Guide to Surviving Your First Film Production

Guide to Surviving Your First Film Production

So you finally got your production going or you just got hired on one. Here are some tips to help you survive your first film production.

Top 15 Mistakes Most Beginner Filmmakers Make

Beginners in the filmmaking industry are always making mistakes and this has led to boring or annoying movies or career crashes. No one would rate a badly produced movie well. But beginner filmmakers, this is for you. If you can know which mistakes to avoid, you will not make them in the first place.

Video by: D4Darious

Here are the major mistakes beginner filmmakers make:

1) Producing a Weak Story

A weak story makes an actor aimless in a movie. It happens in some amateur movies where movie characters do not have clear-cut goals in the movie. And if the characters do not know what they are doing, the movie becomes boring and no one wants to see a boring movie.

2) Following Bad Scripts

Most amateur scripts do not match. There is no connection between the characters. And where there is no connection between characters, the movie won’t gel together. This happens when filmmakers rush.

3) Using Bad Sound

Imagine a film where you see the characters moving but you hear absolutely nothing. This is what happens when the sound is bad. It makes the film annoying.

3) Poor Casting Choice

The casting choice you make goes a long way to make a movie successful New filmmakers most times cast wrong characters for some roles. You cannot just give the role to anyone. You have to make the right choice or the film would be wacky.

4) Poor Shot Composition

The background of the movie actually helps makes a film interesting. In shot composition, there is what is called dead spaces. These spaces are just areas in a particular scene where no activity is taking place. It is not good to have too much dead space. The shots usually lack depth and balance.

5) White Walls

Most amateurs shoot movies with white walls everywhere. This is not good. It makes a movie look uninteresting. It removes flavor from the movie.

6) Poor Lightning

When the lighting is poor, you barely see what is happening and this is a turn-off.

7) Too Much Insert Shots

Insert shots is like zooming in your camera to emphasize something. It’s good but when it is overdone it destroys a film.

8) Time Wasting

This is when characters in a movie are lingering, that is they go about in a scene with unnecessary action which is unimportant to the movie.

9) Too Many Pauses

Most amateur movies do scene pauses a lot. You see two characters talking and the scene is paused for a bit to draw in the audience. This is good but when it is overdone it becomes a nuisance.

10) Poor Movement

When there is not enough motion in a scene it becomes boring. You see characters standing still for long minutes. This is bad for a movie.

11) Too Much Talking

Too much chit chat kills a movie.

12) Unnecessary Action

This is when action is done just for doing sake. Not all scenes require action.

13: Using Clichés

Clichés like people waking up from bed at the beginning of a movie. This is a bad move for an amateur filmmaker.

14) Use the Wrong Music

When the music does not match the scene, the music becomes a nuisance. And this is what most amateur filmmakers do.

15) Poor Creativity

Most beginners lack creativity and this leads to the production of very poor movies.

3 Tips to Better Shot Composition

Even if you don’t want to be a DOP or Director and aren’t deciding the coverage of a scene, it’s still important to have a basic understanding of how shot composition works and what rules need to be followed to ensure the scene can be cut together smoothly in the edit. You will find all departments using shot descriptions every day explaining what is being set up so you will need a brief understanding of the terms to work efficiently on set. You may have studied this in-depth at college but here is a quick recap for those who may have slept in on lecture days.

Shot Composition – THE 180-DEGREE RULE

The 180-degree rule often referred to as ‘the line’ or ‘crossing the line’, refers to which side of the action the cameras are placed. For example, let’s say you had a simple interview set up with an interviewer and subject sitting opposite each other. If you shoot the subject from the left side of the interviewer, the line is drawn along the left of the two characters. So as to ‘not cross the line’ you will then place the cameras on the same side when filming the interviewer.

If you were to shoot from the other side, having ‘crossed the line’, it would appear to the audience that the interviewer and subject are on the same side and is rather baffling to the viewer. (For more on the 180-degree rule click here)

This rule becomes more complex in scenes that involve lots of movement or multiple actors. The DOP will sometimes break this rule by starting on the correct side of the line and doing a camera move through the line to finish with the subject on the opposite side. This reduces confusion to the viewer as they see the perspective change as the camera moves. Most of the time you will not notice this while viewing unless it is dreadfully blundered, in which case you will likely laugh self-righteously.

A good little exercise is to watch a film and consider where the line can be drawn for each scene. You may even notice when the rule gets broken intentionally or accidentally.


Screen direction refers to which side the subject enters or leaves the frame. If a character leaves screen left and is in continuous motion, e.g. walking down the street, then they should enter the next frame from the opposite side (screen right) to ensure the movement appears continuous. If the subject leaves the screen left and enters from the same direction (screen left), it appears they are returning to where they came from.

You can experiment with this by filming people entering and leaving from different screen directions. Then edit the footage to create different journeys with the same content. You’ll notice directors using a mix of screen directions throughout films to create different perspectives of time. A mixture of screen directions in a montage will create a sense of the passing of time and a large distance traveled.


Shot composition and shot sizes are regularly discussed on set so it’s good to have a brief understanding of this so you don’t look like a fool when you don’t know what they are talking about. The frame can be described in multiple ways but often they will be defined by how much of the subject is in a shot.

Here are the main terms that are used:

  • Wide Shot – the subject and all their surroundings are included in the frame.
  • Long Shot – the subject’s full body is contained in the frame.
  • Mid Shot – the subject is framed from the waist up.
  • Close Up (CU) – a portion of the subject is in the frame showing greater detail. E.g. A close up of the subject’s face as they speak.
  • Extreme Close Up (ECU) – the frame shows only a small portion of the subject in great detail, focusing just on this one element. E.g. An extreme close up of an eye.

3 Stereotypes to Avoid Becoming On a Film Set

Often the biggest problem stopping new or inexperienced crew continuing to get work is their attitude. Sometimes it is the fact that they just can’t fulfill the job, but most of the time it all boils down to their attitude and how they approach the tasks. There are many negative stereotypes that emerge on set during work experience or from junior employees, and I can guarantee if you start to display these characteristics early on, you will struggle to find employment. Here’s what to avoid when starting out.

The Know-It-All

Congratulations on winning the prize for best cinematography at your school’s film festival. However, don’t parade this fact around in front of everyone on set with your superior knowledge and opinion because, well, no one really cares and you are possibly now in a new league of experts. Nobody begs to work alongside a know-it-all. There’s nothing worse than a new person on set that cannot be taught and doesn’t listen to instruction because they think they already know everything.

They have the arrogance of thinking they should start at the top, and are not prepared to put in the hard yards of starting at the bottom rolling cables or making coffees to learn from the more experienced and skilled professionals. These know-it-alls don’t last long on set. Often they are ridiculed behind their backs and hung out to dry when it is inevitably revealed that they, just like everyone else, do not actually know everything.

How do you avoid being ‘that guy’? If a crew member explains something to you, let them finish their sentence before you cut in with your own thoughts. They may say something you didn’t expect or teach you something you didn’t already know. Even if you find you do have the upper edge on some of your peers, adopt the rule of ‘know-it-alls finish last’ and be courteous anyway. It will dramatically improve your road to respect.

Generation Y

This generation gets a bad rap on film sets, but as a member of the group myself, we do sometimes fit the stereotype perfectly. I’ve seen twenty-somethings start their work experience or first job on set with electric enthusiasm as they finally get to do what they’ve always dreamt of. Soon, they realize that fetching coffee and rolling cables wasn’t exactly what they figured a twenty thousand dollar post-grad cinematography course would afford them. They become dejected, unwilling to do these small tasks, and usually sit down behind the Director’s monitor, just enough in the way to annoy everybody.

Outcomes the phone and its zillion social media platforms as the bored Gen-Y does what they can to sustain themselves for the next four minutes because the Director inexplicably wants to do another take of the shot! Like three hours hasn’t been long enough! Truthfully, film sets can be polar opposites within minutes. One minute they are crazy-busy with the whole crew involved in setting up a shot, and then for the next hour nothing happens while the scene rolls for up to twenty takes. It takes effort to keep concentrating when nothing’s happening, but as soon as you get distracted is when you’ll be asked to help out and you won’t know what is going on as your head is buried in your latest status update.

The Big Ego

This is one of the worst stereotypes. There’s no place for egos on set. This person is similar to ‘the-know-it-all’ but generally just thinks they are awesome without any validation of formal training or achievement. The film industry may hold the promise of fame and glamor, but you’ll soon find out that the shine and glow are limited to red carpet premieres and award ceremonies. There’s nothing glamorous in stomping around in foot-deep mud when it’s been raining for the last three weeks or carrying equipment up sand dunes in the blistering heat while you shoot desert scenes. Nobody wants to be dealing with your ego on set, especially when you are first starting out (when you’ve won an Oscar you might be forgiven).

You’re there to do a job, that’s it. If someone asks you to do something but you don’t want to, get over your ego and get the job done. Some of the most recognized and awarded people I’ve met have been the most humble and accommodating. As a result, the crew strives for excellence for this individual, as they are well respected and genuinely nice.

Top 10 Tips to Location Scouting & Filming

Everybody that has done a shoot on location knows that it’s a whole different beast compared to filming in the controlled environment of sound stages. You have to battle the weather elements, public pedestrians, every piece of equipment must be packed into trucks that are often a lot further away from the shooting location, and so on. There are many challenges that shooting on location will bring but from my

There are many challenges that shooting on location will bring but from my experience, some of the biggest challenges have been the most fun times on set. I filmed in a remote location in New Zealand for 2 weeks where we had to communicate to a crew of about 200 with no phone reception and internet. They were also staying in multiple different locations within a 2-hour drive. That was tough but I got to experience one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world (while wearing waders

That was tough but I got to experience one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world (while wearing waders every day and it constantly raining). Here are a few tips that will help you prepare for those long days on location.

1 – Plan for Rain

Even if it hasn’t rained in your so-called desert location this century I guarantee as soon as the tailgates of film trucks open, as will the heavens. I’ve spent entire days filming in the rain. It slows things down, it renders some scenes impossible to film and it adds another element when scenes need to be cut together to match.

As opposed to shooting in the studio when the biggest issue can be if the air conditioner is set 5 degrees too cold, rain can be an absolute nuisance to filming on location. Make sure you pack more pop up tents to cover gear, plenty of umbrellas, personal wet weather clothing, and expect shooting efficiency to slow as a result. If you’re just starting out in the film industry and expect to be on location go and buy a very good wet weather jacket.

2 – Plan for Mud

With rain and film crews, comes mud. You’ll experience every type of mud possible as the years go by. These are the days I’m glad I’m not a cable roller. Apart from packing a set of gumboots (wellingtons), there’s some specific equipment that can be extremely helpful in these situations as trolleys can become redundant. Gear stretchers, tarpaulins, or plastic sheets can help carry gear in, place on the muddy ground, and keep gear protected.

3 – Pack Extra Everything

I like to tell my PAs that preparing for filming on location is like preparing for war. Maybe that’s a bit overdramatic but you have to be prepared for all circumstances. No matter which department you are prepping the equipment, supplies, and stationery for I’d advise to always pack a little extra. In my early days, it was extra paper and staples for the call sheets to be printed.

Even though the schedule states that you’ll be on location for 3 days before returning to the studio, this will often be extended if conditions aren’t favorable and filming takes longer than expected. It’s great to create a list that you can take from job to job so you know exactly what you’ll need when hitting the road.

4 – Add bump in and bump out time

There are multiple reasons why production companies spend thousands of dollars hiring studios to create sets and film in. One of them is the extra bump in and bump out the time it takes the crew when on location. Crews end up doing more hours pushing trolleys in and out of locations. Often more manpower is needed to cope with the extra workload.

This requires more catering and so exponentially the costs increase. When planning on-location shoots don’t neglect the extra bump in and out time for crews and the associated costs this will incur. Many departments will need a pre-call just to get equipment to the location or it may eat into your shooting day before you can even think about rolling cameras. Again at the end of the day departments will need extra time to bump out of the location and pack the truck before they are finished. This will affect their turnaround time for the following day so call times may need to be adjusted.

5 – Bring Plenty of Water

Water is life. I’ve seen film crews go without most things for hours but they get very grumpy when there’s no water close by. Make sure there’s enough water for all when on location. Coldwater coolers are good but on location, water bottles are needed so people can take them to where they are working.

If you find yourself in a breakaway camera team hiking to a remote camera location to get that amazing shot the DP wants, don’t forget to throw in a few water bottles. Even though it’s a ‘simple’ shot, I can guarantee you’ll be there for a few hours. I’ve been in this situation many times before and you can keep everyone happy with a few water bottles, some fruit, a granola bar, and plenty of film stories will be shared.

6 – Wear Sunscreen

Director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby) released a song titled ‘Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen’. Apart from the other genius advice the song offers, the main principle of wearing sunscreen should be observed when filming on location. Nobody wants to end up looking like Magda in There’s Something About Mary. Even if it’s not super sunny, you’ll still get burnt when you stand outside for a full 10 hours. Make sure you slap that sunscreen on throughout the day and don’t forget your hat and sunglasses.

7 – Pack a Bag of Extra Stuff

When filming on location I leave a small duffle bag in my car that has spare clothes, underwear, and socks, extra rain jacket, my warm gear including gloves and beanie (even in Summer), and an extra pair of shoes. This is my emergency bag in case I get wet, cold, muddy or whatever on set and need to change. Trust me it happens. A 1

A 1st Assistant Director thought it would be funny once to ask me to go and help a crew member right before he called “action” on an SFX water test. I ended up soaked from head to toe at the start of a full night shoot. Luckily I had spare clothes in my car that I could change into. This bag has also saved the life of many ill-prepared PA’s that thought a sweatshirt would be good enough for a full night shoot or that they could hold an umbrella all day while it was raining.

8 – Help Each Other Out

Filming on location is always tougher than the relaxed environment of a studio. You will inevitably have extremely tough days. As will other crew members and departments. At the right times be the type of person that helps them out. You’ll appreciate the reciprocal on days that you are struggling. This doesn’t mean I go and setup 20k lamps on my own for the electrics department but when they have to lug gear a mile into a remote location and my hands are free I offer to carry something for them.

9 – Stay Safe

Film sets are a very unique working environment whether you are in the studio or on location. It’s important that everyone working on a set feels safe and that certain procedures are followed. When filming on locations, obviously there’s a lot more factors to consider such as lightning and high winds as a storm rolls in, or SFX explosions and stunts, or simply just trip hazards or cliffs. Always look after yourself and your crew and if you feel something is right then spoken up to your head of department.

10 – Enjoy where you are filming and take photos

As much as shooting in these remote locations can be extremely taxing, with longer days, exhausting conditions, and travel to and from the sets, you are often rewarded with access to places that not many people get to go to whilst also being paid for it. I’ve filmed on city rooftops, amazing island beaches, boats at sea, remote mountains and even on top of the Sydney Opera House.

There have been countless moments when I’ve looked to another crew member and expressed how amazing it is we get to visit these places with our job. If you prepare well and are up for the challenge, filming on location can be an awesome adventure. And don’t forget to take a few photos along the way to show your friends when you get back.

Here are a few of mine:

Matt Webb is the author of Setlife: A Guide To Getting A Job in Film (And Keeping It). He is an Assistant Director with credits including The Great Gatsby, Mad Max: Fury Road, Hacksaw Ridge, Pirates of the Carribean and Alien: Covenant.

Setlife: A Guide To Getting A Job in Film (And Keeping It), film terms

Setlife: A Guide To Getting A… is a must-have guide designed to prepare you for what happens on a typical day on a film set. Matt Webb’s no-fuss, practical tips are essential reading for anyone chasing a career in the film industry. The book is available for $25 from Amazon.


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