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Books worth reading on the path to become a better director

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I know that this forum is mostly about cinematography and lately it tends to become more about gear but i will give it a try. I am on the path of self taught director. It's just a hobby for know but i am willing to put as much knowledge as i can behind it to make it a profession. I know that nothing can substitute the official education institutions in the field but i don't have time to be a student again and my background is not far from it. I graduated the fine art university.

I don't know if there is someone else here in the same situation, but i i have a strong sense that many of you had taught yourself into directing stuff so i guess is good to share our experiences.  So far my self education background in the field was based on watching and watching and watching again the movies that changed the cinematography and tried to learn from it. Famous directors, am not going to give names to show of that i know famous directors, you got my point.

Other thing that i did was applying the same rules of composition and colors and other stuff that i learned in the fine art school. Most of the common sense things are at the base of all these disciplines.

And then, it comes the online digging for information. This wonderful community on eoshd and other like this. Don't know if i am able to give names, i don't want to be considered advertising for competition. Followed by some nice youtube channel and DIY case study on different situations that a director can deal with.

The single field that i neglected was reading good cinematography and directing book. And here i am talking about the ind of books you'll have to read during the university studying period. Something that should be mandatory for someone that pretends to become a director. Something that should be the base of all the things i wrote about above. I know it make no sense to come at this point but i thing is better late than never.

So, if you want to start a list of books, please feel free to write title and a "one line" description of what it will teach you.

Thanks a lot and i hope it will help others too.

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EOSHD Pro Color for Sony cameras EOSHD Pro LOG for Sony CamerasEOSHD C-LOG and Film Profiles for All Canon DSLRs

I only an hobbyist, but one of the books I've read recently is "Directing the Documentary".

I liked the chapters describing what makes a good documentary story and structure wise and how to plan the work.

I found the chapters about camera technique to be banal, so I would recommend selective reading for anyone interested in documentaries.

 

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Theory/History: Hitchcock/Truffaut, Bazin's Film as Art*, Bordwell and Thompson's Film Art and Film History. (Those two are the intro texts for all good film programs, I just happen to find Hitchock and Bazin interesting and I recommend looking into them but it's not essential reading whereas Bordwell and Thompson are.)

Technique: The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video (covers in 40 pages 90% of what you need to know to be more technically competent than 90% of industry directors–and it's the only cinematography textbook at some of the best MFA programs, including I believe USC, although you'd need to read a lot more to be more technically competent than industry DPs, American Cinematographer magazine is a good starting place for that but nothing will substitute for on-set experience, starting as a camera PA then working your way up to second AC, AC, op, DP, etc.).

Storytelling: http://channel101.wikia.com/wiki/Story_Structure_101:_Super_Basic_Shit (the standard guide in most writers' rooms and by far the best and funniest take on storytelling I'v read). Save the Cat is okay, too, if prescriptive. Robert McKee's Story is... it's fine. I guess. :/ I dunno about that book it's kind of self-important.

Just watching movies matters ten times more than any of this bullshit, but the above is all better information than what's available online. (Though Every Frame a Painting etc. has some good if fairly obvious insights, I'll admit, and I'm contradicting myself because Story Structure 101 is online and is the best of the best information available on the topic.) 

Directing actors: https://www.amazon.com/Directing-Actors-Memorable-Performances-Television/dp/0941188248 Not everything about this is good. At the better film schools (AFI, etc.) they'll tell you not to over-direct actors, because the best actors already know what they're doing. If Daniel Day Lewis shows up on your set, you kind of just go with it, you know? He's put in the work and you haven't. But a lot of the techniques in this book (action verbs, metaphors, etc.) are very useful especially with actors who have only medium levels of experience... and just in establishing a level of trust and comfort. Some of the dicta ("never give a line reading") should be ignored, however, or taken as good suggestions but not absolutes. Also you only need to read the first few chapters. Every actor is different. This is social skills stuff, not technical, but the above book is still very good.

Really just study shot choices and blocking. Where the characters move, where the camera moves and when, why, in terms of emotional response and intellectual response (what you learn when) and how the two are interrelated. Spielberg IMO is the master of blocking and camera. Fincher and Kubrick are interesting, too, if much colder formally. Kubrick the stronger of the two but Fincher has some really slick commercial techniques and his music videos are great, very well cut. Polanski is quite good at blocking and he keeps his use of the camera pretty simple. Bay is superb at staging in depth, best eye around. Scorsese might have the strongest editing in his films (Schoonmaker is a genius). But it's whatever you like, just study it, emulate it, see why you failed, rinse and repeat.

*My favorite.

 

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I was leafing through this in a bookshop last week and found it pretty interesting.

I held off buying it because there is a new edition due at the beginning of next month so I'll be picking it up then.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Filmmakers-Eye-Learning-Cinematic-Composition/dp/0240812174/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1492802217&sr=1-1&keywords=the+filmmakers+eye

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Empower your (good) actors as true collaborators. Let them bring their best skills to the process and you'll be rewarded for it.

36 minutes ago, HockeyFan12 said:

Spielberg IMO is the master of blocking and camera.

Change the article from "the" to "a" and I'll agree with that.  His "oner(s)" are a simple conceit, but take alot of work.  Consider that he copped a lot of this technique from Kurosawa (among numerous others) but, really, Akira was ahead of the curve with modern film making craft.  And, of course, Wells sort of re-defined the whole process of American cinema waaaay back in the day...

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1 hour ago, fuzzynormal said:

Empower your (good) actors as true collaborators. Let them bring their best skills to the process and you'll be rewarded for it.

Change the article from "the" to "a" and I'll agree with that.  His "oner(s)" are a simple conceit, but take alot of work.  Consider that he copped a lot of this technique from Kurosawa (among numerous others) but, really, Akira was ahead of the curve with modern film making craft.  And, of course, Wells sort of re-defined the whole process of American cinema waaaay back in the day...

I disagree about Kurosawa and Spielberg sharing that much in common formally, and Spielberg's blocking techniques are my favorite of anyone's. But it's just a matter of opinion. Spielberg I think takes more from Classical Hollywood like Ford or even David Lean (British, I suppose, not Hollywood) than he does from the Japanese. But Kurosawa is great, too. Roshomon I think is amazing, but it feels like there's more emphasis on composition and editing than on blocking, there. Kurosawa is a more intellectual filmmaker with more authorial presence than Spielberg, who is more emotional and formally transparent imo. Just my opinion.

But yes, there are plenty of other filmmakers who are good at blocking and Kurosawa was no slouch there!

I don't consider Welles to be a master of blocking or that much like Spielberg, though, but again, he's not bad at it, either. I think Welles was inspired by theater and radio and he had some talented DPs and editors who were adding a lot in their own regard. But it feels a little fussier with him, more showboating, and why not when you have all that talent? But Spielberg's craft doesn't draw as much attention to itself; Welles' does, more like Kurosawa. He's showier, and the genius of Spielberg is that he can shoot one of those near-oners (or just minimally cover a scene) in a way that organically doles out information and even emotional cues (based on characters' proximity to camera, to each other, their frontality or angle from camera, etc.) and it works so well you have to go back and study it just to see why it's working. He's not always subtle but a lot of his craft is so good it's invisible. His oners don't feel like oners–and that's the point. And there's a lot of physicality to what he's doing, how he shoots, the unrealistic lighting, letting all the gags play in medium shots whether it's sfx or cgi. I think Bazin would get behind him to that extent.

 All three are great talents, though, and studying them will get you farther than reading any book.

(Or just study whoever impresses you, it's all subjective. If you want to make a blog study your favorite bloggers. And why not.)

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1 minute ago, HelsinkiZim said:

Classics:

Directing the Documentary - Rabiger
Shot by Shot - Katz
Mastershots Vol 1
More ethereal, but brilliant, short and sweet, - Making Movies by Sidney Lumet.

Fun:

Easy Riders and Raging Bulls - Biskind
How NOT to Make a Short Film - Munroe
Save the Cat (more screenwriting, but fun) - Blake Snider
The Kid Stays in the Picture - Robert Evans
Adventures in the Screen Trade - WIlliam Goldman

er... that's about all I have read front to back. Have skimmed through and read chapters of many more books and scripts for dissertations and the like, but this is a good starting point.

Check out Copolla's Zoetrope forum, I hung out there in the early 2000s and it was a great community - cant vouch for it now. Also check out Wordplayer.com archives for some essential posts from many writers who are famous now. Again, can't vouch for its current activity - but they have kept the archive alive. Especially check out the columns like this one. Oldschool, but rules many are currently using and adapting to the digital age.

Oh, lest we forget Rebel WIthout a Crew - Robert Rodriguez. The reason most of us older millennials quit chemistry class.

Happy reading!

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Another thing... I truly believe that filmmaking is no different to painting, woodwork or sculpting - you only get better by actually buying the tools and materials, and doing it.

Books, forums, Youtube videos... are mainly useful for supplementing and encouraging the act of actually doing something. There is no book that will stop you from falling on your ass in the beginning.

In fact, you will repeatedly fail, but books will help ease your mind that many others have made the same mistakes and offer some solutions for how to avoid them again.

Unfortunately, the minute you feel you need to stop learning is the minute you need to quit this game and get a real job - because we are never better than our last film/ promo/ music video/ recommendation.

That is even a tougher standard than medical personnel live by. Well, maybe. I flatter myself (us).

But truthfully - reading about film, current affairs, fiction, non-fiction, scripts... are just founding blocks for finding your own unique voice (however, writers just need to read 24/7 - no practical).

The reason someone will hire you or watch your film is because you are different. And if everyone has the same camera and knows the same skills, you are only different because of the stories you choose to tell.

There are so many fractured societies right now, that finding a niche in this day and age is easier than it probably ever has been.

Just do what you love to do, talk about what you like to talk about, film what you want to film... BUT understand the conventions in your niche... and then break them!

You learn those conventions from books. You find your voice from looking at (reading about) the world around you - and then re-presenting it in your body of work.

I am still looking for my voice - and fuck if I won't die trying.

 

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14 minutes ago, HelsinkiZim said:

Another thing... I truly believe that filmmaking is no different to painting, woodwork or sculpting - you only get better by actually buying the tools and materials, and doing it.

Books, forums, Youtube videos... are mainly useful for supplementing and encouraging the act of actually doing something. There is no book that will stop you from falling on your ass in the beginning.

In fact, you will repeatedly fail, but books will help ease your mind that many others have made the same mistakes and offer some solutions for how to avoid them again.

Unfortunately, the minute you feel you need to stop learning is the minute you need to quit this game and get a real job - because we are never better than our last film/ promo/ music video/ recommendation.

That is even a tougher standard than medical personnel live by. Well, maybe. I flatter myself (us).

But truthfully - reading about film, current affairs, fiction, non-fiction, scripts... are just founding blocks for finding your own unique voice (however, writers just need to read 24/7 - no practical).

The reason someone will hire you or watch your film is because you are different. And if everyone has the same camera and knows the same skills, you are only different because of the stories you choose to tell.

There are so many fractured societies right now, that finding a niche in this day and age is easier than it probably ever has been.

Just do what you love to do, talk about what you like to talk about, film what you want to film... BUT understand the conventions in your niche... and then break them!

You learn those conventions from books. You find your voice from looking at (reading about) the world around you - and then re-presenting it in your body of work.

I am still looking for my voice - and fuck if I won't die trying.

 

Good advice.

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19 minutes ago, HelsinkiZim said:

Another thing... I truly believe that filmmaking is no different to painting, woodwork or sculpting - you only get better by actually buying the tools and materials and doing it.

 

 

Yeah the great thing about Digital is you can Afford to keep screwing up, over and over, and it only costs your friends patience Lol. You just have to go out and do it, and do it, and do it unless you are just super talented from the start.  And I doubt many of the greats were in reality. I think they watched people on set to sort of mimic their craft.

I bet you could Never learn how to do this stuff well without actually being on a big time move lot a lot. I would imagine we can't imagine what all goes into it without seeing it in action! I guess.

I am a big fan of  Shane Hurlbut, I know he is a DoP, but this website does show a lot of "On Lot" type stuff.  Well worth anyone visiting it often. He does update it a lot, and what I like, answers peoples questions. http://www.thehurlblog.com/

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9 minutes ago, webrunner5 said:

I bet you could Never learn how to do this stuff well without actually being on a big time move lot a lot. I would imagine we can't imagine what all goes into it without seeing it in action! I guess. I am a big fan of  Shane Hurlbut, I know he is a DoP, but this website does show a lot of "On Lot" type stuff.  Well worth anyone visiting it often.

He does update it a lot, and what I like, answers peoples questions. http://www.thehurlblog.com/

I love Shane Hurlbut's contribution to the digital community - and especially admire his buisness model - which is ahead of its time.

But I cannot, lest I try, forget his bollocking on set by Christian Bale.

Has he ever talked about that incident?

Talk about a meltdown....

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10 minutes ago, HelsinkiZim said:

I love Shane Hurlbut's contribution to the digital community - and especially admire his buisness model - which is ahead of its time.

But I cannot, lest I try, forget his bollocking on set by Christian Bale.

Has he ever talked about that incident?

Talk about a meltdown....

Idk, god forbid Christian Bale, with his 20 million dollar paycheck, can handle acting, the reason he gets 20 million, while some lowly crew member is in his line of sight...

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17 minutes ago, HockeyFan12 said:

Good advice.

I'll go one step further.. we all know about having a 'social footprint' and how important it is to be on Instagram, Facebook, Linkdin, Twitter - with BTS, marketing etc...

... but I think we are in an age of 'emotional footprint's', whereby someone hires you/ watches you for your values and your connection to a like-minded group.

Less everything will mean more - but those things that are - are fully committed - and will fight for you, your work and pay top dollar to get it.

We should start acknowledging this shift in buyer mentality.

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3 minutes ago, HelsinkiZim said:

I'll go one step further.. we all know about having a 'social footprint' and how important it is to be on Instagram, Facebook, Linkdin, Twitter - with BTS, marketing etc...

... but I think we are in an age of 'emotional footprint's', whereby someone hires you/ watches you for your values and your connection to a like-minded group.

Less everything will mean more - but those things that are - are fully committed - and will fight for you, your work and pay top dollar to get it.

We should start acknowledging this shift in buyer mentality.

Clarify.

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30 minutes ago, mercer said:

Idk, god forbid Christian Bale, with his 20 million dollar paycheck, can handle acting, the reason he gets 20 million, while some lowly crew member is in his line of sight...

I would wager that in 10 years time Shane will have a comfortable living with a loving famiyl and Bale will be in all sorts of actor forgotten-ness.

But its still funny. It hurts, but its funny.

I trained under directors who said similar to me. It is not uncommon and tht is why he guy leaked.

He wanted to show what it is really like - sometimes, not all the times, when you are working with millionaires/ assholes. Directors, producers, actors - the lot.

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34 minutes ago, HockeyFan12 said:

Clarify.

In laymans term:

People are freaking out right now about many emotional issues. It is a great time for a up-and-coming director to try and explore different opinions on a variety of hot topics. We are seeing loyalty on measures unknown to even Facebook.

Niche thought leaders have more power than they ever have had.

It is a good time to build a following.

By doing so, filmmakers may form an style of their own - by which they can proceed to pay da bills.

I cannot simplify any further.

29 minutes ago, webrunner5 said:

Man Shane has a Beautiful wife. He is a lucky guy what she is capable of doing with him. They make one heck of a team. They have known each other since they were 3 years old.

Im on his side - if his response was doing what he is doing now, then that is a lesson for all of us in resilience.

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11 minutes ago, HelsinkiZim said:

Im on his side - if his response was doing what he is doing now, then that is a lesson for all of us in resilience.

I don't follow him All the time LoL. So I am not sure What his response was. Knowing him he did not bring it into his Blog. He is a very Professional guy. At least I have not seen it in his blog.

I am amazed how much talent he has, how he is kind enough to help others out with every aspect of his job.  I know he makes money off of it, but he does have a lot of stuff for free that is very important stuff to learn. He is a rare person in Hollywood that does it that's for sure. But I think his wife has a lot to do about it happening also!

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