The Sticking Place

On Film-Making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director

(Faber and Faber, 2004; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005)

A 300-page collection of writings and sketches by British film director Alexander Mackendrick, edited by Paul Cronin, with a foreword by Martin Scorsese.

US-coverAn internationally respected film director, Mackendrick made five films at London’s Ealing Studios between 1949 and 1955, including Whisky Galore!, The Man in the White Suit (starring Alec Guinness) and The Ladykillers (re-made in 2004 by the Coen Brothers). Three of his films appear on the British Film Institute’s list of the greatest British films of the twentieth century, though Mackendrick is probably best known for his 1957 Hollywood feature Sweet Smell of Success. In 1969 he became founding dean of the film school at the California Institute of the Arts, where he taught until his death in 1993. On Film-Making is a collection of his notes written for his CalArts students.

Here for an extract from the book in French, as published in Positif. Here, here and here for articles about Mackendrick‘s teachings. Here for Mackendrick’s artwork for one of his unrealised projects. Online articles here and here about Mackendrick’s life and work. Here and here for two essays (from 1974) by Charles Barr about Ealing, and here for an essay by John Ellis (from 1975) about the studio. Details of a study of Mackendrick’s films, in Spanish, here.

Buy the book here and here. Flyer here. French edition. Japanese edition. Korean edition. Spanish edition. Chinese and Portuguese editions in preparation. Details of the accompanying educational audio/visual project Mackendrick on Film (flyer here) are here.

Five new books in progress: Exasperation and Curiosity: Alexander Mackendrick at the California Institute of the Arts, a study of Mackendrick’s teaching career, A General into Battle, a collection of interviews with Mackendrick, Words on Pictures: The Writings of Alexander Mackendrick, which includes a further collection of handouts written for CalArts students, alongside lectures, articles and book reviews, Screenplays and Treatments, a collection of scripts of produced and never-realised films, and Italian Journal 1944 – 45, an annotated version of Mackendrick’s essay written about his wartime experiences. All books will be illustrated with rarely-seen photographs and Mackendrick’s storyboard sketches and designs.

2012 was Mackendrick’s centenary. Details of celebrations: BFI (as part of an Ealing Studios season) (Daily Telegraph article here), Edinburgh, CalArts (here, here and here) (here and here for a Los Angeles Times article), Skirball and Vienna (also here). Here and here for previous retrospectives. PDF here.

Invaluable… I can easily imagine a college without a film program building a curriculum around these writings.

Martin Scorsese

Those who can, do. And sometimes they teach as well… Mackendrick’s classroom notes and lectures on script construction and directing have been brought together in this extraordinarily useful volume.

The New Yorker

Mr. Cronin has provided a great service in his work on Mackendrick. Tight Little Island and The Ladykillers are perfect films. Any director knows they are worthy of both study and awe, and this book brings them, and Mackendrick, into contemporary focus perfectly.

David Mamet

Staggeringly good.

Peter Bogdanovich

Remarkable… It has the salutary effect of demystifying the art of film direction.

Richard Schickel

Anyone contemplating a film career can do no better than read Mackendrick’s On Film-Making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director. It offers the lifetime experience and thoughts of one of cinema’s greatest masters.

Sean Connery

If I’d had this book before I went to film school, I wouldn’t have gone to film school. I would simply have taken the money I’d saved on tuition and made movies. These are the lectures I had hoped to hear in film school and never did. They seem to me the perfect synthesis of what one must know to tell stories on film. I cannot imagine anyone setting out to make movies without reading this book.

Bruce Joel Rubin

A fascinating book, being essentially the notes by which Alexander Mackendrick taught at CalArts. It is intelligent and practical – nothing like the film business.

David Thomson

Mackendrick was a fine director and a superb teacher, and his book offers incisive advice on all phases of production, from screenwriting to editing. On Film-Making forms one of our finest records of a director’s conception of his art and craft. Offering a sharp idea on every page, the book should sit on the same shelf with Nizhny’s Lessons with Eisenstein.

David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson

Mackendrick had a gift for lucidity of thought and language that helped to demystify film-making while retaining a sense of its magic and wonder. This book is as vital and enjoyable for the watcher of films as their potential maker.

The Times

Exhilarating… eminently readable.

The Guardian

Impressive… Mackendrick’s voice – practical, ironic, articulate, intensely sceptical of the least hint of ‘director as superstar’ – comes through strongly.

Sight and Sound

An invaluable analysis of the director’s art and craft.

Screen International


Graham Linehan

There are riches here for anyone seeking a clearer understanding of why good film-making is so powerful and poor practice generates dull viewing.

Variety Film Guide

The work of a superb teacher, constituting one of the best books ever written on the poetics of cinema.

James Naremore

One of the best books on filmmaking I’ve ever read.

Richard Williams

This eminently accessible collection of teaching notes and sketches lays bare the myth of moviemaking, and should prove essential reading for anyone with an interest in its art and craft.


Packed with wisdom about directing.

The Wall Street Journal