The Biggest Mistakes of First-Time Filmmakers (and How to Avoid Them)

According to some of the latest statistics, there are an estimated 134,700 filmmakers in the U.S. alone. If you’re hoping to break into the industry and enjoy a successful career, you’ll want to avoid making big mistakes that many first-timers make.

While no beginner is going to be perfect from the start, by learning from others’ mistakes, you can significantly reduce your own odds for error, helping you to get on the right path.

Lack of Preparation

Remember, it’s not just about actually making the film, there’s a process beforehand: preparation, also known as pre-production. Before you start shooting, you need to be prepared no matter the size of the production. Many new filmmakers make this mistake because they aren’t sure how to prepare or what to prepare for. You don’t want to be in the middle of shooting and realize you don’t have what you need.

You must have a story idea, ideally with a written script that has a hero and a hook. Without a story, there is no film. Unless you’re doing a solo project, you’ll need to build your team, finding the best actors for hire and any crew members you might need. Don’t cast your old college roommate to play a middle-aged dad, slapping on a wig and fake mustache, a big red flag that screams amateur.

Find the right location, create a shot list, and nail down the date(s) for shooting. Plan on having it finished within a specific period of time so that anyone else involved can start their next job as soon as they’ve finished with yours. If there’s any gear you need, you’ll have to secure that first whether you plan to purchase or rent. Any permits/permissions required should be finalized too.

Leaving the Camera on a Tripod

While there are times the camera should be on the tripod, it can be limiting as there are many times where movement is important, something that photography can’t offer so you’ll want to use it to your advantage.

While basic filmmaking courses might tell you to always put your camera on the tripod, that’s only because they’re tired of seeing terrible handheld work. Learn to move the camera right, including handheld, using dollies, sliders, mini-jibs or whatever else you might have and then do some research to mind out the visual significance of the moves.

Not Investing in Sound

When filming, you’re probably thinking all about the visual, but good sound is actually more important than good images. Instead of shelling out a ton of cash for an expensive new camera, put some of that money into audio because your audience won’t be able to stand listening to buzzing, crackling audio.

Don’t forget to add appropriate, high-quality sound effects either. They help convince the audience that what they’re seeing is real, bringing depth to the soundscape.

Refusing to Compromise

Just like a marriage, filmmaking is chaotic and can be messy. You’ve got to be willing to compromise when you’re collaborating and working with others who have their own experiences, expertise, and opinions. If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Using Cliches

Cliches are expressions in any type of creative work that’s been overused to the point of losing all meaning. For example, a car that fails to start while a stalker is on the protagonist’s tail may have once been effective for building suspense but it’s something that’s happened so many times before that those in the audience are likely to be rolling their eyes rather than fearing for the character.

Besides, this is a time to experiment and try new things rather than repeating anyone else’s style.

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