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What is Guerilla Filmmaking?

Jessica Ellis
Updated: May 23, 2024

Guerilla filmmaking is a term used to describe low-budget films that do not meet the typical production values of a studio film. Films made in this process are usually made for less money, with a smaller crew and less equipment. Although many see the lack of resources as a detriment, supporters believe that freedom from oversight common to guerilla films is worth the hardships, at least on an artistic level.

A film is typically considered "guerilla" if it does not subscribe to the rules and regulations of the Hollywood film industry. In a studio picture, cast and crew typically belong to unions that enforce specific rules regarding the treatment of their members. Moreover, the producing studio and any invested affiliates maintain a degree of control over the finished product.

Guerilla filmmaking creates a different animal altogether. Films are typically funded by members of the creative team or private investors. This gives the team considerably more control over the finished product, as they now must only attract a distributing company to have their film released in theaters. With the advent of the Internet, guerilla filmmakers gained even more control over their product, as they can release and distribute online fairly inexpensively and without a distribution company.

Job descriptions for crew members may also become a little murky in the guerilla process. With less money or status at stake, cast and crew sign on primarily to enjoy the project or help out friends. Without the strict regulations of the unions, members of the crew may find themselves filling whatever positions are necessary for any given scene or day.

An additional, though less publicized, part of guerilla filmmaking can include some illegal activity. In most places, permits are required by government officials before allowing film crews to shoot in public. Some guerilla and independent films will simply ignore these requirements; able to sneak shots in by using only a single small camera so as not to attract attention. In Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, the crew used guerilla tactics to shoot a wide shot of Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo by sneaking a cameraman into a nearby coffee shop that featured a view of the street. These tactics may save a production much-needed money, but can be dangerous or costly if a problem should occur or if officials take notice.

Although guerilla filmmaking avoids the trappings of the Hollywood machine, well-made films can still be created. Many famous directors have gained major media attention through self-made films shot in the guerilla style, including Darren Aronofsky and Spike Lee. Many proponents of this filmmaking style insist that the lack of micromanagement from studios allows the creative freedom to explore ideas that many studios reject. An "art of the people" in some respects, guerilla filmmaking can allow the production of controversial, thought-provoking films that might not otherwise be made.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseTour. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By bythewell — On Jun 27, 2014

@Ana1234 - There are rules and there are rules. Unions have done a lot to make the film industry safer, but they can also lead to stagnation by making it much more difficult to new performers and artists to break into the scene.

I think guerilla tactics can be justified in some cases, but it's about using your common sense and not breaking rules just to break them.

By Ana1234 — On Jun 27, 2014

@browncoat - It's easy to say that people should be able to do whatever they like when it comes to filming, but that doesn't take into account all the issues it can cause with the greater world. Whether or not you believe Disney should be able to stop people from making commercial films on their property without permission, there are hundreds of people and their children at those parks at any given time, and they would all end up being included in a film against their will. If it's a horror film, or an adults only film, is it OK to include the public? I don't think many people would say yes.

And that's not getting into the safety concerns. Filming can be extremely dangerous and a lot of the laws that exist around it are there because people might otherwise be injured or killed. Indie filmmaking often has great value, but I wouldn't measure it against the lives of those making the films.

By browncoat — On Jun 26, 2014

There have been several cases of guerilla filmmaking at Disney World or Disneyland since it would be very difficult to get permission to film there if you aren't a Disney filmmaker.

I think it's pretty awesome that people do this, to be honest. I understand why corporations wouldn't like it, but art should be able to transcend those kinds of boundaries and in a lot of cases it's all about preserving money, rather than art.

I don't think I'd be brave enough to do this myself, but I don't think it should be punished very severely.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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