Three Tips to Improving your Work

For some reason, many documentary filmmakers work in self-imposed silos, cut off from other creatives for a large part of the filmmaking process.

I know, I’ve been there.  My first film was just myself (and my fiancé) working through the intricacies of preproduction, production and postproduction.  My second film was mostly the two of us again, with some postproduction help.

I’m working on bringing more people into my team at earlier stages, but I still enjoy being heavily involved in every part of the process.

Portrait of Mark Locki

Even though I still enjoy filming and working alone (I’m an introvert; I can’t help it!), there is one part of the filmmaking process that you need to include others in: getting feedback on the film.

Getting feedback and differing opinions is critical to improving your work.

Let’s face it, after spending days, months or even years working on a particular project, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture.  Having another set of eyes on your film can help you see the blind spots in your process.

Every time I’ve shared my film with someone for review, I’ve found problem spots myself that I knew I needed to go back and fix.  Just sitting with someone and watching the film helped improve it.

That said, here are three tips for making the most of the feedback you receive on your film.

1.Ensure you’re getting feedback from the right people.

Not everyone is going to provide good and actionable feedback for you.  Quite often, if you ask friends or family members, you’re likely to get a response of “Great work!”  Often, close friends or family members aren’t likely to provide you with the constructive criticism you need to improve your film, as they may not want to risk hurting your feelings or relationships.

Some friends can be a good source of feedback – make sure you let them know you want their honest opinion on what needs to be improved in the film.

Other filmmakers (especially editors) are great places to look for feedback. Documentary filmmakers a little ahead of you on the learning curve can help you dissect issues you may not know yet.

If you have a mentor, they are the best people to ask for feedback.  They are there to help you, so make sure you use them to the best of your ability.

There are a few things to look for in a good reviewer.  You’ll want someone who asks you questions that clarify your intentions.  A good reviewer should also tell you what you are doing well, not just what sucks.  They should also give you some actionable advice for improving your work or, at the very least, ask you leading questions to help you figure it out yourself.

Who should you be asking for feedback at each stage of the film?

I’ve created a 12 page guide to asking for – and receiving feedback on your film, with advice gathered from the three films I’ve done plus numerous I’ve reviewed for other filmmakers below. The guide includes 50+ specific questions to ask to help strengthen your film.

Download my free 12-page Guide to Asking for – And Receiving – Feedback for your Film.

2. Leave your ego at the door.

Admittedly, this is still very difficult for me to do, but it is super important.

After pouring your heart and soul into a project over an extended period of time, it’s very easy to become attached to what you’ve done so far.  This attachment can make it very hard to take constructive criticism.  Criticism can feel like a personal attack, even if your reviewer focuses solely on the work.

Before talking with your reviewer or reviewing the feedback, take a deep breath and remember that the feedback is not about you personally. It’s only about the work, and its goal is to improve it.

If you’re talking one-on-one with your reviewer, resist the urge to defend yourself.  If they ask you questions, feel free to answer them, but if you take the time and really listen to the feedback rather than trying to formulate a comeback in your head, you’ll be in a much better position to strengthen your film.

It’s very easy to get defensive about your choices.  However, defensiveness shows the reviewer that you’re not listening or really care about their feedback, and they are less likely to give you the feedback you truly need to make the work better.  At its worst, it could damage your relationship with your reviewer… trust me, I’ve been there.

3. Take feedback with a grain of salt.

Now, this may contradict the previous tip. However, remember that, at the end of the day, this is your vision and your project. Not everyone will understand what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s okay to stick to your guns on certain things.

However, if multiple people have the same feedback for you, I recommend carefully considering what they say. Three or more people with the same feedback are probably correct in their view.

Sometimes, someone may be unable to articulate clearly what doesn’t feel right in the story.  Spend time thinking about what your reviewer is trying to get at.  Sometimes problems in our stories are hidden at deeper levels than what’s evident on the surface, and it takes some work to get to the issue at hand.


Download my free 12-page Guide to Asking for – And Receiving – Feedback for your Film.