Top 10 How-to Books to Read if You Wish to Work in the Movies.
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1. The Art of Dramatic Writing, by Lajos Egri
A classic, Egri’s book teaches in a direct and clear way the ins and outs of how to write an effective play, novel or screenplay. His technique consists of three pillars: the premise, the character, and the conflict. Using examples that range from Shakespeare to Ibsen, Egri offers aspiring writers an essential introduction to the craft.
2. Screenplay, the Foundations of Screenwriting, by Sid Field
Considered the industry standard for scriptwriting, Syd Field’s classic how-to manual was updated in 2005, expanding to include movies of the time, such as American Beauty and Lord of the Rings. It’s a complete guide to both beginners and seasoned writers who wish to hone their skills. Besides the skills directly related to crafting a visual script that works, Field’s book also discusses less technical issues, such as how to handle writer’s block or find effective agents.
3. Four Screenplays, by Syd Field
In this practical manual, Syd Field shows the reader how the principles and techniques he outlined in his book Screenplay apply in the real world. He analyses 4 scripts he considers outstanding, highlighting how the writers managed to create such powerful texts. The examples he uses are Thelma & Louise, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Silence Of The Lambs, and Dances With Wolves.
4. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler
Adapting Joseph Campbell’s work on mythology and his findings on the recurrence of the steps and themes in the stories of heroes from cultures from all over the world (The Hero With a Thousand Faces), Vogler produced a simplified manual for Hollywood screenwriters, specifying the stages of a typical hero’s journey, and the most common archetypes found in all kinds of stories. He claims that the closer the deep structure of a script follows these steps the stronger it will resonate with moviegoers, since archetypes are organic to everyone’s psyche and part of the collective unconscious. It’s indeed a very interesting and intriguing read.
5. You’ll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again, by Julia Phillips
First published in 1991 when it became an instant bestseller, the autobiography of powerful producer Julia Phillips was reprinted in 2002, after her death. One of the most successful producers of the 1970s, Phillips is the woman behind huge box- office hits, such as The Sting, Taxi driver and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The first woman to win a best picture Oscar, Phillips had a dangerous and excessive lifestyle, indulging in the consumption of huge amounts of drugs, which ended up affecting her career and bringing it to a sad end. Despite the dark theme, the book is an excellent lesson for aspiring producers, as it explains in detail the work the job entails. Besides, readers are rewarded with lots of dirty stories, malicious comments and behind-the-scenes trivia about the celebrities of the time, such as Kathleen Turner, Sean Penn, and Barbra Streisand. I lent my copy to a friend and never got it back!
6. In the Blink of an Eye, by Walter Murch
In this thought-provoking book, acclaimed editor Walter Murch focuses on the many aspects and aesthetic questions involving the cutting or editing of movies. In this second edition, the author addresses, in a very comprehensive way, the radical changes the field has been through, due to the incorporation of the digital factor into the process. Mixing fact, theory and philosophy, Murch’s book makes for a delightful read for both movie lovers and editing professionals alike.
7. On Directing Film, by David Mamet
Despite being better recognized for his Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, Mamet has also been an Oscar nominee for screenwriting. In this book, he advocates that good directors are those who think visually. Based on a series of classes he gave at Columbia University ‘s film school, On Directing Film covers the various jobs a director needs to undertake in order to present a compelling and truthful story to the viewer. Composed of 6 chapters, the book offers an alternative and oppositional view to mainstream American filmmaking.
8. An Actor Prepares, by Constantin Stanislavsky
Explaining the system created by the author, now referred to as method acting, this seminal book offers the readers a series of exercises for the practice of relaxation and concentration, together with tools and techniques that will help an actor develop the character by stimulating his imagination and creativity. The author makes uses of biographical references to illustrate his theory. This is the first of his books on acting, followed by Buiding a Character and Creating a Role.
9. Scorsese on Scorsese (Revised Edition) by Ian Christie
In this revised edition, one of the most talented and influential directors of our time, Martin Scorsese, discusses, in his own words, the interesting facts of his life and career, as well as his productive cooperation with actor Robert De Niro, who stars in many of his films. The revised edition includes information on his movies Kundun, Bringing Out the Dead, the documentary My Voyage to Italy, and the controversial Gangs of New York. Besides allowing the director to express his love of cinema and tell his personal anecdotes, the book brings a complete filmography and a number of behind-the-scenes photos and sketches from Scorsese’s own collection.
10. Almodóvar on Almodóvar, by Pedro Almodóvar and Frédéric Strauss
Widely acclaimed as one of the most successful Spanish film-makers, famous for his controversial and colorful movies, such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Atame (Tie me up! Tie me down!) and The Skin I live in, which celebrate the joy of life and the Spanish culture, in this book, Pedro Almódovar talks candidly and passionately about his impressive life, career and vision. Coming from a small rural village in Spain, Almodóvar moved on to become on of the most influential artists in the contemporary world. That is the story we hear.