Seven amazing book covers

7 amazing books you’ll never read in film school

Video production is a synthesis of other art forms. It’s no wonder many of the greatest filmmakers started in other disciplines.

But film schools—and their DIY replacements—tend to adhere to the technical. Reach outside the film school canon to find new ideas, creative influences, and perspectives. These seven books all come from different disciplines, but each has the potential to kickstart your creative mind.

1. The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny, Even If You’re Not, by John Vorhaus

Comedy writing—and all writing—is an exercise in problem solving. John Vorhaus wants to help you solve those problems with touchstones like Clash of Context and The Law of Comic Opposites. Whether you make feature films or corporate videos, this book will give you the tools to bring life and energy to everything you make, even if you aren’t funny.

Vorhaus quote graphic

2. The Medium is the Message, by Marshall McCluhan

Marshall McLuhan is the 20th century’s most important media theorist. But his famous book is far from a dry analytical text. The Medium is the Message is an immersive, image-driven roller coaster that will change the way you see art. At its core is an important creative principle—form is content.


3. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud

“A comic book about comic books.” Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is a favorite among comic lovers everywhere, and for good reason. Comic books are words and pictures. Movies are sound and pictures. Every filmmaker will find something to take away from an entertaining read that dives deep into the power of image and the purpose of storytelling.

4. Picture This: How Pictures Work, by Molly Bang

This book is an elemental primer on visual storytelling. Molly Bang created all the illustrations using paper cutouts, demonstrating the power of simple visual decisions. Picture This is simple enough for anyone to enjoy—all the better to jam its timeless principles into your brain. More experienced cinematographers and designers might check out The Visual Story, by Bruce Block for further study.

from Picture This: How Pictures Work, by Molly Bang

5. The Technique of Acting, by Stella Adler

Not an actor? No problem. Stella Adler’s The Technique of Acting is an exploration of imagination and immersion. It will make you a better writer, and a better storyteller. You’ll also learn to communicate more meaningfully with actors.

Adler Quote Graphic

6. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

Struggling to finish your short film while working a full-time job? The War of Art is a call to arms to push through Resistance and seize your creative potential. Steven Pressfield’s influential book is designed as much for the creative entrepreneur as for the writer or filmmaker.

Pressfield Quote Graphic

7. Something Like An Autobiography, by Akira Kurosawa

Kurosawa’s only book is less a discussion of filmmaking or the film industry than it is an insight into a life bravely lived. It’s a book about family, war, mentorship, and creative maturity. More than anything, it’s a peek into the heart and mind of one of the most influential filmmakers in cinema.

Kurosawa Quote Graphic

Although not standard film school textbooks, each of these books can open your mind and inform your sensibility. By integrating other arts and perspectives into your process, you can synthesize ideas and come up with stories and images that no one has ever seen before. What unexpected resources have you drawn from in your own career?

Stephen Heleker

Stephen is a producer and writer/director living in Los Angeles. His first feature film as a producer—Good, starring Keith David—debuted at the 2020 Austin Film Festival. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @stephenheleker

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