Writing A Quality Low Budget Horror Movie That Returns On Investment


Film studios still haven’t opened their purse strings to non A list screenwriters, even after I gave them a stern talking to. The choices for the 99% have been limited to write for small budget budget, guerilla niche movies. But low budget needn’t mean low quality.

The beauty of these movies is that they will invariably get made much easier, distributed and you get a writers credit. Write them as best you can. Don’t treat them with derision, because a B-grade screenwriters kick may land you a studio screenwriting gig in the future.

I’ve previously mentioned faith, urban and various specialty audiences to write for, but it appears the B-grade Roger Cormanesque shlock horror has proudly made a return to independent cinema. They are relatively cheap to make and don’t require name stars to finance.

Don’t scoff. Low budget filmmaking (below $500,000) doesn’t mean low concept. Your screenplays still require an emotional core and a story. The straight-to-DVD and straight-to-cable markets are viable alternatives to studio films.

TEMPLATE FOR LOW BUDGET MONSTER FILMS

  • The key aspects to writing to this market are playing off high grossing film titles. The Asylum has mastered this act with delightfully trashy titles like “Transmorfers” and “Mega Piranha”.
  • Since these films run close to 90 minutes, the creature, or danger must appear in the first five minutes. They advise to start your story as close to the end as possible.
  • The main character tends to be lone hero, often misunderstood and largely ignored. They may be a science boffin who’s isolated, socially inept and can’t understand why no-one else appreciates the gravity of the monster at large.
  • The hero is then catapulted into mega-stardom, because only they know enough about the monster to be able to stop it.
  • There tends to be a love interest who finally acknowledges that his/ her hero, is indeed, a hero.
  • There is often the snarky, witty sidekick who steals the best lines.
  • Often times there is a battle between authority figures who block the hero from effectively stopping the monster because they think they know better.
  • This template works for zombies, aliens, vampires, mutants, ghosts and assorted critters out to defile the indestructable human fighting spirit.
  • SPOILER ALERT: Although battle-scarred and fatigued, humans always win.

TEMPLATE FOR PULP FILMS

  • Introduce the hero, the mystery and the impending danger quickly.
  • The hero tries to cope with the problem, but the scope is larger than imagined.
  • Rapidly introduce the supporting cast.
  • The physical conflict erupts at the end of act one.
  • The havoc escalates and the hero’s loved one is endangered.
  • The hero manages to convince the skeptics that the problem is real.
  • The hero grapples with his/her inner demons and emotional issues borne from years of ostracism and ridicule.
  • There is a showdown between the villain and hero at the end of act two, often resulting in a battle to the death.
  • At the last minute, the hero extricates himself/ herself from their predicament using a mix of beauty, brain, brawn, bravado and brilliant skills.
  • Throw in a surprise twist at the end, such as the monster being someone who taunted our hero at high school.
  • This template works for doomsday, apocalyptic and “coded” prophecy type films.
  • Despite the scaled down budgets and production values, the same rules of drama apply as studio films. After all, the handful of scripts recently sold to studios and open writing assignment have mainly been to scale.

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