someone has already mentioned this). For me this book fundamentally sculpted my thinking and working with actors and performances. Its easy to dip and out of and separated into useful sections. I still reread it before each new project.


  • Thanks for this post. I think it will help most probably independent film makers.

  • A great collection,can i know a recommended store in nigeria where i can purchase this books,b’coz i’m a die hard filmmaker

  • Daniel Mimura on 07.24.12 @ 7:45PM

    Nobody mentioned THE BIBLE!!!

    No, I’m not talking about God…I’m talking about the ASC cinematographer’s manual. It’s mostly for cinematographers (obviously), but gaffers, operators, and very definitely ACs should have and read this book. Since there are books on screenplay and other specific things on the list, I would add this one for sure…more so than The Filmmaker’s Handbook b/c the ASC manual is written by a guild (the Society…the ASC), not an individual, and is an industry standard best practices guide.

    BTW…cinematographers and ACs have called this book “the Bible” for years…the Filmmaker’s Handbook being called “the Bible” is a little bit of a stretch for a book that’s only been out for 5 years and isn’t associated with a trade organization or anything with any sort of consensus behind it.

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  • Laura Harvey on 08.2.12 @ 5:57PM

    Any recommendation on producing documentary film book?

  • “Lars von Trier espoused the virtues of Nazism at Cannes”
    How stupid to write it… It’s funny how journalists or internet writers can change facts and reality… He never did what you say here.

  • As a published author I’d always hope to get on a list as good as this one! Maybe next book, next list time.

    However, I am puzzled by your inclusion of Robert McKee’s Story, when there are 3 other screenwriting books which I thon would be much more helpful to aspiring writers, directors and producers:

    Christopher Vogler’s book The Writers Journey has got to be number 1, followed closely by John Truby’s Anatomy of Story. And 3rd – mine!


  • Paul Blanchard on 08.21.12 @ 7:27AM

    I’ve found Blain Brown’s book, ‘Cinematography, Theory and Practice’ an excellent resource. Would highly recommend to anyone interested in cinematography.

  • Film Makers on Film Making edited by Harry Geduld
    FIlm Production Theory by Jean Pierre Geuens
    On Film-Making by Alexander Malkendrick
    The Tools of Screenwriting by David Howard
    Film Art by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson
    Creative Screenwriting: Understanding Emotional Structure by Christina Kallas
    Directing Actors by Judith Weston
    Projections – yearly scholarly journal

  • Can anyone help point in the direction of filmmaking books that are new? Ideally written within the last year.