Your Guide To Guerrilla Filmmaking In 12 Steps

Tressa Sanders @ Travel Star Magazine

Here is a basic checklist and guide to Guerrilla Filmmaking from start to finish. Don't be surprised to see how completely uncomplicated it is. You want to set a reasonable timeline for all of the pre-production tasks (a month or less).

_____ 1. Acquire a camera, a good microphone, a tripod and at least 3 good lights. Guerrilla filmmaking is about being resourceful.
Ideal: A good film or HD camera, a good microphone (always required), a good tripod, steadicam, dolly and crane system (can be homemade), and at least a 3 light kit. My ideal may seem very low-end for some filmmakers but this ideal is what I have found to give professional results for less money. It's like when I started my record label and spent a large amount of money on studio equipment just to be reminded that I'm actually a musician and I know you can create beautiful, rich music without one piece of plugin equipment. So I sold all but what was necessary to get the music to the masses. I had the same experience with filmmaking.

_____ 2. Decide what to shoot by acquiring a script, writing your own, or on the fly.
Tip: Don't spend too much time on this when you are just learning how to make films from start to finish. This is guerrilla filmmaking. Initially you want to get practice managing film projects and creating the films. Later on, you can get serious about what subjects you film and the quality of the scripts and talent.

_____ 3. Once you have your script or know what you are going to shoot, determine how many people you need in your crew or if you can do it solo and determine how many cast members you need to play the parts if any. Once you have this figured out, put an ad on Craigslist, in the paper, on messageboards, or wherever you need to get these positions filled.
Tip: Always let people know up front if your project pays or not. I'm personally not a big fan of listing film projects on Craigslist because it seems oblivious to how the film community works (for instance not allowing you to list projects that offer what is actually common in our industry, i.e. deferred payments, working for experience or labor trade, etc.).

_____ 4. Once you have your bodies, break that script down into shooting days. When you break it up, really think about the amount of time it will take you to setup each scene and also be sure to put scenes on the same day that will require the least amount of set changes between scenes or do scenes that are all in the same location on the same day.
Note: For those trying to break into Hybrid(independent) or traditional filmmaking, this is where we part ways. There are many forms that you may be instructed to have for production. These are the ones for guerrilla filmmaking, I find valuable: Talent Release Form, Location Release Form, Music Release Form, Cast & Crew contact Sheets, Production Budget Worksheet, Shooting Schedule. Any special deals you work out with cast and crew should be in writing

_____ 5. Create your shooting schedule. This is VERY important for any film project and is in fact the most stressful part of guerrilla filmmaking. In most cases, your shooting schedule will depend on the availability and flexibility of your cast and crew. If you live in an area with a very active filmmaking community, this will be less of an issue. But nonetheless, you do have to work out the shooting scheduled based on when you will be able to have access to your cast and crew. The trick here is to remember that when filming a movie, you can shoot scenes with people missing and put them together during editing, especially back and forth dialogue scenes or phone conversation scenes. So don't stress too much if you can't get X on the set with Y at the same time; think of an alternative.
Tip: Express your work ethic upfront to anyone working on your films. I personally have a policy where if crew members or talent miss two rehearsals or actual shooting days for reasons that aren't really justifiable, that they are no longer a part of the project. I stick to this. The reason should be obvious but if it isn't, film projects have a distinct start and finish. You don't want anyone holding that up. Depending on what level of filmmaking you are at, it may mean you missing very important dates like film festival deadlines, etc. Make sure any policies such as this is in any contracts signed by cast and/or crew.

_____6. Once you have your shooting schedule it's time to hunt for locations. If you can film on property you own, do it. If you can film on property someone you know owns, do it. Search for locations you can get releases for. Sometimes you have to steal shots (shooting without a release), but if you plan to enter a festival that requires location releases, you'll run into some issues. So get releases for locations as best you can. I'm a bit big on releases because I want to always avoid having to cut something out of my film or go back and ask for a release where possible.

____ 7. Acquire all the props you think you will absolutely have to have. This time period should be all about collection. Get your special effects stuff and anything else you think you will need for your film. Be sure to search your own home and ask the cast and crew to contribute props to the production. If you have to buy something check out garage sales and thrift stores first. Also use thrift shops and garage sales for wardrobe if you need to, otherwise, have your talent wear their own clothes. Also, donate any unwanted items you used on your film to places that need them or back to thrift stores once you are done.
Tip: Do google how-to sites to learn how to make your own props and special effects for your films.

_____ 8. GET ALL TALENT TO SIGN RELEASES! (always do this for everyone before you ever start shooting). Once that's done... Start Shooting! Stick to your shooting schedule as much as possible and have some Fun!! Don't be afraid to be artistic! Don't be afraid to try something wild or simple or ridiculously dramatic. :)
Tip: It is a good idea to acquire a photographer to do a photoshoot with your cast and crew for your promotional material. Also FILM the photoshoots. You will thank yourself for this later. Get photo releases from your cast and crew, get all rights (if you can) from the photographer, get talent release forms from the photographers (since you will be filming them take pictures). Here is the deal. If you want a photographer to give you rights to their images, be nice. :) Also only request a small amount of photos. Honestly you need less than 10 photos for promotional. Five really good photos for your film is plenty enough. But they should be excellent photos. Offer the photographer some free advertising in your film, the press kit, your website, or other promotional material. Also ask your photographer if they will do Time for Prints/CD. This means they will shoot for free if they can add the photos to their portfolio.

____ 9. Now that you are done, tell everyone to check back with you in a year (just to keep them from bugging you about the film). Then make your trailer. The reason why I think making trailers right away is a good idea is 1. You get to get a buzz going early, 2. It helps you put your film into perspective, especially if you have filmed a documentary and have an obscene amount of footage. Once your trailers are done, distribute them around the web via video upload websites, blogs, your own website, social networking sites, etc.

____ 10. Create your press kit. This is where your photoshoots will pay off. You will have nice professional photos for your press kit. You can also put on CD your trailer and your fancy footage of the photoshoot (which will also go on the final DVD as extras). Make sure your press kit is simple and to the point yet classy. One of my specialties is making businesses and projects look professional on limited budgets. This can be accomplished by providing the right amount of "meat" to entice yet keeping the clutter down and looking neat/simple.

_____ 11. Edit your film. If you are editing your film, get it done. Do not spend too much time lingering over what kind of computer you need or have or what kind of software you need to have etc. Do the best you can with what you have. If you didn't go to film school (I didn't), this is all a learning processes. Learn with each film. My current films are 1000 times better than my first and second films. I've learned so much in-between those films. That's how it is. Spend some time watching similar films and you can get an idea of how you want to put your film together. Don't be afraid to be different but at the same time, don't make it so viewers can't follow the film. Don't be afraid to be artistic!

______12. Distribute your film. This is much easier than it used to be and much easier than folks think. If you are doing documentaries, there are several distributors you can deal with if you have filmed a good documentary. I will write a new article about that because I have some different ideas on filming documentaries than the masses. Do not be afraid to do a search on Google for film distributors. If you have a decent film and all of your releases, you can work out a deal with distributors. But I'll also note that it is important to really understand your distribution contracts because you could get ripped off pretty easily or have terms that really aren't favorable to you. I'm always into self-distribution but I'm open to a good distribution deal as well.

Congratulations! You have mastered guerrilla filmmaking!

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