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Must-Own Film Books

by Anne Thompson
August 5, 2009 2:18 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood

We all have lists of must-own film books. Mine goes like this:

William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade.
David Thomson's A Biographical Dictionary of Film.
The Citizen Kane Book by Pauline Kael.
Leonard Maltin's latest Movie Guide.
Pauline Kael's 5001 Nights at the Movies.
Andrew Sarris's The American Cinema.
Hollywood Screenwriters by Richard Corliss.
The Making of the Wizard of Oz by Aljean Harmetz.
The Name Above the Title by Frank Capra.
Master of the Game, by Connie Bruck.
Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape.
A Woman's View by Jeanine Basinger.
Conversations with Wilder, by Cameron Crowe.
John Gregory Dunne's The Studio.
Lillian Ross's Picture.
Hit & Run, by Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters.
The Genius of the System by Thomas Schatz.
Howard Hawks by Todd McCarthy.
City of Nets by Otto Friedrich.
You'll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again by Julia Phillips.
Easy Rider, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind.
Final Cut by Steven Bach.
The Cleopatra Papers by Jack Brodsky.
What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg.
The Kid Stays in the PIcture by Robert Evans.
The Parade's Gone By by Kevin Brownlow.
John Ford by Joseph McBride and Michael Wilmington.
Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris.

Keepers all.

Thompson on Hollywood

But what about books on indie cinema? There's:

Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures.
John Pierson's closely observed Spike Mike Slackers and Dykes.
Christine Vachon's A Killer Life: How an Independent Film Producer Survives Deal and Disasters in Hollywood and Beyond.
John Anderson and Laura Kim's invaluable guide to releasing an indie film, I Wake Up Screening.
Michael Donaldson's must-own documentary filmmakers' guide: Clearance and Copyright, now in its third edition.

Anything I'm missing?

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More: Independents, Stuck In Love, Books, Critics


  • wellywoodwoman | January 4, 2010 2:19 AMReply

    What about Joe Eszterhas' books? The energy in his writing is terrific even if he's fairly gross at times. And I second Roberta Munroe for her book "How not to make a short fllm". Christine Vachon's "Shooting To Kill" is as interesting as "A Killer LIfe"?

  • Internetland Garage Sale | October 30, 2009 7:42 AMReply

    Hey, I'm not spamming, just thought this would be relevant place to move some "inventory".
    I'm selling (for cheap) many vintage books on hollywood, acting, and broadway. Some are on your list, and that's how i ended up here.
    I am not a store, I am just an artist with a lot of stuff, and I want to minimize my possessions. My seller ID is the-great-declutter on (and Ebay).
    Hope this wasn't too annoying,

  • Ian Kelly | September 18, 2009 10:50 AMReply

    Good choices, all. How about "Losing the Light" by Andrew Yule, an account of the making of "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen".

  • Ambrose Heron | August 11, 2009 1:02 AMReply

    William Goldman's 'Which Lie Did I Tell?' (2000) is on par with 'Adventures in the Screen Trade' - just as insightful and frequently hilarious.

    Julie Saloman's 'The Devil's Candy' is one of the best (and most candid) books about the making of a mainstream film (which happened to be the juicy, high profile disaster that was 'The Bonfire of the Vanities').

    'The Story of Film' by Mark Cousins is an excellent history of the medium.

    'Scenes from a Revolution' by Mark Harris is probably the most impressive film book of the last few years - a rich and detailed look at the films competing for the 1967 Best Picture Oscar.

    'Have You Seen?' by David Thomson is not quite as as essential as 'The Biographical Dictionary of Film' but still definitely worth getting (the one film on every page layout is great).

    'The Complete Film Dictionary' by Ira Konigsberg is a very useful reference book.

  • Brett Boessen | August 7, 2009 5:41 AMReply

    Well I know you asked for "must-have" books, and this is probably not that, but if you're interested in some really nuts and bolts history on digital editing, or you just like Walter Murch, check out

    Behind the Seen: How Walter Murch Edited Cold Mountain Using Apple's Final Cut Pro and What This Means for Cinema

    (And try to look past the vomit after the semicolon.)

  • Roberta Marie Munroe | August 6, 2009 2:39 AMReply

    If I may be so bold as to suggest both
    my book and another great filmmaker insider look

    - How Not To Make A Short Film: Secrets From A Sundance Programmer, by Roberta Munroe
    - The Lean Forward Moment by Norman Hollyn

  • pangofilms | August 6, 2009 2:12 AMReply

    What Just Happened is excellent
    Empire of Their Own is great
    Tarkovsky's Sculpting in Time is essential
    The Secret Language of Film by Jean-Claude Carriere is essential
    John Boorman's book on making Emerald Forest is good
    Most of the faber series of Directors on Directors are pretty good, esp. Chronenberg on Chronenberg.
    Bergman's autobiography
    I second the Mamet books. I don't know if they're the best books on filmmaking, but they are interesting.
    How about Roger Corman's book?

  • tully | August 5, 2009 11:58 AMReply

    SEAGALOGY by Vern

  • Tim1965 | August 5, 2009 10:45 AMReply

    I'd add:

    Aljean Harmetz's "Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca - Bogart, Bergman, and World War II"
    Jon Boorstin's "The Hollywood Eye"
    David Skal's "Hollywood Gothic"
    Various eds., "The Grove Book of Hollywood"
    Fay Wray's "On the Other Hand"
    Valerie Orpen's "Film Editing: The Art of the Expressive"
    David Parkinson's "History of Film"
    John Russo's "Making Movies: The Inside Guide to Independent Movie Production"

    I suppose any other texts are also excellent, but I found these to be particularly well-written and highly detailed.

  • Nina Streich | August 5, 2009 10:43 AMReply

    LOVE the list! But here are some favorites of mine:
    Sidney Lumet's "Making Movies" is an absolute must.
    Karol Reisz's "The Technique of Film Editing" has been a favorite of mine forever.
    Steven Bach's "Final Cut" about the making of "Heaven's Gate" is an amazing read.

  • Tom Quinn | August 5, 2009 7:29 AMReply

    I need to expand my library! These are all excellent choices and I second The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art if Editing Film.

  • Sean Costello | August 5, 2009 6:30 AMReply


    Excellent lists. Do you think we'll ever see What Makes Sammy Run on the big screen? If Ben Stiller doesn't do it, maybe the Coens should.

    I would add the following titles:

    Sharon Waxman's Rebels on the Backlot
    Charlotte Chandler's Nobody's Perfect: Billy Wilder
    Charlotte Chandler's It's Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock
    Charles Bukowski's Hollywood
    Ryan Gilbey's It Don't Worry Me
    Ralph Rosenblum's When the Shooting Stops

    PS Congratulations on your move to IndieWIRE!

  • Ryan Sartor | August 5, 2009 5:57 AMReply

    I think the most important book on filmmaking is "On Directing Film" by David Mamet.

    Another good one is "Woody Allen on Woody Allen" in Conversation with Stig Bjorkman

  • Rob | August 5, 2009 5:48 AMReply

    I'd throw in Julie Salamon's "The Devil's Candy" and Quentin Crisp's "How to Go to the Movies."

  • Jonathan Dana | August 5, 2009 5:44 AMReply

    "My Indecision is Final" about Goldcrest and UK film in the 80's by Terry Ilott and Jake Eberts
    "The Marx Brothers Scrapbook" by Richard Anobile (NY Times Best film book of the year- (1974?)
    "Why a Duck" by Richard Anobile

  • Brian Linse | August 5, 2009 5:34 AMReply

    All good. Here are a few more:

    Making Movies by Sidney Lumet
    In The Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch
    Hitchcock's Film's by Robin Wood
    When The Shooting Stops... by Ralph Rosenblum
    Bambi v. Godzilla by David Mamet
    The Visual Story by Bruce Block

  • Anne Thompson | August 5, 2009 5:33 AMReply

    all good ones. Where's my Hitchcock/Truffaut?

  • Mitch Levine | August 5, 2009 5:16 AMReply

    Hi Ann,

    Great list. I'd add:

    Sydney Lumet's "Making Movies"
    Francois Truffaut's "Hitchcock by Truffaut"
    Neal Gabler's "An Empire of their Own"
    David McClintick's "Indecent Exposure"
    Pauline Kael's "I Lost it at the Movies" (although the other books you have of her's are terrific)

  • ThePlaylist | August 5, 2009 4:30 AMReply

    I second:

    The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film
    Sharon Waxman’s Rebels on the Backlot (yeah, she's the worst and some of it is apparently BS, but it's an entertaining read).
    Final Cut by Steven Bach.

    Also i would add the newish Vanity Fair's Tales of Hollywood: Rebels, Reds, and Graduates and the Wild Stories Behind the Making of 13 IconicFilms which i think is fantastic. Has a good capsule of things like The Cleopatra Papers and the chapter on the Sweet Smell of Success is aces.

  • sg | August 5, 2009 4:19 AMReply

    great list... also:

    the last mogul, lion of hollywood...

    also, how about a list of best movies about Hollywood?


  • FilmFan1971 | August 5, 2009 4:06 AMReply

    Definitely. Anything by Danny Peary for starters, but particularly Danny Peary's Guide for the Film Fanatic and Cult Movies 1-3.

  • Laura Cross | August 5, 2009 3:35 AMReply

    Wow... I though I had all the 'necessary' books. Looks like I need to take a shopping excursion on Amazon. Thanks for the list!

  • Dan Krovich | August 5, 2009 3:27 AMReply

    I've always enjoyed Steven Soderbergh's collection of Richard Lester interviews/personal journal entries, "Getting Away With It: Or: The Further Adventures of the Luckiest Bastard You Ever Saw"

  • jl | August 5, 2009 3:16 AMReply

    My favorite specialty title: The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

  • Michael Craig | August 5, 2009 2:39 AMReply

    I would also add "schrader on schrader" or anything else by Paul Schrader

  • Brian | August 5, 2009 2:34 AMReply

    Don't forget "Negative Space," by Manny Farber.

    May I also recommend two great books about film by authors famous for writing in other areas:

    "Screening History," by Gore Vidal
    "The Devil Finds Work," by James Baldwin

  • Blackcapricorn | August 5, 2009 2:20 AMReply

    Also, I would like to add:

    Vanity Fair's Tales Of Hollywood
    If Chins Could Kills, Confessions of a B Movie Actor, Bruce Campbell
    The Devil's Candy, Julie Salamon
    Hollywood Remembered, Paul Zollo

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