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Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 2.58.28 PMMistakes!

…Everybody makes them.

Now, most of the gear and setup mistakes you’ll make are brain farts that you kind of just have to go through in order to really learn a lesson.

But, there are all kinds of mistakes that most beginners make with their approach to clients, handling their business, and telling stories that we think could be avoided.

Specifically, we thought of 15 major ones.

With our new 2014 workshop tour coming up — one that focuses on the approaches we take to telling stories that truly matter to us — we thought this was as good a time as any to talk about some of the lessons we’ve learned as storytellers over the years.

Here we go…

1. Buying before trying.

There’s an ever-expanding gear craze out there, and a lot of new filmmakers will quickly try to build up a collection of gear before really trying things out. But as you grow into your style as a filmmaker, your needs will change. If you buy too soon, you could easily end up with gear that you don’t actually want. We’re still trying to clear stuff we don’t use out of our studio!

Lesson learned:
Renting and borrowing is absolutely the way to go as a beginner. Try it out, make sure it’s right for you, then make a purchase. Lens Pro To Go is a great resource for renting gear, and they offer great advice!

2. Walking in guns a-blazin’…

You show up to the house on the morning of the wedding, and you’re so worried about missing something that you walk in with cameras rolling — trying to capture anything and everything that is happening around you. But what happens is you just end up with a lot of useless footage, and less time to plan out the important stuff.

Lesson learned: Think more, shoot less. Take time to walk around, evaluate, talk to people, then decide on your priorities and make smart choices.

3. Thinking the moment is actually the moment.

While this is true in so many different types of subject matter, a wedding is such a perfect example. You wait for the bride to get into her dress — there is a ton of anticipation for the moment — and you find the perfect spot to capture the moment as it happens. As soon as the dress is on, you feel like you’ve captured the moment, and you’re ready to jump on to the next thing. However, the moment right AFTER “the moment” is often when the magic happens! Right after is often when you get strong emotional reactions, exchanges, and so much more of a moment than the actual “moment” itself.

Lesson learned:
Hold your shot, be present, and stay with it. Wait for people to react to something beautiful, rather than just capturing something beautiful.

4. Rolling before checking your settings.

You get so excited to capture something that is happening right in front of you, the first button you often hit is the record button. Then as you start rolling, it’s time to adjust the shutter, white balance, aperture, ISO, etc. For the first 15 seconds of the shot you’re constantly adjusting settings trying to get it just right — and the footage isn’t usable with all of the changes, and your head is in the camera, not in what is happening in front of you.

Lesson learned: Take a moment, breathe, and set everything before you roll. You’ll be able to be more present with what’s happening, you’ll make your post time much more efficient, and restraint will continually make you a stronger shooter

5. Thinking there is a certain way you have to do something, or moments you have to cover.

When we first started, our wedding videos were 60 minutes in length, every formality was covered in excruciating detail, and we felt like we were supposed to replicate what everybody else had done before us. This wasn’t exciting for clients, and it wasn’t exciting for us. It was just… so boring!

Lesson learned: There doesn’t have to be a standard, there doesn’t have to be a specific to show or share something, or moments that you have to cover. If you set the proper expectations for the client, you can deliver a wedding film that is no longer than 4 minutes, you can NOT shoot the bride coming down the aisle from the front and center of the ceremony, and you can choose the story you want to tell. Innovation is when we forget what’s already been done, and instead follow a dream of what could be.

6. Trying to take on too much, too early.

It’s hard to take an advanced tool like a Steadicam and become proficient with it in anything less than months or years. It is even harder to start from scratch ad jump into one of the top-of-the-line models. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. Starting with small handheld models, then on to name brand body-mounted systems, into small Steadicams, and then into the rigs we have today. But even once we had a Steadicam, we didn’t just go out there and start covering events with it.

Patrick: “When we started, it would be common to find me going for a walk with Amina and our dog with a full Steadicam on, just trying to get the hang of it. Once I did, I moved you to the other, and the cycle quickly continued into the full sized rigs we’ve used for so many years. At the same time, we’ve seen so many people at workshops try and jump right to the top and the unfortunate thing is, they don’t learn the fundamentals or basics and can spend years with a $10,000 rig and never get anything close to what the device is capable of.”

Lesson learned: Put in the time, own that you’re a beginner, start at the bottom, and work your way up.

7. Not moving around enough.

You’re afraid of missing something, so you stay in one spot and hold the shot. This can quickly get very boring! By staying present on the shoot at all times and knowing what your goals are, you’ll feel when it’s time to move on.

Lesson learned:
Be present, be prepared, and know your goals for the shoot.

8. Talking to clients about all the gear features.

Patrick: “For several years after we started, we would talk to clients about the number of wireless microphones we use, how many cameras, things like High-Definition — all features we thought would help us stand out among others and book more events. What we came to realize is that people aren’t buying, nor do they care, about any of that.”

They want the feeling of sharing something really special with a room full of family, they want to feel like their story matters, and they want something others are excited to see. As soon as we started talking about why we make films and the stories we want to tell, we were able to book much easier. But more than that — we were getting the right people, stories we wanted to tell, and we were able to make films with more creative freedom.

Lesson learned: Advanced gear and features aren’t what make things special for the client — it’s a unique story and approach that matters to them.

9. Not setting expectations.

Most complaints or issues from clients are not objective (based on what you’ve shown), but are much more subjective (somebody’s interpretation of what you’ve done). By not being upfront with clients and setting the right expectations for your deliverable, unpleasant surprises can and will happen.

Lesson learned: Make it clear what you offer so your client has the RIGHT expectations.

10. Not asking for honest critique and feedback.

Asking someone you trust what they really think of your work is the fastest way to learn from your own mistakes, and evolve your skillset. You’ll also have your ego crushed at the same time! But if you’re trying to get better, this is absolutely necessary. Seeing a film from start to finish puts you in your own little world — and you need to call upon the outside world to tell you how they see the film.

Lesson learned: One harsh, honest piece of feedback is more valuable than a hundred raving Vimeo comments.

11. Bringing EVERYTHING to the shoot.

Patrick: “We used to shoot weddings with more than an SUV full of gear. We’d bring anything and everything, “just in case” we needed it at some point. Not only did we look like a massive production at a small intimate event, but we also gave ourselves much more work and operated much slower because we were so focused on the stuff, and not the story.”

Joyce: “When we travelled to Namibia to film the opening of #standwithme we had to be conscious of what gear and how much gear we were bringing. Being that we were only a crew of two and were limited to what we can bring on a tiny Cessna plane we looked at the scene and asked ourselves what we needed for the story and what tools we would need to bring that to life. We got creative with how and what we packed and came away with some of the most epic shots of the film — all made with gear that fit in just 2 backpacks and 2 carry-ons. Pretty wild!”

Lesson learned: Bring what really matters, what’s crucial, and try doing more with less. You can be surprised how many ideas you come up with on how to approach something with less, and how much that creativity will help push your storytelling.

12. Being “competitive.”

It’s a scary landscape when you are starting out and it is easy to have a fear that the more you share, the higher the chance we might lose that next job. While that certainly can happen, we can lose so much more by closing ourselves off to the larger community of artists and creators that we could be working with or along side. The misconception when starting out is often that anybody else with a camera is competition, but that viewpoint devalues your perspective and the uniqueness you bring to everything you do. Develop your style, approach, and how you tell stories — in that way you can be authentic and irreplaceable — and share openly with others. You might be surprised just how much you grow as a storyteller when you are willing to share with others.

Lesson learned:
There is no competition. If you know your style, and what you’re about, there is no reason to close yourself off from your colleagues whom collaboration with can add so much.

13. Not getting to know the people well enough.

We always say “it’s a conversation, not an interview” — because this is the way to reach those powerful moments when conducting an interview. But if you don’t do your homework no your clients, find out who they really are and what makes them unique — you’re not going to have a good conversation with them. You HAVE to be interested in what they’re doing, and not have your mind set on getting them to say “that one line you need.” This puts your focus somewhere else, rather than on the conversation you’re having.

Lesson learned: Talk, ask questions, dive in, and let your conversations go long — all BEFORE the cameras start rolling. Get to know your clients and the content well before you try to represent them visually.

14. Spending too much time researching and watching videos instead of just DOING.

If you visit this blog often, you know that we deeply believe in the power of tutorials and sharing knowledge. However, it’s dangerous to get caught up in all that research on filmmaking without actually just getting out there and doing it. Our Creative Director, Grant Peelle, challenged himself to do 30 same-day edits in 30 days when he was first starting out… they were pretty crappy at first, but by day 15 he’d gained a lot of ground!

With anything in life, really, things don’t fall in to place until you step outside of the comfort zone and start doing.

Lesson learned:
Do it. Now.

15. Putting EVERYTHING on your website or blog.

Building a portfolio is exciting, and in the beginning it really feels like the more stuff you have on the website, the more credible you appear to potential clients. While this theory does hold some merit, it’s more likely that you’ll attract clients you love when you share the work that you love. Your website is entirely yours, and you can make it anything you want by sharing only the things you’re really proud of. The stories are what give you credibility — people aren’t afraid to dive in with a filmmaker who has just a handful of films, if they really feel they connect with the style.

Lesson learned: Quality over quantity. Story over everything.


What’s a mistake YOU have learned from as a filmmaker?

How did it make you a better storyteller?


About Stillmotion


  • Great post, number 3 is such a great point… something I’m guilty of all the time.

  • Stuart says:

    Starting out I really thought that I had to do it all. I would show up with a second shooter and still shoot it all without trusting my second shooter could add to the story. I’ve learned that it was set in mistrust in their ability so now I’ve made an effort to show and teach as best I can. After a few months I’ll say, I’ve been surprised way more than disappointed.

  • Frank says:

    Thanks for sharing! Love nr. 14 and the rest…

  • Really great article! I particularly like your comments regarding taking way too much gear… I recently had a shoot and took; 2 lenses, a glide track, tripod and monopod to capture a home make over style video for a competition winner… It doesn’t sound a hell of a lot but on these shoots its normally just me – being this the case it became a massive challenge just to switch between set ups and capture everything I needed in the short period of time I had – the shoot massively didn’t go how I’d envisaged and as quickly as I was losing the shots I wanted to capture I was also running out of natural light. By adapting and shooting only what was necessary really got me back on track.

  • Her says:

    Thanks for share your experience! This post is going to help me a lot! 7 its a key!

  • Phil G says:

    Great post! I shoot digital still photography…no video (yet)…but all of this advice can be applied to still photography and any medium where story telling is involved. I tend to be more creative and get better shots when I use less gear, so #11 really strikes home with me, as do #2 and #3 a work the subject and be patient to get better results has been something I continually work on.

    Good stuff! Thanks so much for sharing this.

  • Matt says:

    I know little about wedding stuff…BUT, the lesson I have learned and often tell shooters…(as an editor) Watch your footage, always, everytime, even if you fast forward to each setup, …and you never have enough BROLL….NEVER…I also challenge shooters to shoot BROLL in sequences…well structured BROLL makes for more dynamic edit that is just more engaging/interesting, afterall BROLL are the pictures that tell the story, I HATE to much talking head…Oh yea, NEVER turn off the mic, Up Nats is a forgotten artform

  • Excellent post. I am a huge offender of #14. I spend most of day researching and watching videos. Since I bought my T4i and 50 mm 1.4 in April 2013, I’ve only shot about 4 times. I guess I better get out there!

  • Arif says:

    Thanks for the sharing! i do weddings here in Mozambique, and i get inspired by stillmotion everytime i step on their website.
    thanks a lot visionaries.

  • Amanjot says:

    oh god, i’m doing 14 right now, haha. great post guys, thanks.

  • Walter says:

    Number 3 applies to interviews, or as you call them: conversations, as well.
    A lot of filming interviewers tend to reply ‘yes’ all the time and ask the next uestion as soon as a silence seems to mark the end of an response.
    Just a little nod and remaining silent can trigger the interviewee to elaborate: the silence gives him/her time to think about wht was said and what else can be added.
    Indeed, the moment often lasts a lot longer than the moment itself.

  • Daniel says:

    Really well written blog! I have a lot of trouble with the competitive thing, one of my colleagues has videos embedded on the Weather Channel, another went to AFI and gets celebrity retweets and a million views on anything he does. I’m trying to “make better work” and also try to win some clients, meanwhile the board of visitors here has a contract shooter and won’t even listen to my ideas.

    This all feeds my competitiveness, I want to be better, have my work be respected, win those national-level accounts. It’s very, very difficult for me not to be competitive.. I’m trying, but it’s very difficult when you see others get wild success based on connections and not quality.

  • Shmuley says:

    Wow, really great compilation. Couldn’t agree more. The things I would add are some business hacks that starters should pay attention. In the end filmmaking is not just passion but business and money too. I feel this is a side that gotta be more explored.

  • Lists like these are normally so boring and repetitive. Each of your points is original, practical and concise. I doubt there’s a single so-called expert that isn’t a bit slack on at least one of these points.
    I would add to no.14: there’s no point learning anything if you don’t apply it. Until applied, corrected and perfected, any lesson, no matter how brilliant, is likely to be forgotten, especially in the heat of the moment.

  • Lou says:

    Great article. So I’ve been doing film for 2 years or so. I want to start a business with it and I’m wondering if this would be a mistake?

  • David says:

    Reading this article, all I could think is that it sounds like the number one mistake beginning filmmakers could avoid is getting into wedding videography.

    • Well that’s certainly one opinion 🙂

      For us, getting into weddings was one of the best things we ever could have done for how it helped us connect with people, learn speed and agility, and learn to see story before it happened. It also led to some of our largest clients.


  • MD Ashik says:

    Absolutely great thinking and also a success over the work you were doing.It’s a better opportunities and new destination for ours.I hope you will be more better solution from next obstacles.