Although I got (mostly) straight A’s in film school, I always struggled a bit. I had a good handle on the mechanics of cinematography, lighting, preproduction and editing, but I didn’t really understand what the job of a director was until my final semester.
It was in Professor Chaney’s Senior Project class, in which we worked on the student films that were supposed to demonstrate everything we’d learned, that I was introduced to On Directing Film by David Mamet.
This slim volume – I believe I read it in a single afternoon – gave me more information about the nuts and bolts of directing a motion picture than the previous three and a half years combined. Mamet doesn’t get into the mechanics of cinematography, lighting, or editing, but what he does is teach the reader how a series of “uninflected shots” work together to tell a story. In other words, what Mamet teaches in On Directing Film is how to think like a filmmaker. After reading it, I was able to start thinking in terms of shots, not action. Not only did my Senior Project work improve drastically, but this insight has been at the heart of every narrative piece I’ve shot in the 12 years since then.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no other single source of information capable of delivering this information with such clarity. If you buy and read only one book on filmmaking, make it this one.