Most movies you watch are shot with film permits, in a studio, and with a full production crew that is doing everything “by the book.” But not every movie made has a chance to shoot in this way; even big films might have to do things on the downlow. We are, of course, talking about guerilla filmmaking, a style that has been around for quite some time. But what is guerilla filmmaking and how does one go about making a guerilla film yourself? Take a look at our guerilla filmmaking tips, definition, and examples to learn all about it.
Guerilla Filmmaking Tips
What is guerilla filmmaking?
Before we dig into how movies get made “guerrilla style” or any notable examples, let’s define guerilla filmmaking so we’re all on the same page.
GUERILLA FILMMAKING DEFINITION
What is guerilla filmmaking?
Guerilla filmmaking is a shooting style that is done clandestinely with no film permits, limited props, and usually a bare-minimum crew. This usually means shooting on-location quickly before anyone else notices what’s going on; preparation beforehand is essential, as is maintaining a low profile. This means not having a big boom mic, lights set up or having too many crew members around when shooting.
The term “guerilla” (or “guerrilla”) is taken from the Spanish word for a style of warfare waged between small bands of non-professional soldiers and official government military. In filmmaking, you can see how this idea applies because this filmmaking style is not as organized (or legal) as a normal movie shoot. While a guerrilla shoot can be organized in its own way, it’s still very risky, which is why it’s also nicknamed “run and gun.”
What are guerilla filmmaking characteristics?
- Skeleton crews
- Not doing multiple takes
- Documentary or handheld look
- Shooting in real locations (without a permit)
- Less noticeable camera and audio equipment
Shooting Guerrilla Style
How do you shoot guerrilla style?
While we do not endorse the shooting and production style of guerilla filmmaking, we can provide you with guerilla filmmaking tips that cover the do’s and don'ts.
Before going into all that, feel free to watch the video below about the do’s and don'ts of guerilla filmmaking from Film Riot.
Guerilla filmmaking is cheaper than most other kinds. Since you can bypass film permits (which means not needing to secure locations):
- Do use a minimal film crew, and
- Do shoot your scenes just once (if you can, of course).
Guerilla filmmaking provides you with a freedom you might not otherwise have if you were shooting things “the normal way.”
If you want to shoot in a certain location:
- Do be prepared ahead of time, get everything ready, and then shoot.
- Do make sure your crew knows exactly what to do at the time of filming.
However, shooting in a public without a permit has serious drawbacks, so:
- Don’t film if your location is too crowded with bystanders.
- Don’t go to a shoot unprepared for the possible consequences.
- Don’t get into further trouble with authority figures if they ask you to stop what you’re doing.
There’s a real spontaneity to guerilla filmmaking, which might also be part of the fun or process. The idea is that you only have one chance or two to get something right, so:
- Do be on your guard at all times; in case someone asks what you’re doing (just say it’s a student film).
- Do have your schedule set to avoid losing time.
- Do make sure your entire cast, crew, and equipment can leave the filming area just as soon as you’re done with your shoot.
- Don’t use too many props that might make your shoots harder to manage.
- Don’t be too ambitious with your locations or budget.
- Don’t make it too obvious you’re filming, i.e. yelling “ACTION” and “CUT.”
- Production Design Budget Tips →
- Filming Locations That Enhance Your Story →
- Tips to Wrap Up Your Film Production on Time →
Famous Guerrilla Style Movies
Examples of Guerilla Filmmaking
After going over some guerilla filmmaking tips, let’s take a look at some notable examples in cinema. Plenty of well-known filmmakers have done guerilla films for one reason or another, and we’ll list them below.
Melvin Van Peebles
Melvin Van Peebles made the blacksploitation classic Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) guerilla style with a minimal crew and amatuer actors. Even though he had made a successful studio film prior, he wanted to go make a guerilla film with Sweetback, wanting to tell a story the studios were not going to back.
While not 100% a guerrilla film, Peebles did not do things the orthodox way, such as having a permit to set a car on fire, but not doing it on the day permitted. Peebles also performed his own stunts and he and his crew carried firearms out of safety (since no one on the set was unionized).
Winner of five Academy Awards, William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971) was a major success when it was released. While it wasn’t a small independent guerilla film, parts of the film had to be shot guerrilla style, which meant shooting on location in many parts of New York City.
The movie’s famous car chase is probably the most notable example. Involving an elevated subway train, the scene features a car speeding through real life streets among real pedestrians. While a celebrated sequence, director Friedkin has since said he’d never attempt anything like that again.
Writer-director Spike Lee’s first major full length film, She’s Gotta Have It (1986), was a guerilla film made with the help of donations, grants, and family. Even being shot guerilla style, it ended up making eight times its budget back and putting Lee on the map. He even put out a book detailing his experiences with making his first movie, entitled Spike Lee's Gotta Have It: Inside Guerrilla Filmmaking.
Made with just over $7,000 (half of which the director got from participating in experimental medical tests), Robert Rodriguez is one of the most famous filmmakers who went from no-budget to big budget in just a few years.
His feature film debut, El Mariachi (1992), was shot guerilla style in Texas and Mexico, used no actual film crew, used a wheelchair for dolly shots, and took advantage of the environment as much as possible (such as using a real prison warden and guard for a scene). Rodriguez later put his book Rebel Without a Crew, which details his tips and tricks for shooting a guerilla film.
For his first feature film, Pi (1998), Darren Aronofsky got friends and family to donate enough money for him to get it made. He also made sure to limit the amount of money used for wardrobe, and even managed to convert a Brooklyn apartment into his own personal studio set.
Being a New York native, Aronofsky chose to set the film in his hometown, which meant shooting scenes guerrilla style. This includes scenes in the subway, something he would do again later with Black Swan (2010).
Zero budget filmmaking tips
Now that you have a good idea of what guerilla filmmaking is and what goes into it, read our article on zero budget filmmaking tips. We not only cover examples and scenarios, but show how, with our software, you can make a great looking movie on a limited budget.