The world of guerrilla filmmaking has allowed movies to be made that otherwise would have not seen the light of day. This method to producing movies has given a powerful voice to filmmakers that might have not been heard, that is a positive for filmmaking in general. With guerrilla filmmaking there are no studio budgets to rent prime locations, build expensive sets, use 3-D special effects or hire rock n roll actors like Luis Guzman, Hassan Johnson, Sofia Vergara, Steve Buscemi, Dean Winters, Nia Long, Vera Farmiga to deliver acting gold.
When a producer decides to shoot an entire movie using guerrilla filmmaking techniques then “iacta alea est” (The Die Is Cast). You must prepare to navigate through a filmmaking storm of time and cash limits. Producing a no budget guerrilla film shoot is extremely chaotic increasing production problems that hurt overall quality. Making a no budget movie leaves zero room for changes or mistakes during shooting.
This happens for a lot of different reasons. The biggest is that an indie movie producer has too many duties to perform at one time. The financial lack of production support takes its toll causing breakdowns in organization, planning, and most importantly creative focus. If you’re a first time producer without any experience working in film production (writing, directing, editing etc.) you’re going to be up against it from day one of filming. At the core of making a movie there are parts that have to be in place.
There has to be actors, direction, camera, lighting, and sound. I’ve met professional videographers with cameras, lighting, and sound gear that have told me it’s easy to make an independent movie. One videographer with a chip on their shoulder I met once back east told me, they could do it better and cheaper than anything I directed or produced. At any level of writing, directing, producing, or acting insults are a given. You will be insulted not only for your work, but on a personal level. As a person you have to shake that stuff off and roll with it if you are the entertainment business.
Sorry to sidetrack this post, so this videographer must have read a book on guerrilla filmmaking, the production ended up posting cast and crew calls online offering credit only. Not even gas money was offered to actors and crew. This videographer did finish part of a movie that was poorly directed, but the overall picture and sound quality was decent for a wedding video. The videographer had used professional video gear along with their experience shooting wedding videos. Making a movie takes more time to shoot and make a reality. They found that part out when they tried to become a producer.
What truly killed this wedding video companies shoot was lack of organization, scheduling, direction and the needed commitment of a volunteer cast and crew. Unless you are good family or friends with a filmmaker, no other people will work for free. The wedding videographer gave up their pursuit of making a movie a week into production. It happens.
It can get worse faster if you don’t have basic equipment on set to shoot a movie. When people show up to a location to find there’s a skeleton crew operating with a low-end camera, maybe an external microphone, and lights bought at a hardware store they instantly think it’s a home movie. They don’t take the production seriously and it turns into chaos.
People that are contributing their time for free want to feel their part of a movie going places. People lose interest, show up late, or don’t bother to show up at all if they don’t feel it’s a real movie shoot.
The professional videographer’s movie collapsed despite having quality gear. Imagine a first time producer working with a skeleton crew that had less experience and equipment than a professional videographer. It could get ugly quick. This is a slightly harsh example of what could happen with guerrilla filmmaking.
The theme of this post is to shoot straight with readers that want to make a movie that gets released whether it be a limited theatrical release, direct to video, video on demand, on the Internet or whatever medium you choose. Some producers pass on outside distribution deals in order to self-distribute their movie themselves, but at least their movie was good enough to have options.
Other producers find themselves in a position without the ability to choose or don’t have any options. To be blunt, it’s because their movie didn’t have a strong enough appeal to attract a distribution offer for a wider release. No matter how great your story is, if production value is lousy it will be viewed as just another bad movie.
The odds are heavily stacked against a no budget movie finding a sizable audience outside of friends and family (Paranormal Activity is a rare exception). After the hard work and time invested a producer can grow more disappointed with each rejection letter from a film festival or distributor. Internet reviews by people can be even more brutal. After awhile a producer can tell which way the wind is blowing for their film.
With no deals on the table the film is often sold directly from a website maintained by the producer. It could make the rounds using word of mouth through a local area (where it was made) to generate modest sales online. Then it quietly disappears only being seen by a limited amount of people. That’s reality.
You could be in a stronger position to produce a no budget guerrilla production. You have some filmmaking experience paired with quality equipment along with a committed group of people in front of and behind the camera.
More than one movie was produced using guerrilla filmmaking tactics and found some success. There’s no reason your movie can’t be next on this list. However, it’s important to have realistic expectations about how production will flow.
If you plan on a majority of “run-and-gun” shooting at locations without permits expect to have production shut down from time to time by property owners or passing police. This causes a loss of precious time. Most cast and crew working for free won’t be available for 10 or more hour shooting days.
Delays and scheduling changes open the door for cast and crew to exit at anytime. Job and family commitments outweigh working on a no budget movie for free. Combine this with a producer that has to do other jobs on the shoot like act, direct, or operate the camera.
Some area has to suffer which is usually the creative aspect of making a movie. Most people willing to work for free on your movie won’t be as committed as you. Especially, when relying on friends and family to lend support in front of and behind the camera. You have to remember making movies is your dream, not theirs.
I have respect for guerrilla filmmakers that are able to put together a solid team to complete their movie. When it comes together there can’t be a better feeling knowing you pulled it off against the odds. For those of you out there that fall into that category I tip my hat and say “Guy Terrifico loves you,” our mascot character from a movie.
All in all as an independent producer I relate more closely to working in a guerrilla filmmaking environment to get a movie done than going through a Hollywood system. I’ve used more than a few tricks of the trade of guerrilla filmmaking to finish a movie. With that said I want to express to aspiring producers that guerrilla filmmaking isn’t your only option when making movies. What many save in money, they lose in time and overall quality.
It becomes a serious point of diminishing returns after the dust settles and you have a poorly made movie that goes nowhere. A producer has to be frugal while saving money during a shoot. There’s not that luxury of having a large budget as a safety net. But a producer also needs to be able to spot areas where spending a little extra money will save time and improve overall quality.
I had a friend who owned the exact same camera used to shoot In With Thieves. He offered to let me use it free of charge saving a camera rental cost. The catch was he could only let me use it on Saturday and Sunday. I would need to return it to him Monday mornings.
It was tempting, but rearranging our shooting schedule to only Saturday and Sundays to save a few bucks on a camera rental wasn’t worth it. I passed on the free camera instead choosing to rent one.
Later on a second camera was rented to provide extra coverage. This kept us from stretching out the shoot over a month. We were able to shoot 5 days straight, take a day off, and shoot 4 more straight days. The original schedule was planned for a 10-day shoot with one day off in the middle. We finished filming in 9 days coming in slightly under budget and a day early. This indie filmmaker Sid Kali typing FADE OUT: