October 3, 2019

Filmmakers Should Stop Making These 5 Common Mistakes

Why learn from your mistakes when you can learn from someone else's?

As a freelance filmmaker, I've made plenty of mistakes. Really, really, really dumb mistakes that are bad. 

I've underestimated shoot times by days. I've done way more free work than I'd care to admit. I've even agreed to shoot projects without, you know, actually having access to cameras or mics or literally any gear whatsoever. 

But live and learn and all that... Your silly foibles (hopefully) inform your future decisions until you get better. But damn, there are some mistakes that may be coming into your professional orbit like goddamn asteroids, the impacts of which might be truly damaging to your career and, like, heart.

So, let's learn from other people's mistakes, shall we? Gene Nagata of Potato Jet shares a handful of his own from his time as a freelance filmmaker in his latest video.

Nagata shares a ton of great advice here, but let's go over each mistake one-by-one.

1. Negotiating is Normal, but You Make it Weird

It feels really uncomfortable talking about money. Especially when it comes to negotiating fees.

Look, I'm a prideful bitch. It's not even funny. X client wants the price to go way, way down and do I really want to show that I care about losing hundreds or thousands of dollars? No! I'd rather take a financial L and eat Ramen for a month than negotiate.

That's not a smart move, fam.

Both you and your client want to find a price that works, which means negotiating is inevitable and normal. And, many times, your clients aren't aware of the real cost of producing their video or project, so let them know that they're not just paying for a final product -- they're paying for your time, expertise, gear, and travel. They are paying for a result, that only you can deliver. 

2. Stop Doing Everything Yourself

When first starting out, it's super normal to one-man-band it. You're producing, shooting, lighting, editing, and doing literally every single thing by yourself, which is fine. Many learn a lot that way. In the short-term. But that eventually becomes the stone around your neck that will sink your opportunities to advance your craft. 

In the video, Nagata says a beautiful thing: "You having access to talent is just as important as having talent itself."

It's true. You want to give your clients the best possible product -- can you really do that with your skillset alone? Working solo?

If the answer is, "Yes. Okay, no. Okay? God, you happy?! No, I can't do it all myself," then use your excellent cinematic expertise to find creatives who have the skills needed to make your project shine.

3. Not Planning

The importance of preparedness can't be emphasized enough in filmmaking. If you don't learn early on how to plan and organize projects, from the earliest brainstorms to packaging your deliverables, you're going to hit walls and likely feel overwhelmed by the chaos. 

And since listing all of the things you should plan for would take (roughly) 10,000 years, I'll just say this instead: Planning can sometimes feel like a gargantuan undertaking, so it helps to have, uh, help. 

4. Being Okay with "Handshake" Deals

Draw up contracts. Sign them. Make sure your clients sign them.

This isn't a joke. Settling on terms -- and sealing the deal with a handshake -- might seem as wholesome as Disney, but they can often turn ugly and spiteful and lose you a ton of money and piece of mind. Like Disney.

Don't worry. No one's going to think you're "mean" for insisting on signing a contract. And if they do, then maybe you don't want to make that discount tire store commercial for your mom's new boyfriend, Rick, anyway.

5. Not Realizing Your Most Valuable Asset as a Filmmaker

"Yo, I'm a fuggin' magician with a camera." "I'm the Michael Jordan of Premiere Pro, guys." "I'm VFX at VFX, dude...'very fucking x-elent.'"

Okay, we get it. Your film skills are lit, bruh. But take several seats for a second.

First of all, yes, good -- you're mastering your craft. That's very important and essential for success in this industry. However, what do your clients actually want more than anything else? More than a killer motion graphic or perfectly paced edit?

You guys, they want to be able to trust you. That is your most valuable asset. Clients will pay a premium for a filmmaker they can trust and rely on.

Of course, hone your skills and push yourself to master your techniques as best as you can, so you can be the most talented and capable filmmaker in the room, but you also have to make sure that you are the most trustworthy and reliable one, too. T

hat might actually be the thing that gets you the most work in the end.

Wrapping Up

There are so many mistakes you're going to make on your filmmaking journey. That's actually okay. Mistakes are great teachers, but so are the weary souls who survived making those mistakes. Allow yourself room and grace to fail. Being aware of the mistakes of other creatives and how they learned from them is a lot less painful than making them yourself.

What are the biggest mistakes you've made as a filmmaker? Let us know down below in the comments.     

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1 Comment

Excellent video! A must see for everyone who wants to make money with a camera.

October 4, 2019 at 1:20PM

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William Scherer
Writer/Director/Producer/Fine Art Aerial Photography
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