3 Common Filming Mistakes to Avoid

Filmmaking 05/07/2019 5 min read

As filmmakers, video creators, creatives, or whatever you describe yourself as, the camera is the tool that’s going to be bringing a large part of your creative vision to life. It’s essential to know how to use it, and equally as important to know how not to use it.

If you’re making videos as a part of your career, you’ll no doubt want them looking as professional as possible! We’ll be going through some common film mistakes to avoid to look like a pro. Let’s jump right into it! 

Filmmaking Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

1. Jittery Handheld Footage 

Handheld shots can serve a particular purpose, and if you’re going for a rougher, more raw look, you might consider going handheld. It’s important to know, though, that not all handheld shots are created equal. There’s a fine line between the look you want to create, and looking sloppy or amateurish when shooting without a tripod. 

The thing that makes the biggest difference to the quality of your handheld shots is the weight of the camera. Believe it or not, you’re more likely to achieve better results with a heavy camera than a light one when shooting handheld. 

It all comes down to jitter. Jitter isn’t simply camera movement in your shot. It’s when your shot is so unstable that it’s almost as though micro-vibrations are running through your camera.

A simple solution is to find a way to weigh down your camera. If you have access to some stabilizing equipment you can do a couple of things: 

  • Use a shoulder rig or camera cage.
  • Attach your camera to your tripod and hold the tripod off the floor. Keeping one hand on the camera and one on the tripod to stabilize it more. 

This helps to get rid of light jitters while retaining that true handheld feel.  

2. Zooming vs Pushing

If you’ve got a character in one spot and want to get a tighter shot of them in the frame during a scene, you have two options: zoom or push.

If you’ve got a zoom lens, you can zoom in at whatever speed you need until you’ve got them framed differently. You also have the option of moving the camera closer to them by actually physically moving closer to them in 3D space. This second method is called a push (if you’re going closer to a character) or a pull (if you’re moving farther away from them).

There’s a general rule in filmmaking that may be lesser known to some people. That rule is to never zoom. 

Just kidding. It’s not really that simple, although we are going to talk a bit about why pushing beats zooming. Basically, it comes down to how the action translates on the screen. Pushing tends to create a cinematic look while zooming generates a feeling of unease. 

There are many different reasons why our brains react to certain ways of shooting differently. The fact is, zooming doesn’t feel natural when we watch it. Of course, there have been times when feature films have opted to zoom instead of push, but those times seem to be more about creating unease than a pleasing looking shot. Maybe your character is being spied on, or perhaps there’s something supernatural afoot. 

Opting to move the camera itself closer gives you a more traditional cinematic feeling that instills a little bit more control into the minds of the audience. Why? Well, your viewer will see the changing perspective of the scene. Even if it’s just subconscious, your camera moving through 3D space is giving more information about the world that your characters are in. 

As you move through 3D space, you’re able to pick up on even slightly varying perspectives on the subject, inanimate objects, and the environment as a whole. It’s an excellent way to give your audience a more cohesive understanding of the world that you’re building. 

Here’s the general rule of thumb — always opt to push with your camera instead of zooming. Use a zoom if you’ve got a particular and stylistic goal that you can defend with a reason.

3. Roll Longer Than You Would Think

This tip is one of the biggest (and most often forgotten things) things that make your life easier as an editor. To make sure to have some buffer room on both sides of a take. If you’re filming on a set, you’ll most likely have a director making the decision when to start and stop for you. If you’re doing more run-’n-gun solo-style work, you’re going to need to make those decisions yourself. 

It’s not abnormal for people to start filming right where you imagine it would begin in the film and then cut as soon as they feel they got the shot. The problem is, once you get to the editing room, you start to see footage in a whole new light. If the pacing or tone of the film changes as a result of that scene, you might want to draw it out and make it feel slower, which is impossible to do unless you have more footage to work with.  

It’s the simplest thing in the world to do: 

  • Film as you normally would
  • Take note of the moment you want to cut 
  • Don’t do it! 

When you get that urge to stop recording, don’t. Hold off for 10 or more seconds before you eventually cut. Simple as that! But why is this so important?

From a technical perspective, it gives you what are called handles on either side of your footage. The good stuff that you plan to use in your final edit is the stuff in the middle, and the outer edges are what are considered the handles. 

Imagine that you planned on doing a hard cut to the next scene, so you shot your footage with that in mind. Come time to edit, though, you want to toy around with doing a dissolve instead. Since you cut the shot as soon as it completed what it was scripted to do, the dissolve effect covers that moment that you wanted to see. If you leave a handle on the end (a couple of seconds of footage after the important part), the dissolve can happen without hampering the important scene. 

While it’s beneficial from a technical perspective to do this, it’s equally (if not more) important from a creative, story-driven perspective. 

A great example is from the final scene of “The Graduate” [SPOILER AHEAD]. After breaking up a wedding mid-ceremony, the two rogue love birds jump onto a bus to be whisked away into the sunset. It was supposed to end rather quickly with a moment of holding hands and laughing about following true love’s bliss. However, the person who was supposed to yell “cut” totally forgot. The two actors, still in character, progress for about 60 seconds from jubilation to happiness to normalcy to uncertainty, and then ultimately to a tone that feels like they’re saying “what in the world did we just do?” 

That small mistake leads to one of the most memorable and praised scenes in movie history! It serves as a lesson that you never know what you’re going to get from just holding a shot a little bit longer. It may cost you a few extra gigabytes in storage along the way, but chances are you’ll be way happier by taking a moment to let the shot come to a natural conclusion on its own. 

When it comes to producing footage that looks and feels professional and high-quality, it’s the little things that make the most difference. Good editing can cover up plenty of filming errors, but why not do it right from the start? 

If you put this advice into action and make sure to avoid these three common filming mistakes, you’ll find your entire video creation process goes quicker, easier, and produces better quality results. Give them a try on your next shoot!