10 Common Mistakes in Amateur Films (1-5)

“I know the guy who made one of the films, my friend acted in it”. Your friend has invited you to a local film show. What should be a night of entertainment becomes an endurance test getting through the films. I’ve been to a few amateur film shows, and all them share these common problems. This list is composed of reoccurring mistakes present, and is intended to be used as a reference to make your film as good as possible.


5. Poorly Exposed Shots

The character is too dark, and the background is too bright. Which should I be looking at? The shot outside is completely pitch black (someone turn on the lights!).

My Advice: Light what is most important in the scene. If the character is most important, put the light on him or her. A piece of white foam core works well at reflecting light onto a face if no others options exist. Try shooting in the opposite direction (180 degrees). This may fix most of the lighting issue. When unsure if the lighting is distracting, close your eyes. Open them and notice where in the frame they are drawn to first. Then, alter the lighting as needed.

 4. Inaudible or Ear Piercing Audio

The character’s voices come out in mumbles. Ten seconds later is a sound so loud I cover my ears. Cars driving by are louder than the character’s voices.

My Advice: Good audio is the most important part of a film. An audience will put up with bad video and good audio, but will not sit through good video with bad audio. Set the audio levels for each shot, and monitor the quality with headphone. Will someone who isn’t familiar with the script be able to understand what is said? During editing, audio levels can be raised and lowered during certain parts, but are not a life saver. An equalization filter helps to pull down the highs, and raise the lows.

3. Too Slow of Pacing

The characters walk down a road for two minutes. They ride in a car rambling their every thoughts for three minutes. All are shot in a long theater style. The shots and overall film become an endurance test of how much one can sit through.

My Advice: Review the film over and over during the editing process. Show the film to an audience not connected with the cast and crew. Get their feedback. Notice when they get bored. Never try to make a film longer to meet a specific length. Shorter is always better; I assume even Gus Van Sant had long shots shortened.

2. The Shots Aren’t Planned Out

Every character is in frame, and filmed straight on.

My Advice: A film isn’t a theater production, and shouldn’t be shot as one.  Before shooting, create a storyboard. It doesn’t have to be fancy, stick figures and perspective lines will work. The storyboard shows a visual reference of how the action and pacing will be broken up. Think what the best way is to introduce or reveal new information to the viewer. A lack of planned shots ultimately means lack of direction and care from the creator.

1. Too Much Exposition

The characters tell their entire lives and share their every thought out loud. “This doesn’t look familiar. I think we’re lost. I think I see someone on the road. He’s walking towards us. Do you see him, he’s right there, walking right there, next to that tree. He’s got a knife. Oh my God there’s a knife. The car engine won’t start. What do we do! I don’t know where I am. What should I do. Someone help!”

My advice: Less is always more, especially with dialogue. Always try to use a little as possible. Film is a visual story and structured with visual cues directed to the viewer. A shot of the character’s nervous face followed by the killer brandishing a knife creates more emotion than dialogue informing the viewer of information he or she is already aware of.


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