If you’ve ever had the urge to make a film but don’t know how, this is the perfect companion. Part of the popular Guerilla Film Makers Handbook series, this distils everything you
need to know to get started into a guide you can carry around.
The book takes you through the process of making a low-budget movie and is packed with detailed advice, ranging from how to layout a screenplay to choosing a camera, casting, how to handle stunts and how to get your film released. Much of this is in the form of Q&As with experts, which gives you a view from within the industry and makes it easy to read. The guide also has lists of concise but crucial information – what different equipment is best for, the ten things to spot in a contract, etc – and bullet points on topics such as keeping investors happy, writing dialogue and getting great sound. Case studies offer insight from successful low-budget film makers, such as Paranormal Activity writer and director Oren Peli. Passionately written and entertaining to read, this is a brilliant how-to book that makes you want to start plotting your movie right away.
Getting involved in low budget filmmaking is an overwhelming prospect for most people. It seems awfully complicated and there's a lot to keep track of. Well the authors of The Guerilla Film Makers Pocketbook (GFMP) are here to help you keep it all straight. With that said, let's break down this barely pocket-size tome.
The layout of this book is essentially a series of interviews with people in the low and Indiewood budgeted film community in both the UK and the USA on a variety of specific topics based on their experience. This helps make it pretty simple to read through and allows you to cherry pick things you know nothing about or things you want to know more about.
Depth of Information
There's a huge amount of information packed into this little book, largely because so many different film and production people were interviewed. They have exerpts on everything from writing your script, to being a PA, to getting production insurance, to setting up your business, to surviving festivals. Finally, they conclude with case studies of Indie films like 10 Dead Men and the internationally famous, Paranormal Activity.
While the case studies are largely with truly no-budget filmmakers, many of the interviews are with folks who are more in the Indiewood community. As such, a decent amount of the advice leveled is intended for budgets between $100K and $1M. With that said, it's still valuable advice and stuff that you can really learn a lot from.
Disclaimer: This is not the book to start with to get you pumped about getting into film in the first place. (Unless you first read through the entire case studies section at the back of the book!) You need to go to other filmmaking books, like The DV Rebel's Guide or Digital Filmmaking, for that.
This is the SECOND book you read after you've read the book that made you enter the craziness of filmmaking! This is the book that helps stabilize your expectations and start you planning so that a lot of your excitement can go toward your actual film, rather than get squelched by reality.
With that in mind, this book works very well. The variety of people who are interviewed helps you select the most important things for you to consider at each step of the way. Additionally, you may discover other books you need to pick up, like the late, great Blake Snyder's writing book, Save the Cat, through the interviews in this book.
This is a book you have to use and reuse, because there's just too much information to keep in your head at any one time. As such, it's adequately called a pocket book. Mine is already dog-eared and beat up from the amount of time I've spent perusing it and dragging it different places. (Due to its handy size, they might want to consider a special flexi-plastic cover that is more resistant to being banged up.)
Value vs. Cost
The amount of information packed into this little book makes it an incredibly sound investment. It will give you insight and ideas for things you might not have thought of before.
No matter how long you spend making low-budget films, you can always learn more. As such, whether you're new to filmmaking or have been doing it for awhile, this book is a must own for your collection. Some of the advice in this book actually changed a few things I was considering for our upcoming Depleted feature franchise.
The Documentary Film Makers Handbook: A Guerilla Guide *****
Directly transpose their tried and true formula for movie-making guides to the world of non-fiction films. Packing in everything you could want to know about setting up, shooting and distributing your work, this is the last word on its subject.
The Guerilla Film Makers Movie Blueprint
Guerilla movie maker Chris Jones has been at it again - and done it bigger and better than ever before. Authorship that is. Whilst his last feature production Urban Ghost Story, set in Glasgow, was gathering critical acclaim at Edinburgh International Film Festival a couple of years ago, Jones was gathering all his notes together as fresh material for this, his latest foray into authorship.
His Guerilla Film Makers Handbook explored new ground, but this is a far more generous portion of Jones expertise in creating features with little or no cash. This Guerilla Film Makers Movie Blueprint does for low budget film what Gray did for human anatomy. It exposes completely the complexities and hidden conflicts that lie unseen beneath the film gloss and shows the aspiring filmmaker how to plot a safe course through them.
The book is not a blueprint for success. It is no fewer than 25 blueprints for success - and there’s one for every department, from production company start-up to sales and distribution, each
section packed with essential information. The style is factual and informal, drawing on Jones’ own experience of helming two features and producing a third, but regularly pulls in other
qualified opinion for snapshot advice alongside the main text. As you would expect from a film maker it is a rich visual experience, with detailed photographs, diagrams and graphs and tables laid
out attractively. There’s a strong sense of designer vision as you browse through the book. Like any good film maker Jones relies on his crew to back him up. These particular film types seem two
dimensional at first glance, but they have cleverly been given life by illustrator Jim Loomis. They are keen, dedicated and when the going gets tough, these guys raise smiles. I would be prepared
to hire any of them.
Jones has profited from his earlier GFM Handbooks and not only because they became best sellers, but because he has an awareness of what he had not given sufficient coverage to. The resulting reshoot has not simply revisited previous ground, but also, superceded it, with much more detail than the earlier handbook format would allow. As a result, Movie Blueprint has become something of a paperback tome, its 600 pages packed with essential knowledge, but it weighs in as one point six six kilos of pure gold.
This amalgam of experience, distilled, revisited, re-ordered and patiently recounted is available to any filmmaker for just £25.
Following on from ‘The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook’ comes this title from its co-author Chris Jones. Where ‘Guerilla Film Makers Handbook’ gave fascinating insight and personal reflections, the
‘Movie Blueprint’ goes one step further and details absolutely everything you are likely to need to get a low budget picture made.
Virtually every problem a film maker is likely to encounter is covered in depth, even as far as providing recipes for on set catering! It covers the roles of every essential person on set from grips to DOP’s and runners to directors. Differing shooting formats and equipment are also covered along with sample budgets, postproduction routes, concise technology explanations and sound mixing blueprints. Suffice to say, it’s all there, and in startling detail!
What is particularly refreshing is the informal manner in which the information is related. Whilst any body can pick this book up and understand it, its tone is never condescending. It’s also
short of the overly confusing and unimportant technical jargon that can often plague a book of this nature and yet remains packed with the essential facts, tricks and techniques that can help you
finally get that film you always dreamt of making off the starting blocks.
There are undoubtedly a plethora of books on the film making subject by authors that can talk the talk but Chris Jones has actually walked the walk. With three low budget films already under his belt you can rest assured that the techniques and knowledge described are both hard won and based in fact. The emphasis here is on empowerment, not through lottery grants or arts council handouts but by giving the reader the necessary knowledge to grab the bull by the horns and with little or no money simply go for it. At just shy of 600 pages it also represents fantastic value for money and is sure to become a handy resource manual should you make it to production.
If you are going to buy any book to guide you through the low budget film making process, this should probably be the one. For £25 you’re highly unlikely to find better or cheaper advice elsewhere. Essential reading for the wannabe film maker.
Review By George Lawrence
Whether you're an utter novice or a seasoned veteran of the nonfiction film genre, this massive compendium on the nuts and bolts of documentary filmmaking offers a wealth of information and insights. What's more, it's a lively and engaging read, owing to the dozens of interviews with documentary filmmakers—including more than a few giants in the field—who provide real-world war stories and inside dope.
For the longest time, it seemed documentary filmmakers took more risks and received less notoriety than their peers in any other film genre. They put their lives, careers, and personal finances on the line to bring stories to the screen that inform, challenge, and entertain the masses, but other than a few minutes on the Oscars telecast each year, documentaries went mostly unnoticed by the unwashed masses. The Werner Herzogs and D.A. Pennebakers and Errol Morrises of the world were doing amazing work, yet reaching only a select and selective audience.
But with the mega-success at the mainstream multiplexes of recent docs like An Inconvenient Truth, March of the Penguins, Super Size Me, and Michael Moore's works, suddenly nonfiction film looks like not only a vital calling, but perhaps also a viable one. Still, making documentaries is not something anyone should jump into without thorough preparation and planning, but where can an aspiring filmmaker turn for sage advice? Fortunately, Genevieve Jolliffe and Andrew Zinnes' The Documentary Film Makers Handbook has arrived at precisely the right moment, when the genre is growing in recognition and interest in the field is growing fast.
This 560-page volume, which is really more of a bible than a handbook (it barely fits in your hand anyway, and it's damned heavy), is jam-packed with information and real-world stories that illuminate the long, hard-fought process of getting a film made. Every step is covered, from finding a topic and choosing a documentary sub-genre, to raising money, creating a budget, pitching to broadcasters, assembling a crew, interviewing techniques, docu-drama versus straight documentary, film festivals and distribution, music rights, stock footage, the IMAX format, shooting overseas, and the ethics of documentary filmmaking. There's even information on what to do if you're arrested while shooting in a foreign country (as happened to co-writer Jolliffe when she was directing the feature film Urban Ghost Story). No stone is apparently left unturned, and for producers, directors, writers, directors of photography, and on down the line, this is a definitive compendium that will benefit novices and experienced pros alike.
"Long gone is the notion that docs can only be stuffy and boring," Jolliffe and Zinnes proclaim in their introduction. That theme permeates the entire book, the bulk of which is composed of more than 100 interviews with filmmakers and others in all facets of documentary filmmaking. Some of the genre's heaviest hitters are here, including Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney), Michael Apted (14 Up, etc.) and Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, U.S.A.). The interviews are presented in the question-and-answer format, and are deceptively informative; many begin with a simple question such as, "What does documentary filmmaking mean to you?" and quickly segue into the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, instructive anecdotes, practical how-to information, and big-picture discussions about the role of the documentary filmmaker in the media and society. Many of the hurdles faced by documentarians, who often must shoot at a moment's notice, are world's away from the bloated-budget world of their mainstream Hollywood counterparts; and some are quite similar, such as the struggle between art and commerce—or, in this case, between the filmmaker's passion for the material and the marketplace's willingness to fund certain projects but not others.
"The reality is you choose the subject that you think you can get done next," says Eugene Jarecki, director of Why We Fight. "And that's a tragic thing to say. There are other things that I was dying to do, but this was the one in an increasingly complicated world of national security and international relations, that was a natural to pitch to the world community. It's also something that I really cared about."
THE WRAP UP
It's been 30 years since movies like Hearts and Minds, the unflinching examination of the Vietnam War, raised expectations about what documentaries can accomplish. A book like The Documentary Film Makers Handbook is long overdue, and an essential tool to help new and future generations of filmmakers continue to raise expectations and challenge audiences to reconsider the world around them.
The Guerilla Film Makers Hollywood Handbook*****
By Genevieve Jolliffe, Chris Jones Continuum, £30 p/b
WITH ITS mantra of 'Get a camera, get some stock, go shoot a movie,' this all-encompassing manual offers a series of down to earth pointers on how to make a movie and, more importantly, get it shown. Written by the makers of Urban Ghost Story, who have experienced all the pitfalls first hand, the book features interviews with over 150 industry insiders, each of whom proffers advice on their chosen field, among them John O'Brien (on the spec script market), Eric Alan Edwards (on cinematography) and Bob Berney (on marketing). In fact no stone has been left un-turned in this astonishingly thorough course, which poses every question imaginable, then answers them in as much depth as possible. Even if you don't intend making a movie, this is a fascinating read - and if you do, you couldn't ask for a better primer.
The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook *****
Described on the back cover by Film Review as ‘the indispensable guide for first-time filmmakers,’ the third edition of this weighty tome (and it does weigh a ton) is the best yet. Fully revised and updated, the book benefits enormously from the fact that it’s been authored by two actual filmmakers, whose wealth of experience produces some valuable tips. This is further augmented by interviews with150 industry experts, among them writers, directors, gaffers, sound recordists, composers and producers (including such respected names as Nik Powell). With advice on lighting, editing and even product placement, the book will be as essential as film in a camera for first timers.
How to start small, but make it big behind the camera...
Certain to leap off the shelves of student shops everywhere, The Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook is well deserving of its standing atop the world of filmmaking dos and don'ts. The first edition felt like a secret spell book that could be slipped into a tripod bag and used to conjure smart movies on the cheap and quick. Buoyed by its prior success, the latest edition is highly evolved: less 'Guerrilla' and more 'Complete'.
And it's grown into quite a beast - now 800 pages and a million words, the handbook (that's a pretty large hand) probably weighs more than the digital camera you've been planning on using to
shoot your own private Blair Witch Project. Everything you could possibly need to know is here, from script to screening, with consistently impressive access to a slate of notable industry
With this, budding indie kids are instantly armed with the know-how on which film stock to use (if any), which festivals to enter and which agents to call - and everything else in between. If you're loath to splash out on a filmmaking course, this could just be the solution. And the CD full of script software and insider documentation is a killer finishing touch.
Possessed by a desire to make commercial movies, twentysomething filmmakers Chris Jones and Genevieve Joliffe dropped out of film school to take their chances in the perilous world of low-budget
features. Two movies later and the couple have pooled their mistakes, knowledge and experiences into this nifty guide to the pleasures and perils of shoestring cinema.
Pitching itself squarely at committed wannabe helmers rather than the general reader, the book is divided into three distinct sections. The first is a series of Q&A interviews with key industry pros that details each stage of the filmmaking process from financing to distribution via production: while occasionally the techno talk and legalese is a tad dry, the info it provides, be it negotiating the quagmire of copyright law or what to do if your lead actor dies, is comprehensive and invaluable.
More entertaining by far is the chapter concerning the adventures of Jones and Joliffe making movies, which fleshes out not only the messy reality of "going indie" - perpetual blagging, constant rejection, virtual bankruptcy - but also the dedicated minutes required to get a project finished and sold. Moreover, anecdotes such as working with Harrison Ford's younger brother Terence, the duo's wrongful arrest for fraudulent behaviour, or shooting White Angel, a serial killer drama, unwittingly in Fred West's locale make diverting if somewhat cautionary tales.
With most "How to make a movie" guides coming from the US, that this provides a British perspective is particularly refreshing - the final "tool kit" section includes a useful collection of contacts and necessary documents. As attends the low budget milieu, the book does lack glossy production values but makes up for it by employing an accessible layout laced with a plethora of light-hearted advice - "Get a rich father" - and handy hints: add 50 fictitious names to the end credits to create extra kudos. Overall, then, a revelatory read which will inform and inspire in equal measure.
It was just coincidence that landed Chris Jones and Genevieve Jolliffe in the cells. The pair of young British film-makers just happened to have shot their second feature, White Angel, 100 yards
from the home of Fred West a year before the serial killer was arrested, and somehow the police thought that the replica guns and other props used in the film were real. And it was while they
were in the cells that they decided they had a story to tell.
The book, The Guerrilla Film-Makers Handbook, is much more than just an account of their misadventures film-making (although the story of the first film, which starred Harrison Ford's unknown brother Terence, sounds irresistibly like the plot of Bowfinger). It's also in an undisputed position as the indispensable guide for first-time film-makers, and the good news is that Continuum have just published a fully updated and revised second edition.
Most similar guides to low-budget film-making in the UK begin with the of finding cameraman and so forth, but Jones and Jolliffe take the reader through the process from even earlier steps. It's first section deals with the importance of solicitors, accountants, insurance and bank managers long before it even begins to deal with the nitty-gritty of hiring cameras and lights. It then moves through the making of the film, from production to post-production to sales, and gives a series of case studies from the likes of Matthew Vaughn (Lock Stock), Eduardo Sanchez (Blair Witch) and Justin Kerrigan (Human Traffic).
Perhaps even more useful yet is what Jones and Jolliffe call their tool kit, which is packed with legal forms such as agreements for the cast and crew and useful documents with titles like '21 points to look for in the sales agent/distribution agreement'. And there's also a huge number of hot tips and directories and a CD Rom with a screenplay formatter and legal contracts. Weighing in at a hefty 640 pages, the book should be any new film-makers first port of call. Perhaps even more useful yet is what Jones and Jolliffe call their tool kit, which is packed with legal forms such as agreements for the cast and crew and useful documents with titles like '21 points to look for in the sales agent/distribution agreement'. And there's also a huge number of hot tips and directories and a CD Rom with a screenplay formatter and legal contracts. Weighing in at a hefty 640 pages, the book should be any new film-makers first port of call.
"As a producer", co-author Jolliffe insists, "you need to understand the whole process of film-making, from conception to completion, so that you can spot someone attempting to pull the wool over your eyes". We asked the questions producers ought to know the answers to. In practice we found that not only did producers not know the answers, they didn't even know the question in the first place!"
"Film-making is not very difficult", adds Jones "it's more hard work than anything, and we wanted to show people just how to make a low-budget film without a entangling them in all sorts of technical and legal nonsense. If you have a copy of The Guerrilla Film-Makers Handbook, loads of energy and a little cash, you can make a feature film."
No doubt there are plenty of readers to whom that sounds a pretty attractive proposition. The books priced at £19.99 - but its writers claim that they will save you thousands of pounds. Let's leave the final word to Daniel Myrick, director of The Blair Witch Project, who knows a bit about budget film-making. He says that it's "absolutely indispensable" and concludes that "it should be within arm's reach throughout the entire film-making process."
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