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Do It Yourself: Guerrilla Filmmaking

San Antonio Film Festival
2018 Official SAFILM Logo

Along with the movies from near and far at the annual San Antonio Film Festival, the event always features several panel discussions about topics in the industry. The Friday, August 3 panel, “DIY: Guerrilla Filmmaking,” stood out because it featured four powerhouse women from different aspects of the film industry.

The panelists were: Michelle Randolph Faires (Producer/Director/CrowdFunder), Elizabeth “Liz” Mims (lead programmer Austin Film Festival, Filmmaker), Melissa Dalley (Assistant Director/Production Manager), and Jennifer Kuczaj (Creative Executive/Producer). As Austin remains the center of the Texas film industry, the majority of the panelists have stronger ties to and are based in Austin, rather than San Antonio.

SA Film Fest Executive Director Adam Rocha and panelist Michelle Randolph Faires planned the panel over coffee, with a goal of discussing San Antonio’s current film scene.

Although she is grateful for the creators she met and worked with in L.A., Kuczaj did admit she experienced difficulties working in the L.A. film industry. This sentiment was shared by the other panelists as well, and many of them spoke about the differences between the industry mindsets in California and Texas. Mims, who attended film school in California, spoke about the L.A. mentality of “What you are going to do for me?” and how the overall vibe is different in Texas. They hope that the typical “I’m going to win” mindset will shift to a “when one person wins, we all win” mindset because any success will drive up the quality and make a thriving industry.

In Austin, Texas filmmakers gather together for the “Austin Creative Happy Hour” every other week. The panelists suggested that audience members start a version of this in San Antonio in order to better connect creatives with each other in the city.

During the Q&A section of the panel, an audience member asked: “as women, what are your everyday realities in the industry?”

Through difference examples, the panelists spoke about having to carve out spaces for themselves within the male-dominated industry. Dalley explained that every morning of SXSW she posted a video about women in film, and it ended up being one of the most watched web series’ to come out of SXSW that year. In regards to her own filmmaking she “actively practices diversity on set.”

Mims spoke about being one of the few female programmers at film festivals, and how important it is for women to have the opportunity to be gatekeepers in the industry. At last year’s Austin Film Festival she had the opportunity to interview Greta Gerwig. During their interview, Gerwig emphasized that women need to stop asking for permission and stop apologizing.

When Faires brought up the fact that only 4% of directors are women, an audience member pointed out the fact that the four panelists are white women and that the number of women of color directors is smaller than 4%. Faires explained that the panel had been put together within the last month and that she needed to ask fellow creatives that she knew would commit to attending being a panelist - which also explains why the panelists all have strong ties to her Austin film community instead of San Antonio’s film community. Going forward, they hope to meet more local filmmakers of color and encourage the stories from underrepresented groups.

As women in film, it would difficult to have a panel on the industry and not bring up the #MeToo movement. Faires spoke about a #MeToo moment where she only realized later what had happened. Although the incident happened many years ago, she still feels guilty because she said nothing. The panelists collectively urged the straight white men in the audience to step up and speak out when they see injustices because they have the loudest voices and are often in positions of power.


Now, what is Guerrilla Filmmaking? Guerrilla filmmaking is a type of independent filmmaking that is characterized by low budgets and small crews. Over the course of their two-hour panel, the panelists gave their recommendations for starting off in the industry and how to fundraise for a film.

The Panelists’ Tips & Tricks:

  • Take the time to focus on pre-production. Focusing your time and energy on pre-production will allow you to maximize your time and budget, this will be beneficial to you if you are on a short time-frame, and have a small budget and crew.
  • Write to your strengths. Start off by writing a short film before you attempt to write a full-length feature. If you find yourself struggling to write and need structure, grab some friends and start a writing club. It’ll help you make writing a regular part of your week, and allow your work to get reviewed in a more formal capacity.
  • Shoot your film on an iPhone before really filming anything. This will give you an idea of how long it will take to actually film in addition to learning what is and isn’t working. This will also help you choose the right locations for your film. If you find one filming location that has multiple looks, you
  • If you want to get a start in the industry, be an Assistant Director. You’ll quickly learn about every department.

Fundraising takeaways:

  • If you are unable to fund the film yourself - and realistically most people can not - you will need to start asking from outside sources. Start with your inner circle of friends and family, who are more likely to support and share your project, before moving on to investors. When dealing with potential investors, a well-practiced film pitch and monetary ask will show you are confident in your project.

Crowdsourcing takeaways:

  • Crowdsourcing works well for independent filmmakers, and 30-day campaigns are very achievable. If the monetary goal is below $10,000 (an average amount for an indie film), realistically, filmmakers will probably get about 10-15% of friends to donate money. The average amount of money donated from crowdsourcing is $25.
  • First, start off with a private launch of the campaign; the public launch comes after and people will be more likely to donate if they see other people already have.
  • Don't run a crowdsourcing campaign on a finished project; people want to feel like they are actively helping you achieve something and that feeling can vanish if your project is already done.

Alternative Suggestions:

  • If you are working on a limited budget, do a mock run-through of your movie on an iPhone. This practice will allow you to see what extra fluff you can eliminate from your movie. A lot of creators learn that their short only need two locations instead of five, which can significantly drive down the cost and time spent filming.
  • Bater favors with other filmmakers if you don’t have the money for a specific element of your film or cannot pay the crew. Exchanging props or volunteering on another filmmakers set will allow you to build connections that you can act upon later.
  • Dangling someone a film credit can be an effective solution if you cannot pay your cast or crew. Most people want to build up their IMDB page!
  • Apply for grants! Once you write one grant you can take that information and reuse it for another grant. Most people think that writing grants are very time consuming and won’t apply to them.
Danielle is a Trinity University student studying Communication and Studio Art. In focusing on the relationship between visual communication and political discourse, she discovered a passion for bringing people together through a common understanding of current events through different multimedia. Her experience includes book publishing, video production, journalism, podcasting, graphic design, and museum studies.