10 Most Expensive Mistakes Filmmakers Make

I have had the good fortune to meet and work with a great number of wonderfully talented and exciting filmmakers since Raindance started in 1992.

On top of that each year at film festival submission time, I have had the benefit of seeing hundreds of shorts, features and documentaries pouring into the Raindance Film Festival office from just about every country around the world.

The Raindance team and I have the great privilege of choosing our personal favourites for the festival. We then track the films through their lives at other festivals and watch as they fall into the hands of distributors, both here in the UK and abroad.

Based on my observations, a couple of year’s ago, I wrote an article called: ‘10 Stupid Mistakes Filmmakers Make‘ which might wrongly imply that I think filmmakers are stupid. Which they are not. I seem to continually get flamed for my opinions. For example I wrote another article which I called the 8 Mistakes Filmmakers Make That Kills Their Movies – for which I was flamed and torn apart mercilessly.

I was just trying to help!

You want the truth? You want reality?
Here is a list of the really expensive mistakes I have seen filmmakers make:

Write and Sell the Hot Script 1. Wrong Script

The Bible has a gem for independent filmmakers that has lain hidden for centuries: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.’

All movies have to start with a screenplay. And until your script is excellent, there is no point in making it into a film. The number of times I have cringed at best friends’ premieres – at screenings where the films were well-shot, well-acted, and well edited but movies where the script, frankly, sucked – are too numerous to mention here.

I don’t want to go off on a pompous rampage here, but the reason Raindance spends so much time and energy on our scriptwriting classes, and the reason we hone our script reading service to a level we think is world class, is because we believe that the first step in any film is the screenplay.

2. Your Friends Can’t Act

I know you think your script is pretty damn good (lets face – none of your mates have the balls or the know-how to tell you it sucks) and now you really want to squander whatever nest egg your producer has whipped together for your budget?

Here’s how to really screw up – put your mates in the movie, and not professional actors. Let me wag my finger and make sure you as a director, know how to direct performance.

3. Wrong Budget For The Story

Remember Phone Booth? It had a pretty hefty budget because of the talent in the film – which is cool. But it could have been shot for next to nothing as an indie film.

At Raindance we see ‘phone booth’ type movies hyped up with hundreds of thousands of budget in an exercise that might even have looked better shot on the proverbial frayed shoe-string. Learn to make a film at the right budget level.

Save your big bucks for a screenplay that really needs them.

4. Music Rights

Do you really think no one is going to notice that you remixed Maria Callas doing the big Puccinni overture to sound unlike her? Or were you just unable how to figure out how to clear the music rights for your film? Either or, it’s a mistake that’s ging to cost you dearly.

The Musicians Union is the strongest union, and they have set up the whole music industry around protecting their members, and collecting royalties. Who else knows this? Distributors and broadcasters. They won’t touch your film with a ten foot pole unless you have the music rights.

If you don’t have music rights, you won’t be able to sell your film. Full Stop.

Raindance Film Festival5. No Social Media Plan

Sales agents and distributors I meet in Cannes and Berlin are incresingly impressed by a filmmaker that can come to them with a social media following. The reason is really simple: If you have people interested in your work, it makes it easier for the distributor to sell them your film.

What I really hate are filmmakers who say they are too visual or some such to get involved with Twitter or Facebook.

Malarkey I say: Filmmakers are communicators. And in today’s brave new digital age, you need to embrace every communication device you can. Have you checked out the Raindance Twitter profile yet? Follow us, or another favourite social media profile and see how to handle the medium. Then do it better.

6. Uncleared Story Rights

It should go without saying that you can’t make a film from an existing novel or short story (unless it is your own). Ditto for film you want to make about a person’s life story who is still living.

Make sure you have the correct copyright clearances.

6. No Sales Strategy

Making a film is not only about hanging about on a set with the likes of Kiera Knightley. It’s about knowing to whom you are going to sell your film.

The considered advice is that you need to know who the marketing manager is for the distribution company you think will buy your film. The marketing manager is the one who has to come up with the marketing campaign for your film. That includes the posters, the DVD jacket artwork, the trailers and of course the social media camaign. Get inside their head and figure out what you need to give them to make them look good to their bosses.

Raindance Film Festival7. No Festival Strategy

Certain festivals can help your film’s eventual release strategy. Other festivals can hurt your film. It’s important that the festivals you allow to screen your film can offer you publicity and profile – two things that can assist you to get a distribution deal and/or a film sales agent (should you want one).

8. No PR Strategy

Once a filmmaker understands that the fun part of the filmmaking process is the actual shoot, the tough slog of marketing and selling of the film kicks in. Learn what the 7 essential elements of a press kit are, and decide early on how you want the world to perceive you.

9. Not Putting Investors First

Don’t forget the people that gave you the money to make your film.

They say in Hollywood that you treat your stars like bankers, and treat your bankers like stars.

If you spend time courting them during the making of the film, it is very likely they will come back and re-invest in your film. Things like set visits, a weekly newsletter, sales and festival update and any other perks are the sorts of things that will keep your investors hotter than hot.

10. Not Understanding The Market

If you have targeted your film at a specific market, for example, television, you will need to understand what the issues that TV stations around the world face. Each territory has different censorship and topical requirements. Understanding these is a sure fire way to make you a hit.
Fade Out
Here’s the beauty of filmmaking. Nobody knows anything.

Make it up as you go along, and just make sure you cover off these ten basics, and you will be much further ahead of most of the competition.
Now, why are you reading this when you should be out writing, directing or producing?
Elliot Grove

Elliot Grove

Elliot Grove

About Elliot Grove

Elliot Grove founded Raindance as a thought experiment: Can you make a film with no money, no training and no experience, he asked?

When people like his first intern Edgar Wright started making movies he started the Raindance Film Festival to celebrate their work in 1993, the British Independent Film Awards in 1998, and Raindance.TV in 2007.

Elliot has produced over 150 short films, and 5 feature films. He has written eight scripts, one of which is currently in pre-production. His first feature film, TABLE 5 (1997) was shot on 35mm and completed for a total of £278.38. He teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe, Japan and America. In 2006 he produced the multiple-award winning The Living and the Dead.

In 2013 he relaunched the production arm: Raw Talent with the cult film director Ate de Jong. Their first venture was the psychological thriller Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey. finished November 2013.

This summer, Raindance Film Festival barked on a groundbreaking tour of Britain: 10 films in six cities with the Festival Screening Partner, VUE Cinemas.
You can see Philip Van's trailer for the 2014 Raindance Film festival here:



He has written three books which have become industry standards: RAINDANCE WRITERS LAB 2nd Edition (Focal Press 2008), Raindance Producers' Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking (Focal Press 2013) and 130 PROJECTS TO GET YOU INTO FILMMAKING (Barrons 2009). He was awarded a PhD in 2009 for services to film education. His first novel THE BANDIT QUEEN is scheduled for publication next year. Read articles by Elliot Grove.

, , , , ,

6 Responses to 10 Most Expensive Mistakes Filmmakers Make

  1. Francesco Accattatis May 29, 2013 at 3:07 am #

    Precious advice.

  2. Darryl M Perrilloux Jr June 5, 2013 at 6:59 am #

    Excellent post. Thank you!

  3. Adam Ethan Crow June 20, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    I like cheese.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 10 Most Expensive Mistakes Filmmakers Make | We Did This Pictures - July 13, 2013

    [...] 10 Most Expensive Mistakes Filmmakers Make [...]

  2. Making the Smart Movie | FilmNotes - December 26, 2013

    [...] at #1 of the “10 Most Expensive Mistakes Filmmakers Make” at the indie website raindance.org is choosing the wrong script. “All movies have to start with a screenplay. And until your [...]

  3. 10 Most Expensive Mistakes Filmmakers Make | Winter Film Awards - May 30, 2014

    [...] Elliot Grove, Raindance.org: I have had the good fortune to meet and work with a great number of wonderfully talented and [...]

Leave a Reply


If you liked this, You'll really like...

In Praise Of Low Budget Filmmaking
The Best Websites For Distributing Your Films Online (As well as YouTube)
9 Rain-Deers On a Film Set: Which One Are You?
2014 Anti Resolutions


Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter
Watch independent shorts, features and documentaries on www.raindance.tv
Visit us on Twitter for daily tips and updates

© 2012 Raindance Film Partnership LLP
Reproduction of this article without written permission is strictly forbidden. For information on reprint rights please email info@raindance.co.uk