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Five-Minute Film School: Common Misconceptions

by Craig Tollis

There are those occasional awkward moments on set when somebody insists on doing a thing a bad way and incorrectly slams a suggestion. Frequently, the more bizarre the misconception, the more emphatically it will be upheld.

Some things I've been told:

- Never use zooms.
(Tell this to Quentin Tarentino. Or watch Kill Bill Vol. 2.)

- Always use boom mics, never lavs or body mics.
(You could tell this to Robert Altman, though he's unlikely to hear. Altman loved overlapping dialog and his sound mixer sometimes ran complex setups with hidden mics worn by each actor.)

In both these cases, the misconception is an oversimplification of a general principle. It's what you would do commonly, but not always.

In other more bizarre cases, I've had a DP confuse film exposure with video exposure techniques; an editor insist on an elaborate and counterproductive project structure; a PA argue over logging and slating procedures; and producers ask for processes which were technically flawed or nonsensical - everyone refusing to be talked out of it or even try something different.

Where do these dogmatically defended delusions come from? In my experience, they are acquired knowledge -- heard or read or told from some source not currently available, then pronounced as gospel.

The solution?

First, don't believe everything you read. You'd be surprised at how many industry professionals might not know what they're talking about, and some of us are allowed to write it down without adequate supervision.

Next, get a second opinion. Ask around. A consensus will usually emerge on how things are done, or what alternatives to try. There's not always a one-size-fits-all solution. In any case, crew members frequently love an opportunity to talk about their area of expertise.

Most importantly, listen to people. Be open. Filmmaking is an inherently collaborative art. Knowing a good suggestion when you hear one is the key to getting the best result you can.

And finally, try it! Shoot a test. Give it a whirl and see if it works. Shoot alternatives and discover which you like best in the edit. Your crew and collaborators will probably respect you more, and, you never know, you might just discover something new, different and really, really clever.

NOTE: Craig Tollis is an Atlanta-based editor and Filmmaker with ten years of experience. Please send any questions or comments to Craig will gladly respond.