They’re the ghost drivers on any film production: Cheap lies that inevitably come charging towards you like the multi-axis super trucks tend to do in action-packed blockbusters, at the most foolish of moments.

Born dim-witted and no progress to date? If that is the case and you’re not starring as Jim Carrey in “Dumb and dumber”, it’s probably in your best interest to avoid a career in film business. Stupid mistakes and excuses in film production should ideally be as rare as hen’s teeth. While well-established, mega industries like Hollywood rightly so speak of a film industry, film making on this side of the pond often depends on who you know and is driven by a “learning by doing” approach. Which means there’s always the inevitable string of creative excuses that pop up along the way. Videothink presents the Top 10 of the cheapest and most common excuses in film and video projects:

Cheap lies in film and video production: Top 10Given the budget, we did our best

If the budget couldn’t afford a good end result, then it usually means the budget couldn’t afford a better producer or production manager. There’s no use blaming the budget, the responsibility of setting the parameters for a film or video project lies with the production team – and only them. The same goes for skilfully dealing with the discrepancies between a client’s imagination and the actual means at hand.

Cheap lies in film and video production: Top 10We couldn’t have known

Internet is a paradise. It’s not only in film and video where a good and thorough research strategy pays off. Making good use of the tools Google & Co. have on offer and investing time in an extensive online inquiry is always well worth its while. The Internet provides answers to just about any question and not only to those that you never wanted to know.

Just as important as the willingness and ability to ask yourself the right questions, doing skilled research and good decision-making is knowing that knowledge is only a part of it. Know how is indispensable in effective film production. Just as important is experience and of course, without talent you’ll struggle to get anywhere. You can’t blame anyone for a lack of experience and talent but you can fault a responsible adult – who has long overcome puberty – for not being upfront, honest and humble about their capabilities.

Note: You can’t know everything. But it doesn’t hurt to try. And more importantly: knowing and communicating what you don’t know is a must.

Cheap lies in film and video production: Top 10If the weather had been better, so would the images

The viewer sees what he sees. It doesn’t matter if the weather Gods were smiling down on you or if it was raining cats and dogs: The audience couldn’t care less about the filming conditions – and quite rightly so. There’s only one question that matters here: Do the images aid the storytelling and the narrative or not? All else is down to planning and good preparation and at the end of the day, professionalism.

Cheap lies in film and video production: Top 10The actors were no good

Actors don’t just turn up on a film set unannounced, like an enthusiastic puppy eager to “play”. The quality of their performance doesn’t depend on the actor alone. It’s a collaboration between the actor and the person who chose them in the first place, be it the director, casting director or the producer. If you pick up a hammer from the toolbox, you can’t expect it to be any good at being a screwdriver.

Cheap lies in film and video production: Top 10The client insisted, that’s what they wanted

He who pays the piper calls the tune. This applies to the film industry too. But then again: it’s in the client’s best interest to chose to work with an experienced producer, because they – as opposed to the contracting client – know how films are made. It’s down to the producer or person who takes on the job to guide the client to whatever degree necessary so that the eventual audiovisual creation meets the client’s desired effect.

If you let a nit-picking client call the shots, it’s more than likely you’ll end up doing the exact opposite of want the client actually wants. The job of a producer and filmmaker is to translate a client’s wishes into an audiovisual language. For that, good communication and the perfect briefing are key.

Needless to say, at the end of the day no client wants a producer who simply pays lip service. Clients want and need to be clearly guided throughout the complex production process. And that responsibility always lies with the producers and production companies.

That’s just how it’s done

Every film and video is a one-off and to a certain extent, a prototype. Films are projects. While the rules of the game in communication with film and video depend to a certain extent on technical aspects, they also continuously change and evolve along with the new ways of storytelling that emerge through social media.

Being a filmmaker is a job and not a playing field to experiment and explore new ways of self-fulfilment. One the one hand that is why you should learn the rules of the art of filmmaking from the get-go. But also continuously question and test the limits of said rules. If we do things today the way they were done yesterday, tomorrow we’ll end up making the same mistakes as an amateur might, who decides on a inkling without a solid foundation of knowledge.

Cheap lies in film and video production: Top 10I was wondering the same thing

“You don’t say!” Something you don’t uncommonly hear in the creative industries. If you’ve spent a few years navigating the seas of the media industry, you could write a book about it. In project work the saying “Communication isn’t everything, but without communication everything is nothing.” couldn’t ring truer. Those who are caught off-guard and don’t question their surprise, become passive onlookers and commit the second biggest sin after ignorance: They impede an action from being taken, allowing only a reaction to happen. Reactions are always more costly and unpredictable than actions. At the very latest, when a viewer has a negative reaction to the film or video.

Cheap lies in film and video production: Top 10The audience doesn’t get it

There are a variety reasons – and most of them very noble – for producing a film. But regardless whether you see yourself as a corporate or a auteur filmmaker, films and videos are essentially made for the viewer. The rest is all nonsense. Those who want to make a film as a kind of therapy, would be better off writing a book or a short story, instead of going all out with a big film production.

Carlo Ponti (*1912, † 2007 in Geneva)

Carlo Ponti (*1912, † 2007 in Geneva)

To quote Carlo Ponti, the Italian producer (i.a. “La Strada” and “Zabriskie Point”) and husband of Sophia Loren: “If one of my films is a box-office hit, it’s seen as commercial. But if it has no viewers then it’s art.” If like Ponti you finance most of your films out of your own pocket, you have every right to think that way. Anyone else doesn’t.

Carlo Ponti (*1912, † 2007 in Geneva)That’ll all change in post-production

Hope, tunnel vision and self-deception come in threes and have a way of expertly worming their way into post-production and becoming the best friends of directors and editors. Even though nowadays, thanks to digital technologies much more is possible (or salvageable) than before: A bad film or a bad video will not magically improve with sharper, more colourful or contrasting images or once the final audio has been tweaked. You don’t have to be trained as a forester to be able to notice a wonky tree out in the woods.

Videothink: Cheap lies in film and video production: Top 10Someone should have told me

Yes and no. In film production as a trainee or in a subordinate function, for example as a production assistant, you’re allowed to expect detailed orders and instructions. Nevertheless even on the lower echelons of the career ladder, start as you mean to go on: if you struggle to keep up with those working above you and don’t ask the right questions, you’ll never move up. Film work is always a question of trust. And needless to say an ability to build upon that trust, so that (as a novice) you always feel free to ask questions and (as a leader) you make sure everyone isn’t mindlessly following you like a flock of sheep, but instead actively participating in the thought processes. Only in that way can a film or a video become something greater than the sum of all its parts.


Do you have a favourite cheap lie or excuse?

Videothink: Cheap lies in film and video production: Top 10Can you think of any excuses that are missing from our list? What is the silliest excuse you’ve heard in communication with film and video? We look forward to receiving your input, reactions and feedback!


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