As a film marketer, distribution strategist, and producer, I receive a fair number of requests from people to “grab coffee and pick [my] brain.” Usually, I’m more than happy to oblige. But, on those occasions that I’m not, I try to offer an assortment of resources (via email) that might shed some light on the topic we were planning to discuss.
These days, the topic that seems to be at the top of most people’s lists is the business of film production and distribution, for which I, too, happen to have a rabid appetite. As such, I’ve decided to compile a list of resources (case studies, if you like) that I have found to be most helpful in gaining a basic understanding of how (and why) things happen in the movie business.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start. Of course, I welcome your additions and encourage anyone reading this to add their own favorites in the comments, as I consider this a “living document” that can always be improved and expanded.
The Business of Film Resource List
Easy Rider, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind
An essential primer on the tumultuous period that birthed the “New Hollywood Cinema” and launched the careers of some of the producers and directors who continue to shape the way that movies are made.
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (documentary)
The documentary film version of Biskind’s book. Equally as interesting, though not nearly as comprehensive. Directed by Kenneth Bowser.
A Decade Under the Influence (documentary)
First-person accounts of the forces, people, and movies that helped shape “New Hollywood Cinema.” Co-directed by Richard LaGravenese and Ted Demme.
Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris
A snapshot of Hollywood in crisis, as independent voices behind the films Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night, clashed with old guard entertainments (and box-office bombs) like Doctor Doolittle.
Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind
Another one from Biskind, this time covering the rise of U.S. independent film. Focusing on the Sundance Film Festival, Miramax Pictures, and the new crop of filmmakers looking to make their mark, Down and Dirty Pictures offers a behind-the-scenes look at the forces that shaped what we’ve come to know today as independent film.
The Kid Stays in the Picture by Robert Evans
The story of Robert Evans, who went from selling women’s apparel to running Paramount Pictures during the period that some of the most well-known (and award-winning) films emerged from its hallowed gates, including The Odd Couple, Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story, The Godfather, and Chinatown.
The Kid Stays in the Picture (documentary)
The Clif’s Notes version of Evans’s memoir, featuring innovative animation techniques and LOTS of archival media. From co-directors Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein.
Fiasco: A History of Hollywood’s Iconic Flops by James Parish
You can learn (almost) as much from a good movie as you can from a bad one, and Fiasco walks you through the production and release of some of the most well-known “flops” in Hollywood’s storied history, including Cleopatra, Last Action Hero, Paint Your Wagon, Waterworld, Town & Country, and Popeye.
The Devil’s Candy by Julie Salamon
Brian De Palma’s eponymous adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s epic novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, was so troubled that it required an entire book to document. And author Julia Salamon was there from the beginning, resulting in a book that’s easily one of the best of its kind.
Final Cut: Art, Money, & Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate by Steven Bach
Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate is often cited as the film that signaled the end of the “New Hollywood” era. At the very least, it bankrupted United Artists and put a lot of people out of work, including its director, who didn’t make another movie for years. Steven Bach was an exec at UA at the time of the production.
Shooting to Kill by Christine Vachon
A first-hand account from one of the pioneers of independent film. Christine Vachon’s company is named Killer Films for a very good reason: Ms. Vachon is one of the best producers in the business.
Hope for Film: From the Frontline of the Independent Cinema Revolutions by Ted Hope
Beginning in New York in the 1990s, Ted Hope (now head of Amazon Studios) worked with some of the biggest names in the first wave of independent film, including Ang Lee, Edward Burns, Hal Hartley, Michel Gondry, Nicole Holofcener, and Todd Solondz, among others. In this, his first book, he talks about the lessons he learned and what he sees on the horizon.
Hit & Run by Nancy Griffin & Kim Masters
The story of the rise of two of the most audacious producers in the annals of Hollywood: Jon Peters and Peter Gruber.
Hello, He Lied by Lynda Obst
Get the straight story (with all the juicy details) from veteran producer Lynda Obst (Sleepless in Seattle, Interstellar) as she interweaves hard-won tips and tricks with tales from the set. Essential.
You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again by Julia Phillips
Oscar-winning producer Julia Phillips produced some BIG movies in the 1970s and 1980s, including Taxi Driver, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Sting, then experienced a personal and career downfall due to drugs and bad business deals. Then she wrote this book, which was one of the first tell-all memoirs from an A-list Hollywood insider.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (documentary)
This raucous look at Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the two larger-than-life producers behind Cannon Films, is must-see viewing for anyone interested in producing movies. They broke the mold after Cannon. Directed by Mark Hartley.
How I Made 100 Movies in Hollywood And Never Lost a Dime by Roger Corman
Legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman divulges (almost) all of the secrets he’s learned from over five decades (at the time of publication) in the film business.
Corman’s World (documentary)
A fast-moving, eye-opening overview of Roger Corman’s career, including his far-ranging influence on some of the best filmmakers ever to come out of Hollywood. Directed by Alex Stapleton.