At a recent event, a filmmaker asked us if there were any books they could read to scrub up on producing and we were inspired to put together a reading list of materials that might just help you do that…
A Guide to Low-Budget Filmmaking
by Farah Abushwesha (2019)
Remember Cliff Notes? That handy resource to which we’d all resort when we hadn’t read a book for our English Literature class? Well this no-nonsense guide by Farah Abushwesha, a producer and founder of BAFTA’s Rocliffe programme, is on par with that.
There are contributions from the likes of Asif Kapadia, producers Emily Morgan (I Am Not a Witch) and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly (Lady Macbeth), Maxine Peake and Sarah Gavron. Plus there’s a whole section on shorts, with advice on schedules, shot lists and sample budgets, and questions the producer and director should be asking each other before they start prepping the film. Essential and accessible reading.
Shooting to Kill and A Killer Life
by Christine Vachon (1998 and 2007)
Christine Vachon is, rightly, a legend in the independent filmmaking community, having carved out a unique and prestigious career that includes credits such as Safe, Kids, Velvet Goldmine, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I’m Not There, Carol, First Reformed, Zola and this year’s Past Lives (and that’s just scratching the surface). She’s done plenty of interviews, so there are lots of places you can find nuggets of her wisdom…
… however, if you want the definitive take on her career then this pair of memoirs/manifestoes should be high up on any producer’s reading list. As practical as it is inspirational.
The Business of Film
by Paula Landry and Stephen Greenwald (2018)
This book is often found on many university’s filmmaking course syllabus, not least because it provides an incredibly thorough breakdown of all the steps in the filmmaking pipeline — which a producer is across — from development and financing, to film festivals and distribution agreements. It’s arguably drier than some of the others on this list and oriented towards understanding how the industry operates as a business, more than how to make art, so expect discussion of capital, markets, revenue and box office figures, all of which aren’t hugely relevant to short filmmaking. However, if you’re making the transition from shorts to features and want to wrap your head around the cold, hard numbers, it’s a good place to start.
Producer to Producer
by Maureen Ryan (2017)
Written by Maureen Ryan, who co-produced documentaries such as Dick Johnson is Dead, Project Nim and Man on Wire, which is to say, she’s reporting from the field, this book sets out to provide you with a set of steps or rules for ‘how to produce independent low-budget productions’, including short films. “The principles involved are the same whether it’s a 6-day shoot or a 28-day schedule.” There is also a very handy breakdown of the different types of producer, including executive, associate, co-, and line. And is peppered with wisdom such as this:
“Take some time to figure out what excites you, energises you, holds your attention. Figure out your ‘take’ on things. It needs to sustain you intellectually and emotionally for a long, hard time.”
How Not To Make a Short Film: Secrets from a Sundance Programmer
by Roberta Munroe (2009)
Written by former Sundance programmer and award-winning writer/producer/director of over 40 short-form projects Roberta Munroe, this pithy and anecdotal book is another good primer to the world of short filmmaking. Chapters include how to keep your script fresh (and avoid genre tropes and cliches), how to keep your structure tight, how to avoid kicking your producer in the throat — or if you’re the producer reading it, how to avoid being kicked in the throat — as well as insights on group dynamics, on-set etiquette and appropriate subjects for short films.
It’s worth bearing in mind that this appears to be written more with directors in mind and in the context of the US filmmaking landscape, but there will be plenty of principles that still apply. You can also read the first chapter for free here and see if it’s up your street.