[Note: This article was first published in 2000 but we feel it remains relevant today.]
A Guerrilla Filmmaker is a filmmaker who may be short on money but not on passion and vision. They have an attitude of creativity and freedom. They are often stealth, mobile and innovative in their approach. They not only break the rules but work creatively within them. Guerrilla Filmmakers are the new breed of Independent Filmmakers who embody the sort of true independence that used to inspire the independent film movement in the past, but is now often lost in the shuffle of the faux independence propagated by Hollywood studios co-opting independent themes and styles.
One hallmark of independence is that it comes out of yourself. It isn't trying to blatantly copy somebody else (although you might have influences, which is different). It isn't contriving to look or feel independent by wearing a certain style of clothes or emulating certain directors. Independence means you have a voice that needs to be heard - a statement to make and a passion to make it.
The economics of film have made filmmaking a very expensive proposition for artists, guerrilla or otherwise. Guerrilla filmmaking means taking advantage of new technologies - cheap technologies - like digital video cameras, editing software and Internet-based tools, and using those technologies to free yourself. Free yourself from what? Primarily fear. The fear of budgets. The fear of the executives. The fear that keeps everybody smiling on the surface but sweating on the inside. The fear that more often than not kills creativity.
Broadband networks will also change the way that films are distributed. With open access, major portals such as AOL Time Warner will provide a means for Guerrilla Filmmakers to find new audiences. The method for gaining these audiences will be through browser-like technology that helps people search for films and media. This creates a whole new dynamic for distribution, as people take more responsibility for what they view and are less dependent on programmers and producers to pre-determine what they think an audience will respond to. The content that will rule in this new world will not be the least common denominator-type programming seen up until now. What will rule may very well be Guerrilla Filmmaking.
This paper is one take on Guerrilla Filmmaking. It's not the final take. There may never be a final take. Hopefully Guerrilla Filmmaking will morph and mutate so that it constantly evolves into something fresh and new. Maybe you'll be a part of that evolution.
A Guerrilla Filmmaker has a certain attitude. That attitude has to do with freedom, with experimentation, with courage, and with creativity. It has to do with stepping over the bounds of what's considered the status quo in filmmaking in order to create something fresh, new and unique.
The reasons a Guerrilla Filmmaker wants to make a film will vary. Sometimes it's to be a renegade. Sometimes it's to be an artist. Sometimes it's to say something that's never been said.
If you're in it strictly for the money and fame, then you're not a Guerrilla Filmmaker. You're a suit. It's not a bad thing to be a suit. You just have to admit when you're a suit and go with that. You should find a studio job and work your way up the feeding chain. Good luck... seriously.
Being a filmmaker requires willpower. It's very competitive to be heard. You have to have an resolute passion to want to have your film seen. You can use the existing system in order to do that - that's certainly a smart and good thing to do.
A Guerrilla Filmmaker may break laws, but not big laws. The little laws that are stupid may be broken, but the big laws that throw you in jail are not part of being a Guerrilla Filmmaker. The main law that the Guerrilla Filmmaker will break is the law of conventional wisdom. The laws of conventional wisdom have trapped everybody in the never-ending cycle of sameness, stupidity and cynicism. The Guerrilla Filmmaker therefore fights against the oppressive deadness of conformity and blind consumerism and seeks to revel in their own aliveness through their films - and to do so as a statement against the kind of soul death that seems to press in all around us.
A Guerrilla Filmmaker can also have a bigger budget and even shoot with expensive equipment. The key is that the attitude must be right. Without the right attitude, nothing good will ultimately come out of your efforts.
We've talked about some techniques that can be used by filmmakers in other articles, like [New Digital Production Techniques]. Some of those techniques may or may not be appropriate for what you're trying to do. Some might. You also might invent your own techniques.
Some innovations we've talked about in other articles (and are worth repeating) include:
Location Independence means you use a combination of new tools to allow you to shoot and or collaborate on a film without all of the production team having to be in the same location. This could mean that through a wireless, remote set up you can direct a scene through a computer link to a DV camera. It could mean that you collaborate with an editor in another state who you never meet face to face, but you can teleconference and share media files over the Internet just as effectively as if you lived in the same city.
Real Time Cinema is a cinema with few or no cuts. A lot of directors are fascists about cutting, as if a cinema without editing - particularly fast editing - is not cinema. But some directors (Mike Figgis being a recent example) shoot lengthy scenes or entire films in a single take.
Propagators of real time cinema say that fast cuts are fundamentally abrasive. They believe that quick editing really doesn't allow you to engage in entering into the scene, to embrace the narrative. Supporters of real time cinema believe that fast cuts force your attention around like somebody taking your head and moving it this way or that, without your permission.
The defenders of fast cutting say that they allow you to be more economical in your narrative, more poetic. But real time cinema filmmakers feel that fast cutting is not so much poetic as violent. Violent, overused cutting (some say) can make the viewer numb and desensitized.
Parallel Production is when you shoot using multiple cameras at the same time. This can be fun, save a lot of time, and give you many more options in editing. Parallel Production techniques can be used to shoot a single scene from multiple viewpoints, multiple scenes simultaneously, or even multiple films simultaneously!
Since DV cameras and tape are cheap, and you can rent them at little cost if you can't afford to buy, then using multiple cameras is a good option. In addition, you can even link cameras to monitors (or, in the future, a computer screen) so as a director you can see what's happening all at once, and direct the camerapeople on the fly.
Multiple camera shoots with DV will be the trend in the future. Single camera shoots will be less effective and more time consuming. It's really worth it to shoot any scene with multiple cameras to give you editing options (if you plan to edit, that is).
Internet Collaboration means using the Internet to collaborate with others on your film. For example, if you live in a small town in the Midwest, it might be hard to find an editor. But if you can link up with an editor in another city, then you can collaborate over the Internet with them without necessarily ever having to meet face to face. The same could be true of a writer.
The Internet opens up a whole new world of collaboration - of people finding each other and working with each other strictly through the Internet. In this way, the technology offers a new level of artistic community that isn't restricted by location. It's a freer, more open environment where artists who may not have worked with each other normally can now do so.
If you want to be a Guerrilla Filmmaker you need equipment. This equipment will vary, but will normally include:
Visibility and Mobility
A Guerrilla Filmmaker often needs to keep a low profile. The nature of small DV cameras allows this. You can put a compact camera in your shoulder bag and have it with you at all times - ready to capture a magic moment at a moments notice. This creates a certain stealthiness to Guerrilla Filmmakers. They can shoot things that couldn't be shot with conventional equipment because they can take their cameras and equipment where you would never find the cumbersome film and video equipment of the past.
Mobility therefore is key. Mobility means having equipment that is light, battery powered, and flexible. It means not being dependent on expensive and inflexible equipment and infrastructure in order to get the image you want. It means being fast and it means being able to move with the action, to follow the flow of what's happening. This allows for a new degree of cinematic freedom for the Guerrilla Filmmaker not found in conventional film or video.
Music and Actors
The Guerrilla Filmmaker can often get music and actors for free. There is a lot of music available either as free and sharable or available in the public domain. And the music is excellent. You just want to make sure to promote the artist whose music you're using - to give them ample credit and promote them and help their career. This applies to your actors, who will likely go unpaid as well. If you can't pay them, then promote them generously. Seek to allow people to use your film as a vehicle for their own self-expression and benefit.
We said before that the Guerrilla Filmmaker will sometimes break the little laws. What kinds of little laws? One big one is the law of getting permission to shoot something. This happens all the time.
One way to get around it is to get a release or permit. You can get release forms from any production handbook and permits usually from the municipality within which you shoot. But sometimes you have to steal shots and that's the way it is, although being a G-rated website we can't say we support that.
Also, a Guerrilla Filmmaker can look for places to film that don't require releases or permits. This in fact might be the easier, hassle-free way to go. Rather than seek to buck the system, work around it. See what you can get for free legally. This will apply to visuals and, as described already, music as well.
Staying legal is a good thing in case ultimately you happen to get a distributor who will hassle you endlessly to make sure you got all the rights cleared for your film. If you don't do this, or haven't done it, a distributor is less likely to acquire your film.
You might want to think about how to finance or market your film, unless you're bootstrapping and going strictly with a credit card budget. But if you're looking to make more than one film, you'll need to devote some time to how you're going to handle the economics. If you don't you'll end up with a slash and burn track record, good for one film only.
Internet distribution is opening up new avenues for filmmakers to distribute their products. While these venues rarely pay an advance, they do pay on a per view or per video basis. So if you have a good film this could be a viable alternative.
You can also look for a big name distributor. This is where the serious money is made. But finding a big name distributor is like winning the lotto. It happens so rarely that it might as well be a non-option for most filmmakers.
Another option, yet to evolve frankly, is the possibility of sponsored films. If you have a film that can be attached to a sponsor that sponsor can pay for the film (let's say they provide the costumes and it's a method of advertising for them) and you can distribute through an Internet distributor, where you can make money on a pay per view or a pay per video basis that helps you get past a break even point. Whether sponsored Guerrilla Films are possible remains to be seen, but it may be an option worth exploring.
Film festivals are a way to get your films seen and noticed - and possibly acquired - although most of the big festivals are so exclusive it's ridiculous. Many are tied in intimately with studios and producer's representatives that lock out everybody outside of their exclusive networks. But regional and local film festivals are quickly rising that allow for you to show your film without elitism seen in larger festivals.
In order to get going, we suggest:
Having a good attitude means that maybe it might be a good thing if you have something to say rather than only wanting to make a splash and make it big. Chances are, if your sole motivation is to make it big, you won't, anyway. But if you have a sincere and honest desire to tell a compelling story, and the talent to do so, you'll get heard and you'll find your success as a Guerrilla Filmmaker.