5 Must-Read Textbooks for Filmmaking Students

An academic reading list to deepen your study of directing, cinematography, and sound in film.

Moviemaking manuals worth reading.

I remember wandering through my university’s bookstore for the first time, hunting down volumes for the upcoming semester. Soon, my shopping cart was heavy – but by the end of my visit, my wallet was not! Unfortunately, my classes didn’t get to many of the titles I’d purchased. I consulted some on my own, but others wound up collecting dust, unopened.

To help you avoid cluttering your bookshelf and spending a small fortune on your education, we’ve curated a selection of 10 best books on filmmaking for beginners. We’ve also curated a supplemental reading list, featuring 7 books written by famous filmmakers to inspire you. Sometimes, however, you just want a good old-fashioned textbook! That’s why we’re rounding out our book recommendations with 5 “how to” filmmaking manuals, covering the fields of directing, cinematography, and sound.

The next time you’re in need of a no-nonsense, clear-cut filmmaking compendium, you can turn to one of these thorough titles!


I. Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics | Michael Rabiger & Mick Hubris-Cherrier

Michael Rabiger’s and Mick Hubris-Cherrier’s manual is at once a broad overview and deep investigation of film directing. Over the course of 500+ pages, you’ll learn not only the methods and technologies essential to directing but also the thought processes and judgments that directors must make, day in and day out.

Although the fifth edition was published back in 2013, Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics remains relevant, thanks in large part to its commitment to teaching fundamental filmmaking concepts, from script analysis to lighting to mise-en-scène. The lessons are practical but entertaining, buoyed by the writers’ firsthand experiences with both directing and teaching.

If you enjoy the style, then also check out Michael Rabiger’s Directing the Documentary, a spirited and comprehensive investigation of the world of documentary filmmaking, long recommended by institutions including the University of Southern California – and us here at Lights Film School!


II. Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film & Television | Judith Weston

This book was required reading while I was studying filmmaking at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and for good reason. Internationally-renowned directing coach Judith Weston demystifies the process of working with actors, making the whole experience less scary and more approachable. It’s an invaluable point of reference for directors, especially when starting out, that presents collaborative techniques along with supporting anecdotes and examples. If you’re confused about the director-actor relationship or unsure where to begin, Directing Actors provides an excellent framework.


III. Cinematography: Theory and Practice | Blain Brown

Another NYU film school essential, Cinematography: Theory and Practice reveals the art and science of telling stories visually. Updated in 2016, the third edition details the technical aspects of cinematography along with basic concepts.

At heart, Brown’s work is a formal, nuts-and-bolts guide that excels at contextualizing cinematography in terms of large-scale productions. Of course, you’ll find valuable content here regardless of whether or not you need to know the ins and outs of Hollywood set etiquette! It may not be the most entertaining read, but Cinematography: Theory and Practice is an impressively comprehensive breakdown of the craft.


IV. The Location Sound Bible | Ric Viers

Production sound recording seems to be one of the least understood aspects of the filmmaking process. Consequently, how to get better sound in your indie films is a topic we discuss frequently with our students and readers here at Lights Film School – and in a past blog post with Ric Viers, the author of The Location Sound Bible, a fantastic introduction to the world of location sound.

In his book, Ric covers audio basics, microphone selection, wireless systems, recording and mixing techniques, and more. It actually was an essential primer for me a few years ago, when I was tasked with recording sound for a film I wrote after budgetary limitations prevented the team from hiring a professional (#IndieFilmProblems).

This book was published back in 2012, so it would benefit from a new edition, but the concepts are sound (see what I did there?), and Ric’s teaching is fun, casual, and approachable. You can sense his passion for the craft and maverick indie film spirit on every page!


V. Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema | David Sonnenschein

“Sound is at least 50% of the film.” I remember my sound design professor drilling this into my head back in film school, but it took me a while to fully understand why sound was such a powerful creative force and how it could be leveraged in visual storytelling.

Simply put, Sonnenschein’s book helped me unlock sound’s potential. It’s a potent blend of theory and practice, providing plenty of technical and practical advice but also thoughtful explorations of sound’s science, history, and future. Sonnenschein packs a career’s worth of insights into Sound Design‘s 250 pages, so be sure to take your time with this one! There are recommended exercises throughout to help you pace yourself and get some hands-on experience.

To be clear, this is not an exhaustive reading list! There is always more to discover, whether in the form of filmmaking textbooks, firsthand filmmaker accounts, or killer classics.

If you have reading recommendations of your own, we’d love to hear them! Sound off in the comments below.

 Michael Koehler, with

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