Traits and Tricks: Guerilla Filmmaking at DCTV

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January 22, 2018 | Jessica Lee

As we gear up for our upcoming Guerilla Filmmaking workshop (Mon 2/5, Wed 2/7, and Thu 2/8; 6:30–9:30pm), we look to some of the greats that paved the way.

Short on money but not on vision? Guerilla filmmakers are low to no-budget independent filmmakers who embody a stubborn self-sufficiency. Think John Cassavetes and Shirley Clarke, rather than today's group of "indie" filmmakers who operate on budgets exceeding $100,000. Advances in image and sound capture technology have made under-the-radar DIY filmmaking less invasive and expensive. Guerilla filmmakers are independent, working as solo operators or as part of a small crew, and include a range of forms and genres, from video activists to neo-realist auteurs.

In this three-day Guerilla Filmmaking workshop, equip yourself with practical and legal considerations while learning to manage camera, lighting and audio equipment during a shoot. You will be geared up to optimize a one-hour shoot for review and discussion. Below are three tips for the new and bold filmmaker, all of which will be further examined in our workshop:

    1. Visibility

    On guerilla shoots, a small crew is best. Film shoots tend to attract crowds of curious onlookers, and when shooting without a permit, staying hidden and drawing the least amount of attention as possible may be your ticket out of jail. Aim for fewer than three people onset at all times, eschew the use of visible boom mics, and do not leave gear out in plain sight.

    Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, the quintessential "indie film" of the 90s, paved the way for aspiring guerilla filmmakers with its micro-budget of $7,000, unknown actors, cheap gear, and, significantly, its one-man band approach. At the age of 23, Rodriguez wrote, directed, produced and even did the special effects, successfully keeping his first feature film under-the-radar for the entire production. (Fun fact: He notoriously raised $3,000 in funds by volunteering as a human lab rat for one month.)


    The Making of "El Mariachi": The Robert Rodriguez Ten Minute Film School

    2. Mobility and Stealth

    Working with a small, portable, and easily concealable camera is one key to accomplishing a guerilla shoot, and there is still no better option than a relatively inexpensive DSLR. Oftentimes, to avoid detection by passersby or law enforcement, one must shoot handheld ("run and gun"), as a tripod can give away a production. While a shaky camera approach may be less than ideal, a little planning can make the style work for you.

    There are some notable exceptions: First time director Oren Peli shot Paranormal Activity on a shoestring budget of $10,000 and entirely on a home video camera and tripod, thereby eliminating the need for a camera crew. The stationary approach, while lacking in extravagant camera movement, nonetheless fit the plot and saved the director thousands of dollars. The film went on to earn nearly $200 million at the box office.


    Paranormal Activity Trailer

    3. Creativity

    Creativity is the guerilla filmmaker's best skill. To not only break the rules but work within them calls for boldness, resourcefulness and ingenuity. Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey, affectionately referred to as "Uganda's Tarantino," may be the most extreme example on the spectrum of low-budget filmmaking, averaging a new film a month with a budget of $200 or less. In the past decade, he has shot more than 40 films, producing, directing, shooting, writing, and editing from his home in the slums of Wakaliga, Uganda. He now has a cult following. But how does he do it? "It is passion that really makes a movie here," says Nabwana.

    "The volunteer cast and crew source props wherever they can. The green screen is a piece of cloth bought at the market, draped over a wall. The camera crane is made from spare tractor parts. To recreate gunshot injuries, they use free condoms from the local health clinic, filled with fake blood - they burst quite realistically." Read BBC's feature on Nabwana, then watch Al Jazeera's behind-the-scenes coverage, get inspired, and put your imagination to work!


Uganda's Michael Bay is putting Kampala on the map

Isaac Nabwana is Uganda's rockstar filmmaker. He produces a new film every month, most with a budget of around $200, attracting millions of views online and filling seats at local theaters.The creativity of his team knows no bounds. Don't believe us? Malcolm Webb went to see for himself.

Ugandan Filmmaker Isaac Nabwana


Register for this upcoming Guerilla Filmmaking workshop (2/5, 2/7+ 2/8) today!