Beyond the Lens: Books About Movies

The second annual winter reading program kicks off today! I’m so excited to join my fellow readers as we work our way through these cold winter months with the warmth of a good book. Books take us on adventures; they invite us to travel through new and exciting worlds from the comfort of our couches. And while an engaging book will always be my first choice for couch adventuring, a great movie comes in a close second. But why have one or the other? Why not delve deeper into the magic that is movies through the magic that is books? Let’s celebrate all of the amazing men and women who make movies happen: directors, costume and set designers, camera operators, prop masters, cinematographers, writers and so many more. Without their dedication and hard work, movies wouldn’t happen.

The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films TogetherMoviemakers' Master Class: Private Lessons From the World's Foremost DirectorsWhen you think of the people behind the scenes, I’m betting the first role that comes to mind is that of Director. Directors are leaders. They determine the overall vision for the movie and are involved in almost every other aspect of the movie’s creation. It’s a powerful and important role —  one that each director approaches differently. “Moviemakers’ Master Class: Private Lessons from the World’s Foremost Directors” by Laurent Tirard is a collection of interviews with twenty renowned directors, including Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, Sidney Pollack and more. I recommend the chapter featuring David Cronenberg. His love for both literature and movies is palpable. For an excellent deep dive into one director’s specific vision and influence, check out “The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock” by Edward White. This kaleidoscopic work examines the good, bad and ugly of the complicated Hitchcock and his timeless art. I also recommend “The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together” by Adam Nayman. If you’re a Coen Brothers universe fan, this is a must read.

Hollywood Costumefake love letters book coverOver the last couple of years, I’ve become more and more interested in costume design, especially in films set in a historical period. A great costume designer expresses the story and vision through clothing. Often, great costume becomes the visual representation of a film — think Dorothy’s red slippers, Audrey’s black dress and pearls, Indiana Jones’ hat. These choices are intentional. I recommend “Hollywood Costume” by renowned costumed designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis. This gorgeous book looks at the last 100 years of costume design and features essays from scholars, collectors, designers and directors. You’ll get to see how an original sketch comes to life, and how the golden age of Hollywood compares to today’s blockbuster films. Another extremely important but overlooked aspect of movies is prop design and creation. Prop designers are vital in helping to draw the actors and audience into the fictional world on screen. When a prop is poorly designed, or hastily added, it often throws the viewer out of the movie — and it looks ridiculous! Anyone remember the baby doll in American Sniper? Whew. Annie Atkins’ “Fake Love Letters, Forged Telegrams, and Prison Escape Maps” is an excellent dive into the amazing, painstaking work of prop design.

a long time ago in a cutting room far away book cover And last but certainly not least, I’d like to recommend “A Long Time Ago in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away…” by Paul Hirsch. Hirsch is an Oscar-winning film editor who has edited many, many amazing films with some of the greatest directors. You’ll learn about the role film editors play in the creative process, which includes pouring over footage for the best shots and actor’s takes, finding the best tone and pace for the movie, and more. You can feel Hirsch’s passion for his craft in every story he shares. I personally enjoyed his ruminations on the Star Wars films and working with George Lucas. Changing a movie last minute (as they did in Star Wars), especially pivotal scenes is such a gamble, and great editors know when to bet.

I hope these books make your movie experiences a little more magical, and that they inspire you to find out more about the movie making process that interests you the most. Maybe you want to know more about set design or locations. Or maybe cinematography (lighting, cameras, lenses, angles, filters, etc.) is more your thing. Whatever it is, I bet you can find a deeper look at through an awesome book!

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