As 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 Yourself

Business 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 Know

Most 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 management 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.

Successful 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 Quickly

A filmmaker or screenwriter's passion in what they are doing is usually so high that they enjoy some initial 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. Often people try to get film work, but don't know how to get work without experience.

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 To

Filmmakers 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. If this is your first visit to Raindance's website, why not subscribe to our free weekly newsletter - it's a great way to share ideas.

5. Working With The Wrong People

Filmmaking 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. Make sure you don't fall for one of the cons filmmakers fall for. And make sure you have written contracts in place for any creative collaboration.

6. Lack of self awareness

Many 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.

Successful filmmakers are brutally honest about themselves. Get some vital feedback from that special and trusted friend.

7. Staying In The Comfort Zone

Most 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 filmmakers 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 Movies

Filmmakers 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 filmmaking. 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.

Best wishes!


Great article,it makes me now feel "cornered"

- Eman Assef



Very good article, Elliot - right on the button. I recognise all those mistakes (and then some...)

- Charles Harris


"..Hi Elliot..I read this 8 Mistakes in line by line..word by word..its simply magnificent to know the world of film industry..and survive..  thanks a lot"
Martin Chowdhury

"Hi! My dayjob is "re-enforcement learning". To tell a robot where not to go won't lead him to the power socket. How about some positive tips? You've been quite negative recently... Come on. Tell me how to me successful! 😉 "
Bernd Porr , University of Glasgow (Department of Electronics & Electrical Engineering)
"Hi Elliot
I chair a couple of Leaseholders’ Associations in Stratford, East London. As I was about to remind members of the need to delegate, I noticed Elliot’s “8 mistakes that kill a filmmaker's career” post, so I’ve forwarded that instead as an anecdotal analogy. How apt! Particularly the first point. I enjoyed and agree with the rest that I posted the lot! (with the appropriate credits – of course…)."
Arbind Ray - Filmmaker
Having made ALL these mistakes at one time or another, I speak with the voice of experience......all true!!  Do yourself a favour and pay attention to this little list of wisdom.  Will save you an immense amount of backtracking. Thanks."
Margaret Dane, Wayward Women Films
Dear Elliot,
Thanks for sending us a mirror now and than! Still growing into it ... Had
to laugh with myself this morning telling my wife, while I was walking out
the door to the office: let's make another filmpie today!
Cheers, Wiet Proesmans
If one views a reality check as negative, then it is possible that one will remain in cloud cuckoo land. Fine, if you want to kid yourself.
Chris Perkins
Hey Elliott,
I took your filmmaking course in Toronto not long ago--the most recent one. You opened with some questions that they don't ask in film school or if they do, they usually frown on the answers from those of us who want to make money and live off our craft. Anyway, after the questions, you jumped right into the business side of things (another thing they do not teach in film school) then you started to lose me but not because you were boring but because I have read so many books on all aspects of filmmaking that I was beginning to wonder if my 300.00 was well spent. THEN you got to distribution and marketing and incorporated the twist of online PR and social networking and everything CLICKED. You re-arranged my entire thought process for the better and since then you've continued to send me things to keep me informed and focused on my path. Now I know I'm gonna make another film. In these 8 mistakes, you've touched on everything I've done wrong in my career until the day I spent that unaffordable 300.00 on my visa. Best investment I ever made. Now I can put that 17,000.00 I spent on film school behind me.
Thanks bro
Antonio Kreem Joyette
This is one of the most important posts I have ever read. I almost didn't read it, with 18 years in the business, I thought I would know what you were going to say. But this is among the most valuable and least discussed advice I have ever seen. I will be forwarding it to everyone!
Thank you Elliot!
Jendra Jarnagin, DP

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. 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 late 2013.

Here you can watch the 2015 BIFA's from the red carpet to all the awards. Elliot's interview is at 1:27:00

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.

Elliot teaches several courses at Raindance including Lo To No Budget Filmmaking and Writer's Foundation Certificate.

The 24th Raindance Film Festival has now released it's 2016 festival trailer: a homage to Stephen Spielberg who celebrates his 70th birthday this year:

Read articles by Elliot Grove.

46 thoughts on “8 Mistakes Filmmakers Make That Kill Their Careers

  1. This list is bogus. How can any of these 8 mistakes "kill" your career? They might derail it or defer it, but kill it? Not hardly. If it's truly your career, you will stick with it for life. Everything is a learning experience that gets you one step closer to where you want to be.

    I've condensed and simplified the list for anyone who is interested:

    2 Mistakes Filmmakers Make That Kill Their Careers.

    1. Get yourself blacklisted.

    2. Quit.

  2. this is the dumbest thing I have ever heard…fuck it, break all the rules DIY awards have fun. make every mistake in the book! that is how you will learn.

  3. 8 Steps coming from a guy I never heard of.(interesting) Some of those I get and are kinda logical hurdles to overcome, especially in the beginning. For me, as I start my career after 14 years in the Navy, I find it hard to find those with the same passion I have. Which means I have to do everything. That plus, I have a hard time trusting anyone to do it, cause if I want it done right, I do it myself. I have made 3 short films which I think are good. Nearly finished with my 2nd feature script and will begin pre pro on my next short which is a short version of the feature I am writing.
    Personally, when you think about, in todays day and age of technology, the only thing that will kill your career is YOU. I believe You are your own limitation in life.

    • Besides, All the top Film Makers in the world use the same people over and over again. Quentin Tarantino stays in the same genre over and over again, Scorsese, Fincher, they all stay pretty much within their genre and use the same people again and again. Seems to be working for them. I think you as a film maker need to find YOUR voice, the VOICE you want in this industry, Scifi, Horror, Drama, Family, etc. Find it, learn it, write it, make it. That is the biggest obstacle I see as I start my career, young film makers want to make EVERYTHING without ever learning how to do one really good. I am lucky to know my voice, I love to write Dark, situationally violent or psychological films without the gore but focused on the situation. Like CHAINED from jennifer Lynch or TAKE SHELTER.

  4. this article is so useful and helps us to know what we should do and not to do. most of the directors doesn know these things and wasting their sweat and money of producers and audiences. awareness should be created to save cinema.

  5. I wish I read this article before my latest stint. I could personally see how much each of these points are important. This article kind of gives the completeness to the abstract thoughts I built after my below average short film shoot that I did recently. This article gives a physical form to my thoughts. Thanks for that. I will keep all this in mind from now on.

  6. Yeah this is typical. Number one rule: Anyone who needs to be told anything basic on the internet doesn't stand a snowball chance in hell of being an artist with any originality let alone actually putting together something successful. There is a damn good reason why access to cheaper and easier techniques has not increased the number of meaningful work produced.

  7. It doesn't matter how many typos this person has in the article, or how much more/less they could have provided.
    For Christs sake, this is someone who wrote this out for future film makers who might benefit from this information. Everyone really has to rip it to shreds based on technicality? Everyone is that petty?
    Unless any of you commenting are true artists with the passion and drive to push forward, shut your mouth.
    Does every film enthusiast make it big time? No, but guess what? They tried. They took a chance.
    Unless anyone truly has helpful suggestions as opposed to "There are typos, your wrong, this is stupid" then shut it. God forbid everyone has to shut down a person feebly attempting to help those who might want a career in Film making.
    This post is exclusively for Facebook posts as everyone commenting on the post above only had positive things to say.
    No, I'm not a bobble headed optimist, vomiting sunshine; but a realist who appreciates someone making an attempt to help those looking for some kind of wisdom.

    The following are examples of decent human beings:
    Sripal Sama, Nirmal Lawrence, Srikanth Gururajan and Onlocations Kenya.

    The rest of you, kindly raise your hand; and slap yourself silly.
    Makes me sad that people are this rude.

  8. 1, 2, 4, and 7 (especially 1) for me. Great article Elliot. I think no#8 is probably the most important out of all of them.

  9. A great read, but you left out a major mistake that is killing the independent film industry. Do not make your film until you have enough financing to make it. I'm finding more and more filmmakers are getting the smallest amount they can get to make a film, and then expecting skilled professionals to work for free. This is a serious issue that is killing the non-union crew people who freelance in Los Angeles right now.

  10. Excellent article – will include it in the Film LTK. Many of these social considerations and insights are incredibly valuable to newcomers and aspiring filmmakers. Thank you for putting this list together Elliot!
    And to those nitpickers downstairs: Constructive criticism, not senseless criticism, please.

  11. AS an aspiring Animation producer, working on my first Kids cartoon show Zug the Friendly Orc, EVERYTHING you have said here applies to me, and I have done al lot of the soul searching with some of the very questions, when I ask for help who is not only willing to help but who can ACTUALLY help?

    It is daunting but the end result will be SO worth it. 🙂

    Stay tuned folks!

  12. Robert Rodriguez did everything himself, and I made a feature in a week with a crew of myself. I fail to see how #1 is relevant at all. The only one I really agree with is NOT quitting your day job. Harvey Pekar, the comic book writer, didn't quit his job when he was making money on American Splendor and going on Letterman. So there is some wisdom there. But #1 is dumb.

  13. Robert Rodriguez did everything himself, and I made a feature in a week with a crew of myself. I fail to see how #1 is relevant at all. The only one I really agree with is NOT quitting your day job. Harvey Pekar, the comic book writer, didn't quit his job when he was making money on American Splendor and going on Letterman. So there is some wisdom there. But #1 is dumb.

  14. Robert Rodriguez did everything himself, and I made a feature in a week with a crew of myself. I fail to see how #1 is relevant at all. The only one I really agree with is NOT quitting your day job. Harvey Pekar, the comic book writer, didn't quit his job when he was making money on American Splendor and going on Letterman. So there is some wisdom there. But #1 is dumb.

  15. I agree. I had a feature film in a record time of ONE Week with a budget that wouldn't even feed a family of 4 for a month. I was a one man crew. EVERYTHING, from lights, to sound, to camera work. Was it the best film? Hell no, but I wanted to make it, and no one else was going to help me except me. What these new Independents don't get is that they think their ideas are so high and unique they forget that unless they have a budget, teamsters and "professionals" really won't give a shit. Best bet is to bleed for their work and do it themselves. For me, nothing was more rewarding than "El Mariachi"-ing it…

  16. I don't really like any of this. None of this is specific to filmmaking, really. And its all vague nonesense. This can be summarized into 3 old business sayings:
    Don't count your chickens before they are hatched.
    A bird in the hand is worth two in a bush.
    Surround yourself with people better than you.

  17. I would add to "working with the wrong people," the problem of trying to have too many people ride on your first break. It works like this, the filmmaker and her or his friends all have complained that they have not been given a break. Filmmaker gets a break and then tries to give breaks via the opportunity to a whole bunch of other folks who either are proven or unproven (this is often motivated by guilt). I've seen many artists ruin their first real gigs by not taking the break for themselves and maybe one other person they believe in. Also, casting friends instead of actors who know their craft. Second pet peeve.

  18. I find with the access to cheap cameras and a laptop for editing. There is way to many independent wanabees. How many times ghave I come accross these people who have no money and boring script that they think is magic and the next big hit. Only to be thrown on a huge heap along with all the other DSLR micro budget films. For one thing since no one seems to be getting paid. The filmmaker hires anyone. Ususally someone with their own camer and lenses. That type of person is usually on welfare as he/she needs to live for 2-3 months while putting the film together. The sound person is either a student with no connections or someone who agrees to swing a boom. The actors are often friends and others who have no pay on their CV. In the end not even Itunes or Netflix takes it on as the sound is bad, camera work is in and out of focus because the D.P had to shoot nearly the whole thing wide open as there was little lighting available. Costumes were what actors had. These people then get hit by reality when no one even looks at their press kit. Again the promise of payment in deferral is worthless. Close to 100% of these films never sell and make absolutely no money. Some filmmakers who supply their film for V.O.D I know plenty of them. One made only $43 for 2 years before it was thrown out as it cost more money to keep on their servers than what downloads brought them. These are cold hard facts people. Without star power, a decent budget some flashy scenes, good acting and direction, Your chances are zero.

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