Mistakes Filmmakers Make | Raindance Film School

When I wrote this post about the mistakes filmmakers make way back in 2009 I had no idea how many would comment. I also thought today, in May 2019, that many of these points would have changed.

But no. Here we all are ten years later. If anything I think the political, sociological and ecological changes in our troubled world have made these even more important to consider.

Independent film and independent filmmakers matter more than ever. I’ve republished this in the hope that it will guide you to be stronger, more resilient and more productive.

Have a read, and please let me know if you agree, or disagree!

Happy Filmmaking,

Elliot Grove, Founder Raindance | British Independent Film Awards

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,/ This keeps 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 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 than 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 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


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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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