How to Steer Clear of the Pitfalls of Guerrilla Filmmaking

Chances are if you look back on the films you've created thus far in your career, the first ones were probably an assortment of run and gun guerrilla films. For those who are just starting out, though, the lack of planning, time, money, and resources can decrease the production value of your project fast, so knowing the issues that are sure to arise during production will help you make your film look better as well as maintain your sanity. Film Riot's Ryan Connolly shares some tips on how to bulletproof your run and gun projects. Check out the video after the break.

Guillermo Del Toro is quoted as saying, "The saddest journey in the world is the one that follows a precise itinerary. Then you’re not a traveler. You’re a fucking tourist." This describes guerrilla filmmaking. Run and gun filmmaking is a journey -- it's spontaneous, you have to think on your feet and fly by the seat of your pants. It's not that you don't prepare, plan, or have tools at your disposal, it's just that these projects tend to be less structured than others, so you have to get creative with what you've got.

Connolly looks back on his short film Losses, which he and his team wrote and shot in 10 days. He breaks down the three things that he "hates" about the film: the location, casting, and wardrobe.

Clearly, if you're out making films guerrilla style, meaning you're working with little or no budget, a tiny crew, and utilizing anything and everything you can get your hands on for props, set dressing, and gear, chances are you don't have a whole lot of time/money for planning or options on certain important factors (like location, casting, and wardrobe.)

But, you can avoid making your film look thrown together by paying closer attention to what you put in it and where. For instance, be sure that each of your actors is age appropriate for the character they're playing. Nothing says amateur like a 20-year-old frat boy playing a Police Chief. Sometimes you have to write your films according to what you have; I've written several scripts set in a warehouse, because I had access to one.

The video from Film Riot lays out more valuable tips below:

So, it's important to be aware of the pitfalls of shooting movies in this way. You may not have a whole lot of latitude when it comes to where you shoot, who's in your movie, and what your actors wear, but if you do have a little wiggle room, focusing on getting these things just right (or at least a tiny bit better than terrible) will pay dividends to the production value of your film later.

What have you learned from your run and gun projects? What would you tell a filmmaker who is just starting out to look out for when preparing/shooting their guerrilla films?

[via Film Riot & Filmmaker IQ]

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Im about to shoot my 1st feature film on a very low budget (20k pounds).
I learned a couple stuffs on my previous films, and I'd give extra attention to these stuff:

Always feed properly the crew and talents.

overly prepare everything, location, schedule, blocking, so that everything runs smoothly during principal photography, but be prepared to make drastic decisions when facing the unexpected.

make the talents as comfortable as possible for them to give you their best.

Show appreciation to the crew and talents. be supportive, cause otherwise you'll be seen as a dick.

have breaks. to refresh your mind.

October 13, 2013 at 8:07AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Run and gun doesn't always mean terrible - it's just how you edit it that's important. I shot a couple of documentaries when I started out that had almost no planning to them whatsoever. Just turn up, roll camera. I didn't even think of questions beforehand! I guess documentary is more forgiving in a lack of forward-planning.

This was the film in question... judge for yourself. XD

October 13, 2013 at 8:18AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Doc's can sometime appear as you shoot them. I know of people who rolled at certain events or a series of things and after a while discovered a story they wanted to tell from what they had. Sometimes that meant then planning a new shoots to fill that out. Sometimes it meant figuring out how to make what they had work.

Narrative is a different beast. You can 'discover' the film after shooting, but generally, forethought is your friend.

October 13, 2013 at 8:45AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


First off, very good doc you got there, I enjoyed it. However, I have been part of several documentaries and I can say that the more planning you put usually results in a better piece (Not always, but usually). In documentary, you always need to be open to the unexpected and be able to roll with it, but the research and preparation phases will help you once you get into the editing suite.

I wish that I could show you my more successful projects, but they are not online as they are still in their film festival rotation and an online version could hurt their chances of getting into some Fests. What I can tell you is that the doc we sent out to make was very different from the two docs we ended up making due to one particular interviewee giving us a absolutely amazing interview. Even still, with our preparation we were able to make both work despite being very different.

In my work in Continuity film-making I have found that poor planning and preparation severely decreases the chance of coming out with an acceptable product. In continuity film-making, your ability to suddenly shift the story to match your footage is significantly less. You need to match scenes, and shots more than you do in documentaries and still maintain pacing. This requires a unified vision of the project that is rarely accomplished without planning.

Admittedly, I am still relatively new to film (3 years in January) so I am hardly an expert on the subject, but this has just been my experience so far.

Samples of my work (Both are Student films)


October 13, 2013 at 10:08AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Chuck McLearn

I shoot a lot of tv/docu stuff but I also shot a short once in a while and I can tell you there are big, big differences!

In a documentary piece, a lot of things don't matter that will absolutely destroy a fictional movie. Like in a documentary, if you get a short glimpse of a lamp stand in the background, while not optimal, it usually works fine and doesn't throw you out of the experience. In a fictional movie, you would have to throw that shot away immediately, or somehow fix it.

Also the audio is very different: in a fictional movie, the audio needs to be pristine and exactly fit the scene and the mood. In a docu, who cares if you hear cars in the background, viewers are used to that.

And so on, it is a lot harder to shoot a fictional movie run and gun style...

October 19, 2013 at 5:20AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


People always raise the issue of feeding the crew properly.. as important is to give your crew enough time to sleep. I loose my motivation if I'm tired and I know there's no proper rest in sight.... 20h work days for few days, sure... but if that is your known habit as a producer and then comes a day you want to ask people to work on your new feature for few months you might not be lucky finding willing souls.

October 13, 2013 at 10:44AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Rodney Charters once said in an interview that he always upheld 8 hour workdays on the set of 24, because in his opinion things just work smoother when nobody has to constantly work 14 hours a day. Good man! :)

October 19, 2013 at 5:26AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Finding the right clothes for your heavies is easy - just go to K-mart or Target and buy some track suits with an "Ireland" logo and the style related knitted caps ... I mean, buy more than one set. Return those without the blood stains for a full refund.

October 13, 2013 at 2:13PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Good post, and a good like, Renee.

Just a quick note, I follow Ryan Connolly's channel, and a slight correction.

In this video, he's mainly talking about his new film "Proximity" and only touches on a few things he would change from making "Losses" about a year or so ago.


October 13, 2013 at 3:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Link** not like. My bad.

October 13, 2013 at 3:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


this article is much appreciated

October 13, 2013 at 10:18PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Man I remember shooting my final at NYU SCPS this summer and let me tell you a run and gun shoot. We only 3 days for production and 2 weeks for preproduction. So it was coming up with ideas on the fly, its was stressful but also extremely enjoyable at the same time. I learned so much and learned to like the final product, but I think run and guns work if your crew and cast have the right attitude, and that comes from the Director setting the tone. What you lack in preproduction you need to compensate during production and then some. Here is a link to my final project:

October 14, 2013 at 8:54AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I can edit around anything except bad lighting or no lighting. Even shooting in daylight you need to be aware of the sun's movement so when you edit you do not have shadows changing drastically between takes.
Also,with DSLRs you really need to feed them a bright image to avoid excessive noise.

Always provide craft service, especially when you can't afford to actually pay people!

I did a music festival type doc a while back where we ended up losing some very choice footage of a very heavy band due to a tape misthread in the edit suite. (it was the 90s!) We were able to recover the audio track and about 45 seconds of video. In the end we had to use some stock footage and video from a different song to make it work. If only we had brought ONE MORE CAMERA!

October 17, 2013 at 3:21PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Russ D

I was on the editing panel at this past year's Indie Gathering Film Fest. I talked about how I filmed Day Zero (, also during an interview. We are guerilla style for the most part, mainly a two-person team for my 1st season. Now think about it, I've got 11 episodes about 20 minutes each. I've won awards and have a TV deal with DirecTV and Dish, and this is the first time I've ever filmed anything "professionally". We used whatever we could for free, and took advantage of locations that we were able to get. That is the hardest thing, probably harder than funding (although funding could get you the location, duh).

October 17, 2013 at 4:32PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The road to mediocrity is paved with well intentioned advice. I found this doc piece monotonous. The best way to learn about film making is to find a group containing one or two people smarter, more talented and more experienced than oneself and help them develop and execute a project. Talent, IQ and knowledge rubs off. It may also help you find what you are good at. The idea that everyone is a writer/director or a cinematographer/operator is a modern myth, a fallacy. Cannon, Blackmagic etc and a raft of small companies producing accessories are the main beneficiaries.

October 17, 2013 at 7:19PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Gregg MacPherson

The idea that anybody can shoot great video (and edit and encode and...) is also a big problem in the tv and internet-tv/video business.
I edit a magazine show for regional television on a weekly basis, and its quality has declined in the last few years because nobody hires professionals anymore, they just hire newbie editors right out of university and let them produce everything alone. The result is horrible camerawork, horrible (=no) lighting, and horrible editing.

I really hope this will turn around again and the big bosses will realize that they are actually doing the wrong thing when they throw quality out of the window to save a few bucks on professionals...

October 19, 2013 at 5:34AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM