Guerrilla filmmaking

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Guerrilla filmmaking refers to a form of independent filmmaking characterized by low budgets, skeleton crews, and simple props using whatever is available. Often scenes are shot quickly in real locations without any warning, and without obtaining permission from the owners of the locations.

Guerrilla filmmaking is usually done by independent filmmakers because they don't have the budget to get permits, rent out locations, or build expensive sets. Larger and more "mainstream" film studios tend to avoid guerrilla filmmaking tactics because of the risk of being sued, fined or having their reputation damaged due to negative PR exposure.

"Guerrilla filmmaking is driven by passion with whatever means at hand", Yukon Film Commission Manager Mark Hill.[1]

Guerrilla films[edit]

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, directed by Melvin Van Peebles, was funded and distributed outside of the Hollywood system and broke conventions with its visual style, as well as its content.

Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It was a guerrilla film on a budget of $175,000 which made $7,137,502 at the box office. This highly stylized film received much acclaim. It was Spike Lee's first feature length film and inspired Spike Lee to write the book Spike Lee's Gotta Have It: Inside Guerrilla Filmmaking.

New Queer Cinema director Gregg Araki shot his first two films, Three Bewildered People in the Night (1987) and The Long Weekend (O' Despair) (1989) using a spring-wound Bolex camera and scrap film stock, on a budget of $5,000 each.[2]

Robert Rodriguez shot the action film El Mariachi in Spanish. El Mariachi, which was shot for around $7,000 with money partially raised by volunteering in medical research studies, won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1992. The film, originally intended for the Spanish-language low-budget home-video market, was distributed by Columbia Pictures in the United States. Rodriguez described his experiences making the film in his book Rebel Without a Crew. The book and film inspired legions of hopeful filmmakers to pick up cameras and make no-budget movies.

Pi, directed by Darren Aronofsky, was made on a relatively low budget of $60,000. It proved to be a financial success at the box office ($3.2 million gross in the U.S.) despite only a limited release to theaters. Aronofsky raised money for the project by selling $100 shares in the film to family and friends, and was able to pay them all back with a $50 profit per-share when the film was sold to Artisan.

Bookwars (2000) [1], was produced by Camerado director Jason Rosette at sidewalk book stands on the streets of New York City, using a variety of inexpensive small format cameras [2]. No permits were secured (or sought) for the ultra-low-budget documentary, which was funded through the sale of used books at the book stand during shooting and a small grant from the Playboy Foundation. The film went on to win the best documentary award at the 2000 New York Underground Film Festival and was nominated for an IFP Gotham Award.

Troma Entertainment is a film production and distribution company founded by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz in 1974. The company produces low-budget independent movies, many of which have developed cult followings around the world. Many Troma films are intentionally produced in the Brechtian form which is vastly different from mainstream horror movies. Troma is also known for reusing the same props, actors, and scenes over and over again, sometimes to save money. Lloyd Kaufman has written the books All I Need to Know about Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger and Make Your Own Damn Movie! which outline his philosophy of quick and inexpensive independent film.

Mists (Derivas) directed and produced by Portuguese filmmaker Ricardo Costa, premiered at 60th Venice Film Festival, 2003, and released in New York at the Quad Cinema in 2011, is a radical example of this practice. Mists is the first film from a sequel autobiographic trilogy (Faraways), followed by Drifts (2013). Both may be classified as no budget films, such as almost all Ricardo Costa’s films, filmed with insignificant budgets and minimal crews.

Looking For Kitty is a 2004 written, directed, and starring Edward Burns. The film was shot with a hand held $3,000 digital Panasonic AG-DVX100 camera with a Mini35 adapter. The film's entire budget was $200,000[3][4] and was filmed in New York City with a tiny crew and without standard permits. Burns discussed this unusual film-making process in the director's commentary on the DVD.

Silence, ça tue ! (BELGIUM- 2008), is a mockumentary, directed and starring Chris Lamot AKA Ljo Menzow. A young director disgusted by the financing system of the movie industry decides to shoot a feature movie made from live scenes without any financial support in order to denounce the difficulties to achieve a cinematographic project in Belgium. The rivalries between the cast members, the excesses and the frustrations will slowly lead him to a surrealistic disaster. [3] [4]

Onan (INDIA - 2009), is a Tamil/English language feature film, directed by Shyam Madhavan Sarada. The film, produced for a budget of less than $7,000 by Wannabe Studios, an online network for independent filmmakers, is touted as "India's first full-length guerrilla feature film" and as the result of a unique online collaboration among independent filmmakers and film lovers from 7 countries around the world. The film premiered at the Global Cinema Festival on 11 October 2009, as part of the 'Vista India' section. [5] [6] [7] [8]

Paranormal Activity directed by first time director Oren Peli and filmed in his house with one camera for a budget of just $15,000 most of which he said was spent on "a camera and new furniture". It went on to make a gross revenue of $153,469,744

Escape From Tomorrow, made for a little under a million dollars by writer-director Randy Moore attracted a lot of attention at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Not only was it largely filmed at Walt Disney World and Disneyland without permits, its fantasy-horror story of a man having an apparent breakdown on the last day of a family vacation at the former park depicted it in a negative fashion. It was unclear whether the film would receive a wider release after the festivals due to the likely legal challenges from Disney, but it is nevertheless set for simultaneous limited release to theaters and wide iTunes on-demand release on October 11, 2013.

"Clark: A Gonzomentary' was a 2012 gonzo journalism-styled mockumentary about an amateur filmmaker documenting a Philadelphian eccentric artist and his creative process. The guerrilla-style techniques implemented were used as part of the story itself, to represent the amateur production within the story. It was shot with a budget of less than $3,000 with a Canon XL2 and a Panasonic AG-DVX100. The director opted out of using a steadicam purposefully to achieve more shakiness. It was awarded Outstanding Lead Actor in a comedy or mockumentary by The 2013 LA Web Series Festival and deemed "a gonzomentary truly realized" by Mark Bell of FilmThreat[5]

Who Killed Johnny is a SwissUS screwball-comedy film by Yangzom Brauen, filmed and produced in Los Angeles in 2013, starring Melanie Winiger, Max Loong and Carlos Leal. Funding of the total 50,000 Swiss Francs budged was provided by the personal support of the crew and cast, private investors and Kickstarter as fundraising platform. The entire crew has helped even when hanging up movie posters and waived fees.[6]


The advent of digital cameras and home computer editing systems such as Final Cut Pro, Avid Media Composer and Premiere are a contributing factor to the increase in guerrilla filmmaking. Digital editing is a cheap and easy form of editing that allows the filmmaker to edit anywhere and at a low budget.

Many guerrilla filmmakers are now using professional quality digital cameras because of their cheap cost, and the ability to set up shots quickly.

Many films have used digital cameras in the place of film cameras such as: 28 Days Later, Miami Vice and Sin City. One recent film shot on consumer camcorders that has received major attention and awards is My Date with Drew, directed by Brian Herzlinger. The first crowdfunded Indian Kannada movie "Lucia" also was effectively shot using Canon 5D.

See also[edit]



  • Levy, Emanuel (2001). Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film. NYU Press. ISBN 0-8147-5124-5.

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