How Guerilla Filmmaking Works

Pluses and Pitfalls of Guerilla Filmmaking

Few things in life are free, and movies are no exception. Films cost money to make, and since most indie flicks have little to work with it's no wonder they cut corners wherever possible. Obviously, the biggest benefit of guerilla-style movie-making is the cost savings. Permits to film in certain areas cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars. As a result, a small film can be easily bankrupted if multiple permits need to be bought and paid for.

Interestingly, a permit is required even if you're filming with permission on private property or in your own home (though that varies by location). "Naturally, people don't often follow this rule if shooting at a friend's house, or at the business of someone they know well and have permission from," Kroll says. "But from a legal standpoint it is required, even in those types of circumstances."

Another way that guerilla filmmaking saves money is the reduced editing time associated with the shooting style. Since the actors and crew are essentially breaking the law, they have to be ready to shoot quickly and efficiently. Known as "one and done" in the movie industry, this lessens the amount of footage that requires editing down the road, which lowers cost, but also potentially the quality of the scene [source: Broderick].

Time savings is another major bonus to sidestepping The Man. The permit application and approval process can be lengthy, cumbersome and a major buzzkill to the creative process. Also, there's no guarantee that permission will be granted even if you do follow the proper channels. "For instance, there might be a beach you want to shoot on, but for whatever random reason there are areas where you're not allowed to film, even with a permit," Kroll says.

For these significant benefits, there are also pretty serious risks. Some coppers will laugh and send a guerilla film crew on their merry little way, but others can and do enforce hefty penalties, such as fines, confiscation of equipment and/or footage, and may even arrest the crew. "If you're shooting this way you're doing it at your own risk," says Kroll. "You can never claim that someone else is responsible." In other words, take the bad with the good and don't go crying to mama if you get busted.

If you decide you want to chance it, here are some techniques to keep in mind.