FILM NERD EXTRA: guerrilla filmmaking (no-budget advice)

FILM NERD EXTRA: guerrilla filmmaking (no-budget advice)

Hey! Shannon here again for more Film Nerd! I talk at the end of episode five for a little
while about making films without much of a budget in quick and vague terms and I thought
about it for a long time and decided that that topic was worth spending a separate video
on. I’m going to try to stick mostly advice that’s evergreen rather than specific and technical. I’m not gonna pretend that I can accurately
predict where technology will be a year from now, let alone five or ten years from now,
and I want this series to have an educational utility outside of whatever lifespan current
film technology has. This essay will apply to shooting narrative
short films as well as documentary-style work and video essays like this one. I’m also going to be focusing on what you
can do in the US because that’s what I’m familiar with as far as resources and laws
go but it will have use outside of that as well. Also you follow the advice presented in this
video at your own risk and I am not liable for any damages you may incur for following
any of it. Okay! With that taken care of, There’s a lot standing in the way of a new
filmmaker- lack of confidence, lack of experience and technical expertise, lack of a budget,
and lack of collaborators and community support. I’m going to address each of these, starting
with confidence and experience. I have known a lot of people who have wanted
to get started but have been afraid of criticism or of not being good enough. It’s true that you’re not going to be
the best filmmaker you can be when you first start out, but you shouldn’t hold yourself
to the same standards as people with huge budgets who have been working for years and
let yourself get discouraged by being caught up in all that. If you want your first work to be perfect
and you hold out until you feel you can reach perfection then you’re going to be holding
out forever. There’s the phrase “the perfect is the
enemy of the good” and the Nirvana fallacy, the fallacy that if there’s no perfect solution
to a problem there’s no point in attempting to solve it because any current solution falls
short of the impossible, hypothetical perfect one. The Dunning-Kreuger effect applies to people
who are new to something and vastly underestimate their incompetence as well as people who,
more familiar and experienced with the same thing, will instead underestimate their competence. This ties in with imposter syndrome, where
people who are accomplished and high achievers have difficulty accepting their success and
are instead afraid to be outed as frauds. So if you’re way into film and have the
obsessive passion and have just started out making your own films it’s easy to hit a
wall and become frustrated, especially because filmmaking is so demanding of your time and
your mental and physical energy. You have to focus on improving and learning
from failures and mistakes and not let yourself get discouraged. Self-compassion and giving yourself room to
grow are two extremely valuable tools for any artist. If you’re a fan of my essays or films and
want to make your own, remember I’m only 26 but I’ve been editing for at least twelve
years. I would hope anyone editing for that long
would be as good as I am, if not better! But on the flip side of this, you can be too
easy on yourself and plateau or put out work that isn’t your best effort. Instead, always respect your audience and
always work to improve and make something you can be proud of. I have seen so many people online post their
work, whether it’s a film or writing or a drawing or whatever, with a tepid “This
sucks but here you go”. It’s healthy and important to be self-critical
but if you don’t believe in some half-hearted work or don’t think it’s worth anyone’s
time, or if you’re too cooly detached to have any enthusiasm or sincerity in what you’re
doing, then I have no idea why you think I’m going to invest my time into watching it. I’m a really big fan of The Venture Brothers
and something valuable I learned from the show and its showrunners Doc Hammer and Jackson
Publick, though I know they’re sick of talking about it by now, is acceptance and even celebration
of failure. Hammer once said “You make something contemporary and cool
and it becomes mediocre, and there’s nothing more criminal than mediocrity. I can deal with a giant flaming disaster and
I can deal with something being a beautiful vision, but mediocrity is just horrible.” As long as you’re being sincere and putting
forth a real effort and having faith in and respect for your audience, you’ll be okay. Looking at any of my short films and video
essays, I think the minimum I’ve spent on a single one has been around ten or fifteen
hours and the maximum is over a hundred and fifty hours. I feel like even if someone is new to filmmaking
and has no idea what they’re doing, if they invest a hundred and fifty hours into a ten
minute video that is entirely their own I will probably find something interesting and
worthwhile about it versus someone who is slick and has technical expertise but makes
something boring and middle-of-the road, or some soulless
clickbait designed to !!go viral!!. As Hammer said, a spectacular failure is so
much more valuable than tryhard cool mediocrity. Use the tools at your disposal to make something
unique and worthwhile, even if at first your reach exceeds your grasp. Don’t let fear control your self-expression
but please don’t be an edgelord. Don’t go just for shock value or offending
people as your hook. I’m not saying you have to agree with me
politically or avoid taboos or anything controversial, I’m just saying that edgelordism is transparent,
weak, and lazy and you’re better than that. I’m not saying to censor yourself either,
but be careful about what you put online and how you’re representing yourself, especially
if your opinions might change in the future because once you upload something it’s up
forever and the last thing you want or need when you’ve become an established personality
is to have someone dig up something embarrassing you made when you were an edgy teen, or even
some low-effort poorly-made video where you were too cool to care about stuff like sound
or lighting. Generally, be ready for criticism and take
it as an opportunity to grow rather than being upset by it or being defensive. And remember that anything you put online
is going to be subject to intense scrutiny. I had the advantage of growing up and learning
how to draw online so I developed a thick skin about it but not everyone is in that
place mentally or has had that kind of experience. I don’t say that to be discouraging, I just
mean that you need to be ready for that, especially if you want to share anything even remotely
personal or controversial. Consider using a pseudonym and avoid posting
any kind of personally identifiable information, whether about yourself or anyone else. That seems obvious but I’ve seen people
post video that clearly shows a license plate or a front door with an address visible. It’s easy enough for the angry weirdos of
online to find out where you live without you straight-up telling them. I kind of wish I had started making short
films and video essays in earnest younger because it’s always a long, difficult process
to build a skillset and an audience. But I’m glad I waited until I had a lot
of experience under my belt before having a go at it publicly and in earnest. It’s also my personal goal to make work
that is positive, anti-elitist, and inclusive. It’s easy to be negative or to make nitpicky
and overly-critical videos but I think it’s worth it to try to do something different,
or at least something unique. The advice, I feel, is that it’s always better to answer through your work the things you don’t like in a piece of media. If you dislike the movies that are being made, make your own. Show the world what you wanna do- what you think this medium should be. And I find that much more creative than simply putting it down and complaining about it It’s a more active, fascinating role to take. The first video essays I started working on
and never finished or posted were more negative and critical and I’m glad my first real,
solid exposure came from this series instead of from those. Not that it’s bad to criticize anything,
just that approaching film criticism or cultural criticism from a standpoint of superiority
and elitism is tiresome and boring. Moving on, here’s my practical shooting
advice, coming from both judging multiple film festivals and watching a ton of short
films online and thus seeing a LOT of films produced by inexperienced and under-funded
filmmakers and from working on a ton of low-budget projects myself- – You don’t always have to go along with
the standard rules for filmmaking, but at least familiarize yourself with them. Know what the 180 degree rule is. Know about the rule of thirds and three point
lighting. Think about different shot choices and what
they’d mean. Don’t have too much headroom in your shots
and avoid jump cuts. Really think about set and wardrobe choices
and how they’ll translate onscreen. Even with next to no money you can still hit
up Goodwill and get some clothes and props and keep your film visually interesting. – If you can’t afford to feed people on
your set, you can’t afford to make a movie. That’s the only thing I’m really strict
on. It’s insulting to ask people for hours out
of their day without at least feeding them and your set will be way more fun if people
aren’t getting faint from lack of food. If someone is going to work for you without
getting paid then the least you can do is buy a pizza for lunch or dinner and some sodas
and chips and salsa for between takes. Familiarize yourself with any dietary restrictions
or preferences any cast or crew might have and plan accordingly. Even on a no-budget or student film, professionalism
and accomodation go a long way. – Pre-production is more important than you
can possibly imagine and I think the number one, like, film rookie mistake I see apart
from not feeding people is not planning enough. Have a plan going in for organizing your audio
and your footage. Make sure your actors have your script long
enough to really be familiar with their lines. And always make a shot list. A shot list is, of course, a comprehensive
list of the shots you plan to take with notes on what’s being filmed and with what type
of shot (like if there’s camera movement and if it’s a wide, medium, or close-up
shot, stuff like that). Having an organized list of exactly what shots
you’ll be shooting will save you so much time on set. Just in general, going in as obsessively prepared
as possible will help you a lot during tense, chaotic shoots. – Spend time on lighting and sound. Make sure an audience can actually see and
hear what you’re shooting. It sucks when you’re trying to watch a short
film that seems funny and creative and you keep hearing the DRRRRRRRRJ of an air conditioner
or refrigerator clicking on and off or a dog barking in the background. Turn off the air conditioning, wait for planes
to go by before calling action, (filming being interrupted by dog barking/airplane noises) (I pretend the plane is crashing) and put your car keys in the fridge when you unplug it
to make sure you remember to plug it back in before you leave. Get room tone so you can layer it under cuts
to hide them and use it to remove background noise in post. For my first few video essays I used an app
on my phone called SmartVoiceRecorder to record my voiceover. If you can’t afford a mic and want to do
video essays you can start there. Pop filters are cheap and you can record in
a closet or a car to cut out background noise. We have decent sound equipment for our short
films but we use Wal-Mart clamp lights for lighting. We have several and they cost around ten dollars
each and the bulbs are cheap and easy to replace. Just make sure the color temperatures of your
lights match and try to avoid shadows or glare. Experiment with bouncing light off of walls
and with having lights closer or further from your subject. If you have the budget look into nicer lights
and diffusion materials and everything but if you’re limited at least make sure to
use SOMETHING. – We usually shoot on lower-end DSLRs because
that’s what we own or can borrow. When shooting with a camera, ALWAYS white
balance, always turn off autofocus and auto-aperture, and manually set as much as you can manually
set. Use whatever tools are available to you to
have a controlled image that accurately conveys what you’re trying to convey. Learn the applications of different lenses
and what looks they correspond to and think about how that applies to what you’re shooting. If you’re shooting on a cell phone, try
to find an app that controls focus, aperture, and white balance. They make tripods for phones but I’ve been
fine just using a free selfie stick and attaching it to something heavy for stability. – Especially if you’re working on educational
content like video essays, familiarize yourself with fair use and creative commons licenses
and learn the difference between royalty free and public domain and other terms you’ll
see pop up along with laws about showing someone’s likeness and shooting on private versus public
property. Get a signed release form from anyone who
acts in your film or anyone you interview to use their likeness and when you can get
permission from locations including signed forms. It never hurts to have all that on file. Always follow proper attribution for music
and other assets you use especially if you ever want to sell your work or submit to festivals
and avoid any kind of copyright claims. Personally I use Incompetech, the music site
run by Kevin Macleod,, for weird corny clipart,,,
and You can sort freesound by creative commons
license and find sounds that are essentially public domain or sounds you just have to give
an attribution note for. NASA’s images are generally not copyrighted,
though they have some usage guidelines. I use Wikimedia Commons a LOT to find public
domain images to use. Just generally there are a TON of resources
out there for images and sound that you can incorporate free of charge. I use as my paid stock footage
service, though they’re more quantity over quality, and if you sign up there make sure
you look for a sale before paying. I also use the envato market for music and
after effects templates and motion array for more after effects templates. Please note I’m not responsible for anything
you find or purchase on these sites and I’ve received no payment or anything like that
to endorse any of them. – Consider any props or locations that you
have onhand that might stand out or be useful in a way you hadn’t previously thought of. We got the idea for Mannequrse because we
came into possession of like twenty mannequin heads and she suggested that I make a short film with them. I got to know a lot of really talented local
comics and have started collaborating with some of them, either having them act in our
shorts or shooting stuff they’ve written. Though obviously don’t be friends with someone
just because they’ll be useful for your movie- that’s gross and you’ll be stuck
with people you don’t really like having around taking up room that could go to people
you actually enjoy being around AND can collaborate with. Go to local film clubs and events and keep
an open mind about who you would like to include in your projects. If you’re shy and inexperienced it can be
difficult and even overwhelming but forcibly putting yourself out there and meeting and
working with people is invaluable. When you’re starting out, if you have the
time and resources try to help other people on their projects. It’s valuable both for the hands-on experience
and for meeting people who you might want to work with in the future. And try to at least sometimes work with people
who have had life experiences different from your own. It pays to get a variety of perspectives. – Keep your set positive. Be open to criticism and foster an environment
where people respect you as head of the project but still feel comfortable offering advice
and critique. There’s this concept called “psychological
safety” that suggests that if you foster an environment of mutual respect and openness,
where people can express their opinion without fear of reprisal, they’ll be a much more
cohesive and innovative team that learns better from mistakes. It’s always- if you do not understand how to collaborate, and I’m never surrounded by yes-men. A long day of shooting can be really fun if
everyone feels like they’re working together to help make something great. The last thing you need on top of the work and hours is
someone being moody or demanding or hurling abuse at people. Don’t feel obligated to work with anyone
just because they’re convenient or talented if they’re disrespectful toward you or your
cast or your crew. If someone is flaky or consistently late or
unreliable or brings down everyone else, stop working with them. Your time is valuable and there will always be someone else. Just generally be friendly and accommodating
in life and on set and never look down on or mistreat someone just because you’re
above them in an arbitrary hierarchy. – Werner Herzog is one of my favorite directors *ahem* I’ve always been after what I call an “ecstatic truth”, an “ecstasy of truth” And he has a lot of interesting advice for filmmakers. Some of it’s a little extreme for me, personally- For example I do not use the storyboard I think it’s the instrument of the cowards (Shannon) steal film and cameras, pick locks and forge papers, (Herzog) Technical things, I do not really teach, with two exceptions- lock-picking and forging documents. Because, in a way, you have to- sometimes, you, uh, have to- develop a certain amount of criminal energy to do what you do. But I’ve always loved his core ideas about filmmaking- that you have to find some method of self-expression
regardless of barriers- You can direct good or bad, but you can direct from your iPhone, from your cell phone, with your sister’s cousin’s video camera, with a webcam, with, right now- except in the most abject circumstances most people can get ahold of an image — audio-visual generating machine Ihad to throw half the film away. You cannot erase an actor. Today, you could do it with digital effects but at the time you couldn’t do it. So I had to start all over again. And they said to me, “Do you have the strength- do you have the perseverance, the stamina, do you have the guts to go into it all over again?” And I said, very simply, “Yes.” Because I would be a man without dreams. And I do not want to live without dreams. So, no matter what’s gonna happen, I’m gonna go back. – and that taking in unique and challenging life
experiences is ESSENTIAL to being a good artist. Keep an open mind and, when you can, seek
out new art and interactions and experiences that will inform you both as a person and
as a filmmaker. Books I’d recommend are Film Art by Thompson
and Bordwell, Voice and Vision, and In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch. Film Art is about film as an art form, Voice
and Vision has direct, practical, technical advice, and In the Blink of an Eye is a short
book on editing theory that heavily influenced how I think about editing and filmmaking. I also really enjoyed If Chins Could Kill,
Bruce Campbell’s autobiography, and I drew some inspiration from it. If you have any additional book recommendations
or advice in general feel free to leave them in the comments. If you have any questions for me specifically
feel free to comment with them here or on my curiouscat or email them to me. You can see all of my short films that are
worth seeing here on my youtube channel, including some that will hopefully be finished and out
in the next couple of months. If you enjoyed this video check out my other
video essays, including the Film Nerd series episodes proper, and please consider donating
to my Patreon so I can continue making video essays like this one. And, as always, thanks for watching! (Devon) (laughs) Alright, I think we’re good, Mandal. Everybody ready? (“Yeah”) AND, ACTION


  • Tinker

    strucci tips: pizza

  • What's in The Frame

    i love this. truly inspiring Shannon. thanks

  • Mateusz Frydryszak

    Hey, great video!

  • Mr Nerdista

    Great video, Shannon. Super inspiring and always encouraging to hear that, irrespective of budget constraints, you can ALWAYS create. The use of Del Toro & Herzog's quotes really helped propel that thought forward. When you mentioned constructive feedback, I immediately thought about when I started making video essays. My audio was terrible, and nobody would actually tell me that until you tweeted me a bunch of tips/advice on improving my production quality (for free!). It's helped a lot and is a real testament to accepting feedback/criticism rather than shying away from it. In terms of books, I love the Bruce Campbell one! I always recommend Robert Rodriguez's Rebel without a Crew – a book that, despite being a tad outdated, still has its core remain intact and super inspiring.

  • Jkpancake

    How do I find more people who are into film near me. I tried college but everyone there is so quiet it makes it hard to talk and the film club there is at a far too inconvenient time for me. so what do I do?

  • Marvin

    Wow! You know, I think there is one trait that greatly distinguishes you from other filmmakers (including the immensely (and justifiedly) popular guys from Red Letter Media) and that is your encouraging attitude. I mean, with RLM the entry level is very high from my pov and even though they're explaining a lot about movie making 101 and are usually fair when judging, their snarky attitude often discourages me. With you, I get the feeling I can achieve everything and I'm not even a filmmaker. But I like to watch movies and I want to be able to talk/write about them on all the levels there are in movies. So I'm thankful for your videos.

  • Jack Packard

    Nice video, very positive. A book I love and re-read often is "Cinematography: Theory and Practice" by Blain Brown. It's a nice primer on shot composition and lighting.

  • Devon Johnson


  • Colectivo Hojarasca

    Dude! we love you 🙂 we are nature documentarists from Mexico and this video truly spoke to us in so many levels, thanks!

  • SEGAClownboss

    I used Paul Hardy's Filming on a Microbudget as my be-all guidebook when making films, but this short fills the bill too. Thanks, Shannon!

  • NerdLens Studios

    Lots of great points in here for me to learn from! I especially agree with the rule of feeding people and getting all the proper legal documents in order. Love the use of Herzog's advice too. Really glad I found this channel and thanks for the tip about lights from Wal-Mart!

  • FOCAL - Filmmakers of Colour and Lustre

    You did a great job succinctly summarising the process of starting filmmaking. This was awesome to watch as reinforcement but would have been amazing for me when I first starting out three or so years ago.

    And you definitely succeeded in making this as anti-elitist as possible. I think there's so many potential filmmakers who never start because they think they have to be an academic or approach it solely as a high-brow art form.

  • rat

    This was not only great advice, but a huge confidence booster for the film I'm working on and the state of my career. An absolute lifesaver. Thank you so much!

  • Klaus Kirschner

    All these videos have been so dope and inspiring. You rule.

  • Exlaus Legale

    Hey Strucci! Have you seen "The State Of Things" by W. Wenders?

  • Cross the Multiverse

    If you're still accepting book recommendations, I figure Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics" might be pretty worthwhile – it's ostensibly about another medium, but still a visual one, and whole parts of it are pretty applicable to most art in general.

    I've been seriously considering working on video essays myself (nobody's making the SuperEyepatchWolf-level videos I wish existed about a few pet topics of mine, although SoberDwarf got pretty damn close with his Final Fantasy XI video), but I tend to feel a bit stumped about the whole audio recording part (I like editing once I have the raw footage, and have posted a few experiments in my channel, but I'm not too sure about my voice skills) – so your recommendation of a phone app was a curious find – any advantages to that compared to headphones with a microphone recording directly into Audacity?

  • Joe Beard

    Kevin McLeod seems to be integral to YouTube

  • Ian O’Connell

    Good advice except for the selfie stick thing what you do is buy a $30 tripod then get a phone mount they sell them at Best Buy then bam you got a sweet setup


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