That’s a hell of a title right? I know, I’ll get some people who will comment with, “Fuck you! My movie is awesome and you’re a jackass.” Fair enough, but let me ask you a question; when people watch your movie are they using the phrases “micro budget” or “the usual technical issues at this budget level”? If they are than it might be time to take a step back, look at your skills as a filmmaker, and see where there could be room for improvement.
1. You’re the DP, Director, Editor, Writer….
It is very easy, especially on the low budget side, to end up doing multiple positions. Hell, when I started out making films years ago, I was doing everything from camera to fx makeup. My only crew member was a trusty C Stand that served as my boom operator.
However, when you are multi tasking this much you may end up sacrificing in craft. It is hard to focus on the performance of the actor when you are busy thinking about lighting plots, camera moves, and f stops. It also may be hard to pull yourself away from a shot that doesn’t work in the edit when you know you spent 3 hours setting it up.
There are real benefits to bringing in passionate crew members to take up these roles. They bring their own vision to your film. A DP that has a true love for photography will spend time trying to make your shots look as visually stunning as they can. This ultimately frees you up to focus on the actors and get the best possible performance from them. The same goes for an editor. They aren’t bogged down by everything that occurred on set so they are free to focus on combining shots that make the film flow in accordance with what makes the most sense for the story.
2. Zero Production Design
This is a big one I see in micro to low budget features all the time. When you are making a film, you are ultimately crafting a fictional world for the audience. Part of that is actually building a world through production design. If your character is an assassin with the singular purpose of killing (The Professional) then perhaps you think about how this character would live. Would he have time to decorate his apartment or would it be more utilitarian in color and setup.
How you craft your set design and prop choices not only enhance the visual richness of your film and add complexity to your characters, but they also convince the audience that this is a bigger budget film because it “looks” like one.
3. Lack of Coverage
How many times have you watched a low budget movie with a big dialog scene that only had 1 shot of that actors talking in a wide shot? I’ve seen it a lot and honestly it drives me crazy. The lack of shot diversity in a scene (aka coverage) gives literally no options for the editor to work with. In a dialog heavy scene, you want to build tension between the characters.
There are multiple ways this can be done. You could start off in the wide; which introduces us to the visual layout of the characters, then cut into close ups as their conversation increases in tension. Insert shots could be added if either our characters look at something during the conversation or the audience needs to see an element in relation to the conversation.
4. Pacing is Uneven
Pacing is ultimately the speed of the action, dialog, and edit as it relates to the scene. When we see a movie with “bad pacing” usually it is described by dialog or shots that linger on the screen too long or too short.
For an action film, it really wouldn’t be appropriate to have long takes that do not cut on the action in the scene. For a dramatic film, it wouldn’t be appropriate to have 50 cuts in 20 secs of a simple conversation between two characters.
In terms of comedy, pacing becomes even more important as you are dealing with the pace and delivery of jokes and gags. If a gag hangs on the screen too long it may fall flat to the audience that is used to a faster type of comedic delivery.
5. Screenplay Issues
Come on. You knew this one was coming. The biggest thing that makes your movie suck always comes down to how coherent your screenplay is. This refers to not only your narrative structure but also your character development and the dialog itself.
If your narrative structure is full of plot holes, ultimately that will lead to an audience that is confused and wonders how we got to this point of the film without being shown what led to it. Great example of this is in the film we recently reviewed, Dead Heat. In the film, Joe Piscopo’s character is killed by drowning in a scene that doesn’t even exist in the film. We only discover he is dead when Treat Williams and Lindsay Frost discover Piscopo hanging upside down in a fish tank. It completely takes the audience out of the movie.
In terms of character development, your screenplay must have characters that not only have layers to them but also are changed from the experiences in the film. Look at Michael Corleone in The Godfather. Over the course of the film, Michael goes from being an innocent war hero who wants nothing to do with his family to a hardened gangster who murders in the name of his family. The journey of the character not only creates a rich experience for the audience but it makes us give a shit about them to begin with because we can connect with the character’s and their arc.
Dialog is really a no brainer. Some things look great on the page but do not pass the smell test when actual human beings perform the words. There is a reason we all make fun of Hayden Christensen complaining about sand in Attack of the Clones. It isn’t his acting ability, it is the terrible lines of dialog written by Lucas and company.
You’ll notice that I didn’t mention things like cameras and other gear. That is primarily because technology is changing everyday and whether you are shooting on your iphone or the newest RED camera, your film can still suffer if you keep making the above stated mistakes. So go out there and make a movie today…..just make sure it doesn’t suck.