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The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free EBooks

Rachel Klein

No need for film school. Here are your book recommendations for every film department + 3 FREE e-Books

Fall is near, with its pumpkin-flavored everything and college students flooding back into a city near you. It’s back to school, but even if your days in the classroom are done, don’t fret! I’ve got the books to keep your mind sharp and inspiration flowing well into the winter months!

You don’t have to be in film school to study filmmaking. With the internet and all its resources (like your friends here at PremiumBeat), it is easier now than ever to learn all the skills you need to make films. But if you’re itching to go deeper and take the more old-fashioned approach, here is a list of some great film books to check out. From story to screenwriting to lighting: these books are the best in their categories.

This list comes from recommendations straight off of film sets. I spoke with friends in a number of film departments to get their “go to” books.


The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - Handbook

The Filmmaker’s Handbook

by Steven Ascher & Edward Pincus

The Filmmaker’s Handbook covers it all, from start to finish, and in an accessible language for any level filmmaker. From pre-production all the way through to distribution, this book is a crash course for each step of the way. It even includes information for shooting on film and is full of tables and data rates in its wonderfully fat appendix.

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - Making Movies

Making Movies

by Sidney Lumet

Making Movies is a mixture of memoir and how-to by the Oscar-nominated director. He reflects on his experiences working with actors and handling the pressures on set. He also talks about his process for making creative decisions.

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - Story

Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and The Principles of Screenwriting

by Robert McKee

I’ve often felt it’s best to know the rules behind story and structure before you break them. In this highly recommended read, McKee lays the groundwork for story structure and development. It technically covers screenwriting, but the meat and bones of this book are in studying the art of story.

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - Shot by shot

Film Directing Shot by Shot

by Steven Douglas Katz

I absolutely love this book! With so many ways to tell a visual story, Katz’s comprehensive manual is chock full of diagrams and storyboards that show, side by side, the different ways storytelling techniques play out on the screen.

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - On Directing Film

On Directing

by David Mamet

Speaking to his own experiences as a filmmaker, this book is less of a how-to and more about Mamet’s theories and approaches to storytelling in the visual medium of filmmaking. Short and sweet to read, but packed with a lot of concepts that will challenge you to think more critically about the way you approach filmmaking.

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - Film Survival Guide

The Independent Film Producer’s Survival Guide: A Business and Legal Sourcebook

by Erickson, Tulchin, and Halloran

Recommended by my favorite (and the most crafty) executive producer I know, this is the book he loans to any and everyone coming to him with questions about producing or the business side of the industry (as I did). And since the book is addressing the subject from an independent viewpoint, it provides lots of solutions for those coming to filmmaking on a tighter budget.

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - Directing Documentary

Directing the Documentary

by Michael Rabiger

I initially read this book for one of the only film classes I took in college, and I’ve had it with me ever since. Just like The Filmmaker’s Handbook, this is a start-to-finish full outline of the ins and outs of documentary filmmaking — and a great reference point for any documentarian.

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - Screenwriter Bible

Screenwriter’s Bible

by David Trottier

Sure, you can find all that you need to know about screenwriting and formatting online these days. However, I personally have benefitted from having my copy of Trottier’s book around to help me structure my story and get my script into proper formatting shape. There are also lots of great insider tips on the world of professional screenwriting that would behoove anyone trying to break into that line of work.


Technical Recommendations

As a less-than-savvy technical soul, I am always looking for reference points for the more technical jobs on set. Though you cannot come close to learning what it takes to be a gaffer, grip or AC through a book alone (or film school for that matter), these handbooks below are great starting points for building your base knowledge and theories.

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - Set Lighting

Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook

by Harry C. Box

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - Camera Assistant

Camera Assistant’s Manual

by David E. Elkins

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Book - Grip Book

The Grip Book

by Michael G. Uva

This is a popular book among the entire PremiumBeat staff, and you can read some of the tips and tricks in this article.


FREE Filmmaking Books

If you are on the hunt for a few free books for general filmmaking, take a look at these great options.

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - 101 Filmmaking Tips

101 Filmmaking Tips & Tricks: a FREE Filmmaking eBook

by PremiumBeat

From PremiumBeat.com, this free filmmaking ebook, 101 Filmmaking Tips + Tricks, is a catalogue of 101 articles in eight chapters. It’s almost 300 pages loaded with pre- and post-production tips, gear insights, audio/video editing techniques, and more.

DOWNLOAD 101 FILMMAKING TIPS AND TRICKS

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - Explorer's Guide

The Explorer’s Guide to Travel Photography and Destination Video

by Shutterstock/Michael Maher

This comprehensive photo and video travel guide has everything you need to know about travel photography and destination video. From packing your bags to shooting the sunset in the Serengeti, this is your passport to success. You can read much more here, or download the book below.

DOWNLOAD THE EXPLORER’S GUIDE TO TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY AND DESTINATION VIDEO

The Essential Back to (Film) School Reading Guide + 3 Free E-Books - Motion Design

Motion Graphics Design Academy

by Timo Fecher

This is a free ebook for motion graphic designers, with over 200 pages of advice. Get the book here.


You may not agree with the approaches and techniques of all these authors, but it is my hope that most of these books on the list will get you thinking more critically about the beautifully complex medium of filmmaking.

Happy reading to you!


Fore more free filmmaking books, check out this article7 Free Filmmaking Books and Guides

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