A famous example of guerilla filming appears in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, North by Northwest. The story called for the star, played by Cary Grant, to be involved in a murder inside the United Nations building in New York City. While the interior scenes were shot on a studio sound stage, Hitchcock felt he needed an establishing shot of Grant entering the real – and recognizable – UN building. However, the UN would not allow filming on their premises.
Hitchcock resorted to guerilla tactics to get the shot he wanted. With the camera hidden in a vehicle on the street, Cary Grant exited a cab and strode across the plaza into the iconic building.
(Director Sydney Pollack finally overcame the UN ban on filming in 2004, with The Interpreter.)
At 9th Planet, we’ve had permission to film at almost all of our locations, but we did resort to guerilla filming for two short cutaway shots.
The Personal Space video takes place in a public library. Library staff gave us permission to shoot, and we arranged to come in early, before the library opened, for the bulk of the filming. But one short scene, demonstrating public restroom etiquette, required shooting in the restroom – which was open to others in the building besides the library.
Since we were there early, we decided to shoot the restroom scene first, while there weren’t very many people around. Tristan and David, our two actors, went into the restroom first to make sure it was empty. We didn’t want to barge in with a camera if it was occupied. We waited for one gentleman to leave, then after making sure we had the room to ourselves, we brought in the camera for a couple quick takes.
We were nearly finished shooting when someone else came in. He stopped short, obviously taken aback to find people with a video camera filming in a restroom. We told him we’d be done in just a minute, and he went back out. After a few more short takes, we packed up the camera and left. On the way out we apologized to the guy for making him wait, then went back into the library for the rest of the shoot. We were polite, and he was understanding.
The second cutaway shot took place on a light rail commuter train. We bought tickets and boarded the train at the beginning of its run, before it filled up with too many people. We found three adjacent seats and Tristan and Melva took two of them, with the camera situated across the aisle.
At the first stop, Tristan got off the train, then turned around and immediately got back on. He walked down the aisle and took his seat, leaving a vacant seat between himself and the “other passenger.” At each of the next few stops he repeated his actions for a few more takes.
Since we weren’t recording any live audio for this scene (in the video, the scene plays under Bob’s voiceover) we were able to talk to each other about what we were doing, even while we were actually shooting. Other people in the car were watching us and talking among themselves. People like movies, and I think most of them enjoyed seeing what we were doing. I imagine they told their friends later about seeing a movie being made on the train.
After checking to make sure we had usable footage, we all got off and waited on the platform for a train going the opposite direction to take us back to our car.