September 28, 2016 at 7:54AM


What do YOU think are the 5 most common mistakes of an amateur production?

Hey everyone.

I've been watching a lot of indie films as part of some research into different cameras etc, and I've noticed some recurring giveaways, where an otherwise good short film ends up diminished because of just one or two aspects.

Here are the 5 things that stood out to me the most:
1 - Too much color grading.
2 - Lack of dialogue - Reliance on voice overs
3 - Mixed light temperatures, e.g window with tungsten
4 - Shallow DOF gimmick
5 - Room echo. Bad sound quality.

I'd like to ask you all, What do YOU think are the 5 most common mistakes/giveaways of an amateur production?


That's a good list, and indeed many indie shorts suffer from all of the above! I would editorialize this way:

1 - Too much color grading. By not using/understanding waveform monitors, some DPs try to push too much dynamic range into a camera/codec that simply cannot handle it. Blown highlights, crushed shadows, saturation errors, and excessive noise are all consequences. One can try to use color grading to mask these errors, but many times the damage is beyond repair.

2 - Lack of dialogue - Reliance on voice overs. In general, a feature-length film (90-120 minutes) should try to keep exposition down to 5 mintues. Which means a short (5-20 minutes) should be less than 30 seconds.

3 - Mixed light temperatures, e.g window with tungsten. It's not always wrong to have mixed lighting, but one should be careful to get it right, which means more than just picking a color temperature and saying "Action!". The decor and costumes should be tolerant of the mixed lighting. They should not exacerbate greater discord (unless one is going for Suicide Squad cartoon renderings). On a related subject, lighting in general (and especially a lack of motivated lighting) separates the pros from the amateurs.

4 - Shallow DOF gimmick. 'Nuff said.

5 - Room echo. Bad sound quality. Nothing says amateur louder than bad sound.

September 28, 2016 at 2:02PM, Edited September 28, 2:02PM


...I can forgive a lot of things in an amateur film, but the biggest mistakes for me are:

1- Bad audio : I don't care if the visuals are soft or over/under exposed, badly color balanced, but at least give me good audio. It does not cost much to produce good audio, but it does require the right basic gear and a fair bit of practice to learn how to use it.

2- Bad story : If I am bored by your story I am not going to be interested in the rest of your film. Avoid story clichés by writing something truly original.

3- Bad dialog : You have to workshop your dialog to make sure it works and sounds believable coming out of your actors mouths.

4- Bad acting : This is where a good director proves their worth by getting the best performance out of their actors.

September 28, 2016 at 7:22PM, Edited September 28, 7:22PM

Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer

1. Bad Audio - It's more important as video quality.
2. Bad Acting/Dialogue - Ruins the story.
3. Bad lighting - Looks just unprofessional.
4. Overuse of anything (grading, depth of field, lens flares, etc.)
5. Lack of dialogue - except there is zero dialogue.

September 30, 2016 at 1:12AM

Eric Halbherr
Director, DP, Editor, Creative Storyteller

1. lens focus breathing from leaving camera on auto.
2. Bad audio esp using on camera sound
3. Bad exposure from using auto
4. Distraction from background, everthing in the scene should serve the scene
5. Cheesy transitions, think they are artistic, but in reality are distracting and a mark of an amateur.

September 30, 2016 at 11:20AM


Poor Story
Poor Script
Limited Pre Production
Poor Audio
Poor Location

September 30, 2016 at 12:48PM

Wentworth Kelly
DP/Colorist/Drone Op

Bad sound, no styling, pointless musical intermezzos, sloppy editing, random framing.

Can there be something like a top 5 for this?
Often mistakes or the elements that scream 'amateur' are intertwined somehow.

September 30, 2016 at 5:14PM

Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer

1. POOR AUDIO IS THE TOP FAULT!!! i had to do all caps.. then
2. over saturation
3. Cliche + Corny Story Lines
4. Poor Casting
i dont think i have five

December 20, 2016 at 12:40AM

Wentworth Kelly
DP/Colorist/Drone Op

The difference between beginner and professional is knowledge. Professionals aren't going to shoot in portrait mode :). Professionals will use microphones and tripods. Professionals will nail focus, will expose faces properly, will make minimal continuity mistakes, and will only cross the 180 line on purpose.

The short film at the end of JJ Abrams' Super 8 is a sort of homage to beginner mistakes. :)

But amateur vs professional is different from beginner vs professional. The amateur might have just as much knowledge as the professional.

What they don't have is money and time.

The reason that steadicams, slow motion, aerial shots, point of view shots used to make images look professional is that amateurs didn't have access to the gear or the software. But now they do. A slider shot in 2016 looks less professional than it did in 2010. An explosion in 2016 looks less professional than in 2010, seeing that you can now automatically comp one into your 4K iPhone footage with an app.

So, the difference is greyer than it used to be.

But there are still levels of production value that are beyond amateurs. Amateurs don't have the luxury of time to spend a day shooting one page of a script. Amateurs can't pay for an army of extras. Amateurs are stuck with limited casts, limited locations (often house interiors), limited costumes (so, they're generally going to have scripts set in the contemporary world).

BUT this is not to say that professional work is "better" than amateur work. I don't like episodes 1-3 of Star Wars. I think the storylines, dialogue and acting are crap. There's many YouTube web series I'd rather spend my time watching. But I wouldn't doubt that the former is "professional" and the latter aren't.

December 26, 2016 at 12:12AM, Edited December 26, 12:55AM

Adrian Tan

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