I discovered this book while I was working at LMU's Center for the Study of Los Angeles. I was in the textbook section of the bookstore placing a book order for my boss who was a professor of Political Science. Naturally, when I was done I walked over to the film production classes bookshelves and under "Directing" found this massive tome. Considering it's a paperback, it's pretty heavy. Inside, it's just as heay. Michael has managed to cover every corner of writing and directing. He starts off with the importance of discovering your artistic voice and ends with strategies for managing a filmmaking career.
What has always struck me about this book, is just how comprehensive it is. It unfolds with the insight of a great novel. In general, Michael suggests that the only way to become a filmmaker is to make movies. Seems pretty obvious, but he does it in a way that inspires you to find your voice. I love how he suggests that every writer has a few issues, usually marked in childhood, that he will revisit for his entire life. I can't imagine reading this book in a one semester class. I've had if for nearly a decade and dip into it all the time. If I'm casting, I read the chapter on casting. If I'm struggling with writing, I open up to the chapter on writing.
One of my favorite moments in Truffaut's "Day for Night" happens when in the midst of production, the director played by Truffaut, calls his assistant in Paris to ship him all his filmmaking books. The fictional director is relieved when a bag of books arrives. This is the first book I'd have my assistant send to me in the midst of production hell.
On Directingby David Mamet
Although David Mamet has lost way, since he put out an editorial stating he'd become a Replubican, this little book is a gem. Mr. Mamet breaks down the essentials of directing down to the basics. He talks about finding the meaning in the cut. What does the character want and how do you "show" that. The book is based on a few lectures he gave at NYU and so he uses examples while in class. I think as an aspiring director it gets too easy to get lost in fancy camera movies, angles, and shots. Mamet says, keep it simple. Find intersting ways to shoot, but always focus on what tells the story visually. Mamet has used this same form of thinking in his newer book on acting. He is basically saying, don't get caught up in motivation, emotion, etc. Focus on what the character wants. This sounds great, but it also leads to wooden performances. His movie Heist is a perfect example. A great movie, but performances that feel far too stiff. Despite that, "On Directing" is a great book.
Three Uses of the Knife by David Mamet
The central idea here is that in a three act structure, you have a knife that appears in a story, with different implications in each act. He also describes the need to dramatize life. That is, we constantly reprocess life in dramatic ways. Stories that follow the three act structure, are simply following our natural way of re-processing stories.
Writing Screenplays the Hal Ackerman Wayby Hall Ackerman I can't say I remember all of the details of this book. I picked it up after hearing him speak at a Scriptwriter's Network event. The element that hit me the hardest from his book was, "Learning to be average." That is the hardest thing about actually sitting down to write. You can hem and haw and procrastinate, but once you sit down to write, you have to accept a mediocre draft or even a final draft that is mediocre. You have to be willing to suck before you can get better. It's far too easy to never start because you don't want to suck.