16 Ways Screenwriters And Filmmakers Fail

I was sitting around contemplating the careers of so many of my friends and acquaintances, when I had a moment of clarity:

Why not write up the mistakes and pitfalls so many screenwriters and filmmakers fall into?

I know I’m going to get into a lot of trouble here. You might not like or agree with me – and that is totally fine. I might even offend you. That is not fine, and I am apologising in advance.

Perhaps you’d rather not read Why Filmmakers and Screenwriters Fail…

1. Their Scripts And Screenplays Don’t Tell Stories

One of the most common failings with films submitted to the festival is that they lack structure. If there’s no story, people won’t watch it.

This applies to documentaries as well as fictional narratives. The best documentaries have a strong story with a beginning, middle and end.

Try to condense your story into one or two lines which are at it’s heart, and link everything you write back to that.

Read: 9 Elements of Great Films

2. They Don’t Clear Music Rights

You can’t put someone else’s music in your film without their written permission. If you do, you are in breach of copyright laws in every single country of the world.

Read: Copyright Essentials For Music In Film

3. They Don’t Understand Social Media

It’s a whole new world out there, media wise. Get a firm handle on what you need to do to build a following of people for you and your film. Hey, why not Tweet this page?

Read: 10 Twitter Tips For Filmmakers

4. They Don’t Move With The Times

The films that people love to watch are groundbreaking, either with regard to topic or techniques used. Films like Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity have inspired many filmmakers and played on trends of the time.

Take a look at what you need to know with our 10 Top Trends for Filmmakers.

5. They Don’t Have a Marketing Strategy

Successful filmmakers can visualise the film buyer and distributor of their film BEFORE they make it. And more importantly, they visualise the marketing honcho who needs to be convinced the film will sell.

Read: 7 Elements of a Press Kit

5. They Don’t Network

It’s a people industry. If you don’t talk to that person sitting next to you, how do you know whether they could be the producer/director/writer you’re looking for?

You need to meet people and get to know them. They may not be able to work on your project, but they might know someone or they might be able to give you the advice that will solve your problem.

Get started with your networking by coming along to our next Boozin’ N Smoozin’ on the 2nd Monday of each month.

6. They Don’t Make Films/Write Scripts

Practice makes perfect. If you can’t make a decent film for $200, no one will believe you can make a decent film for $200, 000. If you can’t write a short script, no one will commission you to write a feature. No matter where your talent lies, start filmmaking.

Get together with a few mates and film something on someone’s mobile phone. Then, with whoever still wants to do it, make another. And another. Your first mobile phone film may not have been BIFA worthy, but with a couple of films under your belt you’ll be rapidly improving.

There’s no better way to learn how to make films than by making films.

7. Don’t expect handouts from government

The government has slashed arts funding over the last five years.

Do not rely on government funding.

Use social media, use contacts, and use your initiative.

Read: How Filmmakers Approach Investors

8. They Don’t Train

Everyone makes mistakes when they’re starting out, but you can minimize these by talking to people who have already made them.

Film theory won’t help you when you’re learning to make films, but listening to people with practical filming experience can. They’ve done it before and they can give you hints which will help you avoid some of the nightmares that first time filmmakers often face.

Look at: Raindance Film Training Courses

9. The Favourite Whine of Failed Filmmakers

“We can’t make a film, or write a screenplay because…”

Don’t make excuses. Make Movies. Write Scripts.

Read: The 5 Habits of Successful Filmmakers

10. They Say ‘But I don’t know how anything works’

If it’s something that you need to know, find out! There are loads of classes available and hundreds of websites with hints about every aspect of filmmmaking. Our indie tips include articles on everything from special effects to directing.

If it’s an introductory overview you’re after, come along to our 99 Minute Film School which is just £15 or FREE to Raindance Premium Members

11. They think “I’ll fix it in post”

With all the advances in post production technology, you can now do almost anything in post. And with software getting cheaper all the time, it’s easy to rely on it to fix our mistakes, but don’t be fooled.

Whether you’re dubbing the audio or getting rid of a boom in shot, fixing stuff in post should only be used as a very last resort. If there’s any way that you can fix it during production it will almost always work out quicker and easier than sorting it in post.

If you get everything as good as it can possibly be then post production will be a calm and stress free process.

Read: The 13 Steps of Post Production

12. They Break The Rules

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for breaking the rules when it helps a story. Crossing the line to cause confusion or disorientation often works and lets face it, rules are made to be broken.

To break the rules successfully you need to understand why the rules are in place and you need to do it deliberately. If you accidentally cross the line it will look amateurish and it will pull the audience out of the story.

13. They Alienate Their Crew

The words please and thank you cost nothing yet so many people forget them. If you’re making a low budget film then the chances are that most, if not all, of your crew are working for nothing because they love your project, so be nice to them.

Try to get them decent food and decent coffee. When you’re frustrated that the sun has gone in on that perfect shot, don’t take it out on your DoP. When a train goes past just as you’re filming a pivotal moment, don’t take it out on your sound engineer.

It’s simply good manners.

14. They Don’t Get Permission to Film on Location

The rules on where you can and can’t film in London are notoriously complicated.

It mostly depends on which borough you’re filming in and how much disruption it will cause, but it’s best to do your research well in advance of filming. The last thing that you want is to have your schedule disrupted because you suddenly discover that you cannot film somewhere.

You’ll also need to make sure that you have permission to film on any private property, and be clear on whether your location is private or public property.

You can find more information on filming in London on Film London’s Guide to Filming

15. They Don’t Consider Other Opinions

If you show someone your script and they have constructive criticism don’t ignore it – you may not agree but consider whether it will improve your script. The same is true if someone on your crew has another idea on how to achieve an effect.

People who have worked on different projects will have different approaches to a problem, but make sure you give someone’s idea full consideration.

16. They Believe Their Own Press Kit

Being narcissistic is part of the artistic personality. One needs a certain amount of arrogance as an artist. How else does a painter know where to put the brush?

Sometimes, however, one’s judgement gets clouded and you need to recognise this and be open to criticism. It’s also a good idea to surround yourself with a couple trustworthy friends ballsy enough to kick you in the pants when you spend too much time on your high horse.

Fade Out

Now, back to your writing and filmmaking.

Hope to see you and your film at the Raindance Film Festival.


Elliot Grove







Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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