Film is an incredibly complex art form that requires a vast amount of technical and theoretical knowledge. Working in the industry and making your own films can teach you a lot – practice always makes perfect. However, if you want to take any skill in the world to the next level, one of the most efficient ways to do so is to learn from the best by reading their books.
So, naturally, we took it upon ourselves to scour the film community to create a definitive list of the best books on filmmaking. Whether you’re a director, editor, cinematographer, or gaffer, we’ve analyzed all the available books to recommend the best ones to you. Check out the table of contents to find the books you need quickly!
Some of these we have read, some of these we haven’t, but you can rest assured that we would never recommend anything we didn’t think kicked ass.
- 1 Best Film Editing Books
- 2 Best Books On Documentary Filmmaking
- 3 Best Books On Film Lighting
- 4 Best Books On Cinematography
- 5 Best Books On Film Directing
- 6 Best Books On Film Sound
- 7 Best Screenwriting Books
- 8 Best Film Biography Books
- 9 Best Books On Filmmaking (General / All Around)
- 10 Conclusion
Best Film Editing Books
If you’re looking to learn how to edit feature films, there’s only so much you can practice in adobe premiere before you need to start looking elsewhere to increase your skill set. These are the best film editing books on the market that we could find. Some will give you in-depth analysis from some of the top industry editors, while others describe interesting editing techniques to take your game to the next level!
Note: These books will teach you everything you need to know about film editing EXCEPT how to use editing software. If you need to learn how to use Adobe Premiere, check out this book, if you’re learning Avid, check out this book, and if you’re learning Final Cut Pro, check out this book. Each is the best user-manual on the market.
This book has made the cut of pretty much every “Best Books” list on the internet. Published in 1992, this book isn’t going to teach you how to optimize your Adobe Premiere Pro workflow, but it might just be the most important book on editing you will ever read.
Multiple Oscar winning editor Walter Murch gives an incredibly thorough perspective on film editing and the role an editor plays in telling a story. You will learn a seemingly endless amount about how the edit impacts a film, as well as a deep look into his philosophy on editing. It explores why certain cuts are made rather than how to make them.
Murch’s filmography includes films like Apocalypse Now and The Godfather Trilogy, so unless you dislike some of the most highly regarded films in the history of cinema, it’s safe to say he is an authority in the editing industry. This book is a must-read for not only editors, but all serious filmmakers.
Make the Cut: A Guide to Becoming a Successful Assistant Editor in Film and TV by Lori Coleman, Diana Friedberg
Jumping forward a couple decades, Make The Cut is a much more logistical, instructional book on how to infiltrate the industry as an assistant editor. Lori Coleman and Diana Friedberg are both established, successful Hollywood editors with lengthy resumes. In their book they break down the entire process behind how they managed to establish themselves as editors and advance their careers.
The book covers everything you need to know on both the technical and interpersonal sides of working as an editor in the film industry. Script breakdowns, sound effect prep and organizing camera and sound reports, and many other technical knowledge is discussed at length. The interpersonal side is given a very detailed description as well, teaching you about industry protocol, etiquette, career planning, and many other things that are not found anywhere else.
Make The Cut is absolutely essential if you are in the midst of starting your career as a film and TV editor, and will give you a huge advantage. The last section even has several Q&A sessions with multiple other actors to help you learn what established Hollywood editors expect from their assistant editors.
In The Blink Of An Eye covers the philosophical and psychological motions behind editing, and Make The Cut lays out the editing process and provides valuable editing career tips. This book is a solid, dense dose of editing technique. The Technique of Film and Video Editing takes a very detailed look at the basic principals of editing and what rules you should follow as an editor.
The book analyzes dozens of contemporary and classic films to demonstrate why certain techniques work. The 5th edition we have recommended here even contains several new chapters which discuss the goals of editing, and how to evoke specific audience responses with a variety of cuts.
The Technique of Film and Video Editing is just about the best reference handbook for learning the basics we could find, and is a solid choice for anyone just getting started with editing. It has been described by a few as somewhat “Text-booky”. This means that it may be a difficult to consume piece of you have a short attention span. If you have difficulty consuming books like this, In The Blink Of An Eye is likely a much better choice for you.
Best Books On Documentary Filmmaking
Putting together a standard narrative film is quite an extensive process, but at least it’s fairly straightforward. Making a documentary is a complex task that requires attention to detail and the ability to find your story in your footage. This is a process that can be helped a lot by some formal education, so check out these best books on documentary filmmaking!
This Much is True: 14 Directors on Documentary Filmmaking by James Quinn
Documentary directors don’t usually garner the same attention that narrative directors do. The mainstream usually can’t appreciate documentaries the same way that they can appreciate Star Wars or The Avengers. That being said, in the film community, there are several documentary filmmakers who have earned respect for their skill. This Much Is True is an incredibly insightful collection of essays from said directors.
Topics include the most essential documentary themes, such as emotion, interviews, and thinking in pictures. There are chapters that will show you how to center your films around character, and how to best edit your documentaries to tell the story you want to tell. The wide variety of perspectives ensure that this book will give you a unique experience, and if you are an aspiring documentary filmmaker, I think this is the best book you could read.
A New History of Documentary Film by Betsy A. McLane
Betsy A. McLane has managed to assemble the most comprehensive and informative documentary history books of all time. This book is great at developing an understanding of the first few documentaries and how the genre came to be.
A New History Of Documentary Film is a strong argument for the importance of the preservation of history. You’ll learn a lot about the problems documentarians have faced, and why documentaries are important to our history and society.
This is the definitive book on documentary history. Perhaps not completely necessary if you’re just looking to learn how to make films. However, if you care whatsoever about the history of documentaries or just film in general, this is an excellent book.
Documentary Storytelling: Creative Nonfiction on Screen by Sheila Curran Bernard
The previous books showed us documentarian perspectives, and the history of documentary. Every list needs a solid documentary textbook! Documentary Storytelling: Creative Nonfiction On Screen is the most comprehensive guide to documentary filmmaking available.
Featured chapters include practical advice for directors, editors, producers, and pretty much every creative force that goes into making a documentary. Despite being a textbook, this book has been praised for being very concise and well written.
This edition of the book was updated just a few years ago, making it very modern, and the perfect choice for documentary filmmakers looking for an alternative to film school.
Best Books On Film Lighting
When learning about cinema, lighting is often forgotten about in favor of topics like directing and writing. The entire look of a film can be completely dependent on proper lighting, so it’s really important for you to read about. If you want to take your short films to the next level, or are looking into becoming a professional gaffer or lamp op, here are the two best books on film lighting.
Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook: Film Lighting Equipment, Practice, and Electrical Distribution by Harry Box
This book is by far the most well-known, extensive books on lighting, and can be found on the bookshelf of nearly every self-respecting gaffer. The Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook is a hands-on manual covering the tricks of the trade, daily practices, and ins and outs of the equipment.
If you are an industry lamp op, gaffer, best boy or DP, I’d almost consider it mandatory that you own this book, especially if you’re new. This book will teach you everything you need to know about trouble-shooting, teamwork, set protocol, and most importantly, safety.
In addition to these broad-stroke concepts, the handbook also goes in depth with tricks and techniques for operating tons of different lighting equipment. LEDs, xenons, strobes, blacklights, underwater units, and many others pieces of hardware are discussed at length! Buy this book! It’s practically impossible to regret it.
Lighting for Cinematography: A Practical Guide to the Art and Craft of Lighting for the Moving Image by David Landau
From long time gaffer and cinematographer David Landau, Lighting For Cinematography is the perfect companion to go along with the Set Technician’s Handbook. The previous book is very technical and hardware oriented, while this book is a fantastic non-technical overview on how you should light your scenes.
This book is filled with stills which illustrate the examples between different lighting techniques. Whether you’re lighting for daytime, nighttime, interior or exterior, everything is packed into this book. While other books tend to discuss the scientific and technical perspective, this book is a walkthrough on relative lighting positions and lighting theory.
This book has tons to offer for anyone involved with visual storytelling. Purchase this with the Set Technician’s Handbook and you’ll have a fully complete education. You’ll learn more than what film school will be able to teach you.
Best Books On Cinematography
Once you’ve learned how to properly light your scene, next you’ll have to learn how to compose your shots. Cinematography is very tough, and you might think that you either have an eye for it or you don’t, but it can be taught. Here are the best books on cinematography to help guide your “eye” in the right direction.
The Five C’s of Cinematography: Motion Picture Filming Techniques by Joseph V. Mascelli
This is one of the most highly-regarded books in the cinematography community. The Five C’s of Cinematography is a classic published back in 1965 that still holds up strong to this day, and for good reason. Despite it’s age, the techniques discussed in this book are evergreen – timeless. This book will instill the knowledge of what works, what doesn’t, and why. It’s not so much about teaching you the rules, but setting guidelines that will allow you to be creative in the best possible way.
Topics discussed include cinematic time and space, compositional rules, types of editing, and many others. The author has created a nice conversational tone that makes this much easier to read than most other film “textbooks”
This book is essential to any “best books on filmmaking” list. Every serious cinematographer, director, DP, and visual storyteller needs to buy this book and read it until it has been mastered.
If you are a blank slate and are looking to learn everything you need to know about cinematography from scratch, there is no better choice than this book. Cinematography: Theory and Practice is filled with practical advice and theoretical knowledge in a concise package.
Unlike our previous recommendation, this modern book also will teach you everything you need to know about the equipment and technology. It delves into the theory as well. You’ll learn what all the rules are and when it’s appropriate to break them.
It is suggested that this book is read not only by all cinematographers, but also by directors. Knowledge of the concepts discussed in this book will take your ability to construct visual stories to the next level. If you were to pick any of these books on cinematography, this would probably be your best choice.
Painting With Light by John Alton
Academy Award winner Jon Alton is one of classic Hollywood Cinema’s most renowned cinematographers. He’s known best for having a highly stylized, film-noir aesthetic that was quite innovate, earning him a highly respected reputation in the 1940’s and 50’s. Known for crisp shadows and sculpted beams of light, there’s just about nobody who has as strong of an understanding of light as him.
Painting With Light is his way of imparting all of this tremendous knowledge with you. The book explains the job of the cinematographer in simple, non technical language that any layman can understand. He explores how lighting, camera techniques, and locations dictate the visual mood of a film, and will give you a very unique perspective on how you should go about lighting your scenes.
This excellent book also provides an overview of his biography and career, and discusses his influence on contemporary cinematography if you’re interested in the historical side of things. All in all, while not the most comprehensive book, this one has a lot of unique information and is worth a read to serious cinematographers.
Best Books On Film Directing
If you’re a filmmaker, this category will likely have the largest impact on your ability to tell high-quality stories. While on paper the job seems simple, directing is actually an incredibly complex task that requires attention to detail and meticulous planning. Here are a few books that will get you on your way to mastering these ideas.
Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics by Michael Rabiger
Undoubtedly the most comprehensive resource on directing ever written. Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics will be the book you buy and reference constantly for the entirety of your film career. It has been frequently updated over the years, and the latest edition is more refined than ever.
The book is completely packed with human, psychological, and technical knowledge. I cannot stress enough how detailed this book is. Once you have absorbed and implemented everything this book has to offer, you will never have another question about directing again.
That may be hyperbole, but I’m really in love with this book. If you were to buy just one directing book on this list, please, make sure it is this one.
On Directing Film by David Mamet
On Directing Film is David Mamet’s “Masterclass” on the art of directing. He’s an Oscar and Tony nominated writer responsible for writing classics like Glengarry Glen Ross and The Verdict. When it comes to book authors, there really aren’t many more qualified to speak on the matter than him.
Throughout its chapters, the book deconstructs the entire directing process at every level. From the script to the edit, this book illustrates how you can best be understood by your audience. You’ll learn how to direct films that are creative and engaging. His energy has really been harnessed within these pages.
This book is basically a compressed version of the lectures Mamet gave while he taught at Columbia film school, making this not only an essential piece of film literature, but an awesome alternative to a formal film education.
This is a personal favorite of mine – one of my classes in film school required this book, and I thought it was really jam-packed with easy-to-digest value. The other books on film directing we have recommended are very all-encompassing. They cover everything, and are quite detailed, but will never match what this book has to offer regarding directing actors.
Written by Internationally-renowned directing coach Judith Weston, this book covers things like what directors do wrong, how actors work, and explores the director/actor relationship in incredible detail.
The class I took that required this book was life changing. I witnessed people who I thought were absolutely awful actors give convincing performances with proper direction. Reading this book greatly improved my ability to get the performances I want with as little friction as possible. This book is awesome.
Best Books On Film Sound
Whether you’re recording location sound, editing audio in post production, or trying to make professional quality foley, these are the best resources we could find. Behold, the 3 best books on film sound! Each discusses a different aspect of sound in film, and the three of them are frequently bought together for a complete sound-tutorial package.
The First “Bible” on our list, of which there are many (Seems like a pretty good marketing tactic?). Despite the cliche name, this book is a very substantial guide to recording and editing sound effects in film. Ric Viers is a very prolific sound effect artist with tons of experience that has compiled all of his knowledge on the topic into a small, easy to read package.
The Sound Effects Bible teaches you everything from microphone selection and understanding DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations), to building your own stage to create foley effects. If you need to create sound effects for your short film, or are interesting to becoming a professional foley artist, I am unable to find a better recommendation than this book.
Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema by David Sonnenschein
Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema is a well articulated teaching tool that breaks the entire sound engineering process down. Several readers have reported that a lot of the content is “One of a kind”, and that this is the strongest resource available on the subject.
It has been referred to as a bit “textbooky” by a few reviewers, but if you’re passionate about sound editing and sound design, we advise you stick with it and take the plunge – the information here is unrivaled.
While the previous two books discussed everything you need to know to handle your sound in post, let’s not forget that you actually have to record it properly in the first place! The Location Sound Bible is pretty much the gold standard in references to learn about location sound.
Topics include audio basics, mic selection, recording and mexing techniques, and the Ten Location Sound commandments. Reviews for this book are very solid, and I for one can vouch that my sound mixing skills improved quite a bit after reading a few excerpts.
Best Screenwriting Books
While the production stage of a film is very important, it’s all for nothing if you don’t have a quality screenplay. Here’s the 3 best screenwriting books we could find. I even read a few of these in film school, they’re really helpful!
Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
Save The Cat is the number one best selling book on screenwriting. Why is this? Because of its entertaining qualities and massive accessibility. Sure, it might not be as thorough as a fancy glossary or encyclopedia, but it is massively entertaining. When a book is fun to read, it loses a little room for detail and technicality, but it gains a great deal of sticking power; you are more likely to retain the information from this book than any other screenwriting book we could find.
Blake Snyder has managed to put together easy-to-digest segments like, “The four elements of every winning Log Line” and “The seven immutable laws of screenplay physics”, that teach you basic screenwriting habits that apply to almost all successful Hollywood films. This book specifically helped me iron out several problems with my own writing, and I think this book is absolutely essential for anyone who wants to write a quality screenplay.
Note: This book is a great source of entertainment even for those who aren’t writers! Understanding movie plot structure will increase your appreciation for cinema, so I would highly recommend this book to just about anybody.
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field
Syd Field is less of a world-famous screenwriter and more of a world-famous teacher. He has a series of bestselling screenwriting books and has ignited countless careers in screenwriting and film. Screenplay: The Foundations Of Screenwriting, is in my opinion, his best work.
The book presents a step-by-step, comprehensive technique for writing screenplays that are proven to succeed in Hollywood. Key topics include how to adapt a novel, play, or article into a screenplay, how to protect your screenplay legally, and the essentials of writing. From dialogue, characters, and story line, to overcoming writers-block, this book has it all. It even has a section on how to get an agent! This is a pretty cheap book and a very safe choice for aspiring screenwriters.
The Screenwriter’s Bible, 6th Edition: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script by David Trottier
One of the many “Bibles” we have included in this list, The Screenwriter’s bible is a deep dive into the more technical side of screenwriting. This comprehensive book contains several sections that include the material of practically 5 books in one. It contains a course in the csreenwriting basics, a workbook to walk you through the writing process, a formatting guide, a spec writing guide to demonstrate the modern spec style, and a sales and marketing guide with proven strategies.
There are many samples that contain practical information for those of you who require interactivity to do their learning! Hundreds of sample scenes, worksheets, and examples are contained within the pages. Over 200,000 copies of this book have been sold over the last twenty years, and the latest edition ensures all the formatting knowledge is up-to-date and reliable.
This is pretty much the best of the best if you want a single book that’ll tell you everything you need to know start to finish. Despite the full title of Save The Cat, I think that if you were to buy only one screenwriting book, it should be this one.
Best Film Biography Books
Perhaps you’re not a filmmaker. Maybe you’re a film student, critic, or just an appreciator of the arts. Here are the best Film Biography books we could find. These are, however, very beneficial reads for filmmakers. After all, if you want to truly understand a director, you should study their life in addition to their films.
My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall
Penny Marshall was the first woman to direct a movie that grossed over $100 million at the box office. She’s worked with countless A list celebrities and is close friends with people like Lorne Michaels and John Belushi. Her story is very inspirational and unique, and is definitely worth a read regardless of your association with film.
Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick Mcgilligan
It could easily be argued that Alfred Hitchcock is the most recognizable director of all time. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life In Darkness and Light is an exploration of his entire life, revealing his innovations in cinema and exploring his skill in storytelling.
Skilled Biographer Patrick McGilligan deconstructs Hitchcock and many of his relationships with the legends of classic Hollywood cinema. It has a lot to teach about originality in storytelling, and is a valuable resource for any up-and-coming filmmaker.
A life In Darkness and Light is a very entertaining read as well. The author has managed to capture the same humor and suspense that Hitchcock was renowned for and incorporate it into the biography.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
You’d be hard pressed to think of an animation studio more renowned than Pixar. Ed Catmull, one of the co-founders of Pixar, has written this book to teach you how to build a creative culture. Have you ever noticed that just about every single movie to ever come out of Pixar is massively successful? There must be something different at play here, if their films have been able to earn over 30 Academy Awards.
This book reveals all of the ideologies and strategies that Pixar has employed to become the profitable, admirable company it is today. It’s clear that what has made them so successful is their refusal to compromise creative integrity. This is a very important lesson to learn as a filmmaker, and is explored at length in Creativity Inc.
This section is all about books that are valuable material even outside of the world of film. Creativity Inc is no exception – Forbes has even gone so far as to call it the best business book ever written. The information regarding management, creativity and innovation is extremely rich whether you work in show business or not. This book is a solid recommendation to ANYONE who has ambition of any kind – and a treasure for filmmakers as well.
Best Books On Filmmaking (General / All Around)
This category is where I put the most highly-recommended books that didn’t really fit as well in any of the above categories. These are considered essential reading in the film community, and are the best books on filmmaking if you are looking for something all-encompassing.
The Filmmaker’s Handbook by Steven Ascher & Edward Pincus
With over 300,000 copies solid, The Filmmaker’s Handbook is likely the most pervasive, highly regarded book on this entire list. This is pretty much a standard text in nearly every film school, everyone from The New York Times to The Independent refers to this book as essential, or biblical.
The Filmmaker’s Handbook is extremely technical and detailed, meticulously describing EVERY single aspect of filmmaking. Yeah. We mean every aspect. Producing, lighting, sound mixing, cameras, funding – EVERYTHING. You’ll be hard pressed to find a question that isn’t answered in the 830 pages of this monstrosity, and this is the most comprehensive book on this entire list, and if you were to buy only one, it should definitely be this one.
Like we said, this book is very technical and can be pretty difficult to digest. It’s meant to be read in small bursts, multiple times over, and used as a reference when you have questions about filmmaking. If you’re looking for something more entertaining, this book pairs wonderfully with the next book we are going to suggest.
Rebel Without A Crew by Robert Rodriguez
Rebel Without A Crew has been recommended by dozens of book lists, and is probably the most inspirational book on this entire list. If you’ve got big dreams for your career and not much capital to help, this is a very important book for you.
For those of you who don’t know, Robert Rodriguez is an independent screenwriter and director known for directing films like Spy Kids and Sin City. What sets him apart from most filmmakers is his incredible story of his climb through the film industry. If you’d like some insight, the full title of this book is Rebel Without A Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7000 Became a Hollywood Player. This book discusses all the unique strategies he deployed to make his debut film, El Mariachi with that $7000, that would launch his career.
The book is a diary of how he managed to make his film happen, and contains very valuable material about how you can teach yourself everything you need to know about production, directing, and screenwriting. This book will provide you with the inspiration and strategy that pairs perfectly with The Filmmaker’s Handbook to build you up from scratch – from a complete nobody to a renowned director.
How To Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck is, in essence, a much more manageable and easy to digest version of The Filmmaker’s Handbook. Yes, it is not as detailed, and lacks several of the in-depth technical coverage as it’s counterpart, but that’s not the point.
I own The Filmmaker’s Handbook, and I look at it from time to time, but even I myself have a hard time reading it extended periods of time. This book, which is less than a third of the size, cuts down everything you probably don’t care about if you’re a casual filmmaker.
This book breaks down all the essentials into 74 brief, yet entertaining chapters. While The Handbook is a standard for industry professionals, this book is the perfect companion for students and YouTubers, as well as a decent guide for anyone looking to learn about film.
Welp, that’s it. Every single one of the best books on filmmaking that we think is worth your time. If you’ve got a serious crush on a book we failed to mention on our list, feel free to leave a comment or shoot us an e-mail! We read them all and would be glad to make amendments to this list in the future.