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 usefulStarting from the start of the process:
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.
- DC Shorts Mentors Program – DC Shorts is a Washington, DC, based organization that supports short filmmakers, including running the biggest short film festival on the east coast. Once a year they hold a series of classes called the Mentors Program in which local filmmakers teach about the various aspects of making movies. This includes screenwriting, directing, producing, and sound and camera work. I did the program in 2014 and found it invaluable: not only did I learn a lot, but I met many local filmmakers, some of whom I’ve worked with on several projects.
- 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.
- 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.
- Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting – A web class in which A-list screenwriter Sorkin teaches the craft of screenwriting. Some of it is a bit basic, but it’s stuff that every screenwriter should know. And it’s always interesting and useful to learn the tools and approach of a true master.
- 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
- 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.
- On The Page – Pilar Alessandra is one of those people who make a living supporting screenwriters but who doesn’t actually write scripts herself. But she gets a good series of guests who work writing for a wide variety of projects, including TV, web, and movies. Guests talk about their process and the kind of work they do. It’s a good broad view of all the ways a writer can make content.
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.
- 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.
- Any number of classes on 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.
- 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 the only book about editing I came across, but it is a good one.
- Here again, I found the classes at Lynda.com invaluable. I went through several of the Essentials classes covering several of the Adobe editing products. They were terrific introductions to the software.
- Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman. William Goldman’s 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.