Book lists

A short list of recom­mended books on screen­writing, scriptwriting and film that you may find enter­taining or stim­u­lating. It is by no means exhaustive and will prob­ably grow longer as I think of more titles to add.



There are many “manuals” and self-help books on screen­writing with titles like “How to Write A Block­buster in 21 Days”. Read them, by all means, to glean their pearls of wisdom but beware the ones selling you a prescriptive formula for success.

Writing is an occu­pa­tion that requires equal parts of intu­ition and faith, and I’d dare to suggest that ‘good’ writing is mainly an instinctive skill. How do you hone your instincts? Well, in this case by reading actual scripts and by immersing your­self in the ‘live’ exper­i­ence of watching films with a keen and obser­va­tional eye so that you begin to under­stand how the medium works.

Never­the­less here is a short list of books that you might find stim­u­lating to read:

William Goldman, (Abacus) 1983, “Adven­tures in the Screen Trade”, enter­taining and educa­tional book by a well-known Holly­wood screenwriter.

David Mamet (Faber) 1991 “A Whores Profes­sion” ; a collec­tion of his writ­ings which includes the lecture “On Directing Film”, an incisive master class on the craft of film-making.

Michael Tierno, (Hyperion) 2002, “Aristotle’s Poetics for Screen­writers”; core screen­writing concepts, such as the “three act struc­ture”, are based on Aristotle’s ideas.

Robert McKee (Methuen) 1997, “Story”; a digest of this well known lecturer’s theories on why the story is the most important ingredient of a good film.

Charles Deemer(Focus) 2005, “Prac­tical Screen­writing”; contains some clearly written and level headed advice that’s relat­ively free from jargon.

Eileen Quinn (Faber) 2006 “The Pitch”; a film producer’s perspective on boiling a script down to its essen­tial ingredi­ents for present­a­tion. A useful guide to writing effective treatments.

Thomas Pope (Three Rivers Press) 1998, “Good Scripts, Bad Scripts”; analyses the struc­ture of selected films to pinpoint the reasons for their success or failure. (A little harder to find than the others on this list but currently avail­able on Amazon.)


Don’t ignore books by dram­at­ists and theatre prac­ti­tioners, you can learn a lot from them and they are often refresh­ingly less obsessed with the ‘bottom line’.

Keith John­stone (Methuen), (1981) “Impro”; a hugely influ­en­tial book on acting impro­visa­tion that contains many ideas about power rela­tion­ships and role-play that will stim­u­late your thinking.

Alan Ayck­bourn (Faber) 2002, “The Crafty Art Of Play­making”; a school­mas­terly and often dryly amusing book of hints, tips and general advice on being a scriptwriter from a highly successful playwright.

Michael Caine (Applause) 1990, “Acting in Film”; this book is a companion to Caine’s filmed master­class on acting for the camera; a useful insight into the way good film actors think, feel and operate.


There are of course a huge number of rewarding books in this category but here are a couple of my partic­ular favourites:

David Thomson (Allen Lane) 2008 “Have You Seen”; of all books by film critics this is one of the most read­able and least elitist. Subtitled “A personal inttro­duc­tion to 1,000 films’ it contains one page essays on an eclectic selec­tion of films that add to your know­ledge and appre­ci­ation of each one.

Andrzej Wajda (Faber) 1990, “Double Vision”; a concise account of the famous Polish director’s devel­op­ment as a film-maker which is peppered with prac­tical advice.

David Mamet (Pocket Books) 2007 “Bambi vs Godz­illa” ; polem­ical essays on the screenwriter’s trade, an ‘industry’ book that casts a cool and some­times cynical eye on the real­ities under­pin­ning commer­cial film-making.

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