Dear Documentary Filmmakers: Typos

Dear Documentary Filmmakers: Details matter. There really shouldn’t be typos in your film. Especially not in your name or film title.

I know filmmaking, and especially documentary filmmaking, can be a very arduous process, taking years of your life with minor or little compensation for your time and energy. I also know that, sometimes, if you’re desperate to make a particular funding or submission deadline, you might cut some corners. After all, you might reason, if you’re not sending in your final cut, there’s time to change things later to clean up mistakes you might have made along the way.

I grant that all of this may be true. Even so, before you send your doc out to be judged by decision makers, I’d urge you, or someone else on your team, to take one last pass with a particular eye toward the small things that you might have gotten wrong – those details which won’t instantly kill your film by any means, but nevertheless will leave an unwelcome impression. Things that you can quickly fix, saving yourself trouble and potential embarrassment. I’m talking about things like typos in your text cards, misspellings of people or place names, bad punctuation, and incorrect grammar.

I’ve come across films where there are multiple versions of the main subject’s name used at various points in the doc – think “Michael,” “Micheal,” and “Michal.” I’ve witnessed apostrophes and commas misused time and time again. I’ve even seen filmmakers misspell their own names, or, even worse, their own film titles. Yes, I’m serious.

Think about the potential impression that kind of error might leave. You don’t even know your own film title, or at least you don’t know how to spell it.

Again, I’m not suggesting that a broadcaster or programmer would take a look at your misuse of “their” for “there” and instantly pass on your film, but they will likely notice the mistake. Call it a pet peeve if you’d like, but think about it. We all have a friend who is a stickler for this kind of thing. What if the decision maker is one of those folks? Imagine your typos sticking in his craw, distracting him from fully engaging with your otherwise well-constructed project. Perhaps he might think, “If this filmmaker can’t be bothered to use grammar correctly, maybe other aspects of this film are sloppy too.” We make value judgements based on a lot less, and typos or other simple mistakes can be read as a lack of attention to detail, or as a lack of professionalism. Taken to an extreme, but a logical one, a decision maker could wonder: Are you taking this seriously? If it doesn’t seem that you are, why should anyone else?

Some festivals, funders, and broadcasters are very accustomed to watching and considering unfinished projects in a rough cut stage. The decision makers should be able to look past something like the lack of color correction or a final sound mix to see the potential of your project. These elements, however, are technical considerations, and they take more time and expense, and they need to be completed when the film is in its final state. That’s not the case with the kinds of errors I’m talking about. It’s a lot easier to correct things like typos early on, saving yourself the trouble later, and preventing bad impressions from being formed about your filmmaking.


1 Comment

Filed under Dear Documentary Filmmakers, Documentary, Film

One response to “Dear Documentary Filmmakers: Typos

  1. Christopher Campbell

    This is a huge pet peeve of mine, and maybe even moreso my wife’s. Most recently it was an issue for the dairy industry doc Got the Facts on Milk? But that was actually one of the least annoying problems with that one.

    One thing I try to forgive, though, is misspellings and grammatical errors in subtitling. That’s so common with even great films that it’s hard to be picky.

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