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Guerrilla Documentary: Entering and Exiting the Premises

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

If you are intending to enter a location with a camera you have to understand that you may not be warmly welcomed. An efficient plan for entering and exiting may be needed to get footage when on private property.

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    A Dangerous Situation

    When trying to document highly volatile situations your mobility is your best asset. The ability to run into a location, and then leave quickly will give you the ability to capture footage that larger crews may not be able to. Even if your presence is an offense to the combatants of the commotion they will likely not be able to catch you if you have a planned strategy for entering and exiting.

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    Know the Event

    Though each situation is different it is important to plan ahead for things that may occur. Take stock of the exact event that is taking place and what may happen there. If it is something like a demonstration or private festival you may want to check out reports of its previous incarnations or similar episodes. This way you will get an idea of how it is laid out and what kind of response you will get from the people.

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    Location

    The most important part of this is to know the layout of the location, and to make sure that you visit it before the shoot. You want to know where all the entrances and exits are, any places that you may be able to tuck yourself away in case of emergency, and a place to hide your equipment if need be. From here you may want to do a brief run through, staging a sequence where you may need to leave very quickly. The same is going to be true if you are just entering a location where no event is taking place but you are still not welcome with a digital video camera. These could be things like a private business or government building, where you may want to enter and get footage quickly and then run out before security or police personnel are able to interfere. This time you could not take the camera in for a run through, but make sure you know the ins and outs of the location well. If it is exceptionally large you may want to either construct or look at a map of the area. Blueprints are great option if it is significantly large, and these you can often get from your local city hall or chamber of commerce (depending on the area and the situation). If it is a public or historic building you may even be able to get hold of them at the public library. If it is a fully outdoor location you may have trouble planning it much ahead of time because they may have changed the accessibility. For example, if an event is taking place at a fair ground you are not going to get a good idea of where the exits are when it is just open space. You must first wait for the area to be prepared for the event before you stake it out.

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    Secret Ins and Outs

    One of the most important things to look for when checking over the locations is if there are areas you could use as entrances or exits that are not specifically designed as such. For an indoor location this could be something like a back door or low window, and outside it could be a weak spot in the surrounding fence. These can be great for either a secret entrance or exit, but usually not both. If you would like to use one of these it is best to choose a main door or path for one because they will likely be securing wherever you came in.

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    Clear Objectives

    You need to know the object of your focus before you enter because you will have a limited time frame to record footage. It is not prudent to simply enter and observe if you are not at all welcome, so you need to be able to identify your target and go for it immediately. Know all that you want to get so you will be able to leave right when you have achieved the objective.

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    Know Your Laws

    Be aware of trespassing laws either way because if you are caught in an area where you are not legally allowed you may have to suffer criminal penalties. A good plan also incorporates knowledge of the legal limitations that are in front of you.