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10 Film-Making Mistakes I Regret

Greenland Expedition

Since I began filming my trips with a DSLR three years ago I have learned a lot about camera work, editing and film making.

But every time I sit at my computer and begin processing the footage from my latest project, I will grow annoyed at myself for the latest stupid mistakes I have made.

Here are some of the things I did wrong out on the ice in Greenland. I’mm listing them here so you don’t make the same mistakes with your films.

  1. DETAILS – I did not film enough close-up details of things, such as equipment or ice formations. I therefore have to rely too much on quite repetitive long shots. (Good example of a detail shot here)
  2. CUTAWAYS – detail shots are usually used as cutaways (need an explanation of cutaways? Click here). However, when shooting longer scenes I should have thought at the time about specific cutaways. Instead I had to do quite a bit of bodging in my edit! The opening scene with Martin packing the bags would have benefited from some cutaways. (Good example of a cutaway here)
  3. FACES – It’s all very well having pretty shots of big mountains, but the best part of films is the people. I wish I had filmed more close ups of our faces, particularly when we were tired and cold. (Good example of a face shot here)
  4. EMPATHY – The best parts of expedition films are when the viewer can relate to the human side of the people out on the ice. I should have done more interviews, more pieces to camera, and given the camera to the other guys more often to record their own thoughts. (Good example of empathising with a charater in the ten seconds from here)
  5. STORY – I went off to Greenland, had a brilliant time, came home, uploaded all my footage, and then thought to myself “what’s the story here?” I then had to cobble together a story from the footage and audio that I had, working around all the limitations from the mistakes outlined in this post. A better way of doing it would have been to have thought of the story I wanted to tell before I even began shooting.
  6. AUDIO – Our microphone snapped due to the cold in Greenland. This made capturing good audio even more difficult. I really regret the occasions when I couldn’t be bothered to do it right and just relied on the camera’s in-built microphone. (Example of that here). Good audio is at least as important as good video when creating a film.
  7. FILM THE HARD TIMES – From the impression given by my film, Greenland looks like a lovely place for a sunshine break. I’mm kicking myself for being weak and lazy and not getting my camera out when things were grim. The time to film things is when your face mask is crusty with ice, your hands are freezing cold, the wind is screaming, you are hungry, and everyone is in such a foul mood that if you start filming them they might thump you. That is what you need to record. This is what I should have been filming. Not this.
  8. HONESTY – The stiff upper-lip, it-wasn’t-so-bad-really attitude is very British. Unfortunately it makes for very dull viewing. Honesty is far more raw and interesting. Next time I need to document far more tears and whinging and self-doubt! (Good example here).
  9. EXPOSURE – I do not know anything about post-processing video (fiddling with it on the computer to make it look prettier). I am deliberately not learning about it either. I simply don’t have enough time. I therefore have to depend on shooting things properly out in the field, in particular getting the exposure of my clips right. This was hard to do in Greenland, particularly in very bright light or at times when I needed to be wearing goggles. There are a few moments in the film when it is either overexposed or underexposed. There are moments too where I got the exposure just right and the landscape looks stunning, without the need for any post-processing at all. Here is one such moment.
  10. TRIPOD – the oldest, laziest, easiest-to-remedy of all. Don’t be lazy, Humphreys. Use a bloody tripod more next time. (Example of idleness and subsequent wobble here)
Now, if that long list of cock-ups has not dissuaded you completely, here is the 10-minute story of our Greenland Expedition. I’md appreciate your honest thoughts on it…
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  1. Great article Al – concise and true.

  2. Great article.

    Story is crucial.

    Empathy, Honesty & Challenge are part of Story.

    The rest can be fixed in post 😉

  3. Really nice website (which I came across at the creative Penn). Love the layout and pictures!
    The list of mistakes is funny and I agree on them (without being a film person myself).
    I watched part of the film, I am a restless person who rarely watch films at websites (prefer reading because it is quicker). I think a bit more on the story and more variation of shots (different angels, close-ups etc) and the film will be great.

  4. Good one Al.

    I’ve also been on that same learning-as-you-go path and I too have found editing my journey vlog is where most of the lessons are learnt. However, I’ve been using a camcorder and I’m really keen to move over to DSLR for the superior image. I’ve sorted out the sound with my DSLR (which unfortunately is inferior to the camcorder) but I’m reluctant to make the switch because of the difficulty of not having auto focus in video mode.

    For expedition documentary work, when you need to run and gun, what’s your experience with the DSLR?
    Do you find that you lose shots because you don’t have time to focus, your focus is out or the subject is moving through different focal lengths?
    Also, when you are recording, for example, a video blog solo, how do you go about getting perfect focus when you are both the subject and also the cameraman?

    I would much appreciate any experience and tips you can share on this.

    Thanks mate!

    • Alastair Posted

      In an imaginary world where DSLR’s could not take still pictures, there is no way I would use a DSLR. They are a pain in the arse.
      Focussing a solo video blog is a good example:
      1. Guess the focus. Press record.
      2. Stand in front of camera and talk.
      3. Replay clip.
      4. Adjust focus if needed.
      5. Repeat 1-4…

      I persevere because I want to take still pictures and because DSLR footage is more ‘beautiful’ than normal cameras’ footage.

  5. I find this extremely encouraging for myself. I’m just an eagle scout from Slinger, Wisconsin. I’ve only ever gone on 3 day trips with my two friends canoeing, and sailing, but I hope that once we all graduate from our respective schools, we can make an amazing trip. This list helped me so much in my recent endeavour with them! I really liked your work more than my own of course, but I hope to get there one day! Awesome stuff!

  6. Casey Link Posted

    Any recommendations on tiny portable microphones? I’m looking for something that takes few batteries and can be used directly with a camera or a separate digital recorder.

  7. I really enjoyed this, I am only starting to video with my DSLR and would like to do more. A very helpful write up thank you. More importantly though, what a great video and even better adventure.

  8. This is what makes us better at our jobs. If you can’t look back and make a note of what you’ve done wrong, how can you improve and take things forward next time.

  9. David R. Posted

    I really enjoyed your video. You did a good job of setting up the viewer for the worst then you deliver a very nice video. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on how to improve the video. As a novice videographer I too am learning from every video so I can improve the next one.



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