My Five “Go To” Books on Writing

Here in no particular order are my five favorite books on writing.


1.)  Strunk & White – The Elements of Style

2.)  Stephen King – On Writing

3.)  Ray Bradbury – Zen in the Art of Writing

4.)  William Akers – Your Screenplay Sucks!: 100 Ways to Make It Great.

5.)  Blake Snyder – Save The Cat!


There are a lot of other writing books out there and I’m sure you have all sorts of favorites, but these are mine, the ones I keep near my desk. In fact I’ve been known to re-read various parts of these books in the evenings just because…

As a filmmaker I write every day. I know that by writing every day I’m getting better. At least I hope I am.

It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, novels, screenplays, or short stories you need to read The Elements of Style. It’s about proper use of language. It’s been around for decades and I really can’t think of another book that covers what it does. It is my go-to-book if I have questions. I have the third edition, which is copyrighted in 1979…

I’m not a fan of most of Stephen King’s novels.  Not that I have anything against him, I’m just not a big fan of the horror genre. I like his short stories a lot and I have a ton of respect for him as a writer.

Stephen King’s On Writing starts off as a memoir, which is fascinating to see where he started and how he got to where he is. Then it switches gears as he talks about the tools that every writer needs. He is a huge advocate of reading and believes that, “if you don’t have time to read you have neither the time nor the tools to write”. This book is filled with so much good information and his story is so interesting that I read the book three times in a row because I was afraid I missed something.

I love the fact that he keeps his desk pushed up against a wall so he has no distractions when he writes. I used to write by a window and now my desk is against a wall. I’m writing more when I sit down and it’s much easier to concentrate on the work without a window.

I think Ray Bradbury is a writing God. I read his books when I was younger but after reading his essays in Zen in the Art of Writing, I’m re-reading many of them again because I know I missed things when I read his work before. And boy did I.

From Bradbury I have learned discipline, working at your craft every day and trying to keep the excited kid a live that exists in all of us. He never lost his youthful enthusiasm and his writing propels you forward like no other writer in my mind.

Disclaimer – I am a friend of William Akers and he and I went to film school together. I got to read the rough draft of Your Screenplay Sucks!, while Will was working on it.

Your Screenplay Sucks!: 100 Ways to Make It Great, makes me laugh and it shows me so many mistakes that I’ve made when I’m writing. William does it with style and humor. I love this book because I can open it up anywhere and learn something. I like the way it’s divided up with specific categories, that way if there is just one thing I want to learn about (or re-read), like writing dialogue, I can.

I also check out his blog every week as he is always posting something interesting. You should too.

The good news is that William is hard at work on the sequel and I’m hoping it comes out by the end of the year.

Save The Cat!, is chalk full of great information and tools for writers. Blake breaks things down and simplifies them. I think this is a really good guide for the beginning screenwriter and a handy tool for the experienced one.

Blake never talks down to you while he’s explaining things and even now when I write something I will refer back to his book to make sure that what I’ve written is the clearest it can possible be.

Like I said before, there are lots of good books out there on writing. These are the ones I like and refer to all the time.

What are yours?


5 Links to Articles of Interest for Independent Filmmakers & Documentary Filmmakers

I recently read 5 pretty good articles on various aspects of both Independent and Documentary Filmmaking. Topics include Distribution, Fundraising and a list of do’s and don’ts. Check these out.

Over at Filmmaker Magazine are these two articles – -

Distribution Transparency: Four Filmmakers Reveal Their Distribution Numbers, Parts One.

And Part Two.

Here is an article on, Good Pitch, who I had never heard of.

Reality Checks: How Good Pitch Raises Millions of Dollars for Documentaries.

Definitely a great read when it comes to fundraising. I’m wondering how you can get on their list to pitch to them?

Tow other articles from Indiewire – Attention Documentary Filmmakers: Don’t Make These 10 Common Mistakes. (This article originally appeared on the Raindance Film Festival Blog and was reprinted on Indiewire with permission.

The Best Documentary Filmmaking Advice from Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

You’re welcome.

Don’t forget to come back for more.


The Seven Deadly Sins of Filmmaking Part One

A couple years ago after watching hundreds of students films and films by new filmmakers, William Akers (Author of Your Screenplay Sucks!) sat down and wrote out The Seven Deadly Sins of Filmmaking for his students. His goal was to put a laminated list of these sins in to every camera bag at school so when students went out on their shoots they would have one more reminder of things not to do.

He passed his list around to some of his friends in the film business for input and we added more until the list swelled to eighteen.

On one of my frequent trips to Nashville William decided we should record a group of Podcasts about some of the most common problems we see.

William continues to call it The Seven Deadly Sins of Filmmaking (even though there are eighteen) because it has such a classical sound to it.

For the next couple months I’m going to re-post these one per week so come back and listen. And if you can’t stand the suspense and want to listen to them all at once, you’ll find them here on my website under the menu button that says, PODCASTS.

I’m sure you have other Filmmaking Sins that are not included in our list but we think this is a pretty good place to start.

The first one is Digging For A Good Idea.

Seven Deadly Sins of Filmmaking #1 Go ahead, click on it. Don’t be afraid…



Five Links to Five Articles Filmmakers Should Read, (but probably won’t…)

What the Success of “It Follows” means for Indie Film Distribution

Do you Need To Remove Company Logos From Your Film?

Jonathan Oppenheim’s keynote comments from a panel he was on at Sundance.

“The name of this series of Sundance/KSFEF events is The Art of Editing. And as a way of entering into the spirit of this panel, I want to talk about the particular uniqueness of the role of the editor on a nonfiction film and some of the implicit tensions this role creates.”

Jonathan has edited quite a few docs and what he has to say is pretty interesting… Check it out.

Tribeca: Ava DuVernay’s 8 Tips to Filmmakers On How to Stay in Control

Attention Documentary Filmmakers: 9 Deadlines You Don’t Want to Miss

That last link is about getting money, but you’re going to have to work for it…

The Writer/Director Speaks: Billy Wilder

A great piece about Billy Wilder. He made so many amazing films as a writer and a director. You gotta watch this film and then find every Billy Wilder film you can. He was amazing.

I have posted stuff about him before and I never get tired of his work.

Take it Billy!

Oh what the hell, here’s a copy of The Front Page from 1974 for you to watch as an introduction…

Five Things I Learned Making Short Films

That Helped Me When Making a Feature

I made eight short films before I made my first feature, Birddog. I made a lot of mistakes (which I will chronicle in another post) but I also did a lot of things right. These are the things I think are most important to pass on.

1.)  Story, Story, Story.

2.)  The Value of Pre-Production

3.)  Time Management

4.)  The Importance of Rehearsal

5.)  Always Have a Back-up Plan

I don’t care if you’re making a short film, a documentary, or a feature; you need to have your story down. Even though some of my short films look like they’re documentaries and done “off the cuff”, each and every detail was planned. … More

I’ve heard the sound in your movie and it SUCKS! You need to buy this if you want to be taken seriously.

Test drive this book with the FREE download over there on your right.

And for a limited time you can get it for $16.95 plus $3 S&H (440 pages)

Sound is not the enemy! – - Lee Haxall, Editor, Crazy Stupid Love, Meet The Fockers (Emmy Award Winner)

Sound is an excellent carrier of emotion. And film is about emotion. – Gary Rydstrom, Sound Designer – Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park (winner 7 Academy Awards)

I like off beat stuff, weird sounding films and subtle sound tracks as compared to bombastic. – Ron Eng, supervising sound editor – Mulholland Drive, Coraline

The rule of thumb for good sound is: does it tell or promote the emotional content of the scene, does it support and/or reveal the story. – Tom Johnson, re-recording mixer – Alice In Wonderland, (winner 2 Academy Awards)

The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide Part Two:Sound Conversations With (un)Sound People

Motion picture audio is one of the least understood parts of filmmaking. It is often neglected by film students and filmmakers alike. It is boring, scary, too technical and not considered important by most filmmakers. Until they get in to the editing room and realize that by not paying attention to audio earlier they are screwed. … More

François Truffaut Documentary

Check out this great doc on French Filmmaker Francois Truffaut. It’s in two parts.

You don’t know who Truffaut is? Well here’s your chance to learn about one of the great French New Wave Directors.

You can thank me later.

Part One is here…

And Part Two

That was a nice way to spend an evening wasn’t it?

You’re welcome.

Five Films I Watch Every Year

There are five films that I watch every year because I learn something new every time I see them.

These films are rich in content and they reflect a style in their acting, art direction, cinematography, costuming and sound.

1.) Touch Of Evil
2.) Amadeus
3.) M
4.) A Woman Under The Influence
5.) Once Upon A Time In The West

Everyone has their own list of films that influence them or that they learned from but I don’t know how many films you can watch over and over and get something new or spot something you never noticed before.

Touch Of Evil – we all know the famous opening shot that goes on forever and sets up the movie. Since this film was made in 1960 and shot in 35mm I still marvel at how they were able to do that opening considering both the weight and the bulk of the equipment. A scene that is just as amazing to me is when they find the dynamite in the apartment. That scene is also a long single take and the camera is incredibly active going from room to room to track the action. I have been told that grips were literally moving set walls so that the camera could move uninterrupted. … More

Preface From My First Book…

From The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide Part One: Making The Extreme No Budget Film


I am the poster boy for bad decision making in the Independent Film world!

I have made eight short films, three features and a couple of documentaries, along with a ton of corporate videos, and commercials. I have whored myself on other people’s movies for the last 20+ years. There are certain truths I have learned, and certain things and people I shouldn’t have listened to. I have messed up my life financially, emotionally, and probably physically and it’s all been for my love of movies. My movies.

A lot of people ask me why I’m angry. I am the Angry Filmmaker after all. What makes me angry is the state of INDEPENDENT films. The independent film industry is no longer even remotely independent. It’s been mainstreamed by Hollywood and is now simply another over-hyped product. Like commercial radio, pop music and Starbucks coffee, the industry has become a homogenized mess of conglomerates owned by a handful of extremely powerful corporations. It begs the question: Independent from what?

We need to take the word “Independent” back! … More

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Dangerous: Kay Boyle

I am currently editing the film and will be fundraising again soon. I'm trying to get a decent rough-cut done. If you want to make a regular donation (not tax deductible) send me a note at and I'll tell you how to do it. Thanks.

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