The following are some of the resources that I’ve used to learn more about filmmaking. This is organized according to the part of filmmaking involved. The sections include books, online classes, podcasts, and whatever else I’ve found useful, starting from the start of the process:
- Women in Film and Video – If you live in the DC area, you should join WIFV. Even if you don’t live in the DC area, because a lot of what they do is online. It’s an incredible place to network, their email list is one of the best filmmaker resources in the area, and they run some amazing programs. And no, you don’t have to be a woman to join. So seriously, join now.
These blogs tend to have pieces that cover various areas of filmmaking.
- No Film School – a frequently-updated blog that includes solid content on any number of filmmaking topics. It is also a good aggregator: you will find pieces from all over the web discussed here.
- Filmmaker IQ – Like No Film School, a good place to find things from around the web on filmmaking. They also occasionally make extremely informative videos about various aspects on the history of movies.
- Cinema 5D – An excellent source of news and technical details about various bits of filmmaking equipment.
- Wordplay – Not really a blog, more a set of columns about screenwriting. I found these incredibly useful – and taken together they can be viewed as a solid book on screenwriting. Special bonus: they’re done by a successful screenwriter, Terry Rossio, who has written a number of successful films, including “Pirates of the Caribbean” (the good one), “Shrek,” and many many others.
- Pretty much anything at Arlington Independent Media. That’s Arlington’s public access TV station. They provide wonderful classes for all levels about film and TV production. If you don’t happen to live near Arlington, look for your own local public access TV. They all seem to have great classes and cool toys that are available for cheap. And they give you a chance to put your productions on TV. And there are great people hang out at these stations, with projects that you can work on, and workers to work on your own pieces.
- Masterclasses – A site where some of the best folks in many fields do online classes. I’ve taken several related to moviemaking and gotten something out of each one. I’ve taken them with Aaron Sorkin, Ron Howard, Shanda Rhimes, Ken Burns, Martin Scorcese, and others. It’s fascinating to learn more about the processes of these folks.
- Team Deakins – This has quickly become my favorite podcast on filmmaking. It’s hosted by Roger and James Deakins, Oscar-winning cinematography team. Not only do they cover cinematography in a delightful level of detail, but they have on guests with various jobs in movies. Want to know what a script supervisor does? They got an episode where one tells it in great detail. And there’s other episodes with A-list directors like Sam Mendes and Joel Coen. They hven’t produced new episodes for a while, but the ones they’ve got in the can are all terrific. Highly recommended.
- A Glossary of Film – You know all that weird language that filmmakers toss around, things like Mise en Scene and gaffer? This is a terrific illustrated glossary that covers them all.
- Screenwriting 101 by Film Crit Hulk. Film Crit Hulk is an film critic who writes in the persona of the Incredible Hulk. From reading his stuff, it’s also clear that he works in the movie business in something related to screenwriting. 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 really like his approach, which does not rely on formula.
- 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.
- Story by Robert McKee. This one is a little heavier on formula than I like. (It’s important to have structure in a screenplay. But several screenwriting gurus cross the line over into formula, and that’s not good.) But I got a lot out of this that I found useful, and this is a lot less heavy on formula than most similar books.
- Dialogue by Robert McKee. This is a terrific book all about improving your dialogue. It helped me understand how to write subtext. Strongly recommended.
- The Comic Toolbox and various other works by John Voorhees. Voorhees writes mostly about writing for TV, but his stuff is applicable to screenwriting as well. I like the various tools and ways of looking at things that he presents.
- Poetics by Aristotle. The first of them all, still full of good stuff.
- Writing the TV Drama Series by Pamela Douglas. One about TV. A lot of good stuff about the current state of TV writing, with various details of use.
- Corey Mandell’s Professional Screenwriting Workshop – I took this eight week workshop in June-July, 2014. I’ve mixed feelings about it. I like Mandell’s view of screenwriting and I’m in complete agreement with his general contempt for one-size-fits-all structures like that found in Saving the Cat. But there were a lot of things about the workshop that bugged me, including the fact that Mandell said he would not be available in any way other than class time and that he did little or nothing to prepare for classes, going so far as to take much of each class reading homework assignments submitted by students. I wrote up my views on this class in greater detail here.
- Sundance Collab has some great classes. Check out Meg LeFauvre’s – I took a version of this class at the Austin Film Festival, and it was one of the most amazing learning experiences I’ve had.
- Absolutely anything by Lindsay Duran. Alas, she has little online. But if you get a chance to hear her speak, take it.
- Storylanes – My own podcast! The first season includes deep-dive analyses of famous screenplays ranging from ALIEN to LITTLE WOMEN. The second season is chronicling my quest to make an independent feature film, though now I’m getting back to script analysis.
- The Scriptnotes Podcast – Screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin discuss all things screenwriting. One of the joys of this is that it comes from two guys who actually write movie scripts for a living and have several produced features on their record. That’s a rare thing for a screenwriting pundit. The two discuss news related to screenwriting as well as cover topics that help structuring and writing scripts, including discussions that get extremely practical (e.g., rules for naming characters). One of the obnoxious things about it is that they often go into what I call “dumb things people say on the Internet.” They take umbrage at stupid things people say online about screenwriting and the movie business. And if you are going to be upset about things people say online, at least you’ll never run out of subject matter.
- The Q&A – Interviews with various screenwriters, including some major ones. Excellent stuff showing how the folks who write the stuff you watch work.
- A clip of Parker and Stone – This is without exception the thing I most often share with others. It’s Parker and Stone, the guys behind SOUTH PARK and BOOK OF MORMON, talking about their “and-then/therefore/but” rule, which is also a terrific explanation of how to avoid episodic story telling. I love this one enough that I wrote a whole blog post describing how I once used it.
- Michael Arndt on Endings – A terrific video that describes how to write great movie endings. While you’re there, look around the site: he has some other terrific videos too.
Directing and Shot planning
- Setting up your Shots: Great Camera Moves Every Director Should Know, by Jeremy Vineyard. This does the best job of the various books I’ve seen on laying out the basic camera shots and moves – pans, tilts, dolly moves of various sorts, etc.
- Master Shots vols 1-3, and 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, though they don’t have as many shots – 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Film Director’s Intuition, also by Judith Weston. A deep dive on specific techniques for script analysis and rehearsal techniques. Another great book by Weston.
- Joan Darling’s directing seminar. I took this at ScriptDC in 2018. Darling tends to teach this every year at ScriptDC, but also teaches it elsewhere. A hands-on class on directing actors. Darling, one of the first women to direct television, is superb. And a nice lady too.
- Vincent Laforet’s Directing Motion Tour. This was a seminar put together by Vincent Laforet, a director of commercials and other short pieces, discussing the use of camera motion. It was held in the summer of 2014. I greatly enjoyed it and got a lot from it, mostly because Laforet dealt mostly with the reasons to move the camera more than how to do it. Click on the link for the title and you can purchase a download of the videos if you want.
- Light, Science, and Magic by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, and Paul Fuqua. Strictly speaking this one’s about photography, not video. But it’s applicable, and excellent. For my way of learning (I prefer to go from theory to practice), this has been the best book on photography I’ve ever read. It explains how light behaves, then goes from that to detailed discussions of how to light and photograph different types of subjects. Absolutely terrific, and strongly recommended if you want to get serious about photography.
- 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.
- The Cine Lens Manual by Jay Holben and Christopher Probst. This is a giant doorstop of a book, all about lenses. How they’re made, how they work, how to measure them, what to look for in a lens. If you want to know the details of how this most important cinematographer tool works, get this book. (Though I’ll warn you, it’s not cheap.)
- Any number of classes on LinkedIn Learning, which used to be Lynda.com. I spent many hours going through many classes available at Lynda.com. One that I found particularly useful for cinematography was Richard Harrington’s DSLR Video Tips. Special bonus tip: many public library systems provide free access to Lynda.com. Check out your library’s webpage and see if they have it. Check out other local libraries to see if you could get a library card there and if they provide the access.
- Team Deakins – Putting this one here again, because it’s that good, and because it really does focus on cinematography. (See what I did there?) Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins and his team produce a podcast, and it’s amazing. He covers topics like lens selection, lighting, and location scouting. It’s good stuff.
- In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch. Wonderful philosophical stuff, a great theory of editing, lots of interesting stuff. A quick read as well. This was one of the only books about editing I came across, but it is a good one.
- Here again, I found the classes at LinkedIn Learning invaluable. I went through several of the Essentials classes covering several of the Adobe editing products. They were terrific introductions to the software. Check out the bonus tip above on how to get free access to these classes.
- Producer to Producer by Maureen Ryan. A terrific step-by-step guide to producing a film. I’m following this to make my own feature.
- Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman. William Goldman was an incredibly accomplished screenwriter whose works range from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to “Princess Bride.” This book 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, though he has some good screenwriting tips, but quite entertaining. And if you like this as much as I do, make sure you seek out the sequel.
- The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies by Ben Fritz. Want to know why franchises are dominating the movie theaters these days? Read this book.