Jacob Rosenberg’s Ten Rules for Filmmaking

Posted on by Larry

This afternoon, at the 2013 Adobe MAX, Jacob Rosenberg, Chief Technology Officer and Partner at Bandito Brothers gave a presentation showcasing the history and projects of his full-service media company.

Founded by two men, Scott Waugh and Mouse McCoy, with a love of action sports in January, 2007, the company began by shooting commercials and grew into feature films, the most famous of which – so far – was 2012’s Act of Valor.

Along the way, Bandito Brothers created their own recognizable style and production ethic. (Not surprisingly, perhaps, given their background of living on the edge, when they moved into their new building, which looked like a converted airplane hangar, most of their offices weren’t cubicles, they were tents.)

At the end of his presentation, Jacob summarized his thoughts on filmmaking. I am sharing his Ten Rules here with his generous permission. (Of these ten, my favorites are #2 and #6)


  1. Format follows Function
  2. Don’t fight over bits and pixels if you can’t tell the difference
  3. [Take] comfort in discomfort
  4. Fear is your friend
  5. A mistake is only a bad thing if you don’t learn from it
  6. There’s always a solution
  7. Analog lessons translate very well to digital problem solving
  8. Use the Platoon model / Less is more
  9. Embrace disruptive technology
  10. Hire young and empower them to learn and make mistakes


(The following definitions are summarized from Jacob’s talk.)

Format follows function. Shoot using the camera that is most appropriate to get that shot. Then convert that video format into something suitable for editing and final output. The format you shoot is not the format you edit.

Don’t fight over bits and pixels if you can’t tell the difference. In almost all cases, any video format you shoot can be converted into a high-quality format for final output. Focus on your story, not obsessing over pixels.

Take comfort in discomfort. Creativity blooms when you are working outside your comfort zone. All too often, working inside our “comfort zone” means that we are no longer really concentrating on the work we are doing, because we’ve done it so many times before.

Fear is your friend. Within reason, being afraid focuses your thinking and creates more careful planning which yields better results.

A mistake is only a bad thing if you don’t learn from it. Making a mistake is not a bad thing. The key is to realize it, learn from it, and don’t make it again. If you don’t make mistakes, you are not learning anything new.

There’s always a solution. So much of production and post-production is problem-solving. Sometimes the solution is so obvious and simple that you don’t notice it right away.

Analog lessons translate very well to digital problem solving. This is a fancy way of saying that what we learned in the past helps us to solve problems in the future.

Use the platoon model / Less is more. Jacob discovered during production of Act of Valor that the military now favors operations composed of small groups where everyone in the group knows of lot of subjects, while one or two people in the group are experts in a single subject. SMall groups yield greater focus, more accountability and quicker reaction times.

Embrace disruptive technology. Technology continues to change. If you don’t continually evaluate your technology and practices, your competition will do it for you.

Hire the young and empower them to learn and make mistakes. With age comes experience and wisdom. With the young comes fresh perspectives, energy, and out-of-the box thinking.

It was a fascinating retrospective on how Bandito Brothers grew from a bunch of daredevils into an independent filmmaking powerhouse. Visit their website at www.banditobrothers.com.

7 Responses to Jacob Rosenberg’s Ten Rules for Filmmaking

  1. Seth Chambers says:

    I was at this talk! Great stuff, wish I coulda said “hi” to you, Larry!

  2. Ben says:

    “Hire young…” Seriously? That means these guys aren’t old enough to know what they’re talking about. Every study ever done about creativity shows that the older and more experienced you get, the more creative you get and able to think outside the box. There’s one mistake they need to learn from.

  3. Being the age that I am, I can say that the value of youthful energy cannot be understated. Love rule #1&2 and we practiced them in our feature, Tiger Lily Road. Though we shot the majority on a GH2, there were two other very different camera contributors. Teaser and clips on youtube/tigerlilyroad.

  4. Will says:

    Ben, ABSOLUTELY hire young. Not exclusively young, of course, but definitely not exclusively ‘seasoned’ either. I will completely admit that experience teaches the “science” of out of the box thinking, but inexperience i.e. people who are immersed in point #3 can have some of the most powerful new ideas. If nothing else, the right kind of young people add a level of energy and passion that is contagious.

  5. BenB says:

    Will, every study ever done proves you wrong. More experienced, achieved professionals in creative fields think outside the box more often and more easily than young newbies. You’re following a long standing eastern type myth. And the more experienced work best when mentoring the young inexperienced. Larry, you’re wrong on “young” meaning something over “experienced”. Total myth, and tons of studies to prove it.

  6. Young people in the production environment are like horses. If they are well-groomed, harnessed properly, trained and guided, they will carry the production (and a lot of heavy equipment & props). The experienced hands on a production do better at costume designing and prop selection. It takes time to develop those crafts. The budgets and administration are best left to the experienced ones, also.

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