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Our Picks for the Best Books on Filmmaking (2020)

The best way to learn about the filmmaking process is by doing it. Spending time on set will give you a hands-on learning experience, but that doesn’t mean reading a few books on the filmmaking process will hurt. Reading is always a convenient method to improve your craft. There have been thousands of books written about filmmaking, so we narrowed it down to what we believe are five essential books every passionate filmmaker can learn from. That said, check out our the favorite books on filmmaking.

1. Making Movies by Sidney Lumet

Written by one of America’s most acclaimed directors, this book doubles as a professional memoir and an ultimate guide to the art, technique, and business of filmmaking. With over 40 years of experience in the film industry, Sidney Lumet illustrates the strenuous labor and long days it takes to create just two hours of onscreen magic. Lumet explains the nature of his passion by highlighting how each department collaborates to bring the director’s dream into reality.

Although this book dives deeply into the professional aspect behind how a film develops over the course of a production, it is still advantageous to the entry-level filmmaker. By exploring the ideology behind what is required to make any film successful, this book should appeal to any filmmaker who is curious about the art of filmmaking.

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2. Something Like an Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa

From legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, this autobiography examines his beliefs on everything from the importance of a good script to camera placement. Kurosawa explores his most renowned films, such as Rashomon and Seven Samurai, to determine what makes them successful works of art.

With a surprising memory of his life events from infancy to adulthood, Kurosawa offers his wisdom on his creative process of writing and filmmaking. This book is a joy to read for anyone who is curious about understanding a legendary director’s artistry.

Whether you are an amateur or a professional filmmaker, this book is a beneficial read due to its wise perspective from one of the best filmmakers of all time. Touching on every aspect of the filmmaking process, Kurosawa starts by examining what makes a perfect script and the value of understanding what makes one’s writing great.

3. In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch

Walter Murch’s book on film editing starts with what seems to be the most basic editing question — why do cuts work? Murch teaches the reader everything they need to know about editing as an art form, from its emotion-altering aesthetics to the practical concerns of cutting a film. Along the way, Murch offers intelligent observations and anecdotes accumulated over his 50-year-long career, touching on subjects such as emotional cues, continuity, and discontinuity in editing.

New to this second edition is Murch’s lengthy meditation on the current state of digital editing. The way in which films are edited is severely different today; however, the psychology and semiotics behind good editing remain the same. Examining each principle that makes a cut cinematic, this book will help make any filmmaker a clever editor.

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4. Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

Blake Snyder’s book is an essential read for any aspiring screenwriter. There are hundreds of books out there that try to tackle the screenwriting process, but no others break down the script to its fundamentals like how Snyder does it. This screenwriter’s bible is truly the last book you will ever need on the screenwriting process.

With years of experience and success as a screenwriter in the film industry, Snyder explains the method to his madness. The Snyder “beat sheet” is quite commonly known in the industry today for its reliable formula. Before the script is written, a beat sheet is made to outline the important beats that will propel your story forward. The same beats occur at the same point in almost every feature film script one way or another, no matter the genre. The Snyder beat sheet helps you organize and calculate what beats need to be in your script and when they are most effective.

There are many different ways to approach an outline for a screenplay, but the Snyder beat sheet is by far the most organized way of logically piecing your idea together on paper. None of the other outline techniques fundamentally break down and organize the beats needed for a perfect story arc. Many readers may take the beat sheet too seriously and become afraid to stray away from it. Remember, though, that rules are meant to be broken, but in order to do that successfully, you must understand them in the first place.

5. Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez

Detailing the production of his first feature made with only $7000, Robert Rodriguez’s book illustrates how he jumpstarted his career of becoming a respected Hollywood filmmaker grossing hundreds of millions in the box office. This book is an essential guide for any independent filmmaker with a story to tell, as well as the ambition and determination to see it through.

Comprising a series of journal entries, Rebel Without a Crew explores the trials and tribulations of a low-budget production and how anyone with passion can make great cinema on a budget. The journal entries detail Rodriguez’s mindset as a 23-year-old filmmaker, describing how he financed and produced his first film, El Mariachi. Having budget limitations forced Rodriquez to think creatively to accomplish his action film with innovative filmmaking techniques.

Financial constraints can be a filmmaker’s friend at times, for it changes their thought process and brings forth a new perspective on the project. This inspiring book reveals the fact that you do not need to start out rich to become a famous Hollywood player. It is must-read literature for every independent filmmaker.

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