Recommended Books and Media on the Film Business

by Stan Williams Ph.D



Here is an abbreviated list of books I've found helpful.

On Hollywood and Christians

BEHIND THE SCREEN: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film and Culture Edited by Spencer Lewerenz and Barbara Nicolosi

This is a great book that describes the lay of the land in Hollywood for Christians who are either interested as a movie fan, potential filmmakers, investor, or prayer warrior. There are 18 chapters, each written by a different Christian insider, and the advice is global and on-target. Too long Christians have abdicated their responsibility to be cultural leaders. We should have been involved from the very beginning.

On Stories and Screenwriting

FOUNDATIONAL STORY STRUCTURE BOOKS

THE MORAL PREMISE: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success. by Stan Williams, Ph.D.

Seems only right to include your own book in a list of recommended books on the topic of screenwriting. Information about workshops, essays, and other stuff at the book's website: The Moral Premise

THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING. by Lajos Egri.

It doesn't matter that you can't pronounce his name, this is another one of those fundamental concept books. It's mostly about the importance of a drama's moral premise or theme -- the most fundamental of all dramatic writing concepts. The examples, unfortunately, are all of plays no one has ever heard of -- unless you were born in 300 B.C. in Greece. This book was the starting place for my doctoral dissertation: "Narrative Argument Validity and Film Popularity."

The Thirty-Sex Dramatic Situationsby Georges Polti

Polti claims that all stories have their genesis in these 36 situations or some combination of them. I'm not sure he's right, but the book is worthwhile if only for its Table on Contents -- WHICH DOES NOT EXIST. I had to crate my own. THEN it was a useful book. There are other systems of thinking of macro drama, and this is only one. The others I don't remember.

ARISTOTLE'S POETICS FOR SCREENWRITERS. by Michael Tierno.

Actually reading Aristotle's POETICS is difficult. But it is the first place that story theory, and dramatic writing is articulated as a given of natural law. This is the seminal writing about story and drama structure and technique. Tierno does a good job of making it relevant in today's film industry. A must read for all screenwriters.
---------

BEGINNER

THE 3RD ACT by DREW YANNO

A critical element in all story writing to BEGIN with the END in mind. Drew does a great job of explaining how to do that. With examples from 17 well-known films this book describes the importance of answering the questions in Act 3 that Act 1 asks. And it's critically important that those questions in Act 1 are there.

SAVE THE CAT: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

Blake is a Hollywood pro with the ability to explain things simply.

WRITING SHORT FILMS 2nd Edition: Structure and Content for Screenwriters by Linda J. Cowgill.

This and the next book are terrific basics on storytelling. Do something short, and see if you have the chops.

WRITING THE SHORT FILM 3rd Edition: by Pat Cooper and Ken Dancyger.

This is a bit more comprehensive than the former.

WRITING THE CHARACTER-CENTERED SCREENPLAY. by Andrew Horton.

The title says it all, and it is of vital importance. Put this with Egri's book and you'll have the essence of all good movies -- they're about flawed characters that make decisions and take action around a moral theme.

WRITING GREAT SCREENPLAYS FOR FILM AND TV. by Dona Cooper.

The best part of this book is the discussion of emotional roller coasters...actually the whole book is about this. It is an easy read and a neat way to describe the emotional BEATS that all stories must have to keep an audience interested.

WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL by Michael Hauge.

This is a respected book in Hollywood. There is a lot of great structural description here that beats some of the more respected. His 3 day seminar, that I attended in Southfield, MI, was worth the time and money. My own book, The Moral Premise, builds on some of Michael's very good work.
---------

FORMATTING

THE HOLLYWOOD STANDARD: The Complete & Authoritative Guide to Script Format and Style by Christopher Riley

The best guide available, and the most current. Formatting is absolutely critical. You can take a whole college level course on the subject, and flunk.

THE SCREENWRITER'S BIBLE: A complete guide to writing, formatting, and selling your Script (Revised). by David Trottier.

Very good reference, although I don't like his organization of topics (multiple books in one). Large format paperback.

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO STANDARD SCRIPT FORMATS: Part 1 The Screenplay. by Cole/Haag.

Large format paperback. If the format and style of the screenplay doesn't follow industry convention, few people will even bother reading it. A helpful, but not complete, solution is to use screenwriting software like FINAL DRAFT...in fact it is next to impossible to write a properly formatted script without help from a computer application such as this.
Great writer resoruces at: The Writer's Store
---------

ADVANCED

(notice there is no "intermediate)

ALTERNATIVE SCRIPTWRITING: Second Edition- WRITING BEYOND THE RULES by Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush.

This is an intermediate to advanced book on the screenwriting trade. I have not read all of this, but what I have read is concise, up-to-date, and is more helpful that McKee's STORY, noted below. I especailly like the overview discussion up front about Conventions. Structure, Premise, Conflict, Character et al. It's short, accurate, on-the-money, and meaty, yet the language is efficient. I can't say that for most of the other books in this list. There is also a terrific seciton on genres that defines, for the writer, how each needs to be appraoched. I've listed this at the top of my list on purpose. And it has an excellent index. It's my current favorite.

STORY: Substance, structure, style, and the principles of screenwriting. by Robert McKee.

This is the IN comprehensive book on the subject in Hollywood right now. It is the ONE book on Screenwriting you need to devour...in 100 sittings.

MAKING A GOOD SCRIPT GREAT: A Guide for Writing and Rewriting. by Linda Seger. (See next listing's comment.)

MAKING A GOOD WRITER GREAT: A Creative Workbook for Screenwriters. by Linda Seger.

Reading a screenwriting book by Dr. Linda Seger is like taking a hundred meetings with Hollywood's best writers and directors and listening in as Seger helps them mold their stories and scripts into a hit. Seger's experiences are vast, and she's generous with her advice. Her advice is smart, visual, commercial, and practical. If you do what she says, your chances at selling and getting your screenplay made are tremendously magnified. This is one of those books that every screenwriter should read (again) before starting her next project.

THE WRITER'S JOURNEY:2nd Edition: Mythic structure for writers. by Christopher Vogler.

This is the practical application for the film industry of James Campbell's work on mythic stories...made popular by George Lukas and Star Wars. The story goes that Vogler wrote the first 80 pages as the whole book, but the publisher said it was too small to sell. So, then he wrote the other 240 pages of examples and detailed descriptions. But if you can understand the first 80 pages, and the 12 steps of great mythic structures, you'll understand why the great blockbusters are as big as they are. The neat thing about the 12 steps in this book is that is fits perfectly with other popular structures such as the 3 Act Structure, or the Buyers Pyramid structure used in many romantic comedies.

WRITING THE COMEDY FILM by Stuart Voytilla and Scott Petri.

Another great Michael Wiese Production. Clearly discusses the structure of various comedy genres and techniques. Easy read. Good examples.

MYSTERY AND MANNERS. by Flannery O'Connor.

Flannery O'Connor -- one of the best story writers in America -- describes her philosophy of story telling. The amazing thing about O'Connor is how she writes about terrible, horrific events within a orthodox Christian philosophy. Any movie based on a O'Connor story, however, would garner a hard-R rating...so be forewarned.
---------

NARRATIVE STORIES OF THE SCREENWRITING TRADE

ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting. by William Goldman.

My favorite "tell-all" book. (See next listing's comment.)

WHICH LIE DID I TELL? More Adventures in the Screen Trade. by William Goldman.

My second favorite "tell-all" book. Goldman is fun to read, but once you've made a study of why some stories/screenplays are successful and others not, you'll recognize that the way Bill goes about story development is haphazard and consequently not everything he's written has been a hit...and he doesn't know why.
---------

STORY THEORY

TOLKIEN MAN AND MYTH: A literary life. by Joseph Pearce. Ignatius

See especially the chapter on True Myth. The whole book paints a picture of how a truly great story takes shape...over a person's lifetime.

ON FAIRY-STORIES. An essay by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The copy I have is in THE TOLKIEN READER, a paperback put out by Random House. Unfortunately the essay is not listed in the table of contents but is part of the chapter titled "Tree and Leaf."

On Production

THE FILMMAKER'S HANDBOOK: A Comprehensive Guide for The Digital Age by Steven Ascher and Edward Pincus.

This is a textbook used for some university Introduction to Production classes. Covers basics of FILM and VIDEO, including some digital formats current with 1999. There may be a later edition, as well.

SET LIGHTING TECHNICIAN'S HANDBOOK: Fim Lighting Equipment, Practice, and Electrical Distribution by Harry C. Box

Comprehensive guide for the on-set gaffer, electrician, and director of photography.

On Editing

Edge Codes.com: The Art of Motion Picture Editing A Travesty Production.

DVD - 75 min. Excellent explanation of the "art" of cutting, with a lot of examples from classic films and well-known editor interviews. Fast pace. Some nudity -- with some deletions could be used in high schools. This could be better if there were chapter stops so instruction could select segments, but it just plays as one long project. The piece, itself, is a master example of montage and editing.

IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE: A Perspective on Film Editing, 2nd Edition by Walter Murch.

Great insight about why the cut works, and how Murch works. More philosophical than mechanical.

CUT BY CUT: Editing Your Film or Video [ILLUSTRATED] by Gael Chandler.

A comprehensive, updated, description of how to post, edit and finish a film including both creative and mechanical processes. Clearly written, many tables, charts, and illustrations. Covers film, digital, and web preparaton workflows. Fabulous book. High recommenation.

The Five C's of Cinematography by Joseph V. Mascelli.

The chapter on CUTTING covers the basics wonderfully.

The Eye is Quicker by Richard D. Pepperman.

I have studied this book at length, and I can NOT recommend it. The examples are not explained, you can't tell which way to read the storyboards (vertically or horizontally), and the writer assumes the reader can read his mind. I would like to see this book with a more linear explanation of what's going on.

Editing and Post-Production by DeClan McGrath.

Large format, small print, a lot of color pictures. Requires study, for intermediate student or professional.

The Cutting Edge - The Magic of Movie Editing (2004) DVD-99 min.

My review from Amazon: I'm a filmmaker, university film instructor, and author/writer of film topics. I was excited to hear about this DVD because, to quote it's own blurb "this fascinating program lets you in on the secrets..." of film editing I had presumed. I expected an educational presentation that would dissect the cuts and the tricks, and show the development of a scene from the multiple takes and camera angles, and how an editor selects, massages, and makes it come together visually and aurally. There is a little of that... maybe 10%. The rest of it is talking heads about the "secrets" and the pontificating by directors and editors about how amazing they both are. Good Grief! Save me the self-aggrandizement. I think you've heard the adage: "Don't tell me, show me." There is far too much talking head about what is done, but there are no examples of scenes "in process" but only the final cut. The examples are only referential. Very disappointing. And Tarantino's gushing and hugging his editor has nothing to do with how editing works. This is a blatant ACE promotional piece masking as a documentary. Especially disappointing was the Sharon Stone crotch shots from Basic Instinct that destroys the DVD for high schools and makes it inappropriate for most other audiences. Even the director admits that the inclusion of these shots was NOT at the editor's discretion, but was his intent all along, no doubt to get at the audience's "basic instincts." The shots have everything to do with the story... but little to do with a secret of editing... more to do with the secrets and tricks of marketing. I had hoped to use this in my classes, but I cannot. I am returning the two I ordered. Can't use 'em.

On Producing

FEATURE FILMMAKING AT USED-CAR PRICES: How to Write, Produce, Direct, Shoot, Edit, and Promote a Feature-Length Movie for Less than $15,000 by Rick Schmidt.

Of course, for $15,000 you get what you pay for. But, Schmidt has done a fabulous job getting down to the basics. There is much here to learn even for the experienced filmmaker. Much of the book is dated with discussions of film and Mini-DV cameras (and the like), but the front half on low-budget production and the Appendixes of legal documents are worth the price. Ignore the Foreword by Ray Carney--a poorly formed opinion of independent filmmaking.

The Beginning FILMMAKER"S GUIDE to DIRECTING by Renee Harmon

A very clearly written accounting of the director's responsibilities and preparation from story development through editing.

HELLO! HE LIED: And other truths from the Hollywood trenches by Lynda Obst.

Lynda's perspective, as an independent and studio hired producer, is one of the best balanced and practical that I've read. A must read for anyone thinking of producing.

FINAL CUT: Dreams and disaster in the making of Heaven's Gate by Steven Bach.

Steven was the senior vice-president and head of worldwide production for United Artists when Michael Cimino's disaster was produced. There are great inside stories here about many other films, including Woody Allen.

On Actors

MOTHERHOOD AND HOLLYWOOD: How to get a job like mine. by Patricia Heaton.

Heaton is the co-star of the popular TV sitcom."Everyone Loves Raymond". She was raised a devout Catholic and is today a devout Presbyterian. But nothing will prepare you for her frank, sarcastic view of being an actress in Hollywood. This is probably the most honest, funny, and sometimes hard to read, book on what life in Hollywood's mainstream is really like.

On Financing

FILMMAKERS AND FINANCING: Business Plans for Independents. by Louise Levison.

I used this book a great deal in the writing of our Business Plan...but nothing can substitute for having a real, live strategic consultant involved on the West Coast.

DEALMAKING IN THE FILM AND TELEVISION INDUSTRY: From negotiations to final contracts. by Mark Litwak.

Invaluable guide to exactly what it says. Litwak also makes available, on CD, standard contracts for just about everything. Just make sure you have several reams of paper handy. These babies are L O N G.

FILM FINANCE AND DISTRIBUTION: A dictionary of terms. by John W. Cones.

This is literally a dictionary. But you'll use it as a handbook. I have it heavily highlighted. Good cross referencing of terms, so you can flip back and forth and gain a good understanding of what's really going on. John has a good sense of humor too about the idiocy of some things in LaLaLand.

THE PRODUCER'S BUSINESS HANDBOOK. by John J. Lee, Jr..

Practical money and strategic insights in how to position, budget and make films. My counsel on the West Coast questions whether Lee has EVER made a film, and some of the nitty-gritty is a bit too formulistic. But, the fundamentals of money are here and it's enlightening to read.