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in Filmmaking
on Mar 3, 2007

Jumping off Bridges director Kat Candler is teaching a film class this semester, and to compile the syllabus she asked her filmmaker friends to put together a “recommended reading” list comprised of books that have helped them in their professional lives. She agreed to let me publish this list, so here it is below, grouped by filmmaking discipline, with the names of the filmmakers who recommended each book in parentheses after the title.


The Ice Storm: The Shooting Script (Newmarket Shooting Script Series Book) by James Schamus (Kat Candler)

Sex, Lies and Videotape (Faber Reel Classics) by Steven Soderberg (Jacob Vaughn)

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke and M.D. Herter Norton (Stacy Schoolfield)

Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger (Jay Duplass)

Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman (John Bryant)

A Crackup at the Race Riots by Harmony Korine (Todd Rohal)


Cassavetes on Cassavetes by John Cassavetes and Ray Carney (Mike Tully, Margaret Brown, Jay Duplass, Jacob Vaughn)

Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player by Robert Rodriguez (Stacy Schoolfield)

Thinking in Pictures: The Making of the Movie Matewan by John Sayles (Kat Candler, Alex Smith)

Sculpting in Time: Tarkovsky The Great Russian Filmaker Discusses His Art by Andrey Tarkovsky and Kitty Hunter-Blair (Kyle Henry, Jacob Vaughn)

Getting Away With It: Or: The Further Adventures of the Luckiest Bastard You Ever Saw by Steven Soderbergh and Richard Lester (Jay Duplass)

Spike Lee’s Gotta Have It: Inside Guerrilla Filmmaking by Spike Lee and Nelson George (Joe Swanberg)

Independent Feature Film Production: A Complete Guide from Concept Through Distribution by Gregory Goodell (Todd Rohal)


Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film & Television by Judith Weston (PJ Raval)

A Director Prepares by Anne Bogart (PJ Raval)

Moviemakers’ Master Class: Private Lessons from the World’s Foremost Directors by Laurent Tirard (Mark Osborn)

The Conversations by Walter Murch and Michael Ondaatje (Alex Smith)


Notes on the Cinematographer (Green Integer) by Robert Bresson (Lodge Kerrigan)

The Camera (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 1) by Ansel Adams and Robert Baker (Lodge Kerrigan)

The Negative (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 2) by Ansel Adams and Robert Baker (Lodge Kerrigan)

The Print (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 3) by Ansel Adams and Robert Baker (Lodge Kerrigan)


Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen and Haskel Frankel (Stacy Schoolfield)

True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor by David Mamet (Rhett Wilkins)


A Killer Life: How an Independent Film Producer Survives Deals and Disasters in Hollywood and Beyond by Christine Vachon, Austin Bunn, and John Pierson (Stacy Schoolfield)

Shooting to Kill
by Christine Vachon and David Edelstein (Kat Candler)


In the Blink of an Eye Revised 2nd Edition by Walter Murch” (Jacob Vaughn)

On Film Editing by Edward Dmytryk (Kat Candler)


Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov by Annette and Kevin O’Brien Michelson (Kyle Henry)

Film As Film: Understanding and Judging Movies by V. F. Perkins (Steve Collins)

Film As a Subversive Art by Amos Vogel and Scott MacDonald (Lodge Kerrigan)

For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies by Pauline Kael (Mark Osborn)

The Resistance Ten Years of Pop Culture that Shock the World by Armond White (Mark Osborn)

The Great Movies
by Roger Ebert (Mark Osborn)

I didn’t get it together to submit my list in time, but here are some additional titles that I’d offer up to aspiring filmmakers.

For its insights into studio politics and the conflicts between corporate agendas and a filmmaker’s vision, Steven Bach’s Final Cut can’t be beat. It’s a look at the final days of United Artists told through the “making of” story of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. Bach, who was head of production at U.A. at the time, is painfully honest about his own failings and, more importantly, he clearly lays out the sequence of decisions that lead to the movie’s skyrocketing budget and ultimate box-office failure. At each point, it seems as if the decision made is an understandable one, yet disaster still ensued.

Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil Diary (or, I Wake Up, Screaming), which can be read at this link, is a chilling, surreal, and instructive journey inside the psyche of a director struggling to realize a dream project. Coming off of his sci-fi hit Hardware, Richard Stanley travels to Namibia to tell a true-life story of a demonic African killer. Just about everything that can go wrong does, and Stanley’s account of his dream’s dismantling is both heartbreaking and horrifying. He interweaves the personal with the poltical, the nuts and bolts of production with the real-life spookiness of some of his locations and cohorts. There’s a great moment near the end when Stanley, who has storyboarded his conclusion to pay homage to the final shoot-out in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, realizes too late Leone’s secret to filming that sequence.

Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time would have been on my list too along with another book by the great Russian director: Time within Time: The Diaries. (It’s currently out of print, but excerpts can be read here. There’s not a ton of filmmaking advice in these diaries, most of which were penned between, not during, Tarkovsky’s work on his movies. Instead, it’s a fascinating glimpse into his emotions and psyche as he struggles to navigate the politics of official Russian film production. For those who decry the inequities of their own development forays it’s helpful to read the words of one of the greatest directors of all time and realize that he shares the same fears and anxieties.

Many books on independent production contain a “rah-rah” mentality, but there’s a particular kind of melancholia that can also set in on a film shoot. Relationships begin on the best of notes but are soon re-shaped and sometimes destroyed by circumstances. One book that captures this perfectly is Wim Wenders’ My Time with Antonioni: A Diary of an Extraordinary Experience. Wenders helps the great Italian filmmaker, who is aphasic after suffering a stroke and is unable to speak, realize his final full-length feature, Beyond the Clouds. In addition to directing some of the film’s wrap-around sequences, Wenders also signs on to be a “back-up” director in case Antonioni’s health falters. The book, a diary of his “time with Antonioni,” finds Wenders offering many interesting insights into Antonioni’s vision, style of production, and methods of communication. It also honestly captures Wenders’ mixed emotions as he finds himself marginalized during production by a willful Antonioni who, once the production funds have hit the bank, doesn’t seem to need Wenders’ help very much. Wenders writes, observes, and, despite some hurt feelings, concludes, “I do not regret I accompanied Michelangelo through this time.”

What are the most helpful books in your filmmaking library? Please post.

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