You know the usual rookie errors: white walls, bad sound, haphazard composition, etc. But there are many more mistakes that are worth learning from. Here are five mistakes we’ve made, and the lessons we took from them!

1. Careless Collaborations

Forget the director who has an Arri Alexa, or the producer whose cousin works at CAA. The best teams are made of people who share aesthetic sensibilities and temperament. What’s it like to create with them, day in and day out? Solving problems, smoothing relationships? When things get tough, character stands out.

“I’ve had so many great partnerships, and the most fruitful have been with people who have been able to expand my knowledge and experience – and for whom I believe I’ve been able to do a similar thing.”

ANNE CAREY (20th Century Women, Adventureland)

2. Hasty Hiring

Even one incompetent or challenging personality on set can ruin the experience for everyone and make set life so distracting that the project suffers. Help yourself out by asking for—and calling—two references for every person you hire. On the flip side, if a bad apple does make its way into the bunch, get rid of it fast. Nothing gets better by letting it fester.

Here are a few other traits to look for when crewing up.

“You do not have absolute control over financial success. You do not have absolute control over distribution. You do not have absolute control over other people. The only thing you can control is the work you are associated with. Make sure it’s really, really good.”

NOAH HARLAN (Return, Apartment #5C)

3. Try Teamwork

It’s a hefty responsibility to develop and finance a feature all by your onesy (to quote Jack Sparrow). Far more pleasant, sustainable—and even successful—to lean into networking and find yourself a teammate or two. Remember when Sev Ohanian had that ridiculous opportunity to produce Searching and his writing partner said “No”? Teams are tricky, but usually worth the risk.

“It is nearly impossible to go it alone now. Two brains, two Rolodexes, two bodies, two people calling in favors is better than one!”

MYNETTE LOUIE (The Tale, Children of Invention)

4. Cash Crash

One of the most common mistakes indie filmmakers make again and again is going into production without enough money to finish production! 10-15% contingency plan, anyone? And let’s not forget finishing touches like music, audio mix and color correction. Festival submissions, film prints and shipping all cost money too. Shoot with a full budget or reduce production costs so there’s enough left over to finish your film properly. It’s frustrating on the front end, but the “you” of the future will be much happier.

“We’ve had to enter the distribution game and be prepared to release our own work, in the event we don’t get viable offers on our films. Now we try to preserve 10 percent of each project’s budget for marketing and distribution.”

CORA OLSON & JENNIFER DUBIN (The Perfect Family, The Babysitters)

5. Dark Disposition

Ultimately, this is a movie we’re making and not a cure for disease. Try not to take it too seriously, and stay connected to what you truly love about the filmmaking process. Your family, friends, cast and crew will thank you—and want to work with you again!

“Remain inspired. However hard you work to make connections and do what you think you need to do to make your career happen, always work harder at staying connected to what made you want to make movies in the first place.”

BARRY MENDEL (The Big Sick, Bridesmaids)


Don’t we all feel great now? Hopefully you can learn from our mistakes!

If you feel like sharing, comment below with tales of your own mistakes—uncommon or otherwise—and we’ll have a rueful chuckle together.

(Or you could just forward this to a friend in danger of any above mishaps. An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure!)

What have you learned the hard way? Click here to leave a comment!