The Guerilla Code is low-budget filmmaking for film school in the real world. Know the following code.
Simple, Small-scale Stories
Remember, you are not making a blockbuster. But that doesn’t mean your stories have to be simple in plot, subtext, metaphors, or symbolism. Just pick a story that can be told with minimum effort.
Find a story that can be told in three or less locations. And remember that 80% of your shoot should be centered around one single location. Each time you move from one location to another, you’re burning time and money.
Handful of Characters
Have no more than five characters in your story because you don’t have the money to pay for a large cast. Following the guerilla code is primarily a three-week, 18-day shoot. The less characters involved the easier the process.
A Plot with Twists and Turns
Most low-budget films are designed to keep you guessing Without multiple locations, special effects, car chases, and a host characters to keep things interesting, you have to rely on your story to drive your project. Without a great script, the independent filmmaker is dead on arrival. Your screenplay needs to feature plenty of twists and turns. Get the viewer to think the story is going one way and then take the story in a completely different direction. Then surprise them with an unexpected complication. You get the picture. It’s the double-cross, the triple-cross, etc. Remember the only thing you have going for you is your story.
A Strong Story
Not only should your story have twists and turns, but it also must be compelling. Is your story intriguing, mysterious, or dynamic? Does it deliver an emotional impact? Chances are you don’t have the money to show a lot of action on screen. You must create action through your characters by the emotion they are expressing.
Interesting and Quirky Characters
You are going to shoot 80% of your project in one location, so find someplace unique. Yes, I know that it requires effort and research, but it will help you stand out from other media projects. What do you have in your home town that that nobody else has. Find something unusual. Have you ever seen it in a movie? This could be your location. Low-budget and guerilla filmmakers based in Los Angeles often use the Mohave Desert for their locations. It’s simple and accessible, but it also serves as a character in their films. There is something intriguing and mysterious about the desert. It’s also a cinematographer’s dream due to the texture and moods that the desert scenery creates. You may not live near a desert but chances are you have a unique location at your fingertips. Your goal is to discover it and build a story around it.
Keep Night Shots to a Minimum
Guerilla filmmaking works best with simple-shot setups. When you decide to shoot at night or use atmospherics such as wind, rain or fog, you are violating the guerilla code. You don’t have the time or money for the complexity these shots require. If it’s in your script, you may want to consider a rewrite. If you cannot find a way around it, keep it to only one occurrence in your project.
Use Natural Lighting
The golden rule is to use available lighting so find natural lighting sources. When you set up complex lighting elements, it will require a significant amount of time. Low-budget filmmaking works best when moving quickly from scene to scene. When you build your story around daylight shooting, it will save you time and money. If you are shooting indoors, use sunlight from windows and doorways.
Find a Niche
Build your story around a topic that is fresh and original. Maybe your character has an interest in building and flying model planes. Perhaps, there is an annual competition. This could make an interesting story. Find a niche—something that has never been on the screen before. Maybe your story is about a comic book writer who views the world as a comic book. So create a world in which his comic books becomes reality. As an independent filmmaker, you have to think differently and see the world in a different light than the big-budget filmmakers. Look for the unusual.
So where does the Christian fit into this process? For years, most Christian filmmakers have been making low-budget features. But the problem is they have violated practically every low-budget principle and every element in the guerilla code. That’s why the films often look cheesy and one-dimensional. We need Christians who can embrace low-budget principles and create a new kind of film.
What if we stop making Christian films and decide to make redemptive films. What would they look like? Would they speak to a broader audience? By applying low-budget principles, we can use the same strategy that the independent film industry has been using for years. We now have the keys. All we have to do is present Biblical truth and tell stories that will engage our audience. Isn’t it time that filmmakers who have a passion for Christ make their entryway into Sundance or the Toronto Film Festival. The independent model could provide a better way to reach our audience than the big-budget studio system of Hollywood.