I get asked from time to time about good books on script writing or filmmaking generally. The best actual nuts and bolts book on screenwriting is by Phil Parker. I’ve met Phil and sometimes do courses based on his teachings. His book isn’t a ‘How to write a movie in 21’ days type book, it’s actually a really good in-depth look at story, structure and some of the working aspects of how to write for TV and film. It’s about the only book I’d recommend for script writers wanting to learn.
As for books on filmmaking in a wider sense, I like the following:
Julie Salamon’s ‘The Devil’s Candy’ which is about the making of Brian De Palma’s ‘The Bonfire of The Vanities’. Never mind the actual film itself, this making of book is a realistic look at how the industry works, what film sets are like, and an accurate portrait of the people who work in the industry. It might open your eyes a little. It’s not always pleasant.
Stuntman by the late Hal Needham is a rollicking good read too. Hal Needham was the inspiration for Brad Pitt’s character in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’. The book is about his life as a stuntman doubling for Burt Reynolds. It covers their friendship and the films Needham went onto direct. It also shines a revealing light on how totally reckless and dangerous stunt work was in the 60s/70s and 80s.
I’d like to recommend a good biography of Kubrick, but one hasn’t been done yet. There are also various half hearted attempts at biographies of other great filmmakers like Coppola, Scorsese and George Lucas. I’m afraid while some of the current books out there have merit, I always feel like the real history is being whitewashed. Some of the Kubrick biographies are also blatantly made up pasted together tabloid nonsense.
However, David Weddle’s book on Sam Peckinpah is a very good biography and a great book on filmmaking too, again, lifting the veil on the industry at the time.
As for self-penned books by directors of note, I like Nic Roeg’s autobiography; ‘The World is Ever Changing’. Which is as enjoyable and beguiling as some of his actual films, and you do come away from the book with a greater understanding of the man, and an appreciation of his body of work. There’s a good book on filmmaking by the late Sidney Lumet too.
I enjoyed ‘Very Naughty Boys’ a history of ‘Handmade Films’. The whole period and story behind that studio is essentially a freak moment in the UK Film industry, where the late ‘Beatle’ George Harrison, decided, on a whim, to fund a lot of very good films. It was pretty bloody fantastic while it lasted.
A change of pace, and view point is Jimmy McDonough biography of the late Russ Meyer (King of the nudie picture) ‘Big Bosoms and Square Jaws’ was a fun read a few years back, there was even talk of a film being made of the book (pretty sure Boogie Nights covered a lot of it off).
Finally, a book I read over 20 years ago: ‘Boy Wonder’ by James Robert Baker was compelling at the time and left some sort of impression, a satirical look at a Hollywood player that often rang very true.
As for ‘making of’ books, I find the official Star Wars (the original trilogy) behind the scenes nuts and bolts making of books very compelling. About a time when special effects were hard to achieve with no real help from computers, and essentially about how gradually these films helped change the industry. The books are large, filled with interviews and in-depth. The behind the scenes photos are great for fans too- the books are a big long read and can be a little expensive.
I’m struck, writing this list, how few very good books on filmmaking there are. But, you can’t go too far wrong with any of the above.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire, UK Script editor and script doctor for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org or hire him on Peopleperhour
His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller Markham will be released in 2020.