I’ve been asked to help a lot of first time filmmakers with post-production on their films. Sometimes I can tell they did their research before shooting, but other times, I want to pull my hair out trying to correct mistakes that could easily have been avoided.
I applaud anyone who can actually complete a film because that’s a struggle even the professionals face. However, the biggest downfall with a lot of rookie filmmakers is being unaware of some of the rules. Some mistakes you just can’t fix, so you’re better off knowing them before you spend all of your money and time on something that you aren’t proud of.
These are 5 rookie mistakes I have come across while editing. Learn now so you don’t pay later.
1. Don’t cut from a moving shot to a static shot
For the most part, you should know how your film will edit together when you’re shooting. If you know you’re planning on cutting from one shot to another, make sure they match. It’s incredibly jarring to the viewer to cut from a shaky handheld to a locked off image.
If you want to cut from a moving shot to a static shot, plan on a transition. The moving shot can stop moving at the end, and then you will be able to successfully cut to a static shot.
2. Don’t frame the main action of your shot in the lower bottom corner of the frame where you can hardly see it
There is absolutely nothing you can do in the editing room when something like this happens. It’s true that framing can be part of a certain style, but it’s also obvious when it’s a mistake.
The entire frame should not be left completely empty when the subject is a small slither of action in the corner. The audience will feel like they’re straining to see something that just isn’t there. It’s not good. Don’t do it.
3. Don’t stop your action where you plan to cut the shot
With every shot, you probably know which part you plan to use, but that doesn’t mean you should start the action there. Have the actors back up a few beats and start it there. This will create a smoother edit later on.
You also want to do this at the end of a shot. Follow through with your action. Don’t just stop where you need to cut. If you do, there might not be enough action to cut them together. Something will be missing in the middle and look jumpy when you edit. Remember that your goal is to always overlap the action in all of your shots.
4. Don’t shoot only wide shots
I’ve seen a lot of first-time directors shoot with only wide shots with the expectation that they can crop it and create a close up later on. This is a bad idea because you will lose quality in your image.
It’s true that there are some cameras that are capable of cropping to a certain extent without losing too much quality. However, the chances of a first-time director having such a camera is usually slim. Plus, you may want a much tighter shot than cropping will allow. For best results, plan to shoot a variety of shot sizes. It might take more time, but it will be well worth it in the long run.
5. Don’t assume that lighting can be fixed in post
Assuming that anything can be fixed in post is always something to avoid, but pay attention to lighting in particular. My best advice is to hire a competent Director of Photography, but if you can’t do that, these are a couple of things you need to watch out for.
If you don’t white balance properly, you’re looking at a lot of time spent on color correction. You don’t want one shot in your scene to be yellow and then cut to a blue shot. If you white balance correctly, color correction will take less time and be less costly. Unless you know how to color correct, you will probably have to hire someone else to do it, and believe me, it adds up quickly.
Also, if a scene is too underexposed, detail will be lost that you just can’t get back. You will end up with a very noisy image, especially if you don’t have the tools to correct it. Make sure you have proper lighting and plan around the sun if you’re shooting outside.
The best way to learn is by making mistakes, but learning from someone else’s mistakes is far less painful. Hopefully this will help you to avoid making them yourself, but if you do, take comfort in the fact that you probably won’t make them again.