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Mitchell Block April, 2013
8 Mistakes Filmmakers Make That Kill Their CareersAs your filmmaking career starts to grow, it’s crucial that your actions don’t strangle it in its infancy.
By avoiding the mistakes that so many filmmakers make you have a far greater chance of succeeding well beyond the first 2 years of the launch date of your career.
1. Doing Too Much YourselfBusiness owners as well as filmmakers fall into this trap as they attempt to minimise costs. It can mean that you will get bogged down in the day-to-day nitty gritty, keeping you from stepping back and taking a good hard look at the future. Future planning, and with it, the ability to anticipate problems, are two important areas successful filmmakers have to keep control of. Doing too much can mean that the fire-fighting cycle just keeps repeating over and over again.
Coupled with that is the guilt associated with neglecting family and personal relationships. This often leads to exhaustion and collapse.
Why not call for extra help before you need it, and not after the cracks have begun to show, and usually, it is too late.
2. You Don’t Know What You Don’t KnowMost independent filmmakers start their career because they are really good at something. Some are really good at directing action, others have a flair for working with actors, and others are just good solid all-rounders.
What many filmmakers forget is that it is a business which involves a host of different skill sets. They forget that filmmaking requires the basic business managaement skills such as: sourcing new clients and work, marketing and publicity, recruiting new crew and staff, and managing the cash flow questions that any small business has. Add into this the creative mix and you have the potential for a meltdown.
Running and more importantly, developing and expanding your movie career is like growing and developing any type of business. It is unlikely that you will have the expertise to do everything needed yourself.
Sucessful filmmakers learn to recognise their own skills and knowledge and take action to fill the gaps in their career plan.
3. Quitting The Day Job Too QuicklyA filmmaker or screenwriter’s passion in what they are doing is usually so high that they enjoy some intital successes and revenues. They then quit their day jobs and hire premises and staff – only to face psychological and financial ruin when their early successes have been a minor blip on the long hard haul to a successful career.
Everyone needs money in order to survive. Make sure you are able to cover your monthly expenses before you ditch your day job.
Done correctly, you might be able to apply for funding or enjoy certain strategic tax benefits depending on your personal profile and the geographical territory you live in.
4. You Haven’t Got Anyone To Talk ToFilmmakers have career issues which often require discussion and debate. The difficulty facing most filmmakers is that they find it very difficult to find anyone they can relate to.
Certain legal and technical challenges can be discussed with an accountant or lawyer. But issues of creativity are not the issues you want to discuss with inappropriate people.
Having no network is potentially very damaging. Discussion with a trusted advisor or friend is where one finds new ideas and perspectives. Having your project and ideas endorsed is also nourishing for one’s ego. Lukewarm receptions can indicate that your ideas are not developed enough.
A small network of trusted people able to ‘get’ you and to listen and discuss ideas with you is an essential part of a filmmaker’s success.
5. Working With The Wrong PeopleFilmmaking is a passionate business. It is also almost always very last minute. Add on top of that, the chronic fatigue. Under these circumstances it is tempting to hire people for production and other jobs quickly without properly interviewing and checking references.
Remember, no matter how good someone is, if there’s a difference in values, then the only questions that matter are “When will the row happen?” and “On what subject will it be?”
Always be asking yourself: how much real experience do they have? Is it relevant to what you need? Are their skills and experience complimentary to yours? Do you have mutual respect? How important will you be to them? Do they know their own limits? What networks and contacts do they bring? Will they let you talk to their previous employers/collaborators to get a feel of how they work?
As always, don’t agree to work with anyone until you feel comfortable. And make sure you have written contracts in place for any creative collaboration.
6. Lack of self awarenessMany filmmakers are afraid of admitting their fears and inadequacies because they don’t want to lose the mantra of praise that they want to follow them everywhere. They won’t take any criticism from anyone because they don’t trust them and because they believe they know better. When confronted they usually nitpick ridiculously fine details and refuse to entertain the creative or practical suggestions from anyone else.
This makes it very difficult to develop a team, and as the word spreads, they find fewer and fewer people willing to collaborate with them.
Sucessful filmmakers are brutally honest about themslves. Get some vital feedback from that special and trusted friend.
7. Staying In The Comfort ZoneMost filmmakers work with the same team members over and over again. There is nothing wrong with this – except – who is challenging and testing you and your ideas?
It’s an easy trap to surround yourself with ‘yes’men. Working with people who challenge you may be uncomfortable, but it’s a whole lot easier then attending a disastrous screening of your movie because no one around you had the courage to say “hang on a minute – what about XYZ?”‘
Hip, innovative filmamkers pick up those cool ideas from outside their conventional thoughts. They learn to accept constructive criticism and learn how to deal with negative criticism.
Mixing with others will increase your chances of doing this. The more diverse your contacts (whether by sectors/age/ethnic group/gender), the more you’ll also be able to “narrow the angles” on potential incoming problems; someone in your group will have had experience of issues that you haven’t – better to learn from others’ mistakes than get extra battle scars yourself!
8. Not Knowing Why You Want To Make MoviesFilmmakers make movies for many different reasons. It doesn’t really matter why you want to make a movie. Some make movies because they want to make money. Others make movies to get a message across. Others make movies because they are attracted by the allure and glamour.
Decide what your ambitions are before you head off and attempt a career in fillmaking. Realise that your real reason for making movies will predetermine much of what you try and achieve.
By avoiding, at least to some degree, these eight common mistakes your filmmaking career has a much more decent chance of success. Analyse each of these eight areas and take appropriate action.