Summer Reads for Filmmakers

By Jake Cunningham, BFI NETWORK Officer

Get out those anoraks, waterproof barbecues and soggy sandwiches, summer is almost here. When making your short film, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst is an essential maxim. Shooting in the summer can mean bright light for long days, without a parka or hot water bottle in sight, but you’d better make sure you pack them, because who in the UK has ever had a summer like that?

So, if you’re waiting for the rain to clear (or come back, maybe it’s part of your scene…) and have got some down time, or if you’re having a quick holiday in between projects, it’s probably worth packing a few books too. Here are some of our summer read recommendations for filmmakers… 

Do The Right Thing: A Spike Lee Joint
Spike Lee with Lisa Jones

Combining Spike Lee’s diary entries made in the buildup to shooting Do The Right Thing, as well as the screenplay for the film, along with photographs taken on set, this is a panoramic view of Lee’s filmmaking method. Both passionate and pragmatic, Lee’s vibrant journals are entirely engrossing, almost as much as the script that follows them.

Spielberg, Truffaut and Me
Bob Balaban

Even if you’re not a fan of Steven Spielberg’s work, there’s a huge amount to enjoy about actor Bob Balaban’s diaries from the set of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The book is an endearing and dryly comic peek behind the curtain of 70s blockbuster filmmaking – and just how slapdash even the most expensive productions could be – as well as a buddy comedy about Balaban’s evolving relationship with co-star and French cinema legend François Truffaut. If you’ve ever worried about the chaos on your set, it’s reassuring to share in the dramas of the biggest in the business and know that you’re not alone.

Bird By Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life
Anne Lamott

A guide for life on and off the page, Lamott’s book is a trusty resource for writers worldwide. Whether you’re a scribe, or a creative in another field, there’s a huge amount to be gleaned from Bird by Bird. A novelist and memoirist by trade, Lamott’s field guide through her own trials and errors was first published in 1990 and has been a bestseller for inspiring artists ever since.

Filmmakers on Film
David Jenkins

David Jenkins, editor of cinephile bible Little White Lies, has just released his new book Filmmakers on Film. It’s stuffed to the brim with insight and guidance from filmmaking masters, including Agnès Varda, Barry Jenkins, Sofia Coppola and Isabel Sandoval, who shares her thoughts on the unpredictability of ideation: “I feel like a lot of screenwriting is based on an assumption that the fundamental motivations are fixed or predictable. For me I don’t sometimes understand why I do certain things. Human behaviour is influenced more by the subconscious or subterranean than by what is immediately visible or obvious. It’s in that blind spot that a film draws its complexity and power”.

My First Movie
Stephen Lowenstein

Featuring interviews with the Coen brothers, Ang Lee, Mira Nair, James Mangold, Allison Anders and loads more, this quickfire compendium is a kindly companion for all filmmakers embarking on their early work. Tales of successes and failures are reassuring and inspiring, with each chapter offering multiple learnings to carry on to your next set.

Adventures in the Screen Trade
William Goldman 

A classic for a reason. William Goldman’s scripts include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride and All The President’s Men but his best work might be in these pages (and its follow up book Which Lie Did I Tell?). Goldman’s writing is dry and brutal, but for every stab at the industry, there’s a warm, affirming line of advice to latch on to as well. Have a pencil next to you as you read for underlining inspirational zingers to return to in hours of creative need.

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