Thursday, February 22, 2024

Five Film Production Books Every Creative Marketer Should Own

Part two of five. 

Continuing my recommendations for the books that should be on every content marketer's shelf, and because I’m a big believer in paper, it’s time to look at five for film and video production. Please also see Five Writing Books, Five Graphic Design Books, Five Web Design Books, and Five Marketing Theory Books that I believe we should own as tomes of inspiration and reference to improve our work.


I studied (experimental) film and TV production and worked in the feature industry just long enough to get jaded and tired. I share a BAFTA for an interactive project I directed. Cinema on a Sunday is my church. Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, Lulu Wang, and Sam Raimi are part of a pantheon of Corinthian gods. I script and produce explainers regularly, talk to animators and editors daily, and still revel in my own video projects—dabbling in AI video, machinima, doing voice-overs for friends projects, and still writing for pleasure. Some of these books are personal, and I’ve had them for decades, and some are more accessible recent acquisitions. All are worth a read.


Film Directing Shot by Shot by Steven D Katz

This was required reading when I studied for my MA, even though I studied Production and Script Writing rather than Direction. I swear by this one and have bought it as a gift for other people, usually when I see a second-hand copy in the wild, many, many times. Probably the best and most accessible pre-production film book I have ever read, mainly due to his ability to cut through the industry jargon and offer clear illustrations to match its explanations. There are at least two copies in the house right now—one in the downstairs loo. 


"Shot by Shot" offers a time-tested take, providing tools, rules, and a wealth of glorious examples from cinema history. Applying these insights effectively is up to the filmmaker, but whether you’re heading for a career in game design, animation, storyboard illustration, or want to create content in the aspect ratio of TikTok, this is a bargain secondhand for as little as a fiver at World of Books or Oxfam.


Making Movies by Sidney Lumet

In a reply on Twitter, this was recommended to me by my old friend Matt Cooper. Matt is a BAFTA shortlisted/RTS nominated scriptwriter and filmmaker with credits from EastEnders to Emmerdale. As a long-time collaborator of some 30+ years from the halcyon days of the indie-film-making Leeds mafia, I picked up a copy, knowing I was probably onto something good. I’m very glad I did.


With critically acclaimed movies under his belt like 12 Angry Men [1957], Serpico [1973], Dog Day Afternoon [1975], and Network [1976], Lumet’s words are a gift for anyone curious about the filmmaking process. Dripping with on-set anecdotes, this is a seminal work on wrangling the best from performers and the overall creative method, told in Lumet’s trademark pragmatic style and easy to read, non-technical, entirely relatable, and wholly unpretentious. I worked in the features industry back when I was young enough to embrace a young man’s game, and making films is hard work, tricky, and packed with challenges—but it's also rewarding. As runners and production assistants, we’d grumble in our ignorance that directors had it easy, just picking the right people to handle everything on their behalf and being two-faced to the talent. However, Lumet clearly demonstrates just how essential and involved a director's role truly is. Why does a director pick a certain script or keep actors genuine across so many takes? How can you stage a big shootout in New York with extras and taxicabs or satisfy studio bosses? "Making Movies" is the perfect insider's view from start to finish, packed to the rafters with clear, honest, inspiring insights you can take to any production, regardless of size and scope.


How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck 

by Steve Stockman

Gotta love that title, and to be fair, it does what it says on the cover. This a straight-shooting guide to filmmaking that easily drew me in, and it's particularly accessible for those interested in creating YouTube/Vimeo content or the likes of Reels. Stockman shares his golden rules to improve our videos and covers everything from storyboarding to technical tips on lighting and sound—useful for both vloggers and feature filmmakers. He briefly skips over specific equipment and software recommendations, which was useful on my first pass. He does repeat himself a bit, which, while making it easy to follow, makes a cover-to-cover read somewhat déjà rêvé, and it’s best dipped into. Check out this interview with Stockman ℅ YouTube.


Special Effects in Television by Bernard Wilkie

Wilkie spent a quarter of a century creating special effects for Auntie Beeb, where he was manager of probably the largest and most specialised visual FX unit in the world. I’ve got the second edition of this, and I’ve had it a very long time. I’ve had it so long, since 1993, that I was a pence-poor student and I had to save up to buy it. This is the Spons' Workshop Receipts of practical film and video effects, with instructions on everything from shooting matte shots to building wind machines and from blowing up miniature landmarks to Peppers Ghost. It’s an insight into the Magic Circle that was the BBC Visual Effects Department. I’ve had my money back from this book tenfold, especially in my student days. 


Alas, a mint one of these now goes for the price of a working kidney, but it is possible to find a reasonable (all be it stained, likely singed, and invariably dogeared) copy on eBay at the price of an artisanal sandwich. Mine also has the Jagoroth spaceship on the cover from Doctor Who/City of Death [1979], which has to be a further plus, and I don’t lend it out. You can pull it out of my cold, dead, obsessive hands.


The Smartphone Filmmaking Handbook 

by Neil Philip Sheppard

Something more recent and probably more applicable to the modern content marketer, this is a lexicon of advice for those who want to embrace mobile filmmaking. Nine times out of ten, as content creators, all we have available is our devastating good looks and the contents of our pockets. Armed with just a smartphone and some basic know-how, this is the doorway to creating decent video, no matter the technology at our disposal. Whether we're a budding filmmaker, vlogger, educator, student, wanna-be influencer, or in-house marketing Shemp, it’s packed with solid tips to help us get the best results with just an HD phone.


From picking the right equipment and apps within our budget to mastering lighting, sound, and some decent camera tricks, this is an easy-to-read point of reference that covers all we (probably) need to know about smartphone filmmaking. Great for beginners, and cheap as chips second-hand, Sheppard gives us the scoop on the best gear, video editing, live streaming, squeezing the best from the format, and sharing our masterpieces online. The updated 2023 edition—because things move on—is probably worth considering and includes welcome advice for the foibles of the iPhone 14 Pro.


Also, for your consideration: 

I hope that’s useful, and if you have other suggestions, I’m all ears. Please let me know via Threads; I’m always up for connecting with like-minded souls and for reading something new or just chatting about movies and video production—if that’s your bag.