What are the best books on filmmaking? Let's find out together.
The best way to learn about filmmaking is to do it. There is nothing else that can teach you as much. But in between projects, it's okay to read too.
Reading books about the craft can open you up to new points of view and experiences on different kinds of projects. Plus, there's just something about a good book. It's the smell, the turning of the pages, and just the visceral sense of holding knowledge in your hands.
Either way, I wanted to set 2020 up for success by recommending the twenty best books on filmmaking for you to check out this year.
Let the pages turn...
Read the 20 Best Books on Filmmaking for 2020
This is my list and I'm always looking to add. If you think there's something that belongs more than anything else, tell me in the comments. There's nothing I left off on purpose, so have my back and give me a reminder!
Now let's dive into the list!
1. Making Movies by Sidney Lumet
Let's start the list with something that says it all. You want to be a filmmaker? how about an entire book on filmmaking? Lumet's lessons probably apply to television as well, as does most of his practical advice. If you're going to read a book, read one by someone who did it over seven decades and accumulated the most lessons.
2. Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez
The purpose of this website is to teach you how to do it yourself and this book perfectly embodies that as well. I want to see you make something in 2020. This book can guide you with how to do it even if you don't have anyone to crew up.
3. Shooting to Kill by Christine Vachon
Producing is an all-encompassing term. This is one of my favorite books on the list because it takes you through what a producer actually does on each sized film. It also gives a clear structure of how someone moved up in the ranks to become a creator that works with other creators.
4. Hitchcock by Truffaut
This tete a tete has two of the greatest directors of all time chatting openly about their movies, style, substance, actors, and just the process. It's a revealing look at the master of suspense and the way his mind works.
5. Kazan on Directing by Elia Kazan
I was gifted this book by Mickey Rourke after working with him on a movie that never happened. It holds a special place in my heart for that reason and for the stories Kazan tells on each page. Kazan was a controversial person in history but this shows why his craft transcended that and became timeless.
6. Master Shots Vol 1, 2, 3 by Christopher Kenworthy
Truth be told, I am not the best shooter. But when I work with a DP I find this book very useful at upholding my end of the conversation. This is where you can learn the lingo and shots you can try on your own.
7. In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch
Editors are often the unsung heroes of the film. Walter Murch is one of the greatest editors of all time, so it's nice to hear Hollywood from his point of view. He details every step he's taken plus strategies he uses to control the edit. It's helped me learn to speak with editors and to trust them.
8. On Directing Film by David Mamet
A lot of directors have written about directing, but I love Mamet's point of view because he comes at it as a writer. Also, his theater days give him an uncanny ability to communicate how to deal with actors.
9. Hello, He Lied by Lynda Obst
I love a good book written by an executive. This point of view is rarely shared, so it's nice to see what people on the other side of the table look for in projects. Also, as the title suggests, it confronts the lies told back and forth that get a project going.
10. Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman
While I tried to avoid screenplay books here, I did want to mention this masterful autobiography. Goldman is one of our greatest storytellers and he weaves an excellent tale detailing how it all happens. He doesn't shelter you from the ups and downs.
11. Something like an Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa
We often spend so much time focusing on the Hollywood perspective that we forget other directors out there doing amazing things. Kurosawa's autobiography lets you into the master's mind. You can see the decisions he made, how painting influences him, and why and how he left an indelible mark on filmmaking.
12. Film Lighting: Talks with Hollywood's Cinematographers and Gaffers by Kris Malkiewicz
Again, I'm not the best with this stuff, so I love reading and getting better. This book has the nuts and bolts of what goes into creating the looks of your favorite films but also stories of how challenges were overcome on set. It's a problem solver's dream.
13. The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers by Thomas Crowell
Turns out, there are lots of legal forms that go into making a movie. Here's a lawyer's handbook so you know just what you can and cannot do on set. It's really useful if you're shooting without permits and if you need to save money.
14. Cinematography: Theory and Practice, Second Edition: Image Making for Cinematographers and Directors by Blain Brown
This is a great book to tell you WHY people shoot the way you do. If you want to analyze a film or just convey a message to an audience, this book can guide you through the harder task of choosing your shots for your projects.
15. Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors by Peter Bogdanovich
Why learn from one director when you can hear from dozens? Bogdonovich is spectacular as an interviewer and interviewee. He talks to some of the greatest directors of all time and you glean all the wisdom.
16. Shaking The Money Tree, 2nd Edition: How to Get Grants and Donations for Film and Video by Morrie Warshawski
You can't make a movie or short without money. So where does it come from? This book takes you through the best methods when it comes to gathering the cash you need. I love the practical ways it dictates and the ways it offers to help you find grants to maximize your income.
17. The Reel Truth: Everything You Didn’t Know You Need to Know About Making an Independent Film by Reed Martin
There are lots of things that go into making an independent movie. It's not just money but personalities and structure. Also, so many books focus on Hollywood insiders that this one really shows what it would be like for YOU to make a movie.
18. Filmmaking For Dummies by Bryan Michael Stoller
Look, the "Dummies" series gets a lot of flack but they are so good at breaking down EVERYTHING. Think of this as a 101 course that gives a general understanding of everything. I like to give this one as a gift when people ask what I do for a living. My mom loved it.
19. The Technique of Film and Video Editing: History, Theory, and Practice by Ken Dancyger
When I undertake creating something, I like to delve into every job on set. I want to know why certain choices are made, and I need to be able to fill every role if the budget is small. This book really taught me so much about editing. I learned much better communication with the people I work with as well.
20. The Complete Film Production Handbook by Eve Light Honthaner
I get caught so much in the writer's chair that I forget there's a world outside of screenplays. If you're new to Hollywood or aspiring to visit and work here, this book gives you all the details on the how and why of every job in town. It walks you through the titles and why they matter.
What's next? The best books on screenwriting!
There are so many books on screenwriting out there and so few of them actually matter. If you want to read about the industry and the way to craft stories, you want to read the best advice out there.
Check out our list!