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.

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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

 

Empowered by Replication

©KAR

©KAR

During my tenure at Lucent Technologies (now Alcatel-Lucent), I was taught how to replicate myself for the greater good of the corporation. The process was fairly easy to learn, but it took a bold move of overcoming my fears to live the concept out loud. Those who were given the same opportunity and chose not to engage the process, found their corporate trajectory limited.

The concept of replication is simple: Reproduce your most profitable corporate skills within an equal or lower level associate in order to work yourself out of a job.

Work myself out of a job! Are you nuts!

The concept alone makes it clear why inner fears must be subdued in order to achieve success, especially during a time that no longer rewards loyalty. But restraining inner conflict isn’t half as important as figuring out how to replicate your skills in a way that equals or surpasses your current abilities – Generating greater value for the corporation.

During my experimental stages of replication, I learned that all workers are capable of replicating themselves in co-workers, which demonstrates an ability that becomes more valuable the higher he or she rises within the corporation.

I also learned: Everyone can empower themselves by replicating their abilities in others by following five steps.

1. DETERMINE THE SKILL THAT IMPACTS THE P&L

Understanding the direct correlation of your executable skills to the bottom line is essential to the replication process. In the case where access to the information is limited, understanding what your boss’s and his boss’s bonus is based on can suffice. Whether strategic or tactical, everyone has at least one skill that is directly related to the desired corporate growth.

In my first year on the network side of the business at Lucent Technologies, I was a Sales Specialist, a title held by a few thousand others (the company had 165,000 employees at the time). One day an executive asked me what I was doing. I had no idea how to answer, so he asked a high level manager to interview me and help me break my skills and process down. It was then that I realized my choices had directly impacted the bottom line and the executive wanted to replicate my skills to everyone carrying the same title. It was the first time I understood the power of replication.

2. DETERMINE THE PROCESS THAT FACILITATES THE SKILL

Analyzing and breaking the skill down into its basic steps is critical to the formation of an educational or replication plan. All skills can be broken down into easily managed and learnable elements. This process helps the mastery of the information at an accelerated rate.

I was hired by the new enterprise division at Motorola to sell wireless switches to campus-based businesses. My goal was to sell more than anyone else, even though I didn’t know how many had been sold. After closing my first switch sale, I was hit with a barrage of questions. The vice president wanted to know what I did and revealed that I was the first sales person to close a deal. He immediately shared the process he gleaned from our conversation and every sales person closed deals that year. It was an eye opening experience for me to realize the importance and structure of my process for replication.

3. TEACH THE BENEFITS AND PROCESS THAT DEVELOP THE SKILL

Co-workers require an understanding of the personal benefits gained by having a skill specific mentor, especially when it means more responsibility without a promise of additional pay. The benefits must be tied directly to the skill and not be filled with elusive fluff.

The benefits must also be tied to each process step to validate the process. If a benefit isn’t associated with a step, reconsider the necessity of that step. The why, behind each process step, causes the trainee to take responsibility for developing that portion of the needed skill set.

4. EMPOWER CO-WORKER WITH MORE RESPONSIBILITY

Practice develops confidence in using new skill sets and is best facilitated by affirmation and suggestions that keep the trainee within the parameters of the project scope. The ideal way of creating a safe place for training is to allow the co-worker to fail without fault. As a mentor, minor adjustments can be suggested to help alter the course of failure to that of success.

I received my Six Sigma green belt during my time at Motorola. The training process gave me responsibility for reducing expenses of a key product by $2MM. My black belt mentor guided my process and taught me how to think logically and structurally. He gave me full responsibility for the project and bragged about me to all the right people. While I didn’t receive a dime for my efforts, I did gain a significant amount of respect, which kept me alive during lay-offs. And, it was fun to learn that several people received bonuses as a direct result of my actions.

5. PROMOTE THE P&L RESULTS BASED ON THE NEW REPLICATION SYSTEM

Executives love to hear elevator pitches about how a newly implemented replication process directly impacts the P&L and their bonus. By bragging on the co-worker’s success, it becomes evident how they achieved their goal and the person behind the curtain. Not only does the executive learn about the co-workers new talents and how it improves his team, but he also understands who is behind the team’s growth – A far more valuable employee because of his ability to replicate success.

During my time at Home Depot, I had the opportunity to replicate some of my skills in one of my team members who longed for my position. We took time every week for a couple of months to bring him up to speed with the most important skills. When it came time for my move to another department, I was able to brag about his growth and accomplishments. The man I mentored quickly filled the job that normally took months to fill.

By giving away our skills, we can watch doors of opportunity open our future. With each open door, we work hard to develop our next set of skills and soon find ways of replicating it in time for our next level of success. After all, who better to be put in charge of all these growing skill leaders than the one who facilitated their growth.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers

Story, Structure and Style

© ktsdesign - Fotolia.comMentoring in the moment is an important function of giving back. Not only does it give me an opportunity to help new upcoming filmmakers move up a level in the business, but it also gives me a fresh perspective on what unforeseen industry changes might be slowly approaching.

In a recent conversation with a young female director, I was asked, “What are the three most important things that a director brings to a script?” After answering, I realized that there are indeed three specific things a director brings to a script that determines the success of a film.

STORY

The director brings the story to life by attaching his vision to it. He is responsible for finding the holes in the story and making it whole. He also has the power to determine how it is to be told and position it so the audience can easily understand and embrace it. If the story fails, it’s the director’s fault.

One first time director argued the point with me by suggesting he was not at fault, but his bad writer was to blame. I asked him if he was sure and he confidently defended his position. Once I could see that he put his entire defense into the bad writer, I asked why he chose to make the film when he knew the writing was so bad. His argument proved him to be either a bad director or a foolish one for shooting an unworthy story.

STRUCTURE

The director determines the beats of the film and the visuals that will best depict the story. He is responsible for the development of the characters and the emotional highs and lows of the picture. He even holds the responsibility to inspire his team to perform admirably within the confines of the budget.

An experienced director with 35 plus features under his belt told me that he left the structure of the film to the writers and director of photography, while he focused solely on the actors. I asked him how the film was translated from the page to the screen without his artistic touch. He suddenly realized that he had given up his artistic choices to chance happenings – When the written word happened to match well with the visual depiction.

STYLE

All directors have an artistic style that evolves into something that few can replicate. When a person watches a Woody Allen movie, everyone knows it’s his, even if his name was left out of the credits. Just sharing director names at a party immediately invokes the look, feel and overall style of his work within the person’s mind. Consider Hitchcock, Spielberg, and Nolan. It’s hard to say those three names without seeing their style show up in your mind’s eye.

I recently chatted with an up coming director who was struggling with his first short film. Every time someone helped him improve his story, he lost interest in it and started over. I realized that something about the suggestions must have spun the style of his show within his mind to become something he was no longer passionate about. This was disconcerting since directors always spin the suggestions into their own version that matches their stylistic vision.

Directors put their fingerprint on everything they do. It shows up in the perspective from which the story is told to the structure of its emotional beats to the overall look and feel that is presented. The director owns the success of a film and has the three key tools that place his fingerprint onto his work.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers