LeadershipStarting a Career

About the Mistakes we Make

Reading time: 5:00 mins

On set, we make mistakes whether we acknowledge them or hide them. Sometimes we hide them so well even ourselves believe that we are perfect.

Noone is. And it’s perfectly okay.

Naturally, these mistakes have consequences,

be it simple stress, or an effect on self-esteem, finances, career or health and life.

In this environment, it es especially hard not to think of mistakes as bad things. I think it is also culturally embedded in the film-crew that making mistakes is something close to the end of the world.

In my interview with Dan Ming, 1st AC, (Life of Pi, Saving Mr. Banks, etc.) he offered me another perspective.

Making mistakes is a huge part of learning your craft. Which is why it’s best to start on smaller jobs if you’ve never done it before. Because then, when you make a mistake, the consequences aren’t as tragic.

[…] When you buzz a shot on a low-budget movie, it is on that scale for everyone a tragic event. […] It’s tough, it is equally hard when it happens.

But when you’re on a huge movie and Tom Cruise is out there and you can’t get the focus on him… the financial consequences are much higher.”

… and with that all the other consequences. Your self-esteem will be bruised more deeply, your career can get hurt more…

His words showed me an important thing: 

Whatever you do, you will make mistakes. So start small and first learn via not being afraid of mistakes.

But by the time you have a serious responsibility, you have to be over so many mistakes in lighter-risk situations, you don’t make the basic ones anymore.

Mark Weingartner, ASC, (VFX DP of Dark Knight, Inception, etc.) also reinforced this in me. 

“Good decisions come from experience. But experience comes from bad decisions”

So it seems to be the way: for learning your craft, making mistakes is essential!
Stop beating yourself up for them.

And to help yourself learn faster, it is wise to go through this phase in a low risk-level environment. You will never get through this stage if you try learning something in an environment where making many mistakes will hurt you, your career, your self-esteem or god-forbid someone’s health.

Because these events can sometimes leave a mark for a lifetime.

We might have already developed a “fear of failure” earlier in our life, but why should we make our progress harder on purpose.

Psychologists call a severe case of this the Fear of Failure, which is essentially rooted in the fear of shame.

“Many of us are afraid of failing, at least some of the time. But fear of failure (also called “atychiphobia”) is when we allow that fear to stop us doing the things that can move us forward to achieve our goals.

Fear of failure can be linked to many causes. For instance, having critical or unsupportive parents is a cause for some people. Because they were routinely undermined or humiliated in childhood, they carry those negative feelings into adulthood.

Experiencing a traumatic event at some point in your life can also be a cause. For example, say that several years ago you gave an important presentation in front of a large group, and you did very poorly. The experience might have been so terrible that you became afraid of failing in other things. And you carry that fear even now, years later.”


You can also help create these lifelong injuries in your colleagues if you unnecessarily treat someone who got confused for a second about a small task as if he/she was risking someone else’s life.
Or by employing someone who is not comfortably skilled yet for a high-risk environment

When you teach

To aid someone to learn faster, and to become able to help you sooner, you will have to let them make mistakes.

We learn only when we are not in survival mode. When we are afraid, our learning functions switch off.

In shameful situations, you switch on survival-autopilot to protect your self-esteem. So the old model of “teaching” by making the learner feel ashamed when he/she makes a mistake, has the opposite effect of what we are trying to achieve. – Which would be to train someone to be able to work for/with us well and make our jobs easier.

When you learn

On the other side of the story, when you are the learner, you will have to consciously improve and learn from your mistakes. If you are making the same mistake over and over again, you are not getting ahead, and it is extra annoying for the people teaching you.

It doesn’t mean you can’t make the same mistake a couple of times. But you have to take and show the effort of realizing it, thinking about solving it, practicing it, and eventually getting better at it.

In Conclusion

Naturally, there is one scenario when you really can’t ever afford to let anyone make a mistake. It is when it would threaten someone’s health or life.

Since treating even the smallest mistakes like they would mean the end of the world is so embedded in film society you cannot avoid situations where you will be humiliated in some form.

Especially because for most people this is the only teaching tool they know. Or at least they think it is a teaching tool. And of course, if you are filling an artistic role, you can get a wide variety of humiliating feedbacks from colleagues and critiques as well for example.
The range of situations is so vivid, I’m pretty sure you have your own stock of these experiences stored in your sub-conscious’ shady shelves.

What can we do?

First, don’t give it forward. Don’t bring anyone into a shameful situation, talk about mistakes privately and with the necessity of mistakes in mind. So this bad habit of film-makers can slowly disappear.

And second: You have to learn how to handle shameful situations in a healthy way.

If you can’t handle them well, you miss out on the learning part of the experience. If you let your survival-autopilot to take control, you will only try to self-protect while your learning center switches off. Which means you will make the same mistake again, and re-live this whole nightmare.

To tell you the truth I myself also don’t possess this skill yet. Moreover, I don’t even know what this skill is. But I’m absolutely sure it is just another soft-skill anyone can learn. This is part of my journey as well to find it, learn it, apply it, and to make mistakes with it.

And I won’t miss the chance to write about it as well!

Cover Photo by Dawn Armfield on Unsplash

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Next article Soft skills you need for a career in film industry
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