I really enjoy meeting new and emerging filmmakers at the various networking events I attend here in London. I love talking to them about their projects and finding out what they’re up to.
However, one thing that often surprises me is that the vast majority of these filmmakers very rarely seek feedback on their films before they lock picture and put them out into the world. They tell me that they “know what they want” and “know how to make a film”, so “why do I need feedback?”
“I know nothing”
When I first heard people saying they didn’t need feedback, I was really impressed. I’ve been making films since 1987 and I still have very little idea what I’m doing. I was jealous that these people had mastered the medium so completely so quickly. Even Martin Scorsese says he’s still learning, so it is truly awe-inspiring to find people who really know their onions like this.
But when I get to see these people’s films, I am generally bored, irritated or confused to varying degrees. Nowadays, on the principle of “once bitten, twice shy”, I’m afraid that I don’t believe their claims any longer and always suggest that they need feedback on their films. Everyone does – it makes no odds who you are or how long you’ve been making films.
Whenever I am making a video for a client, the bit I look forward to the most is when I send them a rough cut for their notes. To some people, that may sound disingenuous and counter-intuitive. You might think that you’re making “your baby” and the client “just doesn’t understand what you’re trying to achieve.”
On the contrary, when the client has your rough cut in their hands, you now have the best possible chance of being able to deliver to the client what they want. Up to this point, all discussions of what the video will be like have been academic and hypothetical. Now they have something tangible.
More to the point, you can give them actionable notes on how they might want to proceed. Whenever I send a rough cut, I will also include notes to suggest how they might want to refine it, such as, “There’s possibly too much of the CEO in this cut, you might want to drop his second comment and move up the soundbite from the junior account executive instead.” Or I might say, “The interviews are flowing well and the story is coming across, but I feel it would be a lot more interesting if we had some B-roll of the machine they’re talking about. Perhaps we need to visit the factory for a half-day’s shoot?”
The final videos are always much better after a couple of rounds of to-and-fro, with little tweaks, nips and tucks. And the best part is that it not only keeps the client happy, because they feel involved in the making of the film, but more than that, it makes you a better filmmaker! It’s a true win-win.
“No failure, only feedback”
I applied the principles of feedback that I learned in the corporate video space to my first feature film ‘The Redeeming’. We held three test screenings before we locked picture. These screenings were agonising, but they were essential and instrumental in the development of the final film. There were areas of the film that were not coming across clearly enough and these tests were the tool we needed to pinpoint and address these problems. The finished film is far stronger as a result.
There’s a saying among NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) practitioners that “There is no failure, only feedback”. If something doesn’t work, it’s the Universe’s way of telling you that you need to improve. Use that opportunity to develop and grow. Don’t shy away from it.
I’m certainly a fan of feedback, no matter how painful it is. I will definitely be doing test screenings on future films. The information we get from them far outweighs the embarrassing pain of showing your naked baby to the baying crowd!