Some Thoughts On The Guerilla Film Maker’s Masterclass

This piece was written and posted well over a year ago, about my experience of visiting the Guerilla Film Maker’s Master Class in the summer of 2013. It was on a different blog site and I have transcribed it wholesale, without edits or updates:

I flew into the UK for the weekend of June 15th and 16th to attend the Guerilla Film Makers Master Class held in Regent’s College, London.

Why fly thousands of miles for a weekend of film making discussion when I’ve fallen behind schedule on the rewrite of A Table In Berlin? Good question, if anyone asked it. I know I did.

SpyHelmet&TitleWell, before Table began I was in pre-pre-production of a comedy short Spy In The Ointment, based on recently de-classified documents about a British secret agent – identified solely by code reference FP407 – who was dropped into some God-forsaken barren wasteland on a hush-hush in-and-out expedition. According to the papers, due to a malfunction within MI6’s communication, his mission was not encoded, so that his whereabouts were known to any foreign services who were trawling the airwaves. As this agent was evidently some kind of a thorn to many, something like six or seven separate and different foreign hitmen were activated to take the poor bugger out. All this took place over fewer than ten minutes, and they all failed. That’s six or seven assassination attempts, each unaware of the other, and all failing without this FP407 chap even being aware of it until weeks later. Seemed too good to be true so I thought it would make a good funny silent movie.

I am writing this from the island of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, the perfect location and backdrop for the project so I was happy to send myself to London and get up to speed with the latest and greatest in low budget independent film making (it having been too many years to matter since the last short films I was involved in). This was way back in March 2012 and I booked very early for the 2013 Master Class which was subsequently moved back from February to June. By then I had taken on writing A Table In Berlin (another story altogether) which, as probably every author will sympathise, took longer than hoped. So I was very much in Book Mode, and not Film Mode, last weekend and I rated it as a 50-50 conundrum whether I should, or should not go. If I went I would have my head re-activated in cinema format thus guaranteeing a loss of focus on the book at this critical time. If I went not, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

Regrets are nasty, putrid viruses.

The Master Class is run by Chris Jones, on whose excellent blog there is more up-to-date detail on the art of independent, low budget film-making than you could shake a USB stick at. I had shared the occasional comment with the great man, and knew that he was clearly passionate both about his own film-making ambitions (unfulfilled I would like bravely to add here, but this is very much part of the appeal) and in encouraging the ambitions of others.

A number of my fellow delegates have already blogged in detail about this event, and I recommend you read their detailed pieces if you want to know what actually happened (try this, from Michelle Goode). There was an inordinate level of note-taking, and I was prepared for the same with a full A4 size notebook, a pocket-sized Moleskine and would even have had an iPad had I not left it at my friend Andy’s house at the crack of dawn. But it’s a funny thing with note-taking. It’s like photography. It’s easy to miss the moment itself, if you spend too much energy on recording it.

The worst part of the Master Class is that, for chameleons such as I, there’s no hiding place vis a vis the odd moment of audience participation. Obviously death by violent accident would be a worse thing to suffer first thing of a Saturday morning than being forced to turn to your neighbour, talk incessantly for 90 seconds on why we are here whilst simultaneously shaking his hand the entire period – but only just.

Networking is at the heart and soul of this type of event. Everyone accepts that. You want to show up and – in true Hollywood fashion – bump into the one person who fills the absolute void in your creative process at that time. I had imagined that as soon as someone discovered I had “written a book” (and was not a Producer with a wallet full of readies) that they would give it the requisite few extra minutes before sliding off to  try their luck elsewhere! Not so or, if so, it was done with exquisite grace. Talking to strangers is a tough one, but the Master Class exudes that odd New Year’s Eve vibe where all normal reticence is excused. If you wore a Master Class badge you were fair game. I have to say that, despite all imaginings to the contrary (we are talking about the ultimate Me industry, after all) the camaraderie between the be-badged was fundamental to the enjoyment taken from the event. Indeed, for no reason I could explain, on the Sunday afternoon I suddenly blurted out to the barista at the cafeteria that I would pay for the two delegates’ coffees in front of me. I didn’t know them from Adam. I tried to explain it away as a random act of kindness which one of the two promised to return to someone else later. So there you go.

ChrisJones1Chris Jones deserves an article to himself, so I have decided to do just that and give myself another couple of days to write about my thoughts on him. Such is his love for the entire Guerilla Film Making universe that he has nurtured, I wonder if his fear would be getting the big break he so craves and deserves. For such a jump up the food chain might make it harder for him to convince his followers and fans that he is still one of them. His consistent use of the word “we” when describing low budget, independent film makers was, for me, a notable motif. He is still one of us. His greatest asset is his honesty. He has his quirks, but he knows it. Such integrity is worth the price of admission alone.

We delegates, we Guerillas, we band of film-afflicted dream chasers, sat in caffeine-Delegatesinfused wonder as the sheer reckless insanity of our wished-for profession was laid bare in front of our eyes by a man every bit as deranged. A couple of hundred of us; man, woman, child, black, white and indigogo. As representative a slice of modern life as you could realistically expect. Did any of us slink back home on Sunday night thinking: “Well, it was a nice dream, but the reality is…this is not for me”?

Like Hell.

After all, what was it the man said? We are the British Film Industry.

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