Friday 13 July 2012

8 Mistakes Filmmakers Make

Elliot Grove is a Canadian-born film producer who founded the Raindance Film Festival, the British Independent Film Awards, and Raindance.TV. He has produced over 150 short films, and five feature films; he teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe, Japan and America; and has written three books which have become industry standardsRaindance Writers' Lab, Raindance Producers' Lab Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and 130 Projects to Get You into Filmmaking.

From all that we can deduce that he knows a few things about filmmaking. Here are some of his thoughts on the common mistakes filmmakers make.

As your filmmaking career starts to grow, it's crucial that your actions don't strangle it in its infancy. By avoiding the mistakes that so many filmmakers make you have a far greater chance of succeeding well beyond the first two years of the launch date of your career.

1. Doing Too Much Yourself

Business owners as well as filmmakers fall into this trap, as they attempt to minimise costs. It can mean that you will get bogged down in the day-to-day nitty gritty, keeping you from stepping back and taking a good hard look at the future. Future planning and, with it, the ability to anticipate problems, are two important areas successful filmmakers have to keep control of. Doing too much can mean that the fire-fighting cycle just keeps repeating over and over again.
     Coupled with that is the guilt associated with neglecting family and personal relationships. This often leads to exhaustion and collapse.
     Why not call for extra help before you need it, and not after the cracks have begun to show, and usually, it is too late.

2. You Don't Know What You Don't Know

Most filmmakers start their career because they are really good at something. Some are really good at directing action, others have a flair for working with actors, and others are just good solid all-rounders.
     What many filmmakers forget is that it is a business which involves a host of different skill sets. They forget that filmmaking requires the basic business management skills such as: sourcing new clients and work, marketing and publicity, recruiting new crew and staff, and managing the cash flow questions that any small business has. Add into this the creative mix and you have the potential for a meltdown.
     Running and, more importantly, developing and expanding your movie career is like growing and developing any type of business. It is unlikely that you will have the expertise to do everything needed yourself.
     Successful filmmakers learn to recognise their own skills and knowledge and take action to fill the gaps in their career plan.

3. Quitting The Day Job Too Quickly

A filmmaker or screenwriter's passion in what they are doing is usually so high that they enjoy some initial successes and revenues. They then quit their day jobs and hire premises and staff
only to face psychological and financial ruin when their early successes have been a minor blip on the long hard haul to a successful career.
     Everyone needs money in order to survive. Make sure you are able to cover your monthly expenses before you ditch your day job.
     Done correctly, you might be able to apply for funding or enjoy certain strategic tax benefits depending on your personal profile and the geographical territory you live in.

4. You Haven't Got Anyone To Talk To

Filmmakers have career issues which often require discussion and debate. The difficulty facing most filmmakers is that it's very difficult to find anyone they can relate to.
     Certain legal and technical challenges can be discussed with an accountant or lawyer. But issues of creativity are not the issues you want to discuss with inappropriate people.
     Having no network is potentially very damaging. Discussion with a trusted advisor or friend is where one finds new ideas and perspectives. Having your project and ideas endorsed is also nourishing for one's ego. Lukewarm receptions can indicate that your ideas are not developed enough. A small network of trusted people able to 'get' you, and will listen and discuss ideas with you, is an essential part of a filmmaker's success.

5. Working With The Wrong People

Filmmaking is a passionate business. It is also almost always very last minute. Add on top of that, the chronic fatigue. Under these circumstances it is tempting to hire people for production and other jobs quickly without properly interviewing and checking references. Remember, no matter how good someone is, if there's a difference in values, then the only questions that matter are "When will the row happen?" and "On what subject will it be?"
     Always be asking yourself: how much real experience do they have? Is it relevant to what you need? Are their skills and experience complimentary to yours? Do you have mutual respect? How important will you be to them? Do they know their own limits? What networks and contacts do they bring? Will they let you talk to their previous employers/collaborators to get a feel of how they work?
     As always, don't agree to work with anyone until you feel comfortable. And make sure you have written contracts in place for any creative collaboration.

6. Lack of self awareness

Many filmmakers are afraid of admitting their fears and inadequacies because they don't want to lose the mantra of praise that they want to follow them everywhere. They won't take any criticism from anyone because they don't trust them and because they believe they know better. When confronted they usually nitpick ridiculously fine details and refuse to entertain the creative or practical suggestions from anyone else.
     This makes it very difficult to develop a team and, as the word spreads, they find fewer and fewer people willing to collaborate with them.
     Successful filmmakers are brutally honest about themselves. Get some vital feedback from that special and trusted friend.

7. Staying In The Comfort Zone

Most filmmakers work with the same team members over and over again. There is nothing wrong with this
, exceptwho is challenging and testing you and your ideas?
     It's an easy trap to surround yourself with 'yes' men. Working with people who challenge you may be uncomfortable, but it's a whole lot easier then attending a disastrous screening of your movie because no one around you had the courage to say, "Hang on a minute
what about XYZ?"'
     Hip, innovative filmmakers pick up those cool ideas from outside their conventional thoughts. They learn to accept constructive criticism and learn how to deal with negative criticism. Mixing with others will increase your chances of doing this. The more diverse your contacts (whether by sectors/age/ethnic group/gender), the more you'll also be able to "narrow the angles" on potential incoming problems; someone in your group will have had experience of issues that you haven't
better to learn from others' mistakes than get extra battle scars yourself! 

8. Not Knowing Why You Want To Make Movies 

Filmmakers make movies for many different reasons. It doesn't really matter why you want to make a movie. Some make movies because they want to make money. Others make movies to get a message across. Others make movies because they are attracted by the allure and glamour. Decide what your ambitions are before you head off and attempt a career in filmmaking. Realise that your real reason for making movies will predetermine much of what you try and achieve. 

By avoiding, at least to some degree, these eight common mistakes, your filmmaking career has a much more decent chance of success. Analyse each of these eight areas and take appropriate action.


Kathy said...

These pieces of advice are wise and seem to boil down to 'Filmmaker, know thyself'. Thanks, Henry.

Unknown said...

Elliott, this is a fantastic post! So much useful information. Thank You!