30 Quintessential Books for Independent Filmmakers
The Independent examines the top 30 books every filmmaker should add to their library, and why.October 6th, 2009 | Goldy Moldavsky
Ever wonder what, exactly, independent filmmakers – both aspiring and established – should be reading? Look no further than The Independent's 30 Quintessential Books for Independent Filmmakers. Here, we list the top must-owns, including Independent Feature Film Production, The Filmmaker's Handbook, Sidney Lumet's Making Movies, and From Reel to Deal. The list is broken down into the following categories:
- Direct from the Masters
- From the Go-Getters Who Made It
- The Nuts and Bolts: From Directing Actors to Navigating the Legal Terrain
- The Eye Has It: Cinematography, Lighting & Editing
- Film School in a Book: Overviews of Filmmaking
- Now What? After Your Film Is Made, From Marketing to Distribution
1. Making Movies by Sidney Lumet
With 40 years of experience behind him, the legendary director of Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and 12 Angry Men takes readers through every aspect of what makes a director a director – from working with actors to overseeing the ins-and-outs of a film set. In his personal account, Lumet explains why the ideal director must have more than just one skill on a movie set.
2. On Directing Film by David Mamet
David Mamet is perhaps most famous for his Pulitzer Prize–winning plays, but the author, playwright and essayist was also an Oscar nominee for screenwriting (The Verdict and Wag the Dog). In his treatise on directing, Mamet emphasizes the idea that the director must, above all else, think visually.
3. On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director by Alexander Mackendrick
A screenwriter and director who received an Oscar nomination for the screenplay of his 1953 film The Man in the White Suit, Mackendrick left Hollywood after 20 years in the business to become the dean at the California Institute of the Arts. This volume, edited by Paul Cronin, gathers all the materials Mackendrick used in his classes, where he taught students how to tell stories through film. An especially helpful chapter: "A Technique For Having Ideas."
4. Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors by Peter Bogdanovich
The title of the book comes from Bogdanovich’s (director of The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon) feeling that the best movies should signify who the devil was behind it; the hand of the director clearly visible in every frame. Collecting 16 interviews with some of the best directors of Hollywood's "golden age," such as Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang, Who The Devil Made It is a must-have handbook for any director looking for the true meaning behind style.
5. Kazan on Directing by Elia Kazan
Elia Kazan, the late director of such classics as A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, shares valuable insight for any director: notes and journal entries he wrote while working on his beloved projects. With a forward by Martin Scorsese, anyone who picks up this book can delve into the mind of a legendary director at work.
6. My First Movie: Twenty Celebrated Directors Talk about Their First Film edited by Stephen Lowenstein
For a new filmmaker aspiring to greatness, there is nothing like going behind the scenes and into the minds of some of the biggest names in the industry to see how they managed on their first movie. Lowenstein interviews filmmakers from different genres and walks of life, including the crème de la crème behind the biggest indie, foreign, and major motion pictures (such as the Coen Brothers, Pedro Almodóvar, and Oliver Stone, respectively). The directors enthusiastically recount the joy, freedom, and terror involved with making their first film.
7. Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player by Robert Rodriguez
With movies such as Sin City and Once Upon a Time in Mexico under his belt, Robert Rodriguez has become exactly what the title of his book states: a Hollywood player. Chronicling the time he spent working outside the Hollywood model to make his first feature film, El Mariachi, Rodriguez divulges how he made a movie on a shoe-string budget. Plus, the book includes the full shooting script for his film – a neat addition for the aspiring writer-director.
8. How to Shoot a Feature Film for Under $10,000 (And Not Go to Jail) by Bret Stern
"Cutting corners" are ugly words on a film shoot, but when the budget is tight, cutting corners might be your only choice. While most other books on filmmaking offer readers a guide to the arts and technicalities behind a production, this read focuses on the practicalities – such as how to (cheaply) feed a crew and rent camera equipment – and the best way to keep spending to a minimum. Also, not many other books will breakdown how to film a sex scene.
9. Either You're in or You're in the Way: Two Brothers, Twelve Months, and One Filmmaking Hell-Ride to Keep a Promise to Their Father by Logan and Noah Miller
The Millers claim that their book is more of an adventure story about the making of their movie, Touching Home, than a technical manual, but it’s a worthwhile read just to see how two people with no film experience, no financial resources, and no Hollywood connections managed to create a feature-length film – and reel in Ed Harris to play the lead (and 11 Oscar winners to fill out the cast and crew).
10. The Movie Business: The Definitive Guide to the Legal and Financial Secrets of Getting Your Movie Made by Kelly Crabb
For anyone who wants to know the nuts and bolts of financing and distributing a film, there is simply no better book on the subject than The Movie Business, which breaks down entertainment law in a no-nonsense, easy-to-read manner to show you how to make the perfect deal. An essential for novices and professionals alike.
11. Shaking The Money Tree, 2nd Edition: How to Get Grants and Donations for Film and Video by Morrie Warshawski
For over 25 years, Morrie Warshawski has worked with filmmakers to develop unique and successful fundraising strategies. His book takes filmmakers through the practicalities of how to get grants and donations from individuals, foundations, government agencies, and corporations.
12. The Independent Film Producer's Survival Guide: A Business and Legal Sourcebook by Gunnar Erickson, Mark Halloran and Harris Tulchin
Written by three experienced entertainment lawyers, The Independent Film Producer’s Survival Guide is exactly what it promises: a vital guide for anyone trying to get an independent movie made. Covering the biggies, such as producing and marketing, it also gets down to the nitty-gritty aspects of getting a film made, such as how to hire directors and actors, or acquire music and location rights.
13. Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film & Television by Judith Weston
A director might have a vision, but without a good subject, that vision doesn't really matter. Here, Weston instructs directors on how to get the best out of their actors with tips on effective communication skills and understanding the relationships on set, both of which are vital to the production.
14. Dealmaking in the Film & Television Industry: From Negotiations to Final Contracts by Mark Litwak
Veteran entertainment lawyer Mark Litwak has recently updated his indispensable legal guidebook featuring checklists, sample contracts, and advice on avoiding legal traps.
15. In the Blink of an Eye Revised 2nd Edition by Walter Murch
A must-read for anyone with an interest in editing, In The Blink of an Eye is Murch's essay on why editing works. The Academy Award–winning editor and sound designer (for The English Patient and Apocalypse Now) gives his thoughts on digital editing and looks at the meaning behind the perfect cut, human behavior, and how the blink of an eye is an emotional cue.
16. Master Shots: 100 Advanced Camera Techniques to Get an Expensive Look on Your Low-Budget Movie by Christopher Kenworthy
When you’re working with a low budget, it can often times translate to the screen, but Kenworthy’s book is meant to help you avoid that trap. Leaving behind the technical side of things in favor of a more creative approach, the book explains the feelings master shots are meant to convey. Chock full of illustrations from well-known movies and insightful explanations.
17. Shot by Shot; A Practical Guide to Filmmaking (3rd Ed.) by John Cantine, Susan Howard, and Brady Lewis
A thorough manual on the basics of film production, Shot by Shot is often listed on many a film class’s syllabus. With illustrations popping up along the way, the textbook-like must-read is neatly divided into nine chapters, covering the basics such as lighting, sound engineering, and digital editing.
18. The Five C's of Cinematography: Motion Picture Filming Techniques by Joseph V. Mascelli
Though it was written in the '60s, and therefore bears some outdated references, Mascelli’s book is a still-relevant tome to capturing the magic of cinematography with "the five C's": cutting, continuity, composition, close-ups, and camera angles.
19. Painting With Light by John Alton
Painting was written in 1949 by Alton, an Oscar-winning cinematographer and cameraman who worked on over 100 projects, many being films noir. "Painting with light," as it were, is something he knew a lot about, and the book captures his knowledge of shadows, light beams, and visual mood.
20. Produce Your Own Damn Movie! by Lloyd Kaufman
Founder of Troma Entertainment, the longest-running entertainment studio, Kaufman knows what he’s talking about when it comes to producing your own indie movie. With candid interviews featuring some of the best producers working in the field, Kaufman shares funny, helpful tips on how to get your movie made.
21. The Reel Truth: Everything You Didn't Know You Need to Know About Making an Independent Film by Reed Martin
The book mainly reads like a big warning sign, but isn’t it nice to have someone look after you every once in a while? Martin thoroughly details the oft-scary path every filmmaker must walk down once the creative process is over and the real work begins. The Reel Truth holds invaluable advice on music rights, script theft, theater rentals, investors, and even offers tips from directors Danny Boyle and Christopher Nolan.
22. What They Don't Teach You at Film School: 161 Strategies For Making Your Own Movies No Matter What by Camille Landau and Tiare White
Unlike the other how-to's on this list, White and Landau are more concerned with encouragement rather than the explanation. Not to say there isn’t a good breakdown of filming techniques, but the authors implore the reader to put down the reading materials and go out there and film.
23. Independent Feature Film Production: A Complete Guide from Concept Through Distribution by Gregory Goodell
The first book of its kind, Goodell’s 483-page opus is the encyclopedia of how to get a film made. Though it first came out in 1982 (with the most recently updated edition in 2003), Independent Feature Film Production is still required reading for any aspiring film producer, and has been known to help seasoned filmmakers, with advocates such as David Lynch and Ridley Scott.
24. From Reel to Deal: Everything You Need to Create a Successful Independent Film by Dov S-S Simens
Of all the film schools in existence, Simens has arguably churned out the most successful filmmakers working in Hollywood today – and his film courses don't last more than two days. Having taught the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie before they made it big, Simens takes all his self-taught (and proven) knowledge, with an emphasis on profit, and puts it into one big, invaluable book.
25. $30 Film School: How to Write, Direct, Produce, Shoot, Edit, Distribute, Tour With, and Sell Your Own No-Budget Digital Movie by Michael W. Dean
As the description for this book says, this is for those moviemakers interested in "guerrilla, no-budget, drive-by filmmaking." Essentially giving the finger to film school, Dean shows how to fly by the seat of your pants while explaining the basics of filmmaking. With a strong focus on documentaries, the book also focuses on being confident about your work.
26. The Filmmaker's Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age by Steven Ascher and Edward Pincus
Billed as an "essential," The Filmmaker's Handbook is the de facto textbook for any aspiring filmmaker. This filmmaking bible covers everything from fundraising to distribution in easy, accessible words – perfect for a beginner (or a more experienced filmmaker who wants to brush up on the basics).
27. Filmmaking For Dummies by Bryan Michael Stoller
There might be some artsy purists who won’t touch anything that comes out of the Dummies book series, but it would be a shame to have a list without this book, which promises to make a filmmaker out of anyone.
28. The Independent's Guide to Film Distributors
We couldn't put together a list of the most crucial books for independent filmmakers and not include this one, published by us at Independent Media Publications. This must-read guide features the acquisition details of nearly 200 film distributors, and is an important book for any filmmaker looking for distribution to pick up.
29. Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide by Chris Gore
This festival guidebook gives both practical advice on submitting to festivals and a comprehensive guidebook of festivals by name, month, and genre.
30. The Complete Independent Movie Marketing Handbook
This book covers all aspects of movie marketing -- an essential (and too oft overlooked) stage of independent filmmaking. You'll learn how to get a distribution deal, garner free media coverage, stage a low-cost premiere and sell your productions through stores and the Internet.