Which Filmmaking Books Should Be on Your Essential Reading List?

How many of these books on filmmaking have you read?

There are many ways to learn the craft of filmmaking, not the least of which is good, old-fashioned book reading. But sifting through the massive titles to find ones that are any good can be a challenge, which is why this video from filmmaker JP Caldeano of Cinematic J is so helpful. In it, he lists five fantastic and well-received books that are definitely worth reading if you want to up your cinematography, screenwriting, or directing game. Check it out below:

Here are the books Caldeano names in the video:

Let's just get this out of the way right now—Syd Field's Screenplay—some of you hate it, some of you love it. Suffice it to say that some people learn a lot from the book while others don't. Let's leave it at that. (Jeez...screenplay book drama.)

Okay, back to the good stuff. I've read (or at least leafed through) all of the books on the list and they are, in my opinion, very helpful and informative. But like any good cinephilic book lover who watched the video, I was inspired to look over my own library of filmmaking literature to find my personal favorites. So here's my short list:

  • Sight, Sound, Motion: Applied Media Aesthetics by Herbert Zettl: This is by far my favorite filmmaking book ever. If you want to learn about aesthetic theory and why audiences respond to different visual stimuli, read this thing cover to cover.
  • In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch: Murch is a master of his craft and In the Blink of an Eye is essentially a playbook on how the Oscar winner edits films.
  • Projected Fears by Kendall R. Phillips: This is one of the best books about the history of the horror genre I've ever read.
  • Sculpting in Time by Andrei Tarkovsky: Peer into the mind of the great Russian director.
  • Hitchcock by François Truffaut: Two cinematic legends, Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut, talk about filmmaking, the history of cinema, and more in over 50 hours of interviews.

Aside from books on filmmaking, I also have a healthy collection of screenplays and stageplays (I read Samuel Beckett religiously) that I read to understand different elements of story. Chinatown taught me good structure, The Royal Tenenbaums funny dialog, and American Beauty visual style. I just got my hands on North by Northwest a few days ago, so I can't wait to dig in and learn what the most suspenseful moments look like on the page.

What are some of your favorite book on filmmaking? Jot down your list in the comments below!     

Your Comment

21 Comments

your list is so much better than the basic barnes and noble bookshelf selection in the video.

i'd also recommend Yvette Biro's Turbulence and Flow in Film: The Rhythmic Design, Maya Deren's Essential Writings, and Richard Raskin's The Art of the Short Fiction Film.

February 18, 2017 at 1:13PM

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aron
191

A couple of my favorites are "Making Movies" by Sidney Lumet and "On Directing Film" by David Mamet. Thanks for the list!

February 18, 2017 at 1:29PM

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nice article

February 18, 2017 at 2:36PM, Edited February 18, 2:39PM

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I was honored this year to be acknowledged in Blain Brown's book (Cinematography: Theory and practice | Third Edition | 2017 ) for my contribution, help & support.
If you ever want to read this book then make sure to get your hands on the current edition of this book.

February 18, 2017 at 2:48PM

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Ammar Quteineh
Director|Cinematographer |||France|||
681

As a screenwriter I would recommend Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande for how writer's block occurs and how to get out of it, Stephen King On Writing for alleviating often intimidating misconceptions on what good writing really is, both The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker and Into The Woods by John Yorke for teaching me not only why I write, but also why storytelling is necessary for the very survival of humankind.

As for filmmaking books, I haven't read any for a while, but my first book on the subject, was brought back from America by my Dad and was called The Filmmakers Handbook by Edward Pincus and Steven Asher. I read it over and over again before making my first 16mm short with a crew I trained purely from theoretical knowledge gained from the book. I would love to know if it still exists in an updated edition for a digital era?

February 18, 2017 at 4:21PM, Edited February 18, 4:21PM

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Derek Boyes
Writer/Director
109

For me, the most thorough and most helpful movie-making book I have read is THE VISUAL STORY, by Bruce Block. From the cover: "Understanding visual structure allows you to communicate moods and emotions, and most importantly, reveals the critical relationship between story structure and visual structure." The book helps one to see and understand the myriad visual choices that are available to every filmmaker, and provides bases for choosing which solutions will best help the filmmaker to achieve his or her story-making goals.
the filmmaker's effort.

February 18, 2017 at 5:09PM

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"On Filmmaking" by Alexander Mackendrick

Dramatic theory at its finest.

February 18, 2017 at 10:31PM

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"In the Blink of an Eye" by the great Walter Murch is the BEST editing theory book.

February 19, 2017 at 4:28AM

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Dylan Sunshine Saliba
Cinematographer
360

I have The Filmmaker's Eye, it's a great read. I would recommend The Art of Watching Movies, it goes over everything, from directing to editing, and I have just ordered The Filmmaker's Handbook.

February 19, 2017 at 10:12AM

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I haven't read too many filmmaking books, but some thoughts on a couple I have read:

Absolute gold, with practical takeaways:

Story - Robert McKee (changes the way I thought about structure)

Directing Actors - Judith Weston (changes the way I thought about directing performance)

Cinematic Storytelling - Jennifer Van Sijll (changes the way I thought about telling the story through visuals)

5 C's of Cinematography - Joseph V. Mascelli (fundamentals of composition)

Light: Science and Magic - Hunter, Fuqua, and Biver (essential guide on how to control light)

Back issues of DGA (rare insight into the honest thought process of some great talent. Also helps to understand what it's like to really work in the industry at all levels)

Some books which got me really excited at first but just didn't quite do it for me:

Painting with Light - John Alton

An actor prepares (or some other translation) - Stanislavski (caveat: I know there is something important in there... I just couldn't extract it and absorb it here. Weston's book took some of the concepts and made them more practical for me. ymmv)

Master Shots and various other books with diagrams and setups - I guess they'd work as a reference... but I dunno, I just didn't *get it* from there. The way I learn is more about understanding the motivation behind things rather than just a bunch of setups (e.g. why I loved "Cinematic Storytelling" but didn't really get much from "Master Shots")

Back issues of ICG, and some other industry magazines. (there were some real nuggets of gold in there, but the noise-to-signal ratio isn't what I'd expect it to be... it's a guilty pleasure though, especially reading the gear section - no matter if it's a year old, hehe)

February 20, 2017 at 1:25AM, Edited February 20, 1:25AM

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I highly recommend On Film Editing by Edward Dmytryk. Goes into theory but also thoughts on the industry and being a film editor.

February 20, 2017 at 2:55PM, Edited February 20, 2:55PM

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Ian Park
Documentary Editor / Director
293

I deal with a lot of sound, and I have found these 3 books to be invaluable:

Dialogue Editing For Motion Pictures - John Purcell

Practical Art Of Motion Picture Sound - David Yewdall

Sound Effects Bible - Ric Viers

February 21, 2017 at 5:22AM

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Kerrin McLean
Director / DP / Editor
89

For a production view of filmmaking, I have loved Producer to Producer by Maureen Ryan. She directs the Columbia University film program and produced films like Man On Wire. It's a detailed examination of all the moving parts of a production.

February 21, 2017 at 8:09AM, Edited February 21, 8:09AM

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In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch: This book is without a doubt witty and a dam good read... I put 'In the Blink on an Eye' as my top #1 for any editor or someone who wants to learn editing. Own it.

February 21, 2017 at 3:50PM

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Started reading the filmmaker's eye yesterday and the intro was comical re an invite/review of a film . . . look forward to the read.

Salud,

A.S.

February 22, 2017 at 10:40AM

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For those looking to get a job on big film sets I've found a new book titled Setlife: A Guide To Getting A Job in Film by Matthew Webb. It explains everything you need to know that maybe you weren't taught at film school. I bought mine off amazon. It also has some really cool interviews throughout.

February 25, 2017 at 9:00AM

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Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics 5th Edition by Michael Rabiger is the book that helped me to go through my first feature.

August 10, 2017 at 3:25AM, Edited August 10, 3:25AM

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francois yang
film director
74

I've never read any of these but I've been meaning to for a while now. The only one in that list i've heard of is Screenplay and probably Master Shots.

August 10, 2017 at 5:48PM, Edited August 10, 5:47PM

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I have 19 filmmaking books in my essential reading list;
https://filmmakersbucket.com/books.html

Thanks

July 28, 2018 at 2:16AM

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Bora
161

Great list but here are some more great resources from Indian director Aadish Keluskar. These 15 books cover every aspect of filmmaking... http://flickside.com/must-read-books-filmmaking/

April 3, 2019 at 11:44AM, Edited April 3, 11:44AM

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Aanchal
81

Great selection, love reading too. I've got a book collection from over the years and every opportunity I have I read actual books ranging in various time periods throughout history of Cinema whenever I can because as he said reading is one of the best ways of acquiring knowledge besides actually doing it. Having a Mentor being an apprentice is a luxury but not always possible especially in these times. I have read many books on Cinema but the one that's by me at all times on my desk at home is UNDERSTANDING MOVIES by LOUIS GIANNETTI, tenth edition. This book is a tome because it teaches and shows you how to 'think' like a filmmaker although not necessarily showing techniques. Because before you can break the rules you must first learn them. There are many books that teach technical instruction, but you won't amass too far with those. It's the ones that show you 'why' and get in the minds of those great and magnificent filmmakers of your favorite masterpieces.

September 18, 2019 at 5:30AM

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Tom Luca
Founding Chairman and CEO
263