This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
A confession. I actually started writing this article in 2013, and the reason you’ve only reading it now is that I’ve made sure I’ve read every book on this list, save for one or two where I’ve marked otherwise. As such, what you’re getting is a very personal list of recommendations. Each of these books has at least something to it that I think is of interest to someone wanting to learn more about film – or just enjoy stories of movie making.
I’ve tended to avoid picture books, with one exception, as these ones I’ve chosen are all intended to be chock-full of words, to relax with at the end of a long day. Which is what I did. There are one or two notable omissions, as I’m still working through a pile of books (sorry, Sidney Lumet). I’ll keep adding recommendations to the list though as I find more books I think are worth checking out. Please add your own recommendations in the comments!
Also, I should note, I’ve also avoided books that tend to be more academic. None of these are for a film studies course. All are designed for mortals like me to read.
Some of these are out of print, and some are quite tricky to track down. Others are widely available, none of them should break the bank. They’re listed in alphabetical order, by author’s surname.
Without further ado…
Vic Armstrong – The True Adventures Of The World’s Greatest Stuntman
About half way through movie stunt legend Vic Armstrong’s memoir, I found myself wondering if it’d been a better book were it a biography rather than an autobiography. Yet I still enjoyed it, and Armstrong offers an angle on the movies that’s not often discussed.
He talks about the rise of his career in movie stunt work, sharing his views on the proliferation of CG in more recent times (the Bond movie Die Another Day gets particular criticism). Also, his stories of doubling for Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom in particular are very good value. You’ll learn lots from the book, even if it’s not always the easiest to read.
Steven Bach – Final Cut
Here, I defer to my colleagues. Final Cut charts to the story of the infamous production of Heaven’s Gate. Ryan charted 10 stories of excess from the filming of the movie, gleaned from Bach’s excellent book, right here. And Aliya penned a piece about this book specifically here.
John Badham – I’ll Be In My Trailer
Director John Badham has written a pair of books on directing movies, of which this one is the best for my money. It’s written in a dip in and out style, and that’s the best way to enjoy it too, I think. Badham is a man who’s candid that he’s learned from his mistakes on movie sets, and he’s got lots of advice for potential directors, generously illustrated with compelling examples from his own career.
Peter Biskind – Down And Dirty Pictures
In theory, this was supposed to do for the independent cinema boom of the 1990s what Easy Riders Raging Bulls (below) did for the films and filmmakers of the 1970s. As equally as contentious as its forerunner, Down And Dirty Pictures didn’t quite gel as well for me personally, yet there’s an awful lot to feast on here. And as you come to expect from Biskind’s film writing, you get a hell of a list of films to check out once you’re done.
Peter Biskind – Easy Riders Raging Bulls
There have been many conversations about just how close to the mark the many stories that Peter Biskind explores in Easy Rides Raging Bulls are. But one thing is fairly certain: that by the time you get to the end of his gossip-y book, you’ll have a list of films to watch that’s comfortably in double figures (assuming you’ve not seen them before, of course).
Biskind’s book is a hugely, hugely entertainment journey though the rise of directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Hal Ashby and Brian De Palma. Funny, wildly entertaining, and one of the most wonderful journeys through 1970s cinema in print form.
Brian Blessed – Absolute Pandemonium
First piece of advice: get the audiobook. Blessed reads it himself. Second piece of advice: head to the chapters on Flash Gordon, and the making of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Utter gold.
Blessed’s new memoir also covers his landing the role of Fancy Brown in Z Cars, and takes in his theatre work as well. The film stuff is strong enough to earn it a place on this list, though. Best not to read Absolute Pandemonium while sipping a drink would be my strong advice. The number of laugh-out-loud moments in here is high.
Bernie Brillstein – Where Did I Go Right? You’re No One In Hollywood Unless Someone Wants You Dead
The fact that the late Bernie Brillstein wasn’t a household name, particularly in the UK, just adds to the surprise of his 1999 autobiography. For Brillstein was instrumental in the careers of people such as Jim Henson, John Belushi and Gilda Radner. As a manager and producer, he had access to lots of behind the scenes stories, and he shares many of them, from a slightly different perspective than many others can offer. He has interesting stories to tell, and tells them very, very well.
Billy Crystal – Still Foolin’ Em
A warm, witty collection of essays from actor, writer, director, comedian and Oscar-host Billy Crystal. Plenty to enjoy here, too, with my favourite being the story of how Charles Bronson slammed the phone down on Crystal, insulted, after being offered Jack Palance’s role in City Slickers. The film for which Palance would finally win his Oscar…
Michael Deeley – Blade Runners, Deer Hunters & Blowing The Bloody Doors Off
An insightful read this, and (relatively) rare in that it gives a producer’s-eye view of some very big and important movies. Michael Deeley’s stories are happy to poke at a few old wounds, and he’s a man who doesn’t pull his metaphorical punches.
Inevitably, that means you get a very one-sided version of events behind the scenes of films such as Blade Runner, The Italian Job, and The Deer Hunter. But once you settle into the fact that it’s a very subjective tale – as more autobiographies should arguably be – then it’s an entertaining book to read. Just one you’re aware that you might not be getting the full picture from.
Helen de Winter – What I Really Want To Do Is Produce
What differentiates some film books is the enviable access they’d had to the right people. That’s certainly the case with Helen de Winter’s comprehensive What I Really Want To Do Is Produce. In it, she tries to get to the bottom of what film producing is about, and how to break into it. And in doing so, she talks to the likes of Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, Lawrence Bender, and Lord Of The Rings producer Bob Shaye.
Each has different approaches to their job, and de Winter takes time to find out about them, then present the information in a digestible way. No shortage of good anecdotes, too…
Kirk Douglas – I Am Spartacus
Kirk Douglas has penned many books , but I thought I Am Spartacus was really quite something. It’s an economical piece of work, that in turn tells the story of Douglas producing and starring in Spartacus, whilst also helping break the Hollywood blacklist.
The blacklist side of the story comes from the hiring of Dalton Trumbo (now the subject of a biopic starring Bryan Cranston), and that’s arguably the best bit of the book. His stories of visiting Trumbo, living in Hollywood exile, are expertly told.
But then so is the story of changing directors on Spartacus, and coming to work with Stanley Kubrick. It won’t take too long to read I Am Spartacus, but it’s very much worth the effort.
Susan Dworkin – Making Tootsie: A Film Study
A little bit dry this one, perhaps, but still an interesting book, and one given a new audience by it being made available on Kindle. It digs into the making, as you can probably guess, of Sydney Pollack’s comedy classic, and in particular the intensity with which star Dustin Hoffman approached the lead role. It’s a brief read, coming in well shy of 200 pages, but delivers very much on the promise of its title.
Joe Eszterhas – Hollywood Animal
A very long, sometimes rambling, but very often utterly gripping autobiography of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. The meat for movie fans will be in his candid description of the rise and fall of his screenwriting career (and we touched on just a fraction of that here). We get the expensive script sales, the arguments, taking on the most powerful man in Hollywood at the time (agent Mike Ovitz) and the making of some of the movies themselves.
What we also get is Eszterhas’ complex upbringing, his marriages, his battle with the bottle, and often a picture painted of a not very nice man. Comfortably one of the longest books on this list, it’s worth sticking with it through its slower parts, not least because it’s an insightful glimpse of Hollywood in the ’80s and ’90s.
Robert Evans – The Kid Stays In The Picture
From the heady heights of heading up Paramount in the 1970s, to a fast fall from the top fuelled by excess, Robert Evans has quite a tale to tell. Across two books, he both tells it very well, and in a very tired way. So stick with the first, the engrossing The Kid Stays In The Picture. It leaves him on the verge of what would prove to be an unsuccessful comeback – The Saint and Sliver were on his slate at the time – but his stories from behind the scenes of Love Story and The Godfather, for instance, are engrossing.
Robert Evans is clearly a man in love with himself, by the tone of his prose. Plus you won’t be left in much doubt that he’s led something of a sleazy life. Yet for some reason, books about ’70s Hollywood rarely fail to deliver. This is no exception.
Corey Feldman – Coreyography: A Memoir
Corey Feldman has lived more lives in his time on Earth already than many of us will ever manage, and his open, revealing memoir is pretty frank about them. It’s heavily movie-centric, going behind the scenes on the likes of The Goonies and The Lost Boys, before detailing his current run of DTV productions. But it’s most haunting for the stories of what it’s like being a child star, with a very pushy parent. Difficult to read at times, as it should be, Feldman puts his heart and soul onto the page in a very strong book.
Angus Finney – The Egos Have Landed
Palace Pictures was, at one stage, the biggest force in UK cinema. At a point where the British film industry was in the doldrums, Palace – in the ’80s and ’90s – managed to get films such as The Company Of Wolves and The Crying Game through the system.
But the methods Palace used – with films heading into production before full financing was in place – led to a house of proverbial cards the eventually came tumbling down. Angus Finney’s book captures some of that. And whilst its still leaves the door open for perhaps a more definitive tome on the Palace era, it’s a fascinating snapshot of a very British riches to rags story.
Charles Fleming – High Concept: Don Simpson And The Hollywood Culture Of Excess
This doesn’t feel like the definitive telling of uber-producer Don Simpson’s life. Perhaps if his one-time business partner Jerry Bruckheimer ever writes an autobiography, then there’ll be a little less varnish.
Still, Fleming does a solid job charting the rise and premature death of Top Gun and Days Of Thunder producer Don Simpson. There’s a lot more excess charted than there is movie insight delivered, and it might have worked best as a series of articles rather than a book. But it’s hard not to get something out of High Concept.
Michael J Fox – Lucky Man
As you might expect, Michael J Fox’s first memoir focuses on his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease, and the way he has fought from that point. Lucky Man is also intertwined with some candid conversation about his movie career, and the choices that he made. For instance, Fox details signing a three picture deal with Universal Pictures in the early 1990s, and how that proved to be a good idea only in the short term.
Fox’s voice is engrained through Lucky Man, and it’s a rounded, moving and very human piece of work.
Hadley Freeman – Life Moves Pretty Fast
You don’t have to spend long with Google to find articles from people on why movies of a particular era mattered to them so much. What makes Hadley Freeman’s terrific Life Moves Pretty Fast stand out is that not only does she come up with interesting reasons as to why her films of choice worked so well, but that she’s woven that in alongside chats with some of the people behind them.
Her choices are fiercely mainstream too. And given how the bookshelves of Waterstones have a habit of creaking under the weight of academic dissections of less well known features, Life Moves Pretty Fast is all the more accessible for celebrating such ultimately successful films.
Caseen Gaines – We Don’t Need Roads: The Making Of The Back To The Future Trilogy
An unofficial guide to the putting together of the Back To The Future films, albeit with enough access to key personnel to give it a bit of extra lift. If there’s a flaw with Gaines’ well-researched and likeable book, it’s that it gives the sequels – which arguably have enough stories of their own to fill a book – quite short shrift. A pity, as many of the tales of the first film are already well known. Still, Gaines is a passionate host, and it’s hard not to be swept along by his love and enthusiasm for his subject matter.
William Goldman – Adventures In The Screen Trade
Not for nothing is William Goldman’s Adventures In The Screen Trade known as one of the very best books about film ever written. It’s the book in which Goldman came up with the phrase “nobody knows anything” to describe how people keep trying to predict the ingredients for a successful movie. Yet the pages are dripping with stories that are gold dust for self-respecting movie nerds. Superbly written, as you’d expect, decades on, Goldman’s book is still hard to beat.
William Goldman – Which Lie Did I Tell?
A sequel of sorts to Adventures In The Screen Trade, Which Lie Did I Tell? brings thing a little more up to date. Published in 2001, it covers Goldman’s work on films such as The Chamber, Maverick, and Misery. Plus it’s got plenty of tips for wannabe-screenwriters, and some superb analysis of what does and doesn’t work on film.
Richard E Grant – With Nails
The film writing of Richard E Grant is something to be cherished, not least because he published his outstanding movie diaries – With Nails – whilst very much at his most in-demand.
Grant turns his witty, critical eye to the likes of Hudson Hawk (his account of this one being a particular delight), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (a movie you can feel him aching to like slightly more than he ultimately did) and L.A. Story. As a snapshot of ’90s movie-making, it’s pretty much unparalleled, all the better for us not having to wait 20 years until these stories spilled out.
Grant’s subsequent film book, The Wah Wah Diaries, is also worth a look – an incisive and intelligent look at making his debut movie as director, Wah Wah.
Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters – Hit & Run
A spiky, terrifically-written look at when Peter Guber and Jon Peters ran Columbia Pictures in the early 1990s. In particular, the superb insight into just what went wrong with the infamous Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Last Action Hero is reason enough to pick the book up.
As with many Hollywood true stories, it’s so bizarre and far-fetched there are moments of pinch-yourself madness in here. And yet, it seems, it was all true. One of the best books out there about 1990s Hollywood.
Peter Guber and Peter Bart – Shoot Out
The astonishing era at Paramount Pictures in the 1970s has been richly covered in film books, but there’s room in producer and eventual Sony studio head Peter Guber for a few more tales.
Shoot Out – which was turned into a television series – was published in 2003, and thus it doesn’t cover his more recent career heading up Mandalay Entertainment. But between him and former Variety editor Peter Bart, there’s enough behind the scenes meat here to warrant seeking out a copy.
Don Hahn – Brain Storm
Not ostenisbly a movie book, Don Hahn’s Brain Storm is nonetheless bursting with movie anecdotes, of particular interest to animation fans. Hahn, the producer of films such as The Lion King and Beauty And The Beast, has put together a book that gets across ways to make your work more creative, and how to capture that spirit in others. But the bonus here is in the proverbial margins, as Hahn offers tips and examples from across his movie making career.
Jane Hamsher – Killer Instinct
Whether you came to love or loathe Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, the story behind bringing it to the screen is worth a read. There’s the fact that original screenwriter Quentin Tarantino became, er, ‘not a fan’ of the way his story was being treated. There’s the moment where Stone caught one particular shot, with the added incentive of free goodies if he did. And there’s ultimately the story of young producers biting off, at first, seemingly more than they can chew, and eventually steering one of the 90s’ most controversial movies to the screen.
Mark Harris – Scenes From A Revolution
A really, really satisfying read this one, that takes the five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1967, and charts how each had their part to play in shaping the future of Hollywood. Harris is an excellent guide, from the tittle-tattle behind the scenes of the bloated Dr. Dolittle, to the struggles just to get Warner Bros to fully back Bonnie & Clyde.
Wonderfully researched and a joy to read, Harris’ Five Came Back also comes strongly recommended.
Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman – Tales From The Script
It’s the level of access that Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman has enjoyed that makes Tales From The Script such a vital book for wannabe screenwriters. It’s packed with anecdotes about the film industry, and in particular, how the development process dilutes and in many cases weakens the ideas that have got a film interesting a movie studio in the first place. Contributions come from the likes of Frank Darabont, the late Nora Ephron, William Goldman and Shane Black, amongst many others.
Dade Hayes and Jonathan Bing – Open Wide: How Hollywood Box Office Became A National Obsession
Box office analyis used to be purely for film trade magazines, now it’s a meal feasted on by thousands of websites and publications. The 2006 book Open Wide dug into this, and it’s at its best when it zeroes in on a trio of movies as they approach their release in summer 2003. The films? Terminator 3, DreamWorks’ Sinbad, and Legally Blonde 2.
It’s interesting to read just how far in advance the film companies concerned knew they had problems, or otherwise (especially DreamWorks, in this instance). And whilst Open Wide can be tough to get through at times, when Hayes and Bing devote their attention to those three movies, the results are excellent.
Robert Hofler – Party Animals
Or to give it its full title: Party Animals – A Hollywood Tale Of Sex, Drugs And Rock ‘n’ Roll Starring The Fabulous Allan Carr.
Penned by Robert Hofler, this biography charts the rise of producer Allan Carr, whose name adorns most infamously both Grease and the Village People movie musical, Can’t Stop The Music. Oh, and Grease 2.
It’s a story of parties, excess and famous names, although it does feel like – a harsh criticism for a biography, granted – this is a very familiar tale. However, the stories of some of Carr’s parties alone make for good reading, and we also get an insightful glimpse at the insecurities beneath a one-time big name producer.
David Hughes – Tales From Development Hell
An update to his earlier book, The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, the trick to David Hughes’ excellent Tales From Development Hell is that he’s dug deep to find the real stories behind fabulous-sounding movies that never happened. His book charts the battles behind Darreon Aronofsky’s Batman, Ridley Scott’s Crisis In The Hot Zone, and productions that have since been realized, including Indiana Jones 4 and the now-in-development Sandman.
In the last addition, he also adds a chapter where he discusses his own screenwriting, and this too proves to be insightful and well worth reading. The structure of the book makes it one to easily dip and out of, too.
Anjelica Huston – Watch Me: A Memoir
As with many memoirs on this list, Huston’s latest book, Watch Me, talks around the movies as much as about them. Yet there are real gems in here, not least her working with her father, John Huston, on his last film.
Huston manages to be open and engaging without being snarky and nasty, and her writing is perceptive and captivating. I found myself breezing through this one, and enjoying it, in next to no time.
Brian Jay Jones – Jim Henson: The Biography
Inevitably covering Henson’s early work, experimental shorts and television breakthrough with the likes of The Muppets and Sesame Street, there’s also no shortage of material here for movie nerds to feast on.
In particular, it’s hard not to applaud as Henson delves into The Dark Crystal, without any semblance of a completed script in place. Then there’s the sheer ambition in The Muppet Movie and Labyrinth. It’s an exhaustive biography, but crucially not a rose-tinted one. It’s a richly rewarding read, too.
Dave Itzkoff – Mad As Hell
I’ve a real soft spot for books that go into forensic detail about the making of just one film. But even without that, David Itzkoff’s superb dissection about the making of Sidney Lumet’s classic Network would be a must-read.
New interviews and archive material are skilfully woven together, and the end result is a wonderful piece of work, about a really wonderful movie. Credit, too, for focusing so heavily on screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky.
Rebecca Keegan – The Futurist: The Life And Films Of James Cameron
Aided by having access to her subject, Rebecca Keegan has here put together a bit of a whistle-stop tour of the movie career of James Cameron, right up to the release of Avatar. It’s got a lot to cover in its near-300 pages, and if there’s a frustration, it’s that the production of each of Cameron’s movies feels like it deserves a book of this ilk in its own right.
Still, Keegan absolutely doesn’t short-change you when it comes to anecdotes about the man himself. Our favourite? On the set of True Lies, Cameron barking at Arnold Schwarzenneger “would you rather have Paul Verhoeven directing this?”. Priceless.
Mark Kermode – It’s Only A Movie
Mark Kermode has done a trilogy of books thus far that are his broader takes on cinema (as opposed to, for his instance, his excellent BFI tome on Silent Running). I’ve enjoyed the other two – Hatchet Job and The Good, The Bad & The Multiplex – a lot. But It’s Only A Movie just about edges them for me.
Ostensibly an autobiography, it’s actually Kermode talking about his upbringing through films. As such, he paints a picture of growing up with double bills, the excitement of discovering new filmmakers, his love of horror and – as you’d expect – The Exorcist. It’s a witty, immensely readable piece of work.
Michael Kuhn – One Hundred Films And A Funeral
A little bit clinical this one, but if you like your film books nerdy, and with a managerial focus, then it’s worth at least checking a local library for. After all, it’s the only book on this list that attempts to break down the mechanics of budgeting a motion picture. Furthermore, the story of how Kuhn helped build up Polygram Films in the UK – and in particular his hand in turning Four Weddings And A Funeral into a success, is rewarding. Not always the easiest to get through, but there’s the kind of nuggets in here you don’t find elsewhere.
Nicole LaPorte and Stephen Hoye – The Men Who Would Be King
The ambitious plan by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen to set up the first major Hollywood movie studio since United Artists enjoyed some success. Still, over 20 years on, DreamWorks is a different beast to the one it once was. Nicole LaPorte and Stephen Hoye’s chatty history goes through the creation of the studio, and how it stumbled through its early days before hitting success with the likes of Gladiator and American Beauty.
Russell Crowe infamously called at least one of its facts to account around the time of the book’s publication, but it’s still a decent read, that pulls together much of the early DreamWorks story.
John Leguizamo – Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas And All The Rest Of My Hollywood Friends
Dear John Leguizamo: please write more books.
Rare amongst his peers for writing an honest, candid and hilarious book about the people around him whilst still working with some of them, his 2006 book is quite brilliant. The Steven Seagal anecdote from the set of Executive Decision alone justifies the book’s existence. As you might expect, that’s the proverbial tip of a quite wonderful proverbial iceberg.
Art Linson – What Just Happened? Bitter Hollywood Tales From The Front Line
Also subsequently made into a film, What Just Happened? sees producer Art Linson taking us through his world of movie-making, and the difficulties that lie wherein. It’s not an easy book to read in one sitting, giving that Linson jumps around an awful lot. But he does have things to say about the making of movies such as Fight Club, the underrated The Edge, and Great Expectations, that make this an intriguing tome for those interested in ’90s Hollywood.
David Mamet – Bambi Vs Godzilla
Perhaps not quite the great film book you’d expect and hope for from David Mamet, Bambi Vs Godzilla is nonetheless a useful look at the Hollywood system. This time, it’s primarily from Mamet’s screenwriting and occasionally directing perspective, and he shares his bemusement at many parts of the filmmaking process. You might not quite get as much out of the book as you’d hope, but I still quite enjoyed it.
Garry Marshall – Wake Me When It’s Funny
Marshall, the director of films such as Pretty Woman and Beaches, has written two memoirs, but I confess I’ve only read this one. It was worth it, though. The book explores his rise to prominence through his work writing, producing and directing on the liks of Happy Days and Mork & Mindy. It then takes in his movie career (albeit, given when the book was written, stopping in the 1990s).
Marshall’s an entertaining storytelling, but I also liked very much his detailed stories, of how he went about getting certain scenes to work. Good stuff.
Jack Matthews – The Battle of Brazil
A wonderfully-researched tale of Hollywood horror, that, of course, is also true. The Battle Of Brazil is the story of how Terry Gilliam and Universal Pictures came to butt heads over the director’s richly acclaimed 1985 movie, Brazil.
The book covers the story of the studio’s fight with the filmmaker, and the infamous putting together of the ‘Love Conquers All’ cut of the movie. Furthermore, there’s Gilliam’s campaign to persuade Universal to release a movie that was picking up awards, even if nobody could see it.
The book also features the director’s cut of the screenplay. An astonishing story, excellently told by Matthews.
Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode – The Movie Doctors
Don’t be fooled! What looks like it may just be a tie-in book to their excellent Wittertainment Radio Five Live film review programme, Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode have put together a thumping good film book instead. Capturing the tone of their excellent radio show whilst finding (lots of) space for detailed film essays, quick recommendations and lots of film chatter, it’s a beautifully presented, absorbing piece of work.
Mike Medavoy – You’re Only As Good As Your Next One
The co-founder of Orion Pictures, and one-time head of TriStar, Mike Medavoy has had his fingers in an awful lot of film pies. Films greenlighted on his watch include The Terminator, The Silence Of The Lambs, Cliffhanger, and Sleepless In Seattle.
His book, subtitled 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films And 100 For Which I Should Be Shot, is a little scattergun. But, not for the first time on this list, he offers a snapshot of what it was like to be making movies, and getting them through the system, across the 1970s through to the 1990s. He’s a strong guide, too, with enough insight and access to put across an account with real substance to it.
Ryan North – B^F: The Novelization Of The Feature Film
A book that no Back To The Future fan should be without. Originally posted as a Tumblr blog, what Ryan North has done here is taken the utterly bizarre original novelization of Back To The Future by the late George Gipe, and done a forensic scene by scene comparison with the film.
The star of the show is North, though, thanks to his breathlessly funny writing style. Rarely has such a factual dissection induced such mirth. Given the structure of the book – an assembling of the aforementioned Tumblr posts – it’s best to read this one in pieces, rather than in one go.
Lynda Obst – Hello, He Lied: And Other Truths From The Hollywood Trenches
Producer Lynda Obst has written a couple of books about working in Hollywood, but this one is probably the best of them. It’s more aimed at those wanting to work in the business, or get advice on surviving it. But for outsides, Obst still has interesting tales to tell. Her insight into how, for instance, the movie Crisis In The Hot Zone failed to materialize is eye-opening.
David A Price – The Pixar Touch
One part the making of a technology company, another part the story of John Lasseter’s thirst to make animated films, David A Price’s The Pixar Touch is a terrific read. In particular, Lasseter’s drive to make massive, film-changing breakthroughs in digital animation.
Yet Price doesn’t neglect the Pixar culture, the Steve Jobs influence (and doubts), and the ultimate battles with Disney. It’s an enthralling read, and well worth pairing with Ed Catmull’s Creativity Inc for a fuller look at the life and times of Pixar, and how it came to be.
Robert Rodriguez – Rebel Without A Crew
How far would you go to get your first feature funded? In the case of Robert Rodriguez – now best known, of course, for the likes of Spy Kids and the Sin City films – he’d sell his body to medical science.
Rebel With A Crew charts Rodriguez trying to get his first full feature – the micro-budget El Mariachi – funded and made. In his extremely candid book, he’s as open about the technical challenges he faced in the edit as he is the lengths he’d go to in order to secure finance. It’s a captivating, outstanding read.
Jake Rossen – Superman Vs Hollywood
It stops before we get to the current era, as Zack Snyder takes cinematic ownership of the Superman screen franchise, but Jake Rossen’s history of Hollywood’s flirtation with the Man of Steel is still perhaps the best account out there.
The book tries to do an awful lot, but finally comes into its own when it moves onto the Salkinds, and how they brought the first four Superman films to the screen. In particular, the challenges of making the first two back to back, and the subsequent fallout with director Richard Donner. We then get the Superman III and Superman IV problems dissected.
The Death Of Superman Lives movie picks up the later story slightly better, but this is still an empassioned account of how Hollywood has dealt with a comic book icon.
Danny Rubins – How To Write Groundhog Day
Less a great book perhaps, more a really, really interesting one. For what sets Rubins’ story of taking his idea to the movies apart is he charts the before, middle and after of its development. All from the writers’ perspective. On top of that, you get the original script for Groundhog Day that Rubins wrote, which is notably different, before it went through the system.
Rubins is open about the process he went through, and about what director Harold Ramis brought to it (eventually sharing screenwriting credit). It’s not a textbook, though, rather that Rubins puts a very human perspective on what happened. His book, especially considering the classic movie that came out at the end of it, rewards the time you give it.
Julie Salamon – The Devil’s Candy
The real gift of Julie Salamon’s superb telling of the making of the movie The Bonfire Of The Vanities is that she has you absolutely rooting for it. Accepting that the movie was a notorious early 90s Hollywood bomb (eclipsed in Bruce Willis’ career soon after when the knives came out for Hudson Hawk), Salamon is a patient, diligent observer. She charts how one of the most compelling books of its time was chewed up by the Hollywood system, with director Brian De Palma desperately trying to shape a worthwhile picture at the end of it all.
The Devil’s Candy has been described as the greatest book on the making of a film ever written. I couldn’t personally call that. But I can tell you it’s surely a candidate…
Michael Sellers – John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood
Andrew Stanton’s John Carter movie seems resigned to living – in the minds of some – in the annals of Hollywood failures. The hugely expensive blockbuster had a muddled released, and the film certainly had problems. Yet few people have got to the heart of quite what happened as effectively as Michael Sellers.
Sellers takes the project from its early stages, through to the botched marketing campaign and its eventual release. He has a perspective on it, given that he ran a John Carter fan site that was clearly doing a better job of selling the film than Disney was. Once or twice, perhaps, his focus shifts a little more towards his site than the key task in hand. But that’s a minor grumble, in what turns out to be a riveting account of how a film that Hollywood had been trying to bring to the screen for 100 years fell at the release hurdle.
Robert Sellers – Very Naughty Boys, Hellraisers
Robert Sellers is the author of a bunch of fascinating, quite gossipy film books, each of which are written in an accessible, non-academic way. That’s not to sell them short. Sellers is clearly fascinated with his subjects, and that can’t help but come across on the page.
His best? Well, I’m going for two.
Firstly, the rise of Handmade Films is charted in Very Naughty Boys. Founded by George Harrison, Handmade had an at-times guerilla approach to getting movies made, and amongst the productions it’d be responsible for were Monty Python’s Life Of Brian and Time Bandits. There’s an inevitable fall to the rise part of the story, yet Sellers has a style that takes you through 1980s British moviemaking, as if you and he have drinks on the table, and he’s telling a very, very good story.
The same style permeates Hellraisers, his charting of the movie and drinking careers of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed. Some of the stories he manages to uncover beggar belief, and Sellers writers about them in a warm and entertaining way.
Dawn Steel – They Can Kill You But They Can’t Eat You
The late Dawn Steel was one of the first women to ever run a Hollywood movie studio, heading up Columbia Pictures in the late 1980s, before setting up Steel Pictures and making films such as Cool Runnings.
Steel’s memoir is a candid one, most notably for her recollection of discovering Paramount Pictures had fired her, just as she’d given birth to her daughter. Steel died tragically young, at just 51 years old. Her excellent book is a fitting tribute to her work.
James B Stewart – DisneyWar: The Battle For The Magic Kingdom
The boardroom battles behind the scenes at Disney in the 1990s and early 2000s left the company in a position ripe for saving – which the merger with Pixar arguably properly kickstarted. The tragic death of Frank Wells in the early 1990s led to a power struggle of sorts between Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, with the latter eventually leaving to co-found DreamWorks.
DisneyWar is a book that tries to chart all of this – and there’s both a biography and an autobiography of Michael Eisner that has a go, less successfully – and as a consequence, it does get bogged down in boardroom politics. But it’s surprisingly entertaining, and would also set the scene for a film in its own right. It also goes a long way to explaining why Disney rose and fall so dramatically across 20 or so years.
Drew Struzan and David J Schow – The Art Of Drew Struzan
I’ve tried to focus this list more on text-driven books than visual ones, but I’ll make an exception for the brilliant The Art Of Drew Struzan. The reason? Because alongside the draft poster designs for many iconic movies, the text – from Struzan and David J Schow – bothers to take us through why some ideas were rejected, why some made it through, and what Struzan’s thought process was. A real gem.
Sharon Waxman – Rebels On The Backlot
A really fascinating book this one, that looks at how six films and six filmmakers at the end of the 1990s came to alter the Hollywood studio system. The filmmakers cover David O Russell, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher and Spike Jonze, amongst others. Waxman has access to most of her subjects too, and in particular, the story of how Being John Malkovich made it through the Hollywood system by simply barely being noticed is a fascinating one. An excellent book.
Jerry Weintraub – When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead
The late Jerry Weintraub’s resume is testament to the fact that, at one time, he was one of Hollywood’s biggest producers. That said, his book isn’t one of a man with scores to settle. Rather, it’s a guided tour through Weintraub’s life and the entertainment industry, with few passages likely to make headlines, but the coherent whole adding up to a gently intriguing tale.
Mara Wilson – Where Am I Now?: True Stories Of Girlhood and Accidental Fame
Not a pure film book, but Mara Wilson’s excellent memoir recounts her early experiences as a child actor, and how that conflicted with the personal tragedy she was going through at the same time. Furthermore, it’s an intelligent, wonderfully-written piece of work, that follows Wilson’s decision to move away from acting, and why…
Andrew Yule – Hollywood A Go-Go: An Account Of The Cannon Phenomenon
A tricky book to track down at a decent price (it was a lucky charity shop find for me), Hollywood A Go-Go was first published in 1987, when the rise and demise of Cannon Films was still fresh, and a little less nostalgic (the excellent documentary film Electric Boogaloo certainly had a lot more affection).
At the heart of the story is the fractious relationshop between Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, and Yule doesn’t disappoint in his relaying of their tale. It’s very much worth the effort to track this one down.
A few others worth mentioning, that I’ve read and nearly put on the main list…
Gavin Edwards – Last Night At The Viper Room
Michael Uslan – The Boy Who Loved Batman
Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi – Time Of My Life
Tom Shone – Blockbuster
And I’m about to start reading My Indecision Is Final. Expect to see that on the main list soon…
Lead image: BigStock