When I wrote this post about the mistakes filmmakers made in 2009, I had no idea how many comments would be made. Even today, in May 2019, I thought that many of these points had changed.
But no. Here we are every ten years later. I think the political, sociological and environmental changes in our troubled world have made these even more important.
Independent film and independent filmmakers are more important than ever. I republished this in the hope that it will make you stronger, more resilient, and more productive.
Read on and let me know if you agree or not!
Have fun filmmaking,
Elliot Grove, founder of Raindance | British Independent Film Awards
As your filmmaking career grows, it is crucial that your actions do not strangle them in their infancy.
By avoiding the mistakes so many filmmakers make, you have a far greater chance of achieving success well beyond the first two years of your career starting date.
1. Do too much yourself
Entrepreneurs and filmmakers fall into this trap when trying to minimize costs. It can mean that you get stuck in everyday life. / This prevents you from stepping back and taking a close look at the future. Future planning, and therefore the ability to anticipate problems, are two important areas that successful filmmakers need to be in control of. Overdoing it can mean the fire cycle repeats itself over and over again.
Linked to this is the guilt associated with neglecting family and personal relationships. This often leads to exhaustion and breakdown.
Call before you need help, not after the cracks show. It is usually too late.
2. You don't know what you don't know
Most independent filmmakers start their careers because they're really good at something. Some are really good at directing action, some have a flair for working with actors, and others are just good solid all-rounders.
What many filmmakers forget is that it's a business that encompasses a multitude of different skills. They forget that filmmaking requires basic business skills. For example: sourcing new clients and jobs, marketing and advertising, recruiting new crews and employees, and managing the cash flow issues a small business has. Add to that the creative mix and you have the potential for breakdown.
Running, and most importantly developing and expanding your film career, is like growing and developing any type of business. It is unlikely that you have the expertise to do all of the necessary things yourself.
Successful filmmakers learn to recognize their own skills and knowledge and take action to fill the gaps in their career plan.
3. Finish the day job too quickly
A filmmaker or screenwriter is usually so passionate about what they do that they start earning their first successes and income. Then they quit their daily jobs and hire premises and employees – only to face psychological and financial ruin if their early successes were a minor slip on the long road to a successful career.
Everyone needs money to survive. Make sure you can cover your monthly expenses before quitting your day job. Often times people try to get film work but don't know how to work with no experience.
If done correctly, you may be able to apply for funding or take advantage of certain strategic tax benefits depending on your personal profile and the geographic area in which you live.
4. You have no one to talk to
Filmmakers have career problems that often need to be debated and debated. The difficulty for most filmmakers is that they find it very difficult to find someone to relate to.
Certain legal and technical challenges can be discussed with an accountant or attorney. But issues of creativity are not the topics you would want to discuss with inappropriate people.
Not having a network can be very harmful. Discussing with a trusted advisor or friend will reveal new ideas and perspectives. Confirmation of your project and your ideas also nourishes your ego. Lukewarm receptions can indicate that your ideas are not sufficiently developed.
Having a small network of trusted people who are able to “pick up” you and listen and discuss ideas with you is an integral part of a filmmaker's success. The first time you visit Raindance's website, subscribe to our free weekly newsletter – a great way to share ideas.
5. Work with the wrong people
Filmmaking is a passionate business. It's almost always the last minute, too. In addition, there is chronic fatigue. In these circumstances, it is tempting to quickly hire people for production and other work without properly consulting and verifying references.
Remember, no matter how good someone is, if there is a difference in values, the only questions that matter are, "When will the series take place?" and "What subject will it be?"
Always ask yourself: how much real experience do you have? Is it relevant to what you need? Are their skills and experiences complementary to yours? Do you have mutual respect? How important will you be to them? Do you know your own limits? What networks and contacts do you bring with you? Do they let you speak to their previous employers / co-workers to get a feel for how they work?
As always, don't agree to work with anyone until you're comfortable. Make sure you don't fall for any of the drawbacks filmmakers fall for. And make sure you have written contracts in place for any creative collaboration.
6. Lack of self-esteem
Many filmmakers are afraid to admit their fears and inadequacies because they don't want to lose the mantra of praise that they want to follow everywhere. They are not criticized by anyone for not trusting them and because they think they know better. When confronted, they usually select ridiculously fine details and refuse to entertain others' creative or practical suggestions.
This makes it very difficult to develop a team and over time they find fewer and fewer people willing to work with them.
Successful filmmakers are brutally honest with themselves. Get important feedback from this special and trusted friend.
7. Stay in the comfort zone
Most filmmakers work with the same team members over and over again. There is nothing wrong with that – except – who challenges you and your ideas and tests them?
Surrounding yourself with "yes" men is a simple trap. Working with people you challenge may be uncomfortable, but it is much easier than attending a disastrous showing of your film because no one around you had the courage to say, "Wait a minute – what about XYZ?"
Hip, innovative filmmakers pick up on these cool ideas from outside of their conventional minds. You will learn to accept constructive criticism and deal with negative criticism.
Mixing in with others increases your chances of doing so. The more diverse your contacts are (whether by sector / age / ethnic group / gender), the more you can narrow the perspective of potential incoming problems. Someone in your group has experience with problems you don't have – better learning from others' mistakes than getting extra battle scars yourself!
8. Not knowing why you want to make films
Filmmakers make films for many different reasons. It doesn't matter why you want to make a movie. Some make films because they want to make money. Others make films to get a message across. Others make films because they are drawn to the fascination and glamor.
Decide on your ambitions before you venture out and pursue a career as a filmmaker. Realize that your real purpose for making movies will dictate much of what you try and achieve.
By avoiding at least some of these eight common mistakes, your film career has a much better chance of success. Analyze each of these eight areas and take appropriate action.
Great article, I now feel "cornered"
– Eman Assef
Very good article, Elliot – right on the button. I recognize all of these mistakes (and some more …)
– Charles Harris
Hello Elliot. I've read these 8 errors line by line. Word by word. It's just great to know the world of the film industry. And survive. Many Thanks
– Martin Chowdhury
I run a number of tenants' associations in Stratford, East London. In reminding members of the need for the delegation, I noticed Elliot's post, "8 Mistakes That Kill a Filmmaker's Career", and instead forwarded it as an anecdotal analogy. How fitting! Especially the first point. I enjoyed it and I agree with the rest that I posted the lot! (with the appropriate credits – of course …).
– Arbind Ray – filmmaker
After making ALL of these mistakes at one time or another, I speak with the voice of experience … all true !! Do yourself a favor and look out for this little wisdom list. Saves you an immense amount of backtracking. Many Thanks.
– Margaret Dane, Wayward Women Films
Thanks for sending us a mirror every now and then! Still growing into … Had
Laughing to myself this morning and telling my wife while I was going out
The door to the office: let's make a movie today!
Cheers, Wiet Proesmans
If you see a reality check as negative, it is possible that you will stay in cloud cuckoo land. Good if you want to joke yourself.
I recently took your film class in Toronto – the last one. They started off with some questions that they don't ask in film school, or when they do, they usually frown at those of us who want to make money and make a living from our craft. Anyway, after the questions you jumped straight into the business side of things (another thing they don't teach in film school) then you started losing me, not because you were boring, but because I was like that read many books on all aspects of filmmaking that made me wonder if my 300.00 was well spent. THEN you looked into sales and marketing and considered the turn of online PR and social networking and everything that was clicked on. You put my entire thinking process in order for the better and since then you have continued to send me things to keep me updated and to focus on my path. Now I know that I'll be making another film. In these 8 mistakes, you addressed everything I did wrong in my career up to the day I spent that prohibitive 300.00 on my visa. Best investment I've ever made. Now I can get the 17,000.00 I spent on film school behind me.
Antonio Kreem Joyette
READ THIS BLOG POST!
This is one of the most important posts I have ever read. I almost didn't read it. After 18 years in business, I thought I would know what you were going to say. However, this is one of the most valuable and least discussed pieces of advice I have ever seen. I will forward it to everyone!
Jendra Jarnagin, DP