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Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

Based on the recent news about the death of camera assistant Sarah Elizabeth Jones on the set of the Allman Brothers biopic, Midnight Rider, and the involuntary manslaughter charges filed against the producers and director (which could result in a 10-year prison sentence), now is a good time to talk about the issue of guerrilla filmmaking.

As a producer or director of a film, you are responsible for the safety of your cast and crew from the time they step onto the set until the time they leave. You can't have too many safety checks. You can't ask too many questions regarding all aspects of the shoot. You need to know about every potential safety issue that could affect the safety and the lives of your cast and crew.

In addition, although insurance is often overlooked—especially in first films or indie films—you must make arrangements for coverage to protect everyone and every location in your project. This includes workers’ compensation, short-term medical, errors and omissions, and a bunch of other types of insurance coverage.

The news yesterday was that the director, Randall Miller, the producer, Jody Savin, and even the executive producer, Jay Sedrish, have all been arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing.

Even though this particular film does not seem to be a "guerrilla" film, it brings to mind this idea that making films without following the rules is somehow more exciting or romantic than making a standard, by-the-book film. And look - I get it. Everyone has done something that goes against the rules and doing so can be exciting. But when you have millions (or thousands or even just hundreds) of dollars resting on the decisions you make and, even more importantly—in fact, of the utmost importance—you have the lives and safety of your cast and crew relying on your smart and reasoned decision-making, you have to make the right decisions.

Accidents happen. Mishaps occur. Unexpected things arise all the time. So, as a producer mounting a film project, you have to anticipate every possible problem and solve each before they occur. Getting permits to shoot legally on a property that isn't yours is boring and by-the-book and maybe it means you're no longer that cool, fresh, risk-taking guerrilla filmmaker. However, knowing all the ins and outs of the location at which you plan to shoot is just smart filmmaking. Yep, even though it's not necessarily exciting, the up-side is that your shoot is much more likely to go off without a hitch and you limit the chances that someone’s life will be negatively impacted.

As boring as obtaining permits can be, imagine how excruciatingly boring having sufficient and appropriate insurance is going to be. Or hiring qualified security for an exposed public location. Or arranging for a paramedic or EMT to be present on a potentially dangerous set. However, that's your job as a producer.

Own it or don't but if you decide to ignore those important questions and issues, you may expose your crew, your cast, and yourself to unreasonable and dangerous risk. The better decision is to just do your due diligence and enjoy the protection that it can ensure.

​Thomas Hofbauer © 2016

Guerrilla Filmmaking - Is It Worth the Risk?

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