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The Must Have Reads in Any Aspiring Producer's Library

The Must Have Reads in Any Aspiring Producer's Library

by Mandi Harrison

 There are so many books and articles and blogs on filmmaking.  There is a ton on directing, even more on writing and even quite a bit on editing and all the other technical parts.  But the material for producing is scarce, and there is a lot of repetition.  Or it is oh-so-boring.  (I mean, I love numbers and charts, but even I have a limit to what I can take.)

There are some great resources out there though. Through all our research and used bookstore hunting and Amazon wish-listing, I have found books full of information (plus Hollywood secrets).  Written by actual producers of actual projects that I admire.  Or by people who actually enjoy movies. 

Here are my faves; the books I always refer back to.  The ones that inspire me and remind me why I want to produce; that production matters.  They are full of lessons learned, advice and just really enjoyable to read.  

 

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Shooting to Kill 

by Christine Vachon

 

This was possibly the first book I read about producing and I was hooked.   Christine Vachon is one of the top independent producers out there.  She has been responsible for getting movies like Kids, Boys Don't Cry, and my favorites, Far From Heaven and Carol made.  She doesn't shy away from provocative subject matter; she wants everyone to have a voice.  Most of her projects are considered no-budget (meaning no money) so she is a hands on producer, taking on whatever aspect is needed.  

Shooting to Kill is a "How To Be a Producer" handbook that goes through each step of the movie-making process by using her experience making Velvet Goldmine with her longtime collaborator, director Todd Haynes.  Like I said, this was my first real introduction to what it's like to be an independent producer and it wasn't always pretty, but by the end of the book, I knew more than ever that THIS was what I wanted to do.  

 

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Sleepless in Hollywood

by Lynda Obst

 

Then we have a DRASTIC turn, from the dark world of Christine to the (mostly) sunshiney world of Lynda Obst.  Lynda has worked primarily in the studio system, but has still faced many challenges getting her movies made.  Movies like Adventures in Babysitting, Contact, Hope Floats, How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days, and the jewel in her crown, Sleepless in Seattle.  Working with the studio may mean more of a budget, but it also means answering to more people. People who don't necessarily understand story and logic.  Lynda has fought for each of her projects and every one who worked on them against studio heads who wanted higher box office gross, i.e. franchises.  Sleepless in Hollywood is part history, part Hollywood psychology and I learned a lot about how to think like an exec ( so I can get our projects made)

 

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Hope for Film

by Ted Hope

 

Having started his career with being a line producer (the numbers guy) to running several production companies to being the reason why Amazon is in the movie business, Ted Hope is a fountain of knowledge.  Each chapter of Hope for Film is about a character trait that great producers need and each trait has a correlating story for his experiences on set.  He truly has worked all aspects of filmmaking.  There are so many practical tips on filmmaking as well as leadership skills and just some fun stories.  He is truly driven by a love of movies- he is willing to do whatever it takes to get his projects running. 

 

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Independent Ed

by Edward Burns

I'll admit it: I never really took Ed Burns seriously.  He was just the cute guy, the secondary character.  I had heard about Brothers McMullen before but had never seen it.  But the name kept popping up in my research.  I saw that he had wrote a book about filmmaking and curiosity got the best of me.  I spent the afternoon reading it and I was amazed.  I texted Chris "THIS GUY IS LEGIT!!!" Independent Ed is the one book that I would recommend to ANYONE wanting to make movies.  His methods for getting each of his movies made are genius.  He is considered an indie legend (see here), but he has worked extremely hard and this book is a great resource for beginning filmmakers.  

 

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I'll Have What She's Having: How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy

by Erin Carlson

 

In case you weren't aware, I LOVE NORA EPHRON.  She is one of the biggest reasons I want to make movies.  To write her movies off as mere chick flicks does a disservice to movies as a whole.  Romantic Comedies have an esteemed place in the history of Hollywood. Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story- these are just some of the classics that are classified as romantic comedies. But over the years "rom-com's" slowly became known as chick flicks and less money and effort went into making them.  But that changed with a little movie called When Harry Met Sally.  

I'll Have What She's Having describes what happened before, during and after production on 3 of Nora's biggest movies: When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail.  Nora wrote and directed other films, but these three are credited (or sometimes blamed) for saving romantic comedies.  They all have the perfect combo of brain and heart, and you can feel the magic coming off the screen.  

I already loved Nora before reading this book, but I fell IN love with her during it.  She had such a style and a voice and it is easy to tell that you are watching a Nora Ephron movie.  Reading this book lets you in on some of her tics and thought process. She truly was one of a kind.

 

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LeadingLady: Sherry Lansingand the making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker

by Stephen Galloway

Sherry Lansing came to Hollywood to be an actress, but discovered that being a producer was her cup of tea.  She eventually became the first female head of a movie studio (20th Century Fox) and became the CEO of Paramount Pictures, overseeing some of the biggest movies of all time.  Sherry is one of the most beloved people in the industry; she ran a tight ship, but she did it with grace and a smile.  When she produced, she was on set the entire time.  Even as a studio head, she visited each film set at some point during the production.  Sherry knew instantly what was working and what needed to be changed.  She trusted her gut and didn't allow herself to be trampled in a generally male-dominated environment.  This book really helped me understand more of the studio system- especially from a woman's perspective and when to speak up and what to hold back on.  

 

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The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls,Movies and a Company Called Dreamworks

by Nicole 

LaPorte

 

This is more a book about the rise and fall of a movie studio, but a. it's important to know how the studios work, b. 2 of the studio heads are brilliant producers and c. it's a page turner.   

 This book is full of some of the most ridiculous behavior ever, and I am a FAN.  I remember watching a to of news stories when Dreamworks began; it had so much potential and so much to lose, which essentially happened.  Today, Dreamworks Animation is pretty much what is left of the studio; the live action division was absorbed into Paramount, and then Disney, now Universal Studios distributes the Dreamworks catalog.  In the beginning, the studio gathered the most creative people and brilliant minds.  The problem was, there was too many ideas and no one to work out the problems.  I'll admit that this book probably has more gossip than the other books on this list, but there are plenty of lessons to be learned here.  Namely, there has to be someone overseeing all the details, all the time.  I also learned a lot about how publicity tours and award campaigns work.  Very fascinating.

 

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Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We LearnedFrom EightiesMovies (And Why We Don't Learn From Movies Anymore)

by Hadley Freeman

I've talked a little about this book before.  It's not necessarily about producing, but it's about lessons learned from movies and about what happened during their productions.  It's history meets pop culture meets psychology.  The 80's have some of the greatest movies ever made (Back to the Future!  Dirty Dancing! When Harry Met Sally! The Princess Bride! Goonies!  John Hughs!) and this book explores what makes these movies so special and why movies like that aren't being made anymore.  This is a great read for anyone who enjoys movies from this period.  Lots of interesting trivia bits.  Favorite chapters discuss Dirty Dancing, Steel Magnolias and The John Hughes Era.  

 

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The Movie Business 

by Kelly Charles Crabbe

So this is your typical "So you wanna be a producer?" book, full of check list and numbers and lots and lots of scary terms.  BUT.... This one is extremely useful.  It is very matter of fact, breaks down the scary terms and it makes the numbers side of producing seem very doable.  It tells you the steps of what you should be doing to protect yourself and your project.  

There is so much information out there on filmmaking.  I think that learning should be fun and each one of these books is just that.  If I were to pick just one book out of these, I would pick Independent Ed.  For filmmakers starting out, he has many ideas that will help you make the best movie you can with what you have.

Each of these books has one thing in common- you have to trust your gut.  You are the best judge as to what you need to work with your filmmakers to make your movie.  

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