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Any seasoned filmmaker will likely admit that you’re never fully prepared to make your first film, but that’s part of the excitement. Getting started can be a huge part of the battle and those fears aren’t always technical. Sometimes that one thing stopping you from shooting your first film has nothing to do with the technical side and more with your confidence. That’s why we rounded up a list of the best books for first-time filmmakers that cover a range of topics including cinematography, how to get the right shot, the inner workings of the film industry, inspirational quotes from famed directors, and more.
Whether you’re a director, cinematographer, or screenwriter, these books will answer just about all of your technical questions and anything in between. First-time filmmakers aren’t always new to the industry. For example, Regina King spent most of her career in front the camera before she completed her Oscar-nominated feature film directorial debut, “One Night in Miami.”
“Directing television was my film school,” King told IndieWire. “Being an actress as long as I’ve been, all the wonderful artists I got to work with — directors, production designers, wardrobe designers — that was a bit of school I wasn’t aware that I was learning and taking the information in. Once I decided I wanted to be a director as well, TV was a safe place to begin to apply those things I picked up along the way. Even with all that preparation, the directing of my first theatrical film was night and day, different in a lot of regards.”
The experience of filmmaking can be different for everybody. While King’s directorial feat was years in the making, it’s not so much about the time that it took to get started as it is about the finished product. When it comes to making movies, truly loving your craft makes it that much more rewarding. Yes, filmmaking can be risky (just like anything else) but the satisfaction of bringing a film to life is worth the uncertainty, stress, and long hours that go into making it. If you’re interested in more filmmaking resources, be sure to read our recommendations for editing hardware, screenwriting books, camera gimbals, and other essentials. Below, find out list 10 of the best books that first-time filmmakers should own.
“Master Shots Volume 3: The Director’s Vision — 100 Setups, Scene and Moves for Your Breakthrough ” by Christopher Kentworthy
The third book in Kentworthy’s “Master Shots” trilogy explores the best shots, moves, and set-ups in the film industry, and the secret to shooting a successful shot. Kentworthy’s book is a good reference for first-time directors, DPs (directors of photography), and cinematographers. To complete the series check out “Master Shots Volume 1: 100 Advanced Camera Techniques to Get an Expensive Look on Your Low-Budget Movies” and “Master Shots Volume 2: Shooting Great Dialogue Scenes.”
“First-Time Filmmakers F*#^-ups: Navigating the Pitfalls to Making a Great First Movie” by Daryl Goldberg
Goldberg covers a lot in this candid and concise guide which gives readers practical knowledge on the craft of filmmaking. The book provides info on avoiding costly mistakes that tend to plague independent filmmakers, along with examples from famous movies, directors, and producers. You’ll want to read this book if you need help handling fundraising issues, budgeting, scheduling, casting, shooting, actors, crew, post-production, distribution, legal issues, and so much more.
Released more than 25 years ago, Lumet’s comprehensive guide to movie making is a straightforward book on the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. It answers questions on timeless topics, such as what makes a director choose a particular script, how to keep actors fresh and truthful through multiple takes, staging scenes, and what it takes to keep the studio heads happy. Anyone who is a fan of Lumet’s work (“12 Angry Men,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network,” and “The Verdict”) will enjoy “Making Movies.”
Before he became a famous director and producer, Rodriguez (“Sin City,” “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” “Spy Kids,” and “Machete”) was an aspiring indie filmmaker with a dream. In “Rebel Without a Crew,” Rodriguez details how he made his first feature film (“El Mariachi”) with $7,000 and no crew. Of course, every filmmaker has a different creative journey and it’s not always so simple. Nonetheless, “Rebel Without a Crew” isn’t a manual on filmmaking but serves up an inspiring story and techniques that you may be able to use.
“How Not to Make a Movie” takes readers inside the hellish 12-year journey that culminated with the coming-of-age film “Angels in Stardust,” starring Alicia Silverstone, AJ Michalka, and Billy Burke. Corey uses humor and candor to detail all the steps in making a movie from meeting with producers, agents, managers, hustlers, wannabes, and celebrities, to overcoming the many struggles encountered while trying to release the film which he wrote and directed.
“In Her Voice: Women Directors Talking,” is a unique collection of interviews with over 40 feature and documentary directors from around the world, including Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”), Courtney Hunt (“Frozen River”), Kasi Lemons (“Talk to Me”), Callie Khouri (“Mad Money”), Sally Potter (“Rage”), Doris Yeung (“Motherland”), Lone Scherfig (“An Education”), and Lynn Shelton (“Humpday”). Written by the founder of blog Women in Hollywood, this 264-page book acts as a reference for female directors and a reminder to movie lovers, students, and the industry at large that women directors remain integral contributors to filmmaking.
“Filmmaking, Festivals & Fans: Knowledge from First-Time Directors, Festival Organizers and Fans of Film” by Edward Claypoole
Over the course of a year, Claypoole conducted a series of interviews with fellow independent filmmakers, festival coordinators, and film fanatics to release this book which offers insights for novice and experienced filmmakers.
The more you can stay inspired, the better. “The Filmmaker Says: Quotes, Quips and Words of Wisdom” is good to use when you need a little motivation from some famous names you already know. It features a bunch of cool quotes such as this gem from James Cameron: “Pick up a camera, shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you’re a director. Everything after that, you’re just negotiating your budget and your fee.”
When it comes to film books, anything by Maltin is usually worth reading. In this volume, the legendary critic turns his focus to cinematography, conducting interviews with five directors of photography: Arthur Miller, Hal Mohr, Hal Rosson, Lucien Ballard, and Conrad Hall. The book is heavy on photos and light on technical jargon, making it a great option for someone looking to dip a toe into cinematography.
This classic book is a technical guide for using cameras to create beautiful images, so it might be less interesting to cinephiles simply looking to learn about movies. But if you’re interested in actually doing cinematography, and find yourself starting from square one, it’s hard to imagine a better introduction. Film students have been learning from it since 1973, but it has since been revised twice so the information is quite current. Malkiewicz focuses more on lighting than shot composition, but the concise information and 200 illustrations make it an endlessly useful resource.