Nine Movies Every Budding Filmmaker Should Watch

The Big Picture

So you still haven't been talked out of making your own film, eh? Well, good for you. But don't go into such an endeavor unarmed. Naivety is lovely, but it's important to get an idea of what other directors have gone through, whether it's a fictional or a factual account. Here are some films that will give you a good idea of the filmmaking process. After watching them, you will understand what the statement "It's a miracle any film ever gets made" means.

  1. The Big Picture (Christopher Guest, 1989). This gently biting film is a nice starting point for your journey. Though it predictably skewers the hypocrisy and backstabbing tendencies of Hollywood, it also takes a well-aimed jab at the often-overlooked hypocrisy and backstabbing tendencies of film school as well. An accurate, if sugar-coated, look at the pitfalls that lie in the road to success. Cute date flick for would-be directors.
  2. The Player (Robert Altman, 1992). You should be suspicious when Hollywood itself champions an "anti-Hollywood" picture like this. Still, for those who want to see a portrait of life in the big studios, Altman's film is right on the money. See it as a complement to The Big Picture. If filmmaking still looks easy to you, then you can watch the next films.
  3. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (Fax Bahr, 1991). Many people love Francis Coppola's Apocalypse Now. But its background tales of excess, a disaster-laden production, and an over 300-day-long shoot are as legendary as the film itself. Coppola had a nervous breakdown; star Martin Sheen had a heart attack. By all accounts, it was one of the most horrifying productions ever mounted... And yet somehow a classis emerged out of the wreckage. A great film to watch, just to see an Oscar-winning director act as insecure and doubtful about his vision as you do about yours.
  4. Burden of Dreams (Les Blank, 1982). A nice companion piece to Hearts of Darkness, this film follows German director Werner Herzog through an even more treacherous film shoot - for his jungle epic Fitzcarraldo - in South America. Herzog's one-of-a-kind speaking style is worth it alone.
  5. Living in Oblivion (Tom DiCillo, 1995). DiCillo's comedy that follows indie director (Steve Buscemi, perfect) enduring a hilariously awful shoot is mostly about the stress nightmares - and I mean literal nightmares - that so many filmmakers go through during production.
  6. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950). Proof that the film industry in 1950 was just as full of demented, power-hungry weirdos as it is now. Wilder's tremendously entertaining and strange story about a faded actress and a struggling screenwriter - and what Hollywood has done to their souls - is rightly hailed as one of the greatest films ever made.
  7. Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas, 1996). Chaos reigns on French shoots too. Assayas' clever if little-seen comedy/drama about an indie French film starring Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung (playing herself, sort of) is a knowing examination of the strange allure of star power, revealing that film people can get just as starstruck as ordinary folks.
  8. High Noon (Fred Zinneman, 1952). Wait - isn't this film a Western? On the surface, yes. But Zinneman's film - a bitter story about a man who finds himself abandoned by his friends and left to fight his fight alone - reflects the lonely struggle of the indie director. Some of the best advice I can ever give a filmmaker is that you should prepare to be the only person in the world who is interested in making your film.
  9. Rashomon, Badlands, The Seventh Seal, Blow-Up, The Conversation, Nights of Cabiria, Raise the Red Lantern, Vertigo, Delicatessen, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, etc. There's a reason why people still dream of making films. Actually there are hundreds of reasons - classic movies from around the world and across time that expand the medium while entertaining and enriching our lives. These are the films that inspire us to somehow carry on. And there are many more great films yet to be made. So make one!