The Art of DIY Camouflage: Guerrilla Filmmaker 101

Ok, it’s the Greater Metropolitan Area. You have just about no budget, but you need to get out there and shoot.  As I explained in my previous article ( “diy-filmmaking-la-film-permit” ) the City of Los Angeles and its surrounding area demands film permits for just about every place that is not a studio or studio lot and/or visible by satellite.  Technically, you even have to have a film permit to shoot in your own house or apartment, whether or not you own said fortress of solitude. They want their blood money and they want it even if it shuts your production down (just like every nasty parasite, it kills the host).

Camera Camo

Can You See Me Now? How About Now?

Much like the gazelles in the African savanna, you have to blend in and not bring attention to yourself.  You don’t want the lions to eat you.  Here are a few tips on shooting entire scenes in public without getting shut down by “the Man” or snotty (aka jealous) onlookers who are “tired of that damn Hollywood crowd making nuisances of themselves and disturbing the peace.”

Small crews:

Large crews with many cars are a wonderful luxury, but are actually counterproductive to the “get in, shoot, get out” scenario.  In general, the more you look like a “professional” production, the more likely you will be hassled by a bored motor cycle cop (believe you me, I have actually been hassled by motorcycle cops about film permits on an abandoned street. You’d think they’d have a few more things on their “to-do” list having to do with more important things than some kids with cameras….)

Remember, each cast and crew member often come in their own car or monster SUV. If they all show up where you’re going to shoot and fill up all the parking in the area, you will get noticed.

RUN before the WRATH of the resident who has to park on the next block. Hell has no fury…

The best solution for this is to all meet somewhere with a huge underutilized parking lot (a supermarket or an old mall nobody goes to anymore) and then carpool everyone to your unauthorized set.  It makes the getaway easier as well.

Talk to the neighbors:

If you’re shooting at your place/ a residential area, talk to your immediate neighbors.  A lot of times they will be totally cool, or even supportive (aka go get a tattoo or something when you’re shooting).  If you just start shooting in the hallway/ sidewalk and block the passageway for your neighbors to come and go, they are much more likely to give the authorities a call and shut you down- OR WORSE.

I actually shot in front of a friend’s house in Burbank and had an outraged neighbor walk right in to the middle of the scene, demanding to know why his kids couldn’t skateboard on the sidewalk across the street.  I had just spoken nicely to these kids about a minute before and asked them if they could hold off skateboarding through my shot for 5 minutes. They were cool with it, but the neighborhood “child advocate” was not.  Of course, he was mostly pissed that he wasn’t having something to do with the shoot and didn’t know it was happening.  Otherwise, he could’ve gotten a picture hanging out with a real life D.I.Y. film crew for his Xmas card.

Travel light:

This applies to both city streets and national/state parks.  If it looks like dark forces are gathering and the civilians in the area are starting to make noises about film permits and nuisances, be able to pack up quick and go.  If you’re on a street corner, have your cars nearby.  Don’t cart 10 anvil cases five blocks up to the top of the hill where you’re going to shoot a scene with a couple having an argument before crossing the street.  Only take exactly what you need up the hill and park as close as possible. Leave the cases in the car or even have extra backpacks you can chuck your loose equipment into for the short trip up the hill.

I went on an early morning shoot in the Hollywood Hills just off a dirt road that led to an undisclosed park.  We parked at the bottom of the hill and only trucked the essentials up the road to a quiet and brush-filled gully. It took about an hour, but we got what we needed.  Right when we popped out back onto the main road, a caretaker from the park was walking down the hill.  Right when we started loading the essentials back into our little caravan, he started filming us with his smart phone.

“I’ve got your license numbers and the police are on their way, “he cried, triumphantly, in a voice like a wet noodle.  We asked him what the problem was- we didn’t bother anyone and we were leaving.  “You can’t just shoot anywhere you like.  You need a film permit.  I know the rules.  I know you’re gonna pay some fines.”  Needless to say, no warrants were every issued and we were long gone before the police may or may not have shown up.  It just goes to show, some folks think being a hall monitor in 4th grade is a job for life.

The main rule, and what all this really boils down to, is that, just like the Serrengeti, you have to be aware of your surroundings.  You can still shoot your scenes or your pickup shots without a permit; just be aware of who and what is around you.  Like all filmmaking, just be extremely flexible.  Oh, and be ready to run like hell at a moment’s notice if a pride of lions does  appear- or at least convince them that you’re not worth eating.

Do you have any DIY Filmmaking Tips to share? What are they?

Vlad –

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