The FilmCraft Series: Inspiration, Bottled

Teaching someone how to make a film is a difficult business. How do you replicate a moment of inspiration? Can great film craft be learnt? Quite how do you set about training someone to be the next Hitchcock, Godard or Haneke?

The answer of course, as Mike Goodridge notes in his introduction to FilmCraft: Directing, is that you can't. Providing help, guidance and knowledge is about all that you can do. Have faith that talent will do the rest. Ensure that that talent is inspired and you might just end up with something special on your hands.

The FilmCraft series sagely sets out to do all of that whilst accepting that it's not possible to simply top up someone's knowledge to a level where they magically morph into Martin Scorsese. This is a series at least as concerned with inspiring the next generation of film-makers as it is with ensuring they know the tools of the trade and, for that very reason, it's one of the most rewarding books on film you can delve into.

Of the three reviewed here (Directing, Costume Design and Production Design), Directing is the issue in the series likely to have the most mass market appeal. Taking in advice and analysis from talents as diverse as Guillermo Del Toro, Clint Eastwood and Pedro Almodóvar, the books splits out by auteur, also including some 'Legacy' segments, analysing the work of Hitchcock and other past masters.

The format the auteur segments take is well thought out and engaging. Long form monologues from each director, taken from new interviews conducted, mainly, by Goodridge, span the majority of the content and discuss everything from ways into the industry, to the practicalities of being on a set.

A section from FilmCraft: Production Design. Click to enlarge.

Del Toro talks at length about how his background - working in the industry in various jobs, from grip to stunt driver, before becoming a director - means he feels he has a good grasp of the whole gamut of what is required on set. It is little surprise, late on in the piece, to read that, to him, directing is 'like keeping four balls in the air on a monocycle with a train approaching behind you'. You suspect he is a director who likes to do as much as possible on his films.

Paul Greengrass, by comparison discusses how his world view is much informed by his time making documentaries, something which he feels he still does, to a degree. The shaping of background and ideologies does a good job of convincing potential auteurs to look inwards and, if tweeness can be allowed for a second, find their own stories.

Notable penance is paid though too to the past masters who can potentially lend even more inspiration than those on show here. Del Toro in particular talks about how, in his day, it was fine to be a fanboy of Pasolini and Renoir and several others, and how an appreciation of great film culture is of the utmost importance, with the end goal to be to try and appreciate how your audience will react to a piece of your own cinema. Indeed, the only real problem with Directing is that it only shines the spotlight on one female director, something which Goodridge does address in the introduction.

The Production Design and Costume Design entries in the series provide similar insights into their own individual job areas but are, by definition, slightly more niche. Several highlights in the former are typified by Stuart Craig's section, which covers a gamut which ranges from his subtle Academy Award winning work on Gandhi, Dangerous Liaisons and The English Patient to his outstanding consistency on all of the Harry Potter films.

The latter meanwhile does suffer somewhat by the absence of three-time Academy Award winner and nine-time nominee Colleen Atwood, surely the most famous costume designer around currently. It's still a fascinating publication though, with equal insight to the other two books covered here, in what is a truly engaging and inspiring series.

All of the FilmCraft titles featured here are available now. FilmCraft: Producing will be available in November.


  1. I was interested in having a look at these books, I even put them in my 'save for later' section on Amazon but never pulled the trigger on buying because of the lack of information on any of the books. Thanks for the review.

    Would like to buy them but the rrp of £20 is a bit much despite the apparent quality of the content.

    1. Think it's a fair point to mention that they are quite expensive if you can't get them for below RRP. But, that said, and especially if you have an interest in one of the specialisms (studying film costume at University for example), then they really are invaluable. Christmas is coming!