Inspiring movies about making movies that will make you want to make movies (or maybe not)

Eddie Murphy’s turn as Rudy Ray Moore in Netflix’s Dolemite is my Name is just inspirational.

So much so, I found myself thinking about other movies about filmmaking that left me feeling energized and inspired. Not just about making movies, but about filmmakers themselves.

This list doesn’t just focus on feature films, and not all of them are about real people. But these are films and documentaries that capture the excitement, the joy, the love and the terror of making films and being in the film business. Movies other filmmakers should see just so they can be inspired, but also perhaps to see just what they’re getting themselves into.

I’m routinely enraptured by filmmakers who are fearless, regardless of talent or support or money. People who put themselves out there, risking themselves either personally or financially, to create something in hopes that it’ll reach an audience and be embraced.

Here’s my list of the best movies about making movies:

'Ed Wood' with Johnny Depp and Norman Alden
‘Ed Wood’ with Johnny Depp (right) and Norman Alden

Ed Wood

The late Ed Wood is, to me, the king of all filmmakers. This film paints a picture of a hopeless romantic writer and director who is absolutely in love with movies and making them…. despite not having any real talent when it comes to writing or directing.


But despite that, through his determination and passion, he brings together a group of misfits who seem willing to follow him anywhere. And while, yes, the movies they made were terrible at least they had joy in making them. The downside is how tragic so many of their lives ended up being, especially Ed Wood. For more on that, after watching Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, take a little time to watch Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora. The documentary gives more details about Wood’s life and career, but the people who knew him still paint him as hopelessly determined.

You don’t have to like Wood’s movies, but it’s hard not to respect his drive and the way in which he never seemed to take no for an answer.

'Dolemite is my Name!' with Eddie Murphy
‘Dolemite is my Name!’ with Eddie Murphy

Dolemite is my Name

Like Ed Wood, Rudy Ray Moore was repeatedly told he wasn’t good enough. But he never listened to those naysayers, and instead followed his dreams.

And in the end, he was a success.

Dolemite is my Name tells the story of that part of Moore’s life, from establishing his stand up comedy career, to creating the first in what would become a series of films featuring the character, Dolemite.

Now, I’ll admit, I’m not exactly a fan of the Dolemite films. But that doesn’t matter. What’s inspiring here is how Moore, who by the events of the film was already in his late 30s, proves everyone wrong and becomes a star. He takes risks, choosing to believe that what he’s creating and his vision will ultimately find an audience. It’s that drive and that self-confidence that I think is inspiring, and something every filmmaker needs if they hope to succeed.

'Living in Oblivion' with Danielle von Zerneck and Steve Buscemi
‘Living in Oblivion’ with Danielle von Zerneck and Steve Buscemi

Living in Oblivion

The first two films were based on real people. This film is not.

But it could be.

The story focuses on the final day of shooting a independent film. It stars Steve Buscemi as the director, and a slew of indie actors many of whom you’ll no doubt recognize.

This film so beautifully captures the life, challenges and anxiety of making a movie. From entitled actors to ambitious crew, it covers it all. And you’ll be chuckling the whole way through as you realize just to on the mark it all feels. The film really captures the spirit and energy of low-budget filmmaking, it’s a joy to watch.

'Bowfinger' with Steve Martin
‘Bowfinger’ with Steve Martin

Bowfinger

You’ll likely see a theme building here. All these films about filmmaking are about the little guys. These aren’t films about Steven Spielberg-type directors or Tom Cruise-like actors. These are movies about the blue-collar filmmakers trying to capture success.

That’s what’s at the heart of Bowfinger. Mind you, things get a little wacky here. The plot has no basis in reality (for various reasons that should be obvious), but this Frank Oz-directed comedy penned by Steve Martin wonderfully captures the spirit of low-tier filmmakers who just loves making movies, no matter how successful they may be.

What’s so enjoyable about this movie is how it pokes fun at making movies. And while I love the pairing of Martin and Eddie Murphy, the best part of his film is the trio of Mexican immigrants Martin uses as his crew.

See the movie. You’ll get it.

'Making of.... 'And God Spoke'' with Stephen Rappaport and Michael Riley
‘Making of…. ‘And God Spoke” with Stephen Rappaport (left) and Michael Riley

The Making of…. ‘And God Spoke’

This is a film that I saw thanks to my sister-in-law. And it had me laughing all the way through.

This mockumentary captures the essence of the struggling filmmaker trying to make a dream project, but nothing goes right. It’s hilarious, but there’s so much truth here. But what should be taken away from it is the way in which the two main characters find success in their failure.

All filmmakers fail at some point or another. And how you deal with that failure is just as important as how you deal with success.

'The Big Picture' with Kevin Bacon and Michael McKean
‘The Big Picture’ with Kevin Bacon (left) and Michael McKean

The Big Picture

This comedy from Christopher Guest was one of the first movies I can remember about the movie business. And the funny part is that I’d never seen the ending until years later, but I recorded it on VHS and I never realized the tape ended before the actual ending.

Long story.

Either way, this is a funny, inspirational, and grounded look at how Hollywood can be full of promise and compromise and second chances. It also stresses in the end to stay true to your vision.

'Overnight' with Troy Duffy and featuring Willem Dafoe
‘Overnight’ with Troy Duffy (left) and featuring Willem Dafoe

Overnight

Ok, now we get to the reality of the Hollywood machine. That means documentaries. And this is where things get real.

The first is Overnight, a documentary about Troy Duffy, a man who by all accounts in this film was not equipped to deal with success. He scores a deal with Harvey Weinstein (back in the 1990s when Miramax was king), and his dash of fame goes straight to his head.

His relationships get destroyed, and of course, so eventually does his career. Duffy’s still making movies, but this film does a lot to capture rather well how wrong things can go on a personal level, when some people are hit with too much success at one time.

Consider it a warning.

'Official Rejection' with Scott Storm
‘Official Rejection’ with Scott Storm

Official Rejection

This is a documentary I caught last year, and it really does a wonderful job of peeling back the layers when it comes to working the film festival circuit. It’s a little dated in some ways, but there’s still truth in it.

What I also found entertaining is that there’s a fellow featured in it, who becomes a kind of recurring character, who I actually knew and worked with in the past. I didn’t know he was in it.

But for those of you who have a feature or a short, and are getting into the festival game, then you most certainly need to see this documentary.

'American Movie' with Mark Borchardt
‘American Movie’ with Mark Borchardt

American Movie

Now… I debated including this. It’s a lovely documentary, really. Very well done.

But…. is it inspiring? I don’t know. I actually found it a bit sad.

Yet when you get to the end, there’s something hopeful about it. And there’s something heartwarming in the way everyone seems to come together, how people support Mark Borchardt, despite everything that happens.

I also really love watching him working with film, and the Steenbeck, cutting the negative. That’s all such a lost part of indie filmmaking, perhaps its important for people to see how difficult making movies really was just a few short years ago.

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