As I mentioned, I’ve started working on some video projects. In preparing for this, I’ve read a lot of books lately about all aspects of making movies. Here’s a special edition of What I’ve Been Reading that covers those books. I haven’t finished all of them yet, didn’t read all of each of them, but here they are anyway.
– The blog of Film Crit Hulk. Okay, this is cheating, as it’s not technically speaking a book. But Film Crit Hulk has to be about the best film critic online. And the stuff he writes is huge – long essays that are in effect short books. ften these are on different aspects of making movies, things like cinematography. His two-part series on scriptwriting is superb. And it’s all written in a style that you’ll either find amusing or annoying – he writes in the persona of the Incredible Hulk from comics. I found it amusing. Highly recommended. Google Film Crit Hulk to find him.
– “The Lean Forward Moment: Create Compelling Stories for Film, TV, and the Web” by Normal Hollyn. This studies the making of movies, focusing largely on directing but also covering some cinematography, looking at how a scene focuses on a pivotal moment, what the author calls the lean forward moment. Enjoyable, but not earth-shaking.
– “Recording and Producing Audio for Media” by Stanley Alten. A fairly dry but informative book on all the details of audio. I learned a lot about a subject that I did not know. Never did finish this one.
– “The Visual Story” by Bruce Block. This looks at the various visual elements that go into a scene. It breaks it down into seven different elements including things like color, movement, line, and shape, and shows examples of how these elements can be used to create desired moods in movies. Very good stuff.
– “Cinematography” by Blain Brown. I loved this book. It’s a detailed description of the elements of cinematography, including detailed discussions of the technologies involved. I learned things here about photography that I didn’t know. A bit dry at times, but amazingly informative.
– “In the Blink of an Eye” by Walter Murch. This is about film editing. Wonderful philosophical stuff, a great theory of editing, lots of interesting stuff. A quick read as well. Highly recommended.
– “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” by Peter Biskind. This one’s a history of the New Hollywood movement of the late 60’s and 70’s, a movement that brought us such masterpieces as The Godfather and Raging Bull. There’s no lessons about making movies here, but marvelous stories about the people who do it.
– “Down and Dirty Pictures” by Peter Biskind. A follow-up on the above, this one covers the rise and fall of the independent movie movement of the 90’s. Not as much fun as the other one, but entertaining enough.
– “Adventures in the Screen Trade” and “The Big Picture” by William Goldman. William Goldman’s an incredibly accomplished screenwriter whose works range from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to Princess Bride. In these books he gives a gossipy discussion of how Hollywood makes its movies, including detailed stories of the films he’s made. Again, not much help for the actual making of movies, but quite entertaining. The first of the two was much better than the second.
– “Directing Actors” by Judith Weston. A very nice book about how one should give direction to actors to get the best results from them. I’ve learned a lot from this.
– “Film Directing Shot By Shot” by Steven Katz. All about laying out shots in a movie. Really useful – in addition to discussing general elements of shots, it takes you through various situations (e.g., scenes between two characters) and discusses all the ways they can be shot and how the shots can be combined. Recommended.
– “Making Movies” by Sidney Lumet. Lumet directed a whole bunch of Hollywood pictures in a bunch of different genres. In this book, he takes you through all the steps he goes through in directing, from selecting a project to what he does to help market the movie. Really quite excellent on directing.
– “Acting in Film” by Michael Caine. This is based on transcripts from a bunch of conversations Caine had about acting. Good stuff, emphasizing a lot of the differences between acting for stage and film.
– “The Art of Dramatic Writing” by Lajos Egri. More about playwriting, but applicable to screenwriting as well. A nice solid approach to making sure that there’s drama in your dramas.
– “Screenwriting 101” by Film Crit Hulk. As noted above, Film Crit Hulk is an analyst of films who writes in the persona of the Incredible Hulk. In this book, available only as an e-book, he has put together a bunch of stuff from his blog, all about constructing stories and films. I found it excellent.
– “Master Shots vols 1-3,” “Master Shots” the various iBooks versions, by Christopher Kenworthy. I absolutely loved these. Each of vols 1-3 look at 100 shots from various movies and discuss the effect they have and how to make the shot. Then the e-books are even better – each one takes 25 of the shots from the other books, includes the information from the paper books, and then Kenworthy re-made the shots with actors. The iBooks versions includes the video of the shot, then includes a version of the video with Kenworthy providing voice-over commentary discussing it. All in all, consider this a set of cookbooks of useful shots. But even better, after going through these, you start to understand what makes for good shots. These books gave me a better understanding of setting up shots than anything else I’ve come across. Special bonus: I sent Kenworthy a question about this (his email is on his website) and he sent back a nice friendly note that answered my question. So special bonus.
There’s probably more, and I’ll add to this list as I read more. But that’s a good start.