“On Film-Making” by Alexander Mackendrick

This is by far the best book I have read on the topic of traditional narrative filmmaking. How is that for a hyperbolic compliment? But seriously, the book is incredible.

[This post was originally published on February 21, 2012 on my old blog at keithcalder.com.]

Mackendrick worked in the film industry as a storyboard artist, screenwriter, and director. He directed Sweet Smell of Success and The Ladykillers, among others. He was a studio director at Ealing Studios, and when they shut down he moved to LA to work as an independent director. Facing frustration at the Hollywood studio system, Mackendrick left to become the dean of the film school at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). After about a decade, he gave up the position to focus on teaching. He taught at CalArts until his death in 1993.

On Film-Making was not designed to be a book. It's a well edited collection of materials that Mackendrick created for his classes. It's an incredible collection of study plans, handouts, storyboard examples, and essays. The book is broken into two sections: Dramatic Construction and Film Grammar. While both are full of gems, it's the Dramatic Construction section that contains chapter after chapter of brilliant insight into narrative fimmaking. Mackendrick manages to cover screenwriting from both the writer's and director's perspective, creating an invaluable resource for the aspiring filmmaking.

It's a waste for me to try to paraphrase Mackendricks' insights, so I'll just give you some quotes directly lifted from the book.

And these are all before page 50. The book is a treasure trove for the aspiring filmmaker. It gives you a skillset for analyzing your own work, and methods for pushing against the limits of your current abilities. Mackendrick pushes a philosophy of understanding how an audience interacts with a film, and developing the skills to shape an audience's reaction.

I can tell this is a book that I will come back to over and over again in my career, as I struggle to get a grasp on my own path as a filmmaker. Mackendrick opens the books with a simple concept: “Film writing and directing cannot be taught, only learned, and each man or woman has to learn it through his or her own system of self-education.” Well, I'm well on my path of self-education, and I feel like I made leaps and bounds thanks to this book.

#Film #Filmmaking #Screenwriting #Directing #AlexanderMackendrick #SweetSmellOfSuccess #TheLadykillers