Top 10 Tips For Guerilla Filmmaking

by Dan Rahmel

  • Turn the camera sideways or upside down – This technique has been used in more movies than you can imagine and still works as well or better than many CGI simulations. Need an actor to walk across the ceiling? Build a floor that looks like a ceiling and turn the camera upside down. Need a creature scuttling across the wall in defiance of gravity? Construct a floor that looks like a wall and turn the camera on its side.

  • Realize that different angles of the same scene don’t have to be shot in the same place – A very common film technique that is often overlooked by beginning filmmakers using different locations for the same scene. For example, say a character just got out of prison and is met outside by a criminal buddy and they discuss a new criminal endeavor. As a guerilla filmmaker, sets are hard to come by and they tend to be expensive. However, filming a long scene outside a prison without the proper permits might get you thrown in one! This scene could be done by parking a car (with the film crew inside) across the street from a prison. After your actor stands by the entrance for a moment, he begins to walk beside the prison wall. Now you have the setup. Find a readily accessible wall that visually matches that of the prison (maybe even make one) and film the entire dialogue scene there. If done properly, when cut together in editing, the audience won’t be able to tell the difference. This technique is especially useful if you are a writer/director. You can script scenes for this technique to add scope to your film that your budget could never afford.

  • Water the streets – An old cinematographer’s trick for filming exteriors on asphalt or concrete (especially at night with street lights around) is to water road surface. The reflections and street glow add a lot of depth and character to a scene.

  • Fake sweat with petroleum jelly – If you need your actor to appear to be sweating, spread petroleum jelly lightly over the area to be photographed and spritz with water. The general shine plus the beading of the water will pickup very well on film. Note that you should find another technique for lengthy shoots. For one, the actor will become uncomfortable under the hot lights when sealed under a layer of jelly. Also, since the jelly will seal the pores, long scenes with it on will cause acne and other undesirable skin effects over a several day shoot. It takes a lot of extra makeup to disguise the blemishes you created in the first place (as I found out on a shoot).

  • Use preplanning and holidays to maximize your budget – If you are a guerilla filmmaker, you probably have more time and inventiveness than money. Be sure to take advantages of the various holidays (particularly the day-after-holiday sales) to maximize your film budget dollars. Halloween is the best filmmaker’s holiday with inexpensive fog machines, costumes, wigs, and make-up (although most Halloween make-up isn’t good enough for film work, you can always use some extra spirit gum). The fluorescent orange plastic jack-o-lanterns are perfect for making no-budget road pylons. Christmas is excellent for cheap lighting (background cinematography effects, set decoration), reflectors of all sorts, electrical equipment, and sales on camera equipment. Thanksgiving provides table clothes (backdrops, simulated drapes) and kitchen equipment (timers, barbeque paint, heat-resistant items for use with lights). Easter has numerous inexpensive dyes (great for the Art Department for everything from fabric to aging/distressing work) and other useful items such as pavilions/tents. Of course all holidays are good for cheap candy/crew food ;-).

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