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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Very few books about screenwriting or directing make a serious effort to crystallize the knowledge that most screenwriters or directors know. In the CRAFTY books, I tried to crystallize what I know about screenwriting. What I find in Judith Weston's DIRECTOR'S INTUITION is a serious attempt to crystallize what film directors know. Specifically the book is about how to develop your director's intuition: what you know at a subliminal level, how you tell when an actor is bringing truth versus indicating, how you get an actor to bring his truth rather than just pretending.

The book is dense and kind of scattered. It's not a method and it's not a how-to. Possibly this is because Ms. Weston is an accomplished actress and acting teacher, not, in fact, a director. But she busts out legitimate insights -- hers and others -- at a furious rate. I would read this for the many nuggets of truth, each of which is worth a think. It's much like spending a week chatting with an accomplished actor and teacher in a country house. Every few minutes she says something that took a lifetime to learn.

The important caveat to reading any book about the arts is there is little point to reading passively. I try to make my own books as transparent as possible. You ought to be able to read it and get what I'm talking about. But to really have an idea what I'm talking about, you have to be writing. The best books crystallize what you are seeing -- they allow you to see a pattern in what you've already observed at some level. You can't learn to dance from reading a book. You can learn to dance by dancing, and improve your technique by dipping into a book.

In Ms. Weston's book, she says a lot of things I know already. Those are lessons I've already crystallized. She probably says a lot of deep things I didn't even notice, because I don't have the knowledge to crystallize. What jump out at me are the occasional insights that connect things I've seen but haven't paid enough attention to yet.

In other words, the book rewards rereading as you are directing or acting.

I would still like to read a book I call, in my head, CRAFTY FILM DIRECTING. That would be a soup-to-nuts method for directing, with chapters on finding material, analyzing material, casting, prepping, directing actors, directing camera, managing a crew, directing the editing, directing the sound and directing the soundtrack. John Badham has a fine book about directing actors (I'LL BE IN MY TRAILER). I've seen books on directing on a budget (REBEL WITHOUT A CREW). But I've never seen anything on how to approach reading a script, or how to talk to a composer, or where to let the soundtrack go silent. You're just supposed to know these things. Since I'm not a film director, I don't feel qualified to write the book myself.

Oh, and there'd be a chapter or two on managing your film career, along the lines of the career chapters in CRAFTY SCREENWRITING and CRAFTY TV WRITING.

What's the most influential book on screenwriting or filmmaking that you've read?

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8 Comments:

The most influential books for me are Crafty Screewriting and Save the Cat.

By Blogger Joss Monzon, at 3:48 PM  

I'm going to buy Crafty with my Chapters gift card.

A really good book I've read is Alone in a Room by John Scott Lewinski. It's very candid and sincere about the difficulties of breaking into the business, and the differences between going pro and simply daydreaming. Alone has some relevant information about the business end of things. Both inspiring and depressing at the same time! Made me realize how much I need to get my act together.

By Blogger theextramedium, at 4:05 PM  

Alex, I thought you would like to know that for Christmas I asked for both of your Crafty books, I got each of them. I plan on starting to read both soon.

Ah, ans Save the Cat. My screenwriting professor is making me read that for my independent study. Should be good.

By Blogger Nicholas, at 5:33 PM  

The Complete Book of Scriptwriting, by J. Michael Straczynski.

By Blogger Paul William Tenny, at 5:50 PM  

Alex,

From my extensive library, hands down the absolute most inspiring book I have ever read is DIRECTING By MICHAEL RABINGER. This is a virtual tome I have returned to far too many times to count. As the book is subtitled FILM TECHNIQUES AND AESTHETICS Rabinger provides solid theory for the artistic choices directors must make. Coupled with practical exercises and covering literally every aspect of directing from pre-production through final cut, again, I could never recommend this highly enough. Simply put, this is the BIBLE for the beginner to advanced directors. The chapters on writing are as definitive as the chapters on working with actors. Etc. Buy the book and a pack of highlighters. Absolutely worth the text book price. This will be a source of knowledge a filmmaker will cherish for many years to come. Seriously, check it out.

By Blogger Ryan Covert, at 11:44 AM  

Thank you for taking the time to read and then WRITE about Judith's terrific book. I took a workshop with her years ago and desperately wanted her to write a directing book for us which she did. DIRECTING ACTORS and then followed it up with INTUITION. She's the best.

Thanks to the other posters for mentioning our other books ALONE IN A ROOM and SAVE THE CAT and even though its not one of our RABINGERS books are all terrific.

Cheers, Michael Wiese

By Blogger Michael Wiese, at 12:58 PM  

I agree with whomever posted about directing ... I don't know if it's the best book on film directing, but it's certainly a very informative, useful one.

In terms of screenwriting books, there are many I find very valuable (including yours, kind sir) and many more that are less so ... for my part, though, the most influential one I've read had to be ADVENTURES IN THE SCREENWRITING TRADE by William Goldman, and I think it's influenced most screenwriting books that followed it ... It was the first screenwriting book I read time and time again, over and over.

There are other great books by others that came after it (I also like 101 HABITS OF HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL SCREENWRITERS) but Goldman's was the one that made the first significant impact that I still feel resonates with me today.

By Blogger Joshua James, at 5:29 PM  

THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfielf made me feel better.

By Blogger sean, at 4:01 PM  

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