Sandeep Mohan’s Guide to Making a Guerrilla Indie Film
It’s quite ironical for Sandeep Mohan to make a no-frills movie with a budget as low as rupees ten lakh and a crew comprising of only three people. After all, the man started his cinematic
career by assisting Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali on the humungous-budget (in comparison to Hola Venky, of course) Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. But Mohan visibly didn’t learn anything
from that spell. And we couldn’t be gladder.
Hola Venky (more about the movie here) is Mohan’s second feature film after Love, Wrinkle-Free which dealt with society’s obsession with looks. But the experience that Mohan amassed
during the making of Hola Venky turned out to be like a Master’s degree in indie filmmaking for him. What made the learning process even more invaluable for Mohan was that he was
filming it the guerrilla way – you shoot like a sneaky fox without permits for locations and other things as they swell your budget. We convinced the been-there-done-that Director and
writer to part with ten tips that one can follow to make a guerrilla indie film. Before you read them though, Mohan has a message for you: “I hate experts. And I’m definitely not one.
These are just some things that I followed to make my movie under the set budget. Perhaps these guidelines may help you.” So all you aspiring (and broke) filmmakers, listen up.
#1 Be shameless
Do you need a lot of money? No. But you do need to have a lot of patience and drive. Figure out how much you can raise from your friends and family. Five lakh? Ten lakh? Once you
arrive to that figure, stick to it. In my case, I tried to get everything free – locations, camera, costumes, cast, editing studios. I paid only for the absolute essentials. If you are that proud
son of a gun who has never asked anyone for money, this is going to be tough. Tell people that you are an artist and you need some money for your movie (it helps if you have done
decent short films in the past). I was shameless and asked for a lot of favours. Whatever little money that you have, try to keep it for the edit and sound work.
#2 Facebook is your casting director
Facebook is the best casting director you can get. Even the assisting director in my case. For Hola Venky, we used Facebook for a lot of things. The film’s protagonists Roger (Narayan)
and Sonia (Balcazar) were part of my friend’s friend list and that’s how I got in touch with them. When I needed something, I used to put up a post on Facebook. There is no shame in
asking for help. Be man enough to admit that you don’t have the resources. Tell the actors who are interested in working with you that they will get a show reel that they will be proud
of. And it goes without saying, deliver on that promise, or at least try.
#3 One car crew
I feel that a crew which can fit into a single car is great for films like Hola Venky. For this movie, we shot with a three-member crew. Since our budget was ten lakh, we had to work with
the bare minimum. Live, eat and travel modestly during the shoot, as these are the expenses that can go out of control. Select a crew made of friends. You don’t want superstar
cameramen and sound recordists because then your life will be more torturous than what it is going to be in any case.
#4 The smaller it is, the better
We used Canon 5D MarkII to shoot which is a small camera that doesn’t draw attention. Also, get a cameraman who has his own camera. The smaller and lesser the equipment, the
easier it is. In these kinds of shoots, you don’t want to stand out. The idea is to merge in with the crowd, get your shots and get out of there as soon as possible. As for sound, we just
had two lapel mikes and a Zoom H4N recorder because boom mikes draw too much attention.
#5 Wield your charm to get locations
Go all out to get the best locations. Smaller movies don’t have to look small. At least that’s what I
believe in. So aim to get good locations by charming the owner of those places (or without telling
them that a shoot is on). Don’t spend a single rupee on location. It has to be free considering the
budget that you have. Also, it goes without saying that shooting guerrilla style comes with a lot of
responsibilities and the consequences can be dangerous too if you are not careful. So be smart and
don’t wait for that perfect shot if it’s taking too long.
Venky (actor Roger Narayan) during the shoot in San Francisco.
#6 Script your way around what you have
I wrote a script around the locations and people I know. For Hola Venky, I wrote a story on the basis
of locations that I knew I could get for free. Take a lot of time to get this right before getting into
the fundraising or casting process. Script is the king, and everything else is secondary. Write about
something you know or are curious to explore.
#7 Quick as a bunny
Breathe deep and work fast. On a guerrilla shoot, you have to think on your feet and make the
necessary changes quick. Be prepared to adapt. I believe in getting to the location, starting the process quickly and leave before too many people have realised that a shoot is on.
#8 “I’m making a documentary on underprivileged kids who don’t have access to Italian food”
Work out any excuse if you are caught filming without permits. It’s helpful if you look like film students, though I think people are getting clever and they can spot it when a shoot is on.
Also, look poor. It helps. In case someone spots you and asks you to leave, do so immediately without picking up a fight. Indie filmmakers look uglier with a black eye.
Do we look like teenagers or not?! That’s Mohan’s three -member crew. And yes, that’s Narayan wearing a skirt on the right.
#9 Cross your T’s and dot your I’s
I like to plan everything out on paper. Without this, I get scared to step out. Since the budget is
non-existent, we need to plan much more than others and it really does help when you’re out
#10 Don’t be a dick
Be good to those who are helping you. And even to the ones who aren’t! Don’t act like you are
(Martin) Scorsese or (Woody) Allen’s cousin. Talking from experience, being good to people helps
you finish your movie within the budget more than anything else.
Hola Venky screens for the first time in Mumbai tomorrow (February 28) at the Only Much Louder
office in Lower Parel, at 7pm, followed by a Q&A session with Mohan and Venky (Roger Narayan).
RSVP here (limited capacity, only 25 seats to go) and pay what you want (or don’t). Mohan assures
you of a good time and a cup of coff