Ten Costly Film Making Mistakes and How To Avoid Them
It doesn’t matter whether as a filmmaker you’re aspiring or seasoned, mistakes happen. For those just coming up in the industry, know that more often than not, gaining experience means grinding through the growing pains and coming out the other side with more knowledge than you came in with. Moreover, for those who have years, if not decades of experience, what your about to read can serve as a healthy reminder of what not to do.
From mismanaging schedules to hiring the wrong people for the job, even a short film can be a harrowing experience. To save you time, money, and a whole lot of heartache, we jotted down ten costly film mistakes and an actionable approach to correct each one.
Pre-production comes with a multitude of steps, including:
Scheduling & Staffing
We recommend spending the money to get a camera package that’s going to allow you to capture your vision accurately and clearly. However, all too often filmmakers buy or rent camera packages and then have little to nothing left for art, makeup, and wardrobe. Don’t get us wrong; it’s great to have a killer camera and support package, but all that technology is meaningless if the shot is uninteresting, flawed, and inaccurate.
Also, keep in mind that more equipment means more labor. You might have the money to rent an extra camera package, but if you don’t have the budget for each camera to have a team behind it, you’ll lose more time in a day waiting for the strip-down team to keep up with twice as much equipment, cards, and data. Simply put: Don’t hire one person for a two-person job.
2. Fixing Everything in Post
Perhaps one of the most costly mistakes in the industry is believing you can save money and time by “fixing it in post.” When it comes to larger productions, everything from the equipment to the overtime is expensive. Don’t add to your post-production expenses when you have a DP and crew who can get it right during production. By and large, reshoots and automated dialog replacement (ADR) are more expensive than principal photography. So, make sure you can get it in the camera the first time!
Furthermore, shoot all of your coverage before during production. Reshooting, especially with a large cast, will burn through your budget. As Blain Brown, author of Cinematography: Theory and Practice: Image Making for Cinematographers and Directors, there are generally four types of cinematography:
The master scene method: By far, the master scene method is the most popular method of shooting a scene, especially if there is dialogue. Taking this approach means shooting a scene from beginning to end to create the “master shot.” From here, you’ll film the scene again, this time from a new angle. The scene continues to be shot from different angles until enough coverage is shot.
Overlapping method: Also known as the "triple-take method," the camera shoots initial action in the scene (usually a wide shot), and then pauses the action to capture it from different camera angles and lighting set-ups. Unlike the master scene method, there is no master shot.
In-One Method: Also known as the "developing master,” in-one is similar to the master scene method. While a single short can be brilliant, just look at Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” or Tarantino's “Reservoir Dogs,” it’s not recommended for newer filmmakers or those on a budget.
Freeform: Also known as “documentary style,” (despite this approach being used in fiction as well) the camera is handheld. This method shows the shakiness of an unstabilized handheld camera.
3. Forgetting to Set Aside a Marketing Budget
By and large, no matter how good the movie is, it’s not going to sell itself. While some amazing indie films reach commercial success, they’re few and far between when it comes to getting the acclaim on the film alone. To ensure you see returns on your time and money, you need a strategy.
Weather you have a distribution company locked in advance or not, you will ultimately have to pay for and execute your marketing. Before even scheduling filming dates, or while you are negotiating with talent, inquire about everything they’ll need to make your campaign a success. In addition to a marketing plan, typically, you’ll need to deliver artwork, audio files, trailer content, and a brand guide.
When it comes to pinpointing exact marketing dollars, it depends on production companies’ budgets. For that reason, the ad-spend ranges anywhere from 25% to 175% of the final production cost. To ensure you have a nest egg for your execute on your marketing initiatives, it’s critical that you create two completely separate budget for production and marketing.
If you’re in the indie territory and have a smaller budget, it’s helpful to steer clear of TV spots, as they’re exorbitantly expensive, generally costing hundreds of dollars for mere seconds of air time. A better move is targeting niche audiences with digital ads on both social media and websites. Further, before you even begin shooting, start solidifying a social presence to get audiences and potential stakeholders excited about the film. Marketing media that you should consider include:
Social Media Ads
Paid Search & Display Ads
TV & Radio Spots
4. Underestimating Time
Here is what we suggest: Plan for everything to take twice as long as you anticipate. If you’re shooting outside, bank on the sun, moon, and stars being your adversaries. It will be sunny when it’s supposed to be grey, and there will be a torrential downpour when you need blue skies. Further, actors and actresses will miss lines, equipment will break, people will get sick, and reshoots will be required.
When planning out your production, write down your ideal time and double it. It sounds extreme, but you’ll be thankful you did.
5. Not Watching Dailies
By being diligent about reviewing footage, you’ll be able to spot issues shortly after they occur. This simple practice of watching dailies can ultimately save a production company priceless hours and thousands of dollars in reshoots. When possible, distribute dailies to off-set producers and investors to report progress, keep them engaged, and ensure that they’re happy with the production.
Because shooting schedules can get tight, reviewing dailies is often one of the first to-dos on the chopping block. However, it’s also one of the most vital to a successful film. To avoid glazing over this responsibility, ensure your producer blocks out time in the schedule for reviews. While it may seem tedious, the entire crew will be thankful later, rather than a glaring technical mistake only caught in the final days of shooting.
Often the morning works best when you and your crew are fresh. However, if reviewing in AM isn’t your thing, you can shoot for an evening viewing. Just be considerate about how tired your team is. If you’re all beat, you may miss a critical mistake.
6. Forgetting to Share Your Shot List
Not sharing your shot list is as bad as not creating one at all. Every day should feature a shooting plan, and every department should know the plan. It’s the only way to gauge whether you’ll have a finished project by the deadline or not.
It is okay if your shooting schedule changes from day to day, that’s to be expected. Sharing a shot list is as simple as sending an email in the evening or early morning to inform everyone of the day to come. Your crew will thank you for it, and so will your wallet since this makes your production more efficient.
7. Not Budgeting for Overtime
A 12-hour shoot doesn’t mean a 12-hour day—at least not for everybody. Your assistant director (AD), production assistants (PA), grip, electric, makeup, wardrobe, and art department will typically be on set earlier to prepare for the day’s work ahead. Although being an hour off here and there doesn’t seem like it would skew your budget, it’s a game-changer as your crew gets larger.
Say 50 people are working an extra hour a day. And say they’re all paid $25 an hour. And then say that the set is 30 days. That’s a staggering $37,500 your budget is off by. To account for overtime, we recommend tacking on an hour’s pay to every person you think will need prep and breakdown time, then multiply that number by the number of days you’ll be shooting.
8. Assuming People Know What You Mean
Throughout the project, you’ll make schedules, revise plans, add to the shot list, etc., and more often than not, people assume that others around them hold a Sherlock-Holmes level of deductive reasoning and have a memory like a steel trap. Remember, every team communicates differently, so be sure to discuss, document, and detail specifics about topics such as:
Gas Reimbursement/Driving Time
Length or Workday/Week
If you think there is any room for misinterpretation, reiterate and spell out precisely what you mean. Don’t assume people should understand because they’ve worked in the industry; every project is different.
9. Filming without Insurance or Trying to “Borrowing” It
Film insurance protects the crew, filmmakers, producers, talent, production gear, filming locations, and of course, you. When shopping around, you may also see it marketed as “entertainment production coverage.”
Film production insurance covers a specified value amount, so be sure to be honest about the size of your production, lest something catastrophic happen and you’re sued. While most producers think about the basic packages that cover injury and lost/damaged equipment, policies that cover libel and copyright infringement may also be advantageous depending on the project. For example, think about when McDonald's sued Morgan Spurlock for Supersize Me.
As you shop for insurance, you’ll also notice there are both annual and short-term policies. If you’re planning to shoot regularly, bite the bullet and buy the annual policy. We know budgets are tight, but trying to save money by skimming on insurance is not the right corner to cut.
Additionally, do not (we repeat: do not) “borrow” a friend’s production insurance. For one, “lending out” insurance can be illegal. Secondly, just because you’re “additionally insured” doesn’t mean you’re fully covered. This is because if the production you’re working on is not produced in conjunction with the production company from which you borrowed the insurance, then the claim can be declined.
10. Not Keeping Records
Every document you acquire during the filming of your project, from receipts to contracts should be kept safe and easy to access. We recommend you make a copy of every document. To save paper, try scanning and uploading all of your documentation to a secure cloud. By digitizing your paperwork, it’ll be easier to share with others and search through when needed. If you’re unsure what documents we’re referring to, we’re talking about items such as contacts, script versions, releases, receipts to name a few.
At the end of the project, it all matters. You’ll need it to sell your film, re-edit your film, redistribute your film, and for potential Audits. It all matters. You are not exempt because you are an independent, low budget, nonunion production. So keep your records!
Guide Your Project By Working with GLP
Grant Larson Productions (GLP) is a full-service video production company that focuses on narrative-driven and education content. With a seasoned team of professionals, we help producers, industry executives, and other production agencies with every from pre-production to post, all while guiding them around the costly pitfalls of the film industry. If you’re interested in learning more about GLP and our services reach out to us today.