The Movie People

A blog on films and filmmaking

Three Simple Lessons

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By David Shute

I haven’t made a lot of films but I have witnessed the witless as they go down in flames on their own sets enough times. The key is to learn from their mistakes. You have three opportunities to completely mutilate your film and pile heartache and unnecessary work on yourself. We call these preproduction, production, and post production. Three lessons for each stage. While these may seem like common sense it still amazes me how uncommon sense seems to be.


Scout your locations with a sound tech, preferably the one you’ll be working with. The best sound tech in the world isn’t going to be able to give you beautiful, pristine sound in the middle of rush hour at the corner of a major intersection. Give them a chance to point out potential issues before you’ve committed to the location. You may still use it but at least you’ll be aware of the limitations when it comes time to shoot.

Go over your visualizations with your camera operator / DP in advance. Nothing is more awkward than watching a director trying to explain one thing while the camera operator is doing another and everyone else sits around waiting for the next set up.

Rehearse your actors. This goes hand in hand with the above statement. The director’s job on the set should be ensuring that the shots and performances captured are what they were looking for and provide enough of a quality selection to ensure the editor doesn’t want them dead at the end of the process. There is no reason to bring a production to a complete stand still to walk an actor through the scene for the first time. This is further compounded when all those brilliant ideas and variations that naturally come up during rehearsal happen on set… After the ninth take.


Don’t waste your time watching your footage during a shoot. One of the greatest temptations of working on any medium other than film is the ability to watch what you’ve just shot. If you’re not sure if you got the shot you can go one of two ways. The first is to rewatch your footage to see if you got it. Maybe you did. Maybe you didn’t. If you didn’t then you need to do at least one more take. Either way you’re chewing up time while your cast and crew stands around waiting for you to be ready. Keep them involved, skip reviewing the foot, and just do another take. Keep shooting until you’re reasonably confident that you got the shot. It’s much better use of time.

Get room / location ambient sound for every set and every location you shoot at. It’s very useful to have when editing to help smooth over your audio edits or to cover any soundtrack exclusions you may have to make.

Don’t take your crew for granted. If you have people on your crew that have come in from out of town and/or are working for free then consider exactly what they are giving you and treat them accordingly. People understand when a shoot goes long. When you plow ahead without even acknowledging that you’re pulling them through a 15 hour day on their time you start burning through goodwill and patience really quickly.

Post production

Be organized from the start. It’s really tempting to sit down and just start jamming away at editing. Resist the urge. Know your footage before you dive in. Familiarize and organize. The better you know your material and the easier it is to manage the smoother the editing process will go. You save time overall by taking some extra time in the beginning.

The cut comes first. Find the picture you want end to end before you worry about applying filters, effects, cropping, or titles. It’s very easy to get distracted in the minutiae of a clip only to come back later and replace it or remove it completely. Your time is not limitless. Use it as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Save multiple copies of your edit lists and backup them up to an external location. Issues occur in the editing. You may find that your near complete project isn’t working the way that you wanted. Changes you made two weeks ago may have caused cascading issues that brought your project to the position it’s at right now. Wouldn’t it be great to go back two weeks where it was still on track?

David Shute is a playwright/filmmaker from Ontario, Canada. He has his own website at


Written by Guest

September 30, 2009 at 8:00 am

Posted in Essays

Tagged with , ,

3 Responses

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  1. […] have a new filmmaking advice column up over at The Movie People. Three really quick points to observe for preproduction, production, and post […]

  2. There’s good info here. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog. Keep up the good work mate! 🙂


    October 6, 2009 at 11:36 pm

  3. Hey, I found your blog while searching on Google your post looks very interesting for me. I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

    Bill Bartmann

    October 9, 2009 at 7:38 pm

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