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Best DVD Choices for Budding Filmmakers

Updated on March 3, 2013

Pay A Visit to Your Local Video Store For The Perfect Film Making Course

Watching movies with filmmaker commentary can be some of the cheapest and most informative film making courses that you're likely to run across while trying to learn how to direct a movie. Despite there being several ways to get your foot into the door of Hollywood, one surprising alternative to the attending the best film schools, relocating or working your way up has been made available to wannabe directors by the invention of the DVD.

Thanks to the ample storage size found on these discs, they not only give you the movie to watch, but a certain few give you excellent advice from directors, producers, actors, cinematographers, special effects people and more on what is actually involved when making a movie. So, before going out and spending a bunch of money to go to school, try watching a few of the DVDs below for some inspiration and knowledge. Whether you want to learn how to make a movie, how to produce a movie or any other part of the film making process, the choices below will give you a wealth of knowledge for a very low price.

Photo by Peace it Together / flickr.

Sin City - Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino

Robert Rodriguez is one of those directors that takes great thought about what kinds of extras he puts on DVDs of his films. Coming from a low budget filmmaking background himself, he realizes the importance of putting in content that can actually teach aspiring directors the craft. This one will be especially useful to those who wonder how to take an existing comic book and turn it into a film.

Sin City - Unrated (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)
Sin City - Unrated (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)

Several informative commentaries with all three directors.

Film school with Robert Rodriguez.

Casting the picture.

A copy of the Sin City graphic novel - The Hard Goodbye.

Convincing Frank Miller to make the film.


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Gangs of the Dead - Director: Duane Stinnett

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this low budget horror film, but I was knocked on my butt at how much I learned by listening to the commentary. Someone wanting to learn more about the business should never overlook smaller films that may not be as good as what seasoned directors produce. A lot of times, young filmmakers will really spill their guts about what they learned during the making of it, which makes for a great learning experience. This is a great example of how you can learn a lot from well made horror movies , even though they may not be a huge hit in theaters.

Gangs of the Dead
Gangs of the Dead

First off, let me say that this is not a Romero film, so if that is what you're expecting, you will be disappointed. This is a decent low budget zombie film with very few extras on the DVD - a commentary track. But what a track!

The Art of Cinematography
The Art of Cinematography

Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography

Directors: Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy and Stuart Samuels

Cinematographers travel through history showing the viewers only the best examples of DP work from some of the most influential films that have ever been made. Some people may not really want to watch this one, but I assure you, you will find yourself liking it and coming away with a deeper appreciation for the craft you are trying to learn. There's nothing wrong with being a well-rounded filmmaker.

Any aspiring director will come away from this documentary with a better understanding of just how important the director of photography is in any film, and if you think they aren't that important - you're wrong. They are just as important to the overall look of the film as the director is.

Filmmaking Advice From Quentin Tarantino

The indie filmmaker doesn't offer advice often, but when he does, wannabe directors listen.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 Movie Poster - 40 x 15 in.

Buy for $19.99

El Mariachi - Director: Robert Rodriguez

This is the film that kick started the career of Robert Rodriguez. It would later be redone and updated (by Rodriguez) into the blockbuster hit "Desperado" starring Antonio Banderas. Producers drooled after seeing it, even though it was made for only $7,000. The director shares all of his secrets with those that are smart enough to listen.

El Mariachi (Special Edition)
El Mariachi (Special Edition)

Ten Minute Film School

Audio commentary by the director.

The short film - Bedhead.


Hearts of Darkness - Directors: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper and Eleanor Coppola

A rare behind-the-scenes documentary of the legendary film "Apocalypse Now" directed by Francis Ford Coppola. For those of you who don't know how close this film came to not being made, this DVD will be a real education on how perhaps the most important job of a director - to never give up.

Hearts of Darkness - A Filmmaker's Apocalypse
Hearts of Darkness - A Filmmaker's Apocalypse

The entire film is a freaking special feature!


Project Greenlight - Creators: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

This was a TV series that gave unknown filmmakers a chance to direct a real Hollywood film. Although the shows are edited, this series really shows you what you have to go through to get that first movie made - a real slap in the face to some.

Project Greenlight 2 (The Complete Second Series Plus Film The Battle of Shaker Heights)
Project Greenlight 2 (The Complete Second Series Plus Film The Battle of Shaker Heights)

There are three seasons to this television series. The 3rd season is my favorite featuring the making of the horror movie "Feast", but since it hasn't been put out on DVD yet, I went with my second favorite season - The Battle of Shaker Heights.


Fight Club - Director: David Fincher

David Fincher seems to be another one of those directors that takes what extras going on the DVD of his film very seriously. Fight Club is chock full of knowledge for any wannabe filmmaker who is willing to devote the time it will take to watch all of the extras.

Fight Club (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)
Fight Club (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)

Several commentaries covering almost every aspect of filmmaking.

Still galleries.

Multiple angle views of scenes.

Lots of behind the scenes clips.


10 Minute Film School - Robert Rodriguez

Grindhouse Planet Terror Poster - 40 x 27 in.

Buy for $19.99


Star Wars Trilogy (with Bonus Disc)

Directors: George Lucas, Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand

If you want to learn how the Star Wars universe was made you need to ignore parts I-III and go back to the ones that Lucas really cared about - the first three made (IV-VI).

Even though Lucas was a part of all the commentaries, I found them to be quite informative and entertaining, but the real gem is in the bonus disc. The documentary is the must see for both fans and film students alike and really tells you what it takes to create a set of movies like this.

Making A Short Film

Making short films for sites like YouTube is a great way to improve your skills as a filmmaker and perhaps catch the eye of influential producers. Several directors have been found this way, so don't overlook the importance of it, just make sure to put your best stuff out there for all to see.

The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy - Director: Peter Jackson

There was a lot of Tolkien fans that were extremely worried when they heard that these films were being made by Hollywood. They were worried that they would ruin the book to movie experience like they have with so many others - the concern was unnecessary. We forget that for every fail in adaptations from novels there is usually a success. It becomes very apparent that Jackson took the franchise seriously and took the DVDs equally as serious. This collection has become a measuring stick for me by which I measure all other DVD releases.

The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Special Extended Edition)
The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Special Extended Edition)

12 DVDs

12 Commentaries

Hours upon hours of featurettes.

Extra footage.

Art and picture galleries.


Clerks X - Director: Kevin Smith

Clerks is one of those films that people either like or don't like. Even if you're one of those people that don't like the picture itself, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you don't at least look into how this film was made. This DVD shows you pretty much everything you need to know on how Kevin Smith got started in the moviemaking business and how this $27,000 piece of cinema helped him do that.

Clerks (Three-Disc 10th Anniversary Collector's Edition)
Clerks (Three-Disc 10th Anniversary Collector's Edition)

Cast and crew commentaries.

Music video.

"Snowball Effect" Documentary

Trailers and TV spots.

Original audition tapes.

10th Anniversary Q&A


10 Minute Film School - Planet Terror

Hellraiser - Director: Clive Barker

This film is a great example of how you can make a low budget film with a first time director if the director cares about the work. Of course, the movie is based upon Barker's novella "The Hellbound Heart," and he wanted to prove to the world that a solid horror movie could be made without spending a lot of money. In that goal, he succeeded without a doubt. This one may not be the first choice a lot of future directors would choose, but it really struck a chord with me once I started doing research on it.


This one may be a little short on extras, but it does have a commentary track featuring writer / directer Clive Barker and actress Ashley Laurence. The commentary is excellent, informative and entertaining.


The Best Film Schools Can Be Expensive - Why not learn film making from a dvd?

Feel free to add to this list or vote on your favorites.

If you know of a great film that I've not thought of with loads of special features that can help us young filmmakers get better, then why not let everyone know what it is?

Do you think a DVD can take the place of a film making course? - Let everyone in on your opinion.

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I actually thought really hard about making a film on my own like Rodriguez did, but I believe going to a film school provides one thing that doing it on your own doesn't - contacts.

    • timelapselove profile image


      7 years ago

      Hearts of Darkness is a great film. Cool lens!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      @wizardgold lm: The TV show or the movie? Ha, ha, ha.

    • wizardgold lm profile image

      wizardgold lm 

      8 years ago

      Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Without a doubt excellent educational.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I loved Project Greenlight. Kudos for including it. I wish Season 3 would come out on DVD.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I am an aspiring filmmaker myself and I totally agree that there is a lot of stuff you can learn about making movies from the right DVDs. If I had only one director to pattern myself after it would probably be Robert Rodriguez. He seems to really care about teaching newcomers the ins and outs of making a low budget film.


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