7 Things You Wish You Knew Before Directing Your First Feature

Though your first film may not be your best film, it could quite possibly be your best teacher.

You're going to make mistakes on every film you make, but your first project is unique in that you're probably making all of them within the same project. Those who have already experienced it know the struggle all too well. But learning about the countless errors other directors have made in their first films can help you avoid the ones you could make on your own, which is why you should definitely check out this video from Film Riot. In it, host Ryan Connolly talks with Dan Trachtenberg about his experience directing his first feature 10 Cloverfield Lane to learn about how the many mistakes he made actually helped him become a better filmmaker.

Trachtenberg shares a lot of great insight in the interview, but here are a few of our favorite pieces of advice:

  • Don't sweat ADR: Yeah, you're probably going to use more ADR than you think, but trust me, if it's done well your audience won't even notice it.
  • Be pitch perfect: Know your pitch and be prepared to give it (a lot).
  • It's okay to laugh: Humor and tension go hand-in-hand. Try to infuse a bit of it before, after, or even during suspenseful scenes.
  • Don't be rigid: Let your production plans be loose enough to make room for great ideas late in the game because that's often when they arise.
  • It's normal to not be confident: Many of us struggle to have confidence in our abilities as filmmakers, but sometimes you realize you have talent and good instincts during production when you're really put to the test.
  • Focus on the whole: Every scene should serve the story. Pay close attention to things like tone, performances, character arch in each scene to make sure they're informing the scene after it or are informed by the scene before it.
  • Find your own path: Like many of us, Trachtenberg tried to model his career like his favorite filmmakers, but he says you'll soon find out that you'll feel more confident and experience more success if you allow yourself to follow your own unique path.

What is one piece of advice you'd give your pre-first film self? What are some mistakes first-time filmmakers should try to avoid? Let us know down in the comments.     

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This is a great interview. I wish there were more like this where filmmakers are open and honest about their mistakes and shortcomings. Guy is definitely talented

September 16, 2017 at 3:15PM

Tony Clifford

Loved this! My main piece of advice to anyone about to make a movie is to just identify and admit any blindspot(s) or weaknesses you may have, and then do whatever you can to surround yourself with crew members whose strengths are complimentary so they can fill in those gaps. Collaboration and trust go a long way towards ensuring that every element of production reaches its fullest potential.

I kept a blog of my experience making my first feature (still in post), so if anyone wants to learn from my mistakes, visit http://danielshar.tumblr.com/firstfeaturefilm

September 16, 2017 at 4:11PM

Daniel Shar

Wow. This was one of the best and most insightful interviews in a long time!

September 17, 2017 at 11:55PM


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September 18, 2017 at 1:56AM


Totally agree. You will feel more confident and experience more success if you allow yourself to follow your own unique path!
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September 19, 2017 at 12:22AM


What should I teach my children so they can become a director?


November 17, 2017 at 6:59AM