Warning: These 9 Filmmaking Mistakes Will Destroy Your Film

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Do you know what the biggest fear is to a filmmaker? I know that the biggest fear I have in making a feature is discovering a mistake when it’s late to fix.

Have you ever watched a film and thought to yourself “how did that mistake go unnoticed?” 

Mistakes during the filming happen. While some can be corrected before production begins, the are others that can’t be fixed at all. Unless you have the budget for reshoots, but that rarely happens.

Lately, I have gone through the school of hard knocks in regards to understanding where the mistakes are being made during the filmmaking process. 

How did I figure out where the common problems occurred during filmmaking? 

I found out by being a film juror for a local film festival in which each year I would have to watch over 200 submissions if not more to narrow down the selection. 

When a juror watches that many films, they know which of the submissions are from amateur filmmakers and which established filmmakers. 

How can a film festival juror figure out so quickly? It’s all based on the avoidable filmmaking mistakes that filmmakers should always pay attention to. 

As a filmmaker, you can’t control everything during the filmmaking process, but there are some key areas below to watch out for to minimize the common filmmaking mistakes:

  1. Screenplay – Structure, dialogue, and character motivation are the key building blocks to a great screenplay.
  2. Poor Casting – By casting the wrong actor for a role, it can be disastrous to the whole production.
  3. Cinematography – But not lighting or framing the scene properly could spell disaster to a film.
  4. Sound / Editing – Sound & Editing can make or break a film, and sink the whole production.

In this post, my goal is to help filmmakers identify some key areas during filmmaking that they may not have been aware of before.

camera angles for filmmakers

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When it comes to amateur filmmaking, there are certain basics to areas of filmmaking that amateur filmmakers need to pay attention to.

Mistakes first time directors make are because they may be unaware of the basics of filmmaking or could care less about the basics at all.

If you are a filmmaker that is aware of the common filmmaking mistakes but continues on doing them, you might as well start applying to other jobs outside the film industry because your career is ending soon.

Beginner filmmakers who consciously put in the effort to be aware of the avoidable filmmaking mistakes, and tries to avoid them each filmmaking day, then you will begin to stand out as a professional filmmaker.


Weak Screenplay


Tips For New Filmmakers – Many amateur filmmakers will have a good idea, and speed through the screenwriting process so they can begin the filmmaking process.

The problem encountered because of this is a collection of shots good or bad with no substance edited together.

There is no story or character depth to draw the audience’s attention, and the film falls flat seconds after the end of the main title.

To create an audience by in, a beginner filmmaker needs spending time in developing a great engaging story. Never stop at your first draft and begin filming.

It’s all about editing and re-writing, and getting lots of feedback and notes from other screenwriters. This will lead to a perfect screenplay that you and the audiences will love.

Avoidable Filmmaking Mistakes Side note: When taking notes from other screenwriters, they are meant to help improve your screenplay.

Don’t take it personally! It’s to make a good script better! Rejection is the best way to improve yourself as a filmmaker.

Here are some great screenwriting books I suggest reading:

The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

This book pioneered the “hero’s journey” as a plotting template, based on Joseph Campbell’s study of mythology and archetypes.

However, this edition of the book takes readers (and fellow writers) far beyond the hero’s journey concepts.

In fact, this book is tremendously useful for all fiction writers, not just those following the “hero’s journey” plot structure. (In other words, it will work with the three-act model, Aristotle’s incline, and so on.)

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting

“to the people who write, direct and produce for Hollywood – or desperately wish they did – Bob McKee is a cross between E. F. Hutton and Sun Myung Moon.

The man speaks, and people start to take furious notes – he is now the undisputed screenwriting king… for the legendary screenwriting boot camp that he runs.

Thirty-thousand aspiring screenwriters have already taken McKee’s 30-hour, three-day course…” — Newsday

The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting

Veteran script consultant Jill Chamberlain discovered in her work that an astounding 99 percent of first-time screenwriters don’t know how to tell a story.

What the 99 percent do instead is present a situation. In order to explain the difference, Chamberlain created the Nutshell Technique, a method whereby writers identify eight dynamic, interconnected elements that are required to successfully tell a story.

Character Motivation

If a screenwriter doesn’t do a character background breakdown before writing the screenplay, the story is a rudderless ship.

By doing a character breakdown before writing your screenplay, it will help the audience identify the character on screen, and will great that buy in from the audience.

Having a character goal and the obstacles, the character has to overcome to achieve it will make the film so much better. Click Here For Free – Character Breakdown Templates That I Use For Most Of My Scripts.

Related Article: How To Be A One Person Crew For Your Next Film

Weak Opening

The first three pages of the screenplay set up the whole film.

When an executive is reading a screenplay to see if the film has legs, they want a screenplay to grab his/her attention right off the start.

Technically, they are gauging on whether or not the audience will be drawn to the film within the first 5 minutes. The film can’t start with a character spending the first three minutes of the movie looking for car keys, getting into a vehicle, and driving off.

Every scene in a screenplay should be like a screenplay that consists of the three-act structure. There has to be a setup and pay off for each film. 

If the set up was a character looking for car keys, and the pay off being the character able to drive off in a vehicle, that is a horrible way to start a film.

If you lose your audience with a horrible first impression right off the bat, it’s impossible to regain the audience’s attention moving forward.

Too Much Dialogue

Unless you are Quentin Tarantino, limit your dialogue!

A film will begin to feel slow and drag if the dialogue too wordy. A film is a visual medium, and there is so much you can do with just expressions from a character compared to just plain words. 

One piece of advice I heard recently I thought was mind-blowing was this: If you have two characters in the car that are driving home after his/her mother’s funeral in which the audience has just seen, don’t mention the funeral, the mother, or where they are driving to.

Think about that one for a minute. 

The audience knows everything that has just happened to the characters beforehand, so now it’s the screenwriters’ job to move the story forward, not backward. It’s all about showing more and speaking less.

By the way, have you seen Once Upon A Time In Hollywood? Only one filmmaker can pull that off, and that is Tarantino.


Wrong Actors For The Role

When an independent filmmaker is just staring off in the world of filmmaking, most of the time they have to rely on friends and family to get the job done.

But when it comes to casting, maybe your parents are not the right choice for the serial killers in your film. Maybe, they are, and if they are good at the character, then I think it’s time to run far away. Like…Now!

But with all the hard work that a screenwriter puts into his/her screenplay, it is the role of the filmmaker to find the right actors for the roles.

These actors must be able to enter his/her specific characters with ease without taking away from the worlds being created on the screen. I hate to use this film as an example, but Godfather 3 was ruined because of a poor casting choice.

I won’t mention the name of the actor as this person is an incredible director now, but it was a poor casting choice by the filmmaker that ended up ruining the whole film. 

Bad casting is something you just can’t fix in post. 

Bad Composition

Avoidable Filmmaking Mistakes – Composition refers to how the elements on the screen (actors, scenery, props, etc.) appear concerning each other and within the frame itself.

The reason why composition is important is it directs the audience’s attention. Through composition, filmmakers can create visually appealing images specific to the director and director of photography’s style.

It guides the audience to pay attention to one single person amidst a crowd of people or a key focal point in a busy frame.

By controlling the angles and the distance between characters or specific props filmmakers can instantaneously and intuitively clue the audience in on the deeper meaning of the scene.

After all, film is a visual medium, and to repeat what I said before, it’s best to show and not tell. I think any aspiring filmmaker needs to read a book about cinematography or even take a course on learning about composition.

Below are three books that I suggest picking up to learn more about cinematography.

Cinematography: Third Edition

Since its initial publication in 1973, Cinematography has become the guidebook for filmmakers.

Based on their combined fifty years in the film and television industry, authors Kris Malkiewicz and M. David Mullen lay clear and concise groundwork for basic film techniques, focusing squarely on the cameraman’s craft.

Readers will then learn step-by-step how to master more advanced techniques in postproduction, digital editing, and overall film production.

The Filmmaker's Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition

This is the only book that combines conceptual and practical instruction on creating polished and eloquent images for film and video with the technical know-how to achieve them.

Loaded with hundreds of full-color examples, The Filmmaker’s Eye is a focused, easy-to-reference guide that shows you how to become a strong visual storyteller through smart, effective choices for your shots.

Master Shots Vol 3: The Director's Vision: 100 Setups, Scenes and Moves for Your Breakthrough Movie

This book is a highly visual exploration of the best shots, moves, and set-ups in the industry. It reveals the secrets behind each shot’s success, so it can be adapted to a director’s individual scenes.

Your job is to create shots that reveal story, expose emotion, explore character and capture the unique feeling of your film. At the same time, you should stamp your film with your own style.

This book can help you do that, whatever your experience, because it challenges you to imagine a creative solution for every scene in your film.

Bad Editing

Avoidable Filmmaking Mistakes – I think many of us have seen extremely slow movies, where watching a freshly painted wall in a theatre dry is more exciting than what is being shown on screen.

Slow movies can be a result of horrible acting or just a bad storyline, but with a great editor, they can sometimes make a paint by numbers painting look like the Mona Lisa.

Great editing can help with the pacing of the film which will help guide the audience throughout the film. If you have a great puzzle master, the editor, they can turn a sad scene into a high-voltage drama just by some strategically placed edits in the scene.

Plus, with every scene being just a small three-act play, a great editor can take the pieces of the scene puzzle and seamlessly place them.

Horrible Audio

Audio recorded on the set can make or break a film. You can have oscar worthy performances from your actors, amazing composition on the screen, and edited together for an exciting pace and still have the whole project ruined by bad audio.

I recently produced a film where the film was set in a remote island location, where the filmmaker wanted to give the impression to the audience that there is no way on or off the island except for a boat, and the captain is missing.

You don’t want to ruin the atmosphere of the film by constantly hearing in the background a bunch of men joy riding ATV’s every 30 minutes.

I wanted the director to cut and re-shoot the scenes, but the director mentioned that the audience won’t notice. Trust me on this one; the audience will notice.

If you are a new filmmaker breaking into the film world, please buy good reliable sound equipment and make sure you have a sound person who knows what they are doing in capturing sound for the film.

There are two things that you need to invest in when shooting a film. One, great food for the crew on the set. Two, audio.

Zoom H6 6-Track Portable Recorder

Zoom’s flagship H6 is the most advanced portable recorder ever.

It utilizes a system of interchangeable input capsules that can be swapped out as easily as the lenses of a camera and comes with both X/Y and Mid-Side stereo mics.

Great for live recording as well as studio-quality music production, the H6 offers six tracks of simultaneous recording and four mic/line inputs.

RODE VideoMic Studio Boom Kit with windmuff- VM, windmuff, Boom Stand, Adapter, 25′ Cable

The VideoMic with Rycote Lyre Suspension System from Rode is a shotgun microphone that can easily be mounted on a DSLR camera.

It features a Rycote suspension system that attaches to the camera’s shoe. The VideoMic is lightweight, and when mounting on a camera it does not appear in the frame.

The VideoMic can also mount to Rode’s boompoles for elevated audio capture. Its super-cardioid polar pattern attenuates sounds from the sides.

The result is a signal that sounds closer to the camera, even when shooting in noisy environments or at moderate distances.

Bad Sound Design

Sound design is another aspect of a film that can make or break a film. Often a low-budget filmmaker can only use stock music tracks over the sequences, but choosing the wrong tracks can take away from the visuals.

Pay attention to the atmosphere that you as the filmmaker are trying to capture.

While the clip above using the Benny Hill theme song is funny, it really won’t work for a dramatic sequence that is extremely pivotal to your film that will set the film tone moving forward towards the climatic ending.

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As you can tell there are many parts of film production where a filmmaker can make a mistake.

But, if you pay attention to the key areas in the screenplay, the casting, the camera department, the sound department, and the editing department, then you can minimize the risks of making a mistake.

But filmmaking is a fun process, and even the great filmmakers still make mistakes, just don’t be hard on yourself if you do make a mistake.

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