7 Common Mistakes of New Filmmakers

Shaky Camera TechniqueI’ve spent time with three filmmakers over the past two years coaching them on their freshman projects. They all had very different working attitudes, but they all made the same mistakes that are common among first time filmmakers.

Here are the 7 Common mistakes consistently made by newbies:

1. Lack of Preparation.

Every new filmmaker is so excited about shooting what’s in his or her head that they dive into production without the proper preparation. They don’t know that by the time shooting starts, seasoned directors have seen their film in their mind’s eye more than 100 times, working out every little detail. This lack of preparation is typically revealed by a lack of footage being shot that’s necessary to tell the story properly.

2. Bad or No Sound Design.

Audiences are used to full soundtracks, which young filmmakers forget to take into consideration until after their first film sounds thin or tinny. Even then, most newbies use 4 to 8 tracks for sound compared to 16, 32, or even 64 tracks of sound layering done by professionals. New filmmakers also have thin sound effects in their first shows.

3. Underdeveloped Story.

Beginners typically start with a cool scene idea that pops into their head and build a story over a handful of weeks. For most rookie filmmakers the development stage is the shortest. The pros take much longer developing the story. In fact, professional story development typically takes longer than preproduction, production and post-production combined.

4. Poor Casting Choices.

This is when beginners hire their friends and anyone that they owe a favor. People typically get cast based on their ability to “do business” on camera rather than being selected for their character development skills and performance. More experienced casting starts with a list of physical and behavioral attributes. The person’s ability to follow direction and draw an audience to the theater is also considered.

5. Bad Dialog.

Newbies tend to write their own scripts in a way that makes every character sound the same. Rarely are rookie filmmakers taught how to give different voices to their characters. Many times the pros will use specialists to make sure the dialog drives conflict and gives a unique voice to each character.

6. Use of Clichés.

The shorter the film the more likely a young filmmaker will use clichés and stereotypes in the creation of his or her story. The reason is based on their lack of development experience, the ease of shooting the obvious, and the lack of screen time available to explore the conflict. Pros avoid clichés like the plague.

7. Sporadic Collaboration.

Young filmmakers struggle with how to paint their vision to the cast and crew without compromise, while teaming through the cinematic collaboration process that puts excellence on screen. New filmmakers tend to find themself over controlling a project, which kills the artistry, or giving in all too often, which waters down the story. Experienced professionals know how to draw the best out of their associates through collaboration and then pick the best recommendation that’s in keeping with the vision, that is, if it’s better than the preplanned direction.

The apprenticeship process has been used for over a hundred years to raise up strong filmmakers, yet newbies continue to side step the process. For some reason most first timers desire to shoot their own film before they know how to make films, something that will continue for the next 100 years. A few survive that find mentors or get sucked into the system and climb up through the ranks. Those are the ones who learn how to avoid the common mistakes.

Mentors Breathe Inspiration into Creativity

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My Home Town Movie Theatre

When I mentor young filmmakers in how to develop their style and breathe life into their films, I often watch their eyes close me out from their thoughts. They are adamant about making sure the film is theirs and they don’t want anyone to give them a helping hand. This is problematic for a collaborative art form.

The idea of inspiring someone to a higher level of art can only come from words of encouragement, difficult moments of challenge, and the sharing of conceptual ideas. The word, “inspire,” means to “breathe into” or to “infuse with life by breathing.” That means someone has to do the breathing of new ideas to help the filmmaker get his mind cranking.

The creative process requires an environment of ideas, enthusiasm and energy. These are tools that help us gain experience from others and expose our minds to various styles and artistry. The shared wealth of history creates a powerful form of influence that brings the young filmmaker to a higher level of art than his or her counter parts ever achieve. Yet, Millennials seldom want to collaborate.

Inspiration of Mentors Stir Our Heartfelt Voice

The best thing that happens in a collaborative process is the deep sense that your own ideas demand to be heard. From deep within the gut comes this voice begging to resound. The inspiration of mentors draw out those deep ideas from within us and we suddenly find a way to express them. The inspiration brings our ideas to the surface so we can take action.

Unfortunately some people think that when you share a creative idea with the hopes of inspiring them, they think you want them to use your idea. But that is far from the truth. The mentor only wants to get the filmmaker thinking about something they never finished thinking about—that special something that resides deep within their heart.

I was mentoring one filmmaker who wanted to create a world that lacked water. The scarcity drove many to kill for a single cup of fresh water. The original script had a sign in it that made the idea of water scarce, but I suggested he find a way to demonstrate the rarity of water instead.

His latest cut of the film had the water sewn throughout the entire story as the key driver of all decisions made by every character. It became obvious that the liquid was such a rare commodity that everyone’s life changed in the presence of fresh water. Within that setting his protagonist could then mature and become a person who questioned his selfishness and chose to demonstrate love sacrificially.

While I gave him a handful of ideas that were plausible to demonstrate the scarcity of water, he was inspired enough to come up with his own unique ideas. Not one of my suggestions made it into the film, which was good, because my goal was to inspire his convictions and expressions. His choices worked.

The Journey of Understanding

Film is an emotional medium that comes from the heart. Those who hold to conservative standards make conservative films. Those who understand the liberal first and then make conservative films takes the audience on a journey that ends with a conservative view that makes sense to all, not just those with likeminded ideologies.

By finding inspiration from both sides of the political spectrum, a filmmaker becomes more powerful in the messages he can send to an audience that’s hungry for answers to the latest societal issues. But closed-minded conservatives who only focus on their views can present nothing of value to the liberal.

And what good is a film that only reaches the likeminded?

Film is not necessary when used as a tool of validation. It’s only necessary to help opposing viewpoints be understood. When film demonstrates the potential results of an idea, while touching the emotions of everyone watching, the audience is able to buy into the concepts and consider how they might apply within their own life.

For this reason I hangout with liberals and conservatives. I read both sides of every issue. And, I create paths through story that will take an audience to the life-breathing conclusion that cries out to be heard. These actions breathe creativity into each viewer so he or she is capable of altering their life with healthier choices.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Embarrassment or Creativity

© IvicaNS - Fotolia.comCreativity is the one thing that brings everyone happiness. It founded our world and it created what many call the “happiest place on earth”—Walt Disney World. Unlike joy, which is eternal, happiness is fleeting at best. It comes and goes in the moment and can seldom be reenacted with the same level of enthusiasm that it originates.

For the creative soul, or the creator, the release of art is more precarious than most would think. Stepping out fully vulnerable with a creative performance, concept, or product can cause the recipient of a mediocre response to feel embarrassed. The newfound boldness of the audience can bring great praise or a debilitating embarrassment capable of shutting down a vulnerable heart.

Creatives need to protect their heart, yet remain open for their creativity to be successful. While that notion sounds like an oxymoron, creatives will always find someone to hate their work. They will also find someone who admires it. This makes the protection of the heart difficult.

The only way for a creative to protect his heart is to learn from the experts. While this is true in all fields, the entertainment industry seldom employs experts to help a creative get to the next level. All too often the creative person is seen as an end unto themselves and not as one key factor among others who collaborate in a successful product launch.

I was fortunate to have a professional actor as a next door neighbor when I was growing up. We produced numerous plays in his garage for families living on the block. While it seemed to be a hobby for the girls, every guy that participated in the plays went professional later in life.

My good fortune continued in high school when I had great phone conversations about directing with Ken Burns and Ron Howard. I also had a theatre coach that developed shows during the summer at Disney in Orlando. He took me under his wings and taught me a lot about the collaborative process. I was thrilled to be mentored by a pro.

Those who submit themselves to a mentoring process find their skills excel beyond the average creative. The most important reason is the additional confidence created from the relationship. However, for those who can’t seek out a mentor, there are four steps that can be taken to instill a similar affect of growth and confidence building.

STEP 1: Find the current expert in the field that can supply a solution to the creative problem. If we are confident that a particular person has what it takes to solve the dilemma, by researching that person and the steps they took to arrive as a master, it’s possible to shift our perspective in parallel to brainstorm solutions.

STEP 2: Mimic the master. Learning from a master includes the understanding of his perspective, style and panache. By trying these behaviors on, our mindset will change and give us ample opportunity to see things from a new perspective and energize our creativity.

STEP 3: Follow the expert’s methodology. All professional creatives have a process they follow for the sake of speed and profitability. The standards were proven and later developed into a process over time. By reenacting the process or using a version of it, the creative can open his mind to new opportunities and solutions.

STEP 4: Seek the risky solution. Creativity is at its best when we’re on the edge of what we’re comfortable producing. During the times we stretch ourselves to be competitive with the expert, we force ourselves to a higher level of performance. These moments that balance on the proverbial fence between creativity and embarrassment drive success to an all time new high.

The key to learning from others is realizing the difference between a great idea and one that was polished by a pro. Those who must hold fast to their ideas and won’t consider other perspectives are doomed to a short creative lifestyle. But those who consider various pieces offered by other professional creatives can polish off the bulk of their idea with experience, which will be evident in the final product.

No creative wants another to change his idea, but the good ones will allow the pro to improve his idea. Sometimes a simple sentence from a mentor can change the entire tone of a product to something more suitable for a different generation. The comraderie alone is of great value, but the output of the relationship will be impressive—Giving rise to confidence, not embarrassment.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers