Books Made into Movies

The Best Book-to-Movie Adaptations

recommended by Peter Markham

The Art of the Filmmaker: The Practical Aesthetics of the Screen by Peter Markham


The Art of the Filmmaker: The Practical Aesthetics of the Screen
by Peter Markham


Both books and movies seek to tell compelling stories, but they do so in different ways. Peter Markham, both a director and a long-time teacher of directing at the American Film Institute, talks us through five of his favourite book-to-movie adaptations—and what they reveal about successfully bringing a book to the screen.

Interview by Sophie Roell, Editor

The Art of the Filmmaker: The Practical Aesthetics of the Screen by Peter Markham


The Art of the Filmmaker: The Practical Aesthetics of the Screen
by Peter Markham

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Before we get to your choices, tell me about the connection between books and films. Why are so many of the movies that I end up watching on Netflix or at the cinema based on books?

I think that cinema is, in many ways, a predatory thief. It searches for material and though it can be original and quite wonderful it isn’t always. It seems to me that even novelists are thieves, seeking stories from the past. Historical fiction is one example. Hilary Mantel had great success writing about the Tudors (everybody seems to want to write about the Tudors!). There’s no disgrace in that whatsoever.

Some people feel that in adapting a novel of maybe several hundred pages into a movie of a couple of hours, there is a reductive activity going on. I don’t think that’s true, necessarily. That would also negate plays, wouldn’t it? One would be saying, ‘The plays of Shakespeare are less profound than the work of Marcel Proust.’ I revere both, but they work in different ways. Short stories shouldn’t be discounted, and nor should the sonnet.

I think it’s perfectly valid for filmmakers to thieve from material wherever they can find it and, indeed, I’m going to talk about that as we go through these books.

Are your choices today all instances where the movie is as good as the book? What were your criteria for choosing these particular books and movies?

For a start, I liked all the novels and I liked all of the adaptations, the films that were taken from them. Also, it seemed to me that the adaptations illustrated some different aspects of the novel off the page and off the screen. That really excited me.

There are other adaptations I like. For example, Lolita is a favorite novel of mine, and also one of my favorite movies. There’s also Gangs of New York, which I actually directed some second unit on for Martin Scorsese. That was an interesting idea, taking a nonfiction book and having it as the basis for fiction. But in the end I brought it down to these to these five books, which not everybody will know.

Let’s go through the ones you picked. First up is The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) by Patricia Highsmith, which was first turned into a movie in 1960.

Yes, it fascinates me that René Clément, the French film director, adapted this novel into a film called Plein Soleil (known as Purple Noon in the United States).

In the story, Tom Ripley is sent from New York to Italy by the father of Dickie Greenleaf to bring Dickie back to the United States. As he ingratiates himself with his son, Tom Ripley adopts increasingly dangerous, amoral and murderous measures to reap the rewards of his lifestyle and finally, steal his inheritance.

The novel starts in a gloomy Manhattan, where Ripley meets Dickie Greenleaf’s father. It’s not bright, it’s claustrophobic. And then we come to this Mediterranean world of plein soleil where in the movie everything is brightness—there’s a yacht, these lovely towns, and everybody is wearing lovely styles and costumes.

“I think that cinema is, in many ways, a predatory thief”

What I particularly love about Patricia Highsmith is the way she uses third person intimate or ‘limited’ narrative point of view. I don’t like the term limited, because that suggests it isn’t perhaps very good. I love the term intimate because that, to me, conjures the nature of this approach. A character is a ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘it,’ or ‘they’ but not an ‘I’—and yet it’s almost written as if it were in the first person. So we have a certain sense of distance, but also a sense of complicity, which may even conflict with a lack of empathy for a character at times. The way that Highsmith does this is really effective.

It’s not a surprise that somebody like Hitchcock latched on to Highsmith’s work, because Hitchcock is an exemplar of cinematic third person intimate. We don’t usually think of applying the literary terms of narrative point of view to movies, but they can be.

In the novel, we are really entangled with Ripley’s actions. It’s very unsettling, because he goes for expediency. In the moment, he will just do whatever is going to get him to survive or further his interests. And so, on the one hand, we’re thinking, ‘This is absolutely repugnant and horrible!’ On the other hand, we’re thinking, ‘What if I could do away with empathy? Wouldn’t life be simpler?’ At the same time, it leads to this paranoia of things maybe not working out and one getting caught. I find that absolutely irresistible: I’m helpless in its power.

Now, the movie is very, very different from that. The movie relies on the charisma of Alain Delon to take us along with Ripley. How does Clement deal with the backstory? He has Philippe—he’s called Philippe and not Dickie—played by Maurice Ronet, who also has considerable charisma. He has Philippe explain everything that’s happened to Ripley to a third character: that Ripley has met his father and he’s come. We are removed from Ripley’s experience in order to get context.

We then have to come into Delon’s actions, because he becomes increasingly prominent in the film and is absolutely irresistible as a movie star. He’s good looking, he has this aura about him. We’re really swept along in his exploits.

The novel and the movie work beautifully in very different ways. The movie is much more cinematic, so to speak. In the novel, there’s just a boat where the murder takes place. In Clement’s film, it’s a yacht. There are many more places to put the camera and get better angles on the action.

The other thing is the notion of poetic justice. In the novel, Ripley gets away with everything, and we’re just left with that sense of paranoia as the police visit and he wonders whether he might get caught. In the movie, the police visit and find the body of Phillippe Greenleaf in a tarpaulin: it’s got caught up in the propeller of the yacht. We move outside of third person intimate at the very end because Ripley doesn’t know this yet. But we know he’s been caught and he’s going to be sentenced and found guilty of murder.

So two very different approaches. I think maybe Clement was a bit timid. Even though he was French, strangely enough, he thought that Ripley had to get caught. Highsmith of course, had no such qualms at all and continued to write novels about this antihero.

Do you think part of the reason that the director Anthony Minghella (1954-2008) decided to adapt The Talented Mr. Ripley again in 1999 is because he wanted to do a version that’s truer to the book—in that Ripley doesn’t get caught?

I don’t know why he chose it. I knew Anthony really well. We’d been to university together; we had a band there together. He was a reader. He discovered The English Patient before I knew about the book. I had been reading Highsmith for many years. I don’t think I ever mentioned Ripley to him. He just came up with it. I was thrilled that he was doing it. I thought it was bit uncharacteristic of him—because he had a rather more romantic view of life. Although of course his play, Made in Bangkok, was very tough indeed. I think he was attracted to The Talented Mr. Ripley because the character is so interesting.

Let’s move on to your next choice, which is The English Patient. The movie, directed by Anthony Minghella, came out in 1997 and it was based on a book by Michael Ondaatje. Tell me more about why you picked it.

I picked it because I felt bad about not talking about Anthony’s The Talented Mr. Ripley! I wanted to make amends in Anthony’s memory and talk about another film that he made. Also, it gave me a twofer: I could mention Anthony twice, I suppose.

The novel was written by Michael Ondaatje. It was published in 1992 and won the Booker Prize. We made the film in 1995 and it was released in 1996. Anthony Minghella wrote and directed it and it won nine Academy Awards. I should give the disclaimer that I directed second unit on the film.

The ‘English’ patient is László von Almásy, a Hungarian count and desert explorer, who gets caught up in the North African campaign of World War Two. He is also in a romance with a married English woman, which leads to a tragedy and his near death. Rescued from the crash of his plane, he is brought to Italy and through force of circumstances is left in the care of a young French-Canadian nurse, Hana, in a ruined monastery in Tuscany.

Something that really fascinates me in rereading the novel, rewatching the film, and reading Michael Ondaatje’s comments on his novel, is the significance of the desert. In the novel, the desert is an untamable expanse. Whatever the conflicts of humanity, whatever wars might be going on, the desert is timeless and indifferent to the suffering of mortal beings.

This is quite different from how the desert works in the film. Anthony was of Italian descent. He was the perfect Englishman (he played cricket, for example) but was also incredibly cosmopolitan. Because of his family background, he’d had the experience of some of the xenophobia of the English, which can be quite considerable. He saw this novel, The English Patient, as a coming together of people from different countries, different backgrounds, so that they would represent humanity.

I was the one filming in the desert with a small second unit, miles and miles away from the main unit. In the prep, as Anthony talked to me about how he wanted me to shoot it, the first thing he said was, ‘Peter, I want you to think of David Lean when you shoot this movie.’ That was hard enough, but then he said, ‘The desert should be a metaphor for the human body.’ So that’s the opening shot: as the plane flies over the desert. I had to go out with a crew and a helicopter to remote areas of the Sahara, where there was no vegetation, and shoot that desert in such a way that it wasn’t clear what it was, that one might think it’s human skin. This worked actually, because when the rushes were shown I heard the crew mumbling that it didn’t look like desert. That’s when I knew we’d got it right.

So it’s the desert as a metaphor for the human body and more than that, a symbol for humanity. That’s really completely the opposite to what we have in the novel.

Michael Ondaatje was actually often there, in Tuscany, for the shoot. He seemed to absolutely love it. He was completely supportive of Anthony and not at all possessive about his material, about his book. He was just interested to learn about film. That intrigues me as well. One tends to think there’s a tension between the novel and a movie. But when Colm Tóibín talked about Brooklyn he was very pleased that the filmmaker went away and did what they wanted to do with it. I think that’s incredibly generous and Ondaatje was very much like that as well.

In terms of other differences between the book and the film, I mentioned that Anthony wrote a very tough play called Made in Bangkok. In general, though, he’s generous in his view of humanity. Michael Ondaatje is much harsher in his view. In the novel, the passage of time is different and László von Almásy visits the cave of the woman he’s been in love with some time after she has died and seems to commit some sort of sexual act. There’s a hint of necrophilia there. It’s really disturbing. The movie is much warmer.

The passage of time is much more fragmented in the novel than it is in the film. It’s often the case in movies that the passage of time is smoother, it’s more compressed. But there are exceptions. Oppenheimer, for example, covers many decades.

Michael Ondaatje took this historical character, László von Almásy, and fabricated a fiction out of him. Then Anthony took Michael’s fictional character and fabricated another fiction out of him. So it’s meta upon meta, in a sense, which is something I’m going to touch on later.

One final point: the novel ends with the most beautiful cinematic moment, which is not in the film. Hana in Canada knocks over a glass and Kip in India catches a falling fork. The cut between the two is breathtaking. I get shivers of excitement from it. The way Michael Ondaatje ends the novel is just so beautiful. Anthony couldn’t do that. He would have been not just stealing, but robbing from him.

As we’re talking about him, I should say that one of the most memorable things I’ve ever watched was Anthony Minghella’s production of Madama Butterfly at the Met in 2007. I was living in New York at the time, and it was just so beautiful.

I was there just before it opened! I saw a public rehearsal. Anthony was there with his father, Edward. It was lovely to see them.

I was actually living with the Minghellas when Anthony came home at the end of one day and said, ‘Saul Zaentz wants me to do a movie but I’m not going to do the movie he wants me to.’ I said ‘Anthony, are you mad? This is Saul Zaentz.’ He said, ‘I want to do The English Patient so I’ve told Saul that’s what I want to do.’ That was the first I heard of it and look what happened.

Let’s go on to the next book, Black Narcissus, which I don’t know. This was published in 1939 and it’s by Rumer Godden. Tell me about the novel and the movie: you’ve chosen the 1947 adaptation.

The movie was written, directed and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, a duo known as the Archers. I wouldn’t hold the novel in quite as high regard as some of the other novels we’re talking about, but it’s very compelling.

Rumer Godden was an English novelist who spent periods of her life in India. Black Narcissus, named after a French perfume, was her first bestseller. She also wrote The River, one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite movies. It’s set in Calcutta on the Hooghly River and was directed by Jean Renoir. So two great filmmakers adapted Rumer Godden’s work.

In the story, a group of British and Irish nuns set up a convent school high up in the Himalayas, in what was once a harem, and plan to do good work for the locals. The main protagonist, Sister Clodagh (played in the film by Deborah Kerr) joins the order after a failed romance in Ireland. As the novel begins, this young nun assumes the position of the youngest sister superior but is far from confident. The narrative in both novel and film also follows the emotional journeys of four other sisters, especially Sister Ruth (played by Kathleen Byron), who becomes Sister Clodagh’s rival in the bid for the affection of Mr. Dean, the British agent for the ruler of the state in which the monastery is situated.

Sister Ruth proves unpredictable in her behavior. It’s really a story of repressed female desire that is, in the course of the events, unleashed. In some sense, the failure of the nuns to overcome the physical environment of their problematic relationship with the local population might be seen as presaging Britain’s exit from India.

“Two great filmmakers adapted Rumer Godden’s work”

In the novel, the descriptions of the setting and detailing of the world take up pages. This gives us a vivid sense of it. In the film, this visual fabric suffuses the narrative throughout. It’s much more organic, in a way, to the medium. The melodrama of intrigue and the latent eroticism that builds through the story is more focused and more emphasized in the movie. That happens, in particular, through Jack Cardiff’s high contrast, richly saturated, often expressionist cinematography. It’s very sensual. The very language itself is the language of the senses. It’s the language of color. It’s the language of shadow. It’s the language of visual tonality of space and depth, of vista, and detail. Alfred Junge’s production and costume design also contribute hugely to that.

Michael Powell, the director, said that sometimes in a film, its theme or color are more important than the plot. In this case, that may be true, but I think he should have been careful about being respectful to Emeric Pressburger, his screenwriting partner, who was a consummate exponent of dramatic narrative. I think story is important for a movie, plot maybe less so. (The difference between these two would take too long to explain now. I talk about it a little in my first book, What’s the Story? The Director Meets Their Screenplay. I have a chapter on the difference between story and plot, which many would disagree with, and I’d be happy about that. I like to provoke argument).

In Pressberger’s dramatic narrative, there really is a drive of character and sexual desire which generated the work of the other filmmakers. In Kathleen Byron’s performance as Sister Ruth, she casts off her nun’s habits for a dress she’s had delivered from Paris. It’s a red dress. That doesn’t happen in the novel and, of course, if it did happen, it could only be described. But in the film, it’s quite wonderful. We see it, we sense it. We see her insane lust for Mr. Dean. It’s utterly compelling. It captivates us and takes us into its power.

Another important thing in the film which couldn’t happen in the novel is that Michael Powell had had an affair with Deborah Kerr before the film, and was having an affair with Kathleen Byron while the film was being made. There was emotional and sexual tension on the set in this relationship, which I have no doubt that Powell mined quite consciously. He mined the riches of it for his art. He was quite a tough character but an absolutely wonderful filmmaker.

The film is recognized as a classic in a way that the novel perhaps isn’t. But where the novel might stay with us more, in a way, is that we might have trouble now with the casting of Gene Simmons as a local girl, Kanchi, or May Hallatt as the servant. Having these white Brits as people of color is ridiculous. In that sense, maybe the film is dated. But it really lives still in all its vividness.

Now we’re at a novel by the Argentine writer, Antonio di Benedetto. This is Zama from 1956. But the film is from a lot later from, 2017, and is directed by Lucrecia Martel.

Antonio di Benedetto is rather less well-known than some of his American contemporaries: Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and his fellow Argentinian, Julio Cortázar. He wasn’t as well known then and he isn’t as well-known now.

Lucrecia Martel made a name for herself with a movie called La Ciénaga and another film called The Headless Woman. Zama was met with widespread critical acclaim.

Zama is about a character who is in an alien place who wants to get back home. So it has something in common with the other books and films that I’ve been talking about. It’s the story of an official, a former chief administrator, Don Diego de Zama, in an outpost of the Spanish Empire in the late 1700s, who is seeking advancement and reposting that will enable him to reunite with his wife and children. The circumstances in the novel and the film are slightly different, but I don’t think I need to go into that in detail.

He’s also a very unattractive character—so we might compare him with Ripley, perhaps, in that sense. He’s desperately flawed, amoral and ever unsuccessful. He’s not competent like Ripley, not so much of a sociopath either, but rather more deluded. J.M. Coetzee called him, “vain, maladroit, narcissistic and morbidly suspicious; he is prone to excesses of lust and fits of violence, and endowed with an endless capacity for self-deception.” In the New Yorker Benjamin Kunkel wrote, “the story’s preoccupation is the tension between human freedom and constraining circumstance.”

It’s the way in which novelist and filmmaker approach that wonderful insight which is so interesting to me. In particular, I want to take the example of the beginning of the novel and film as an illustration of how prose storytelling works and how cinematic storytelling works.

At the beginning of the novel, Don Diego is standing on the bank of a river, and he’s looking at the corpse of a monkey which is caught up in the pylons of a jetty. The monkey is dead but it’s being buffeted against the pylons, from which it cannot escape. It’s a metaphor for Don Diego. He’s an official in this place, but he wants a promotion, he wants to get back to his family. He’s somewhere that he doesn’t want to be. That works very well on the page.

Now, in the movie, what happens is we have Don Diego on the right side of the screen. He’s looking to the left of the screen across a wide expanse of river. We don’t see anything: we just see this wide expanse of the river. The left side of the screen is empty. In my new book, The Art of the Filmmaker, I talk about the language of cinema and the language of the screen in particular. The screen is a conduit. It captures the fiction, but it also addresses the audience. It captures the fiction in ways that will address the audience and leave them to think/feel/know/not know in particular ways. Or maybe leave them to decide for themselves.

The left-hand side of the screen is generally regarded as the stronger side. This is true of theater (where it’s called stage right, because the perspectives are different) as well. It’s home. So Zama is looking toward home. He’s on the less stable, weaker, right-hand side of the frame, where he’s entrapped by bluffs, there are cliffs behind him. There’s this emptiness where home is and it’s where he wants to get to. So what’s happened here is that the filmmaker hasn’t simply taken an event in the novel and put it on the screen, she has taken the meaning of the event in the novel and communicated it in cinematic language on the screen. And that, I think, tells us a lot about the nature of good adaptation.

Di Benedetto also has certain oneiric qualities. Lucrecia Martel captures those brilliantly. In one particular event Don Diego, in order to get out of where he is, is enlisted by a posse going after a notorious bandit. They’ve been captured by indigenous people and we find them in some sort of strange, cavernous subterranean world. We don’t see the background, we just hear this echoey sound. It’s very dreamlike, very nightmarish. Again, she’s conjured on the screen a scene that Benedetto created through his prose. She really entraps Don Diego in frames within the frame. He’s constantly trapped in the composition. The mise en scene really says, ‘Don Diego, I’m giving you no escape whatsoever, you poor thing.’

At the end of the novel, there’s a little bit of hope, when he casts a message to his wife in a bottle and it floats away. That’s after he’s been tortured and injured. But in the film, he’s lost his hands. The leader of the posse turns out to be the bandit he’s been after. Don Diego is dumped in a canoe and a local indigenous boy floats after him to this wonderful music.

That’s another thing about film: tonal dissonance. The end of the film uses source music by Los Indios Tabajaras, a Brazilian guitar duo that began recording in the 1940s. The film is set in 1800. And we hear this music. That’s something that film can do wonderfully through sound, through score, and through source music: the clash of time, of sensibility, of mood, of tone. It’s quite beautiful.

Did you know the book before you watched the film?

I didn’t know the book. I went to see the movie and was fascinated by it. I loved it. I had a friend who had the book and I badgered him to let me borrow it. I’ve subsequently bought it.

Do you often find that if you see a really good film adaptation, you then go and read the book?

It’s usually the other way around. I haven’t been reading so much lately for one reason or another. There was a time when I was reading 60 or 70 literary novels a year. So I would tend to go that way around, but not always. For my next book, it also worked the other way around.

Yes, let’s go to your final choice of book and movie adaptation.

The book is called Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder and it was published in 2017. It was included in a list of “100 Notable Books of 2017” in the New York Times.

The film Nomadland was written and directed by Chloé Zhao, released in 2020, and won the Academy Award for Best Picture. So both considerable works.

Bruder’s book started as a cover story for Harper’s Magazine. She created this book about low-income Americans, how they survive, how they travel from place to place, how they take seasonal employment. It’s been described as “engaging, highly relevant immersion journalism.” The spine is provided by a woman called Linda May. The book follows her travels until she eventually finds a place in the desert where some sort of home can be built. There’s a sense of somebody settling down at the end. Throughout the book, there are several other characters who the writer and Linda May encounter in their travels. One of the places they visit is a town called Empire in Nevada, formerly centered upon a gypsum plant that was closed in 2011.

The book has an episodic structure. We learn the stories of various individuals and couples who have previously had a stable existence, but who now find themselves on the road. Bruder teaches at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Her unobtrusive writing enables the powerfully affecting stories of the various people to make their impact.

In contrast, the film is very much the result of the approach to filmmaking that Chloé Zhao developed on her previous film, The Rider. In that film, she intended to make a very different movie. She had a script written, but on encountering the characters on which the script was based, she realized that what she had was inadequate. She threw away the screenplay, and made an entirely different film, rooted in the reality that she found. I think this gave her the context and the seeds for her approach to Nomadland in a way that other filmmakers would find very difficult to navigate.

The book already presented a world that could be the basis of her film. However, Chloé Zhao chose instead a dramatic narrative around the emotional journey of a fictional character called Fern, who’s played by Frances McDormand. Fern is a character who leaves her hometown of Empire, which is discussed in the book, after the gypsum plant has been shut down and her husband has died.

She goes on the road, leaving her belongings in storage. During her travels, she meets the real people from the book: Linda May and Bob Wells, the man who organizes what is known as the ‘Rubber Tramp Rendezvous’ meeting place for the houseless travelers. Another character who’s found both in the book and the movie is Swankie. So the film is a kind of meta-fictional hybrid. Real people are characters. They don’t have to act. They are just themselves.

In one scene, they’re sitting around a fire telling their stories. It’s the most primal form of storytelling. We think of cinema as a recent art form. I once said to Martin Scorsese, ‘Cave paintings tend to be in chambers away from natural light with good acoustic qualities.’ In other words, there would have been a fire, there would have been chanting, and these pictures would have been drawn and painted and looked at. Cinema is very primal to us, I believe. When we see these people sitting around the fire, talking about their experiences, it’s absolutely riveting. I write about it in my book.

Fern is seen working in an Amazon warehouse: that scene is also in the book. But the narrative of the book is substantially changed because the nature of discourse is more cinematic. We have landscapes, images from nature, features of small-town life—generally in terms of emptiness, actually. These create a rich and compelling world. Much like Linda May in the book, Dave, another fictional character, seems to be settling down at the end. He is going to live with his son’s family, and indeed invites Fern to join him there. But Fern decides not to and chooses to go back on the road. In one important shot—very similar to the shot in Zama—she stands on the right of the frame, with her van behind her, looking across to the left, to Dave’s son’s home. It’s the same principle in terms of cinematic language.

In contrast to the prose in the book in simplifying the best of journalistic address to the reader, much of the movie’s imagery takes on a poetic quality. The vista, the play of light, the mesmerism of absence and emptiness, work alongside the details of dailiness in the lives of the characters.

So, again, two wonderfully conceived and articulated and executed pieces of art—both the nonfiction book and the fiction film. When we’re talking about books and films, I didn’t want to exclude nonfiction as a source of a story.

Is a lot of nonfiction turned into film?

There’s historical fiction, I suppose. Napoleon is nonfiction. Generally, it’s about grand characters, isn’t it?

Or Killers of the Flower Moon?

Again, it was a cause célèbre. In American movies, people want huge events all the time. The notion of taking the ordinariness of experience, of people who there’s nothing hugely dramatic about, fascinates me. Another example is Perfect Days, the new movie by Wim Wenders. It’s masterly, it’s sublime, it conjures all of the spirit and approach of Yasujirō Ozu in its gentleness. There are no big events. There is no huge trauma. There are upsets in the life of a main character that we discover, but there’s a humanity to it, a compassion, which is perhaps the opposite of the action movie.

Interview by Sophie Roell, Editor

April 10, 2024

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Peter Markham

Peter Markham

Peter Markham is the author of two books What’s the Story? The Director Meets Their Screenplay (2020) and The Art of the Filmmaker: The Practical Aesthetics of the Screen (2023). Previously, he was Head of Directing at the American Film Institute Conservatory, Los Angeles, where he taught for 17 years and mentored some 450 new directors. Markham directed second unit for Martin Scorsese on Gangs of New York and for Anthony Minghella on The English Patient. As a director in his own right in the UK, he directed TV drama for the BBC and Granada while his film The Cormorant, starring Ralph Fiennes, was nominated for a BAFTA Wales Award.

Peter Markham

Peter Markham

Peter Markham is the author of two books What’s the Story? The Director Meets Their Screenplay (2020) and The Art of the Filmmaker: The Practical Aesthetics of the Screen (2023). Previously, he was Head of Directing at the American Film Institute Conservatory, Los Angeles, where he taught for 17 years and mentored some 450 new directors. Markham directed second unit for Martin Scorsese on Gangs of New York and for Anthony Minghella on The English Patient. As a director in his own right in the UK, he directed TV drama for the BBC and Granada while his film The Cormorant, starring Ralph Fiennes, was nominated for a BAFTA Wales Award.