When I was a little kid I started reading about film, filmmakers, filmmaking. The first book I remember getting from the library was a book on Walt Disney—not the company, the man. After that I mostly read film books and magazines. I still apply many of the lessons I learned in those books I read so early on, and I add to this vast book collection all the time.
A little while ago someone requested that I take a picture of my bookshelf and post it on the blog. To be honest, I’m not sure what would be gleaned from this, but I’ll give it a shot.
You will notice, in the picture above, one of my favorite books on the craft: Television Plays by Paddy Chayfesky. I seem to mention it every other posting. In fact, I will buy copies if I see them at bookstores and give them to friends. Right now, I think I own three copies.
You should know that many of the great television writers from the 1950s wrote books like Chayefsky’s where they printed their plays and wrote essays about the profession.
You should also read Rod Serling’s Patterns: Four Television Plays.
You will also notice books on the subject of magic. I am a mediocre magician, but I don’t study magic to be a magician, but to be a better storyteller. A magic trick has the very same structure as a good story, and so to know magic is to understand how to communicate.
Orson Wells knew magic, and it helped him on Citizen Kane when his budget was cut and he no longer had the money to build the elaborate sets he’d envisioned. He often built partial sets that receded into shadow. He knew just how much information to give an audience so that they would imagine the rest.
The other great thing about studying magic is that the best tricks, the ones that blow people’s minds, are the simplest ones. Learning magic can reinforce the power of simplicity.
I also like to read old interviews with the old masters of film. They were really, really smart. If you read what they say and follow their advice you will see your work improve. You’ll be amazed. The stuff I know I learned from them.
Chuck Jones is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. Period. I have learned as much from him as any live-action director. He admits that he stole liberally from Charlie Chaplin, and so I began to study Chaplin. Trust me, if you can learn to see the sheer genius of Chaplin, it is like the clouds parting and sunbeams shining through to the sound of Gregorian chants. Chuck Jones ripped him off shamelessly.
You can read some insightful Chaplin essays the back of a book called Discoveries: Charlie Chaplin by David Robinson.
Chaplin is so smart that he has an essay in this book about how “talkies” won’t last that even in hindsight seems to makes sense. At any rate, it does talk about the strength of visual storytelling.
Also for great lessons on visual storytelling read David Mamet’s On Directing Film.
For visual storytelling I like studying great illustrators and Norman Rockwell is one of the best artists to study for storytelling. Some people object to his subject matter and so dismiss his work—big ol’ fat mistake. Few people understand how to communicate so precisely. He knew just what to include in a picture to get an idea across. Why not learn from him? Me? I’m not smart enough not to learn from the best.
I have, in my time, read a ton of books on story-craft and have learned a lot from the construction of jokes that transfers directly to building stories.
Well, those are the highlights on my bookshelf. There were some things missing, but you get the basic idea of what’s there. Not sure if it was any help to anyone, but it was easy to write. And there isn’t much I can say that about.