16 Common Mistakes Newbies should Avoid in Filmmaking

I have seen many shorts and videos where I can distinctly make out that the filmmaker must be a newbie. Most of the time, I am spot on because there are some mistakes in filmmaking which a professional filmmaker will never commit. These are not budget constraints which a newbie will always make out to be.

There is always faltering of the basics, and as a newbie, you don’t care or are not aware. But, if you are aware of the common newbie mistakes to avoid in filmmaking and don’t care about it, then you are committing professional hara-kiri. If you consciously put an effort to overcome these flaws, your film will elevate to a higher level and validate you as a filmmaker who knows his craft.

Let me break these mistakes found in the various disciplines of filmmaking ( not in necessary order) :

1- Weak Script:

Most newbies, rush through their scripts as they are too excited to jump on the field with the camera and start rolling. What you end up seeing is style, some acts and gags, actors lingering in the frames and one meaningless collection of clips. There is no story but some great montage. That may get some applause from your colleagues but not from your audience. It can spoil you forever, and you will never figure out why your films fail.

What matters to an audience is the story of your movie. The rest of the process however fancy just don’t matter. The audience is investing its time to your film, and you need to honor that.  If you write a great story, all your filmmaking blemishes will be invisible. Invest your maximum time in writing a good, engaging story. Always validate your script by narrating it to as many people as you can. It will give you the leads to which are the best and weakest portion of your screenplay. Undercooked scripts will always kill your movies.

2- No Character motivation:

The script becomes weak if your character has no motivation or purpose of taking the story forward. If you are doing short gags, even then, there have to be apparent desires written for the characters.

So, define a clear goal for your characters and try to communicate it with the audience at the earliest. It will suck the audience into the story fast. Goals help in creating intense conflicts which makes your drama even more watchable.

3- Dull openings:

The film opens with a full shot of the room. A little boy enters to find something. He fidgets with his toys and then leaves. Or, we see a car running on a street, and we spend the next 20 seconds of the scene watching the car run on the road.It stops. A man comes out and enters a house. The two scenes above explained nothing about what the audience should know. It has no purpose. I see many amateurs commit this mistake over and over.

Don’t start with dull openings. Create a hook which grabs the attention from the very first scene.  Following the previous examples, if we write it little differently – A little boy enters the room. He fidgets with his toys. We hear a growl off-screen. He stops and looks at us.  Or, We see a car running on a street. It swerves between the lanes and comes to a screeching halt near a house. A man comes out and staggers towards the house. Before he reaches the door, he collapses.

I am sure the latter scenes immediately hook you on to the story. There has to be an intent when you open a film. You are setting up the audience for something. Don’t waste your time on that. If you lose an audience there, it is tough to bring them back in the movie as they have already started creating a negative impression about your film.

4- Too Verbose:

The film becomes too dry when the story is fed through dialogues. It becomes not only preachy; you waste a lot of screen time of good storytelling. One of the mantras of screenwriting – Never define the character by words but by action. It resonates with the emotion of the audience, and the empathy takes them closer to the character and your story.

You should only resort to dialogues when you find no other way to take the story forward. Show more speak less.

5- Bad casting:

Newbies tend to cast their family and friends in their movies. The casting looks way off. They don’t match their characters. The scene loses its authenticity. Films may be a make-believe thing, but the characters need to tell the story truthfully. If the cast doesn’t play or look the part, your creation looks fake.You can struggle a lot in casting but never compromise consciously on it.

There is nothing wrong in casting your friends or family members.Vittorio De Sica had cast non-actors in his classic- “ The Bicycle Thief.” Many directors cast non-actors. But choosing non-actor perfectly works if he fits the role and makes the story believable. Even your poker-faced aunt may look perfect if she fits the character. But, if you compromise on the character during casting just for budget limitations, the flaws magnifies manifolds, and your film looks cheap and tacky. Always audition your actors before finalizing on your cast.

6- Static Camera Blocking:

One of the most common mistakes is static camera blocking. Static blocks and unimaginative staging of your actors make your scenes lifeless. The motionless characters delivering dialogues look like zombies.

Try to make your characters move on their motivations. It frees them from the block and allows them to interact with their surroundings naturally. Allow your camera to move or your actors when you want no camera movement. Use the zoom and tilts to its advantage if you are on some constraints.

7- Bad Composition:

A layperson cannot define an excellent composition of your shot, but he can sense the difference between the good and the bad. The aesthetics are subjective, but there are few rules in cinematography when broken create the distraction from the story.

Follow the rules of the third to frame your scenes. Add depth, symmetry, and balance to the blocking.These beautifies your movie and makes it look professional. Kill the dead spaces and add props and play of lights and shadows to enhance your visuals.

8- Jumping the Axis:

Usually, newbies are ignorant of the axis of action in cinematography. The 180-degree rule is like a grammar in filmmaking. If you jump the axis, the relationship between the actors becomes confusing.

You should always keep the 180-degree rule when you place the camera in the master shot. The corresponding coverage of the shootings should follow this cinematography guideline.

9-  Blank Backgrounds:

Continuing with cinematography, another differentiation from an amateur filmmaking to a professional one is the background of any shot. Due to inexperience, beginners ignore the backgrounds. Environments play a crucial role to give additional information about the story and the characters. Textured backgrounds add contrast to the frame and separate the foreground from the background. If you keep the backgrounds blank, your frame adds no value to the story.

For blank walls, you can put colors, pictures, props that can add layers to the character’s lifestyle.

10- Poor Lighting:

Steven Spielberg once said, “What separates pornography from erotica is bad lighting.” It applies for amateur filmmaking too. Flat or dull lighting makes the storytelling uninteresting. Good lighting is a necessity to make your visuals stunning.

You need to develop good knowledge on lighting as it enhances the frames and makes your inexpensive production look glossy.There are thousands of resources to learn lighting techniques. My best is to observe films known for excellent cinematography. Try to find the sources of lights in a scene and how they play with the highlights, mid-tones and the shadows. The new digital cameras can capture crisp images in low light. You should always remember or note your light placements to maintain continuity of the shots. If you miss out on the congruity in the lighting, your audience will immediately notice it.

11- Editing Jerks:

Editing jerks happen when you cut shot to another shot in the same or near similar magnification. It subconsciously disrupts the rhythm of the story. The movement of the shots in the scene doesn’t look smooth. Beginners ignore such edits or are unable to fathom the problem when they shoot their scenes.

You can avoid these mistakes by considering some measures when you are shooting.You should plan your lenses and magnifications of your master scene. Then you should look for closer magnification for the coverages. It will enable smoother cuts if you keep the continuity in place.

12- Unnecessary Inserts:

Smoother edits don’t mean that with we have to include close up inserts of irrelevant things or underline every text in the story. Cinema becomes powerful when told in subtexts. Less is always more. Economizing of shots add more depth to the storytelling craft of the director.

13- Pregnant Pauses & Lingering of shots:

Pregnant pauses and Lingering of Shots are another set of standard mistakes we notice in amateur films. They slow down the pace of your movie and cause disengagement. When you make your film, you are too attached to your story and aren’t able to judge your film objectively. You resist editing the pregnant pauses and lingering shots.

We want to take a leaf out of real life and try to replicate that ambiance, but in a movie, it is the dramatic portion of the character which takes the story forward. So, you have to make that conscious choice of the pauses and the length of some scenes. You can test their need in the scene by removing them and taking a decision whether they are required or not.

14- Bad Audio:

Bad audio can ruin brilliant films.You may have great acting, taut screenplay, excellent visuals and an engaging pace. But, if your audio is full of environment noise or poor sound, you are dead. Your film is just not watchable. It happens if you record the audio from your inbuilt camera recorder. Audio is the next sensory receptor after the visual. If they don’t sync coherently, your story can hold no fort.

If you are short on budget, the only money you should put into your film is on the shotgun or boom microphones and the sound recorders. Always buy or hire professional audio system for your movies. They make or break your film.  Good sound makes your film look professional.

You should shoot on silent locations and if the noise is inevitable, keep your option of ADR open.

15- Sound Design:

Many filmmakers use generic music tracks over their scenes which don’t match the visuals. Either they are too epic or out of beat with the rhythm of the scene. If you can’t acquire good sound designer, it is better not to give any music.

It doesn’t mean you don’t provide sound effects. It is another aspect which adds life to your scene.If they are missing, the audience gets distracted. Always lay high-quality effects.

16- Bad Titling Font:

Choosing the right fonts for the tilting is crucial to the genre of the film. The titles set the mood of your movie. Wrong fonts or low-quality images suggests that the director lacks aesthetics. Always observe the type of fonts used in different genres in Hollywood movies. Try to find the similar ones for your films. In a matter of time, you will become a pro in selecting fonts for your titles.

If you agree or disagree with my observation, please feel free to comment below. If you can point out more mistakes, let me know. I will add it mentioning your name.


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