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Tips on how to learn about the film industry


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I am 52 years old and a beginner when trying to learn about the film industry. I love old Hollywood and, yes, even some of the modern stuff. I was wondering if the board could give me tips on how to learn about filmmaking and the industry. Is there good websites or books that won't dumb me down, but not be over my head either? 

One thing I particularly love is the "backstage, behind the scenes" stuff. I will watch where people have posted "inside" stuff like their own individual tours and visits to backlots and studios on Youtube. I did get the coffee table book, "MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot" book from the library and just stared at each page.

Any advice on specific things I could see and read? 

 

Thanks! 😉

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That's a broad topic.

 

Julie Salamon's "The Devil's Candy" is a behind-the-scenes history of the making of one particular movie.  Namely, Brian de Palma's 1990 film adaptation of "The Bonfire of the Vanities".  What makes it interesting is that "The Bonfire of the Vanities" was a notorious flop, one of the biggest box-office bombs of the era.  (Kind of interesting that in a seven-year span Bruce Willis was in "Die Hard" and "Pulp Fiction" but also in this movie and "Hudson Hawk".)  Now of course no one knew in advance that "The Bonfire of the Vanities" was going to be a huge pile of poop; the book was just going to be an insider's account of a movie production.  Turned out to be way more interesting than that.

 

A dude named Steven Bach wrote a book called "Final Cut" about another fiasco, the production of "Heaven's Gate".  That book starts out with thumbnail sketches of how the studio system came to be, how the studio system was destroyed by the courts, and how United Artists struggled for 30 years to avoid bankruptcy only to prosper when the studios collapsed, and *then* to fall victim to corporate takeovers and Michael Cimino.  It's really a story of the latter history of UA, primarily about "Heaven's Gate" but also other stuff like how Peter Sellers was going to make another "Pink Panther" movie, delivered a script to Bach and UA, and died a week later.

 

Long time ago I read a book called "The Speed of Sound" about the transition to talkies and how a lot of people got ruined.  Whole chapters on John Gilbert and Clara Bow--Bow probably could have stuck it out but she had mental problems.

 

EDIT: There's also a great bit in "Final Cut" about how the UA people all assemble into a screening room to watch Cimino's cut and are horrified to find out that it's 5 1/2 hours.

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Biography is an excellent way to learn about any history, and film history takes into account advances in technology, changing tastes and mores, business climate. Think of the people you admire in movies, in front of and behind the camera and read about them, and about the movies you most enjoy. You can learn quite a bit just searching out stories and interviews on the internet. 

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59 minutes ago, spauldingd said:

I’d start with this free course of video lectures. It’s been a while since I watched it, but it was very good. I’ve read many film studies textbooks and numerous documentary series I could recommend, but this is free and quite good.

https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/literature/21l-011-the-film-experience-fall-2013/

Looks promising.  Thanks!

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Read "The Genius of the System" by Thomas Schatz  --  a comprehensive survey of management philosophy, creative decision-making and production operations at 4 studios (MGM, Warner Brothers, Selznick & Universal) during the "Golden Age."  I read it 20 years ago and I am currently re-reading it.  I have read dozens of books on Hollywood history but  "The Genius of the System" is still the best one I have ever read. Not only is the book wonderfully researched, it is also wonderfully written.  Here's a link to some reviews and where to buy the book if you like.  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/101447.The_Genius_of_the_System

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10 hours ago, lydecker said:

Read "The Genius of the System" by Thomas Schatz  --  a comprehensive survey of management philosophy, creative decision-making and production operations at 4 studios (MGM, Warner Brothers, Selznick & Universal) during the "Golden Age."  I read it 20 years ago and I am currently re-reading it.  I have read dozens of books on Hollywood history but  "The Genius of the System" is still the best one I have ever read. Not only is the book wonderfully researched, it is also wonderfully written.  Here's a link to some reviews and where to buy the book if you like.  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/101447.The_Genius_of_the_System

I also read it over 20 years ago. Its an excellent book.

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Picture by Lillian Ross is an excellent look at the making of a single movie, "The Red Badge of Courage."  Even if that movie itself isn't a favorite, you may like the behind-the-scenes examination of John Huston's and the cast's creative process.

As someone else noted, biographies (and autobiographies) can give you an interesting perspective on movie-making.  I really liked Dore Schary's Heyday, which recounts his career as a writer ("Boys Town"), producer ("Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House"), head of production at MGM, and Broadway playwright (his hit play, "Sunrise at Campobello").    I'm not sure how easily you can find Heyday, but if you can get a used copy, it's definitely worth a read.

I've also loved autobiographies by John Huston (An Open Book), Fred Astaire (Steps in Time), and Harpo Marx (Harpo).  And others that I'm not remembering right now.

If you want to learn about Hollywood after the Golden Age (but not too modern), Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris is a fascinating look at how movies were changing by the late 60s.  He focuses on the five 1967 Best Picture nominees.  Harris's Five Came Back is also quite interesting, covering the World War II experiences of five well-known directors (Ford, Wyler, Huston, Capra, Stevens).

 

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