The best books on moviemaking

The Books I Picked & Why

Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

By William Goldman

Book cover of Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

Why this book?

William Goldman is best known as the screenwriter of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, and The Princess Bride. Published in 1983, Adventures in the Screen Trade quickly became a favourite among filmmakers as Goldman shares gossipy anecdotes about the movies that he’s worked on – including projects that didn’t get made – and offers what he has learnt about screenwriting and Hollywood. The two major adages from the book are Nobody Knows Anything – that is, for all the smart talk in Hollywood, no one knows what the audience is going to want to see. Secondly, Screenplays Are Structure – it’s not the clever dialogue, it’s the architecture of the storytelling that matters most. But not only does Goldman have the Tinseltown experience to write about, he does it in an immensely entertaining way. 

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Conversations with Wilder

By Cameron Crowe

Book cover of Conversations with Wilder

Why this book?

Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard… Billy Wilder is my favourite filmmaker. I like the elegance of his storytelling and his bittersweet wit. In Wilder’s final years, Cameron Crowe conducted a series of interviews with the writer-director. From fleeing Nazi Germany to his admiration for Ernest Lubitsch, from the trials of working with Marilyn Monroe or Raymond Chandler to the joys of collaborating with Barbara Stanwyck, Jack Lemmon, and Charles Laughton, from his successes to his failures and on to the secret of what makes a good writing partner, Wilder needs little prodding to tell movie-making tales from Berlin to Paris to Hollywood.

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Kieslowski on Kieslowski

By Krzysztof Kieslowski

Book cover of Kieslowski on Kieslowski

Why this book?

In contrast to Hollywood, Krzysztof Kieslowski worked under Polish Communism for the first 20 years of his career, before he became better known in the West with the Three Colours Trilogy. In Poland, it wasn’t the box office that determined a filmmaker’s fate but what the state censors thought. His film Blind Chance wasn’t released for six years because it suggested that a person’s political affiliation – whether they become a dissident or party member – was up to, well, blind chance. This is a wonderfully thoughtful book not only about film-making, but working under Communism, what it is to be a creative artist, and, if I may, life.

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Making Movies

By Sidney Lumet

Book cover of Making Movies

Why this book?

Sidney Lumet directed Twelve Angry Men and The Verdict, among many others, and the beauty of this short book is just how practical he is about his craft. In the magazine interviews and hagiographies about directors, we seldom get a true sense of the working day on a movie set, or what happens long before shooting begins and months after it finishes. But here Lumet reveals why he always tried to schedule a very simple shot for the first set-up on day 1 of production, the value of a rehearsal period (if he was granted one) and that he took a lunchtime nap. From first being offered a script to the final sound mix, this is what a movie director really does.

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The Last Tycoon: The Authorized Text

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Book cover of The Last Tycoon: The Authorized Text

Why this book?

F. Scott Fitzgerald was hired twice to work for Hollywood studios during the 1920s and 1930s. Not much came of his screenwriting, but Tinseltown gave the novelist something else: a glamorous industry to write about. Fitzgerald died having only written half of The Last Tycoon, but, in those 150 pages, we observe Hollywood through the eyes of Cecelia Brady, the student daughter of a studio chief. (‘At worst I accepted Hollywood with the resignation of a ghost assigned to a haunted house,’ she writes. ‘I knew what you were supposed to think about it but I was obstinately unhorrified.’)

The love story between studio producer Monroe Stahr and an English woman isn’t that compelling. What’s interesting is Hollywood: Stahr’s life dealing with English novelists who don’t understand writing for movies, directors he has to replace mid-shoot, union leaders challenging the way he runs his studio. And then there’s Fitzgerald’s eye. The sets on the backlot of a French chateau or African jungles didn’t look like the real thing but ‘like the torn picture books of childhood.’

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