Inspiration, Pro Tips

7 Great Books That Every Aspiring Filmmaker Needs to Read


If you’re an aspiring filmmaker looking for inspiration in book form, it can be overwhelming to browse the “Film” section in your local library, or the “Movies” category on Amazon. There’s a lot of material out there to choose from, and it can be hard to know where to start — especially if you’re looking for options beyond usual suspects like Robert McKee’s Story or Francois Truffaut’s Hitchcock. Here are seven great books that provide a range of information to absorb as you head out on your path to making movies.

In the Blink of an Eye

by Walter Murch

You might not know the name Walter Murch, but you know his work from movies including The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and The English Patient. As the winner of three Oscars, Murch is a widely respected film and sound editor who has imparted his wisdom on his craft in two books: In the Blink of an Eye, written by Murch, and The Conversations, consisting of discussions author Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) had with the editor. The books offer behind-the-scenes glimpses at some of the greatest movies of all time, but it’s Murch’s philosophical thoughts on editing theory that provide the most value. With so many pages out there dedicated to screenwriting and directing, it’s important for fledgling filmmakers to learn about other parts of the moviemaking process too. That’s especially the case for editing, one of the most important parts of making a movie.

Rebel Without a Crew

by Robert Rodriguez

Writer-director Robert Rodriguez may be best known now for movies like Sin City, Grindhouse, and Machete, but 20 years ago, he was one of several filmmakers who led the independent film revolution in the 1990s (more about that in Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film). When Rodriguez’s El Mariachi came out in 1995, it earned $2 million dollars, but was made for a mere $7,000. Rebel Without a Crew recounts the making of the movie from beginning to end. It even includes chapters named after the stages of making a film: Pre-production, Production, Post-production. Reading about Rodriguez’s journey offers aspiring filmmakers the useful opportunity to learn how to make a movie on the cheap from someone who has actually done it. It especially serves as inspiration for how, as the book’s back covers says, “creativity — not money — is used to solve problems.”

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

by Peter Biskind

While you may have heard the story of “The Movie Brats” — Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese — and the other filmmakers who ushered in The New Hollywood in the 1960s, you probably haven’t heard Peter Biskind’s way of telling it. A little bit like an US Weekly version of film history, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls traces the gossipy history of the movies, directors, and actors who changed cinema. It’s a deliciously juicy read for any movie lover, but drama aside, it’s still a thorough (if titillating) glimpse at how a cinematic — and creative — revolution came about. Learning about the spirit and decisions of those who pushed against the system to make great movies can’t help but be inspiring.

Shooting to Kill

by Christine Vachon

If you want a nitty-gritty account of what goes into making a movie, producer Christine Vachon’s book Shooting to Kill (co-written by New York Magazine film critic David Edelstein) is an excellent choice. Having overseen films like Safe, Boys Don’t Cry, and Carol, Vachon knows what it takes to shepherd a small-budget movie, and eagerly shares her firsthand knowledge. What’s especially valuable is that she goes into details that many books (written by professionals) don’t. She doesn’t shy away from sharing details on sample budgets, or explaining the importance of putting money aside for ADR (additional dialogue replacement). All of that goes a long way toward helping aspiring filmmakers navigate, as she puts it, “the difference between a dream shoot and a campfire-ready tale of terror.”

Your Movie Sucks

by Roger Ebert

When Roger Ebert didn’t like a movie, he really didn’t like it. You’ll realize that pretty quickly after cracking open Your Movie Sucks, a collection of his most searing thumbs-down reviews. Why should you read it as an aspiring filmmaker? As much as cinema’s greatest treasures can demonstrate what makes a great film, bad movies can teach you a lot about how to make a movie by showing you what not to do. For that reason, Ebert’s collection is worth reading to take note of the qualities he points out in a bad movie, and to become more aware of what you should avoid when making your own film; it will better equip you to reverse-engineer quality from the lack of it. Plus, it can’t hurt to prepare yourself a little bit for the bad reviews we hope you never get one day.

Shaking the Money Tree

by Morrie Warshawski

If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, you’re going to need money – ideally, without maxing out your credit card or becoming a lab rat like Robert Rodriguez did (see above). Shaking the Money Tree is a no-nonsense guide to understanding how to get people — individuals, the government, small businesses, and other — to give you money to help realize your passion project. Now, while the book does emphasize seeking financing for non-commercial films, it still offers many lessons that are easily applicable to whatever film you might be making. For example, compiling a mission statement about your film, and vision for it, which can help persuade everyone from an actor to a studio to get interested in your project.

Film History: An Introduction

by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell

If filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese have demonstrated anything, it’s that knowing your film history can lead you to make some of your own. Knowing the history of an art is vital for any artist looking to practice it, and filmmakers are no exception. Knowing what came before can help you make what comes next, and in the process, you’re also exposed to the best the medium has to offer. Naturally, there’s a lot of history to get through, which is why you need a good starting point. You’d be hard pressed to find a better one than David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s Film History. As two of the world’s foremost film academics, all of their many, many books are worth seeking out to make sure that when you pick up a camera, you know as much as you can about those who picked one up before you.
What other books on or related to filmmaking do you recommend? Tell us in the comments!

Top image: Man Standing in a Bookstore by fStopImagesGmbH