Filmmaking Amateur | Dumb Mistakes I've Made On A Shoot

by Scott
(Georgia, USA)

I recently got hired (yes hired!) to produce a video for a non-profit which involved an out of town shoot. I've been improving my video production skills over the past year and felt fully prepared to give my client exactly what they needed. I just got back from the shoot a few days ago.

Dumb Filmmaking Amateur Mistakes

I've made a lot of rookie mistakes over this past year, to be sure. But I'm not one that hates making mistakes. Don't get me wrong, I would prefer to be awesome in everything I do, but that may not be realistic (at least at this point in my new career).

I've recorded interviews with the ringer of my cell phone on. I've shot blown out video. I've neglected to make the change between auto-focus and manual focus when doing interviews. I've recorded audio that is too low and too high. I've shot without a tripod when I should have been using one. I've gotten to events late. I've shot too much b-roll and not enough b-roll. I've actually forgotten to hit record also. All of these mistakes were made without intention, of course. But in making these mistakes, I have learned some lessons - the hard way.

Classroom knowledge is good, but nothing compares to the real world experience I have given myself over this past year.

With all of this said, I'm sure you are expecting to hear that everything went off without a hitch for me during this out-of-town shoot. Yeah, right.

The Joys of Being a One-Man-Band

Before I lay out my latest round of blunders, I will defend myself by saying that I am and have been a one-man-band. I have to serve as director of photography, lighting and sound. I serve as the producer and interviewer. I am the scriptwriter. I am the editor. I carry all of my own equipment. And I have to make all of my own reservations. The only thing I don't do on a shoot is prepare my own food. But I do order off the menu all by myself.

Being a one-man-band has it's benefits. I never argue with the director of photography. I never get into a shouting match with my sound guy in front of the client. And I can't complain if my hotel is too far from food. But being alone on a shoot definitely has its drawbacks.

I would love it if someone could carry my bags. It would be great if I could blame someone else for something. It would be nice to put all of my focus on my interview subjects without constantly looking at my shot to make sure it's still in frame, in focus and getting good sound. It can be nerve-racking at times. But all of this is better than sitting at a desk checking emails and joining yet another conference call. The defense rests.

Now for the filmmaking charges against me.

Mistake #1 - Headphones

In one of my interviews, I forgot to turn on the receiver for my wireless mic. Since I also forgot to bring headphones that day all I had to rely on was the audio meter. The meter was moving when she was talking, so naturally I assumed that her audio was being recorded. Wrong. What I was seeing through my audio meter was the buzz of the mic trying to tell me that things were not working.

After the interview was over, I recognized that the receiver was not turned on. At this point, my heart dropped. This woman drove across town just to do this interview and I did not record one word she said. As I walked around after the interview looking busy and yelling at my audio technician for making such a bonehead mistake, I did what I had to do. I approached my subject and told her that one of my batteries died during the interview and that I would like to ask her a couple questions again to cover what was missed.

When is it OK to lie? When the truth makes you like like an idiot.

Fortunately, she was very easy going and had no problem answering some more questions. The cool thing about being a lying idiot is that sometimes you get lucky. My second interview with her went better than the first. She was more relaxed and actually gave some better answers than the first time. In fact, she told me she was glad to get a second chance because she didn't like some of her answers. A victory for a bonehead filmmaker! Had I not taken a big gulp and asked for a second chance, I would have missed some pretty good soundbites that I know are going to be in the video.

But my learning doesn't stop at just forgetting to turn on a mic.

Mistake #2 - Manual Focus

I also forgot to change from auto-focus to manual focus for at least two interviews. All throughout these interviews the focus shifted from my subject to the background and back again. I didn't notice this during filming because I was focused on the questions I was asking and the answers I was getting. Don't worry, I gave my director of photography an earful after that interview. He may never work with me again.

Mistake #3 - Listening to the Client

Another blunder made was allowing my client to tell me what would be best for the video. He wanted to do an interview outside on a sidewalk on a side street to show one of their projects in the background. It was mid-day and the sun was not in the best place for lighting. Light coming straight down does weird things with shadows on people's faces. I allowed him to have his way and we did the interview as he requested.

During the interview I had to place my interview subject in the shadow of a light pole to keep him from squinting. The buildings in the background were blown out in order to have his face properly lit. It was a tough lighting situation that no camera could fix. But the way to fix a bad shot like that is simply not to do it. Luckily, I turned the mic on and we were able to get a good interview (although not the best looking), interrupted routinely by passing trucks.

Waxing Philosophical

When you do things right people watch and think that filmmaking is easy. When you do things wrong, people just don't watch. It's kinda like acting. When I see a good actor on screen I think, "I could be an actor.". But when I see a bad actor I realize that if I tried to act I would look foolish. Like I said, I don't mind making mistakes - as long as I learn from them. And so far over this past year, I have learned a lot. And I know I have a lot more learning to do.

Comments for Filmmaking Amateur | Dumb Mistakes I've Made On A Shoot

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Mar 13, 2013
Editing is Harder than Writing NEW
by: Scott

Tez, thanks for your comment. And you are right, so many things can go wrong in the field. From losing glasses to not charging batteries to not packing batteries or glasses. I was recently emailing a friend who is a writer and I told her that video editing was driving me a bit batty (I'm learning Adobe Premiere). If you do something wrong as a writer, all you have to do is backspace and everyone knows how to backspace to rewrite what wasn't right. But in video editing there are so many other "buttons" you need to press to express what you are trying to get across. Yeah, the Undo button is one button and I have mastered that one. But it's all the other menus and clicks that are making editing a very tedious and quite frankly not fun experience. In the end, people are turning more and more to video because it's easier to watch than to read. (Odd that for the consumer the ease and difficulties are reversed. It's easier to write than to edit video, yet easier to watch a video than read a book.)

All to say that I am in the crawling stages and want very much to be at the point where I know how to maneuver through the software menus and tabs. But this is all part of the learning process, I get that. I just wish what i put on the screen came as easily as this little response. Thanks!

Apr 12, 2012
Indeed NEW
by: Trez NYC

As a writer-turned-filmmaker, I really relate...Even on a simple shoot, there are so many things that can go wrong and it seems any little oversight comes back to bite you in the a**.

Today, my comprehensive pre-shoot checklist didn't take into consideration that I would somehow lose my glasses while unpacking gear for a shoot in Brooklyn. Backup specs seems so obvious. I have heard nightmare stories of lost memory cards, muted audio tracks, actresses walking off the set and into a waiting limo with a $1,000 wireless mic still secured to their D-cup.

Although, I think videomaking/editing a project is way easier than writing a coherent 3,000-word magazine story (there are no "crossfade transitions" in writing!), the potential screw-ups on a shoot are infinite whereas, if you're a writer, a paper and pen can be gleaned at just about any corner store.

Feb 23, 2012
great tips NEW
by: Desktop Documentaries

Thanks Scott for having the courage to share not only your accomplishments (congrats on the paying gig!), but also your blunders. As you say, the best way to learn is by DOING. These are great tips and reminders for all emerging filmmakers.

I think you've hit on something really important when working with clients. Of course you want to make sure you're listening and understanding what the client needs from you. But also having the finesse to take creative suggestions with a grain of salt.. and gently setting expectations that you (the producer/editor) needs to have the creative freedom to do what "works" for the assignment. That's why they're hiring you right?

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