16 Business Books Aspiring Filmmakers Should Read - Raindance

There’s nothing like a good book.

I’ve read many books on ‘how-to’ and ‘done this’ and none can replace the actual experience of jumping down in to trenches and slugging it out while getting dirty as heck and tired as hell. What we are all doing is essentially founding new media companies with our documentaries, features, shorts and web series. When the going gets tough, sometimes it’s possible to learn from successful founders who have gone before.

When we start off with the ambition to write a script or make movies, are we not more ambitious than anyone? If we are to succeed, can we not learn from ambitious success stories?

Here is another thing that’s a big gamechanger from 1992 when I started Raindance. Everything is different now. Filmmaking and film distribution have all been changed beyond a shadow of recognition by new technology. And our film audience’s sensibilities are changing too.

One of my favourite blogs has nothing at all to do with movies or filmmaking, but with marketing and promotion. Here’s a list of books I am presently working my way through. It’s already changed the way I think and act in important decisions.

16 Business Books Filmmakers Should Read

1) The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers


Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz, offers up a brutally honest look not at what’s needed to start a business, but what it takes to run one. Readers can appreciate the equally entertaining and shrewd descriptions of his journey from software engineer to venture capital CEO. His no-nonsense approach and relatable wisdom are characteristics I consider to be invaluable for anyone in a leadership role, whether at a startup or a Fortune-level corporation.

2) Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences


Whether you’re doing the dog and pony show for funding, seeking to effectively communicate with your team, or looking to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry, you’re going to need to learn to make and give stellar presentations. Ask any business owner and he or she will tell you, strong in-person presentation and communication skills are the difference between the remembered and the forgotten.

In her book Resonate, presentation expert and Harvard Business Review contributor Nancy Duarte explores a number of proven techniques for transforming any presentation into what she describes as “an engaging journey” for audiences. As the leaders of our companies, it’s imperative that we maintain a thorough command of the spoken word in such a way that elicits any number of desired responses from clients, investors, and colleagues alike. This book spells out the how-tos behind these key communicative skills.

3) Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers


With social networks, blogs, and daily startup life generating more din than an oncoming freight train, knowing when and how to cut through the noise can be tough. Business Model Generation zeroes in on today’s shared language of success while educating readers about the building blocks of businesses, beginning with a concept known as the business model canvas. This book stands as an invaluable tool for defining, iterating upon, and innovating your business model.

4) This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases


The core of every successful startup today hinges on the product and the experience, be it for a user or consumer. Here Mark Stickdorn highlights the importance of human-centered design and discusses methods for customer and design research. I’d say without reservation that this one’s a must-read for any active or aspiring business owner or product marketer.

5) Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers


Brainstorms possess the ability to either exhilarate and excite or frustrate and discourage those participants charged with creating from them products, campaigns, or brand concepts. Many reports point to the latter, maintaining that most brainstorms are toxic and a complete waste of time. Says organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham, “Evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups.”

But before you run off and eliminate groupthink from your toolbox, I suggest you read Gamestorming by Dave Gray. This self-described playbook serves as a how-to for overseeing effective team collaboration. Grab yourself a copy if you’re looking to shake up the ways in which you co-create and ideate with employees or customers. I should know– this book inspired an entirely new method of growth hacking at our company, which we’re now calling the 50/50 experiment.

6) Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services That Customers Want


By the same team that brought us Business Model Generation, this book lays the groundwork for defining and understanding successful value propositions. Whether that success translates into a sound business with engaged and happy customers or a major acquisition from Google, it’s safe to say this book is a worthwhile buy. With applicable exercises and workshop ideas for colleagues and clients alike, Value Proposition Design undoubtedly lives up to its title.

7) The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You


These days you can’t scroll through a marketing blog without being inundated with headlines about shiny SAAS tools. Analytics, social listening, you name it. But with enough gizmos and services to fill our minds and browser extensions, it’s amazing how often we overlook the need to equip ourselves with the single most important tool: our own ability to lead. That’s because ultimately, it’s on us as the founders to instill that same virtue in our teams. As education expert John Holt once noted, “True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders.”

8) The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses


Eric Ries is the Tony Robbins of the startup world. Thanks to his refreshingly concise writing style, his book is chock full of relatable lessons. His pointed honesty is one of the many reasons I refer this book to just about every entrepreneur I know. His explanation of the Build-Measure-Learn framework educates readers on the uses of customer-based observation, a tool that ought to exist at the heart of every startup.

9) The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup


This one stands out for its ability to convey the many challenges you will inevitably face as a founder. Author Noam Wasserman frames what he calls the “three R’s”– relationships, roles, and rewards– as factors every founder must constantly evaluate and adjust. He places special emphasis on the ways in which organizers can confidently go about making tough choices about human and financial capital. My favorite part about this read is how in-depth the lessons it contains actually are. Suffice it to say, I wish it existed when I was starting my business.

10) Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less


As the founder, owner, and veritable captain of your ship, you can expect to encounter countless distractions, both personal and professional. Great leaders know how and when to be myopic in their scope of work. Essentialism teaches us the ways of a modern day “essentialist”. That is, how to be the type that works smarter, not harder, in order to maximize on productivity levels across the board.

11) Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration


When we talk about failure being the foundation for success, Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. is treasured by many for its candid story and style. In it, he recounts the inception and creation of his company (for those unaware, that’d be the world famous Pixar Animation Studios). It’s not your average philosophical recipe for management or bland, chest-pounding tale of overcoming the odds, but rather a simple narrative of one man’s childhood passion for art and technology. How he forged that into the ideals and experiences behind one of the most innovative companies of our time, is something every one of us can stand to learn a thing or two from. This one’s a remarkably insightful look at how even the most successful careers are comprised of countless failures. Catmull’s introspection and empathy are incredibly inspiring.

12 & 13) Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action & Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

StartWithWhy        LeadersEatLast

Speaking of empathy, Simon Sinek’s books Leaders Eat Last and Start With Why are two truly reflective books that out to be in every founder’s literary arsenal. He uses biological evidence to assess the psychological and sociological impact of empathy, and offers various frameworks for ways in which empathy itself can be utilized as a tool to drive your organization’s success. Though similar in nature, both of Sinek’s books carry unique sets of takeaways for today’s founders. Start with Why explains the fundamental need to know and articulate our business’ “why”, while Leaders Eat Last teaches us how to uphold the tenets of our “why” as we incorporate new people into the folds of our business.

14) Outliers: The Story of Success


When we think about what drives success, we often point to fundamental elements like hard work, passion, and commitment. But what about more arbitrary factors like a person’s birth date, cultural background, or familial upbringing? Author Malcolm Gladwell encourages readers to consider how individualized one’s own potential for success actually is. Redefine your definition of success–and learn how the “10,000-Hour Rule” applies to you– in this thought-provoking bestseller.

15) Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t


Let’s be real, not every company among us breeds excellence. While some possess the DNA makeup conducive to long term success, countless others simply do not. But is it possible, still, for those companies classified as “mediocre” to carve out permanent places for themselves in today’s market?  To make the leap from good to great? Jim Collins examines this question, and in the process uncovers a certain set of characteristics capable of distinguishing a company’s potential for enduring greatness. The findings in Good to Great reveal the qualities of successful leaders, the importance of technology, and the need for a disciplined culture, among a number of other truths that will almost certainly impact your business.

So whether you’re still watering the seedling of an idea, or currently running a full-fledged startup, there always stands the need to learn from those before you. The entrepreneurial mindset is quite erratic, so a solid foundation of lessons, learnings, and guidelines is important to moving onwards and upwards… in the right direction!

16 Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers

Inside Track for independent filmmakers

It’s really hard to get your movie made, and more than 90% of the movies that get made never get seen. What’s a filmmaker to do? This book rides to the rescue as your trusted guide. You’ll discover insider secrets, step-by-step instructions, and time-saving shortcuts-everything you need to approach financiers, actors, agents, and distributors like a savvy professional. Written in straightforward, everyday language by media expert Adam Leipzig, the past president of National Geographic Films and a former senior executive at Disney, who has supervised more than 25 films, this concise volume tells you exactly what you need to do to get your movie made and find the perfect audience. You will learn how to get great casting for your movie; pitch your project to financiers and speak the language they understand; find the evidence to support your creative vision; work the festival circuit like a pro; and make your film incredibly attractive to distributors.



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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