As much as I like the uber-low budget movie world, there are some things that just get under my skin, and burrow deep. We all want to create professional products, even if we have little (or no) money to spend. Some of the pitfalls of cheap production could be avoided if we just take a little more time and effort to prepare, plan and polish. The following are some things that I see over and over that get me every time, mostly because they are based on conscious choices and not lack of knowledge.
Hand Held Shooting
I don't know what "filmmakers" have against tripods, but it's a disturbing trend. It annoys me to no end that people refuse to stabilize their camera, then hide behind the words "documentary-style". The literal nausea level really creeps up when more shake and/or zooming is added to an already obnoxious technique. For every Law & Order and Children of Men where this works, there has to be zillions (yes, zillions) of projects that would be better served not using a hand held camera for their entire shoot. Mix it up, please!
I cringe every time I hear actors that sound like they have buckets over their heads. Sometimes this is due to a location with poor sound properties (hardwood floors, lots of flat surfaces, metal), but many times it's just because the guy shooting is using the mic built into the camera. If you absolutely cannot get an external mic to put near the talent (even a cheap one is better than nothing), then shoot wide and stick the camera in the talent's face. Horrible audio makes everyone look bad, and no one wants to ride the volume when watching your movie. Would you?
You'd be surprised how many talented actors are out there hungry for work. They will do anything (including work for free) to pad their resume, so use them. Casting friends and family may work for awhile, but like cheap sound, will be a mark against you. If you are afraid of hurting feelings, then don't be a director. Even in the low budget realm, this is a business of rejection, and your movie is destined to suck if you can't get quality actors involved. Hold auditions and good people will show up. Great performances can lift your film to a whole new level, and will inspire you to be a better filmmaker.
Over Zealous Story Elements
It's common for people to emulate what they love, but often they have no business doing it. Action movies are very popular in the mainstream, but that doesn't mean they're easy to make. I can't count how many small budgeted action movies I've come across that don't know action. If you have no idea how to stage a fight or shootout, please don't. Write what you know, or bring someone in who can teach you. You will save yourself money and embarrassment if you admit you're in over your head and do something different.
Lack of Availability
One of the most frustrating things I've come across is discovering a movie I have no possible way of seeing. It's wonderful to hear about a film that does great at a festival, but tragic when it isn't distributed in any form. If it's only going to be available on the obscure fest circuit, what's the point? If no DVD is coming, why torture me? Release a version on the internet so those of us not living in city "worthy" of your movie can see it, okay? Even if you can't make money this way, it's better to let others appreciate your work and build a name for yourself, then to let your hard work gather dust in a drawer somewhere.
Alright, enough steam-blowing. Tomorrow I'll return to normal with positive karma about films and filmmaking. Sometimes you just gotta get these things off of your chest, you know?