We’re filmmakers because we’re storytellers and want to tell a fuller story with sound and movement. Every family has a UNIQUE story. We say that all the time, but do we film in a way that we mean it? Our clients’ stories matter to them. They HAVE to matter to us. With that in mind, here are 5 mistakes I’ve made as a storyteller. I’m thankful to have learned from them!
1. Showing up to a film session and treating it like a photo session.
“Love and connection” was the story I told for eight years as a lifestyle photographer. It’s a beautiful story, but not so unique to any one family. I would scan a questionnaire on the way to a photo shoot, and that was all I needed to successfully engage a family. Films are more intimate and demand a deeper understanding. I now have a mile-long questionnaire and ask for a Zoom call with every full-length film client. There’s a lot of pre-vision and communication that goes into a family film!
2. Focusing on capturing pretty footage at the expense of meaningful audio.
Audio will do more to advance your story and engage your viewer than all the visuals combined. If you’re finding you don’t have enough compelling audio, ask yourself why. Perhaps you’re not providing enough prompts, inserting yourself too much, or rushing between scenes too quickly. I’ve been guilty of all these! When I’ve finished a film edit, I now scan my timeline and aim to have 75% of my clips laid down with their native audio. The other clips I’m probably slowing down.
3. Editing the heck out of a film.
We sacrifice story when we slow all the footage or bust out every editing effect. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. A narrative can get lost in overlays, double exposure, cool transitions, and light leaks. Any one of these used in moderation adds beauty and depth. Too much and the viewer is visually pulled away from the audio and, in turn, the story you’re telling.
4. Expecting a story to emerge on its own.
It won’t. As filmmakers, we have the tools to go deeper, but it’s up to us to gently excavate that story with well-placed questions. As filmmakers, we have to be empathic antennae, reading tone, body language, and between lines to understand the shape of our client’s heart. We invite deeper and deeper revelations so that we can hone in on what makes that family unique and where the conflict/desire lies for them.
5. Believing I have a right to a client’s story.
We don’t have a right to a client’s story just because they hired us. We won’t earn the right to our clients’ stories until we are willing to be vulnerable ourselves, listen well, and show deep empathy. Take a vigorous interest in your family—prove to them you really care. When they spill their story to you, treat it as the sacred gift it is. Also, be prepared to safeguard it if they feel that story is too personal for you to share.