Writing A Low Budget Screenplay That Could Be The Next Breakout Hit

Film studios and independent producers alike are attracted to low budget screenplays to produce. Here are some pointers:

  • Keep locations to a minimum; three to five maximum. Hence the term “contained” horror/ thriller. Also keep external locations and night scenes to a minimum.
  • Be reasonable with your locations. Don’t argue that your script is entirely set on the Sydney Harbor Bridge, so it’s only one location. Make sure they locations re accessible, have adequate power supply and are free from external interference such as traffic noise.
  • A low budget movie script doesn’t have to be a low quality script. You’ve traded high budget spectacle for character, artistic freedom and ingenuity. Spend the time perfecting your characters.
  • You’ll be surprised at how many SAG actors have worked on low or no budget films on the strength of a script. Given that most movie scripts circulating around Hollywood are average at best, an above average screenplay is a valuable commodity.
  • Limit the number of characters. Avoid crowd scenes such as a football stadium or even a restaurant, which require extras; sorry, background artists.
  • Limit cameos and bit parts. Get the best quality actors for your filmmaking budget. You’ll be amazed at how may A-list stars would work for scale for a low budget gem.
  • Avoid elaborate action sequences. Even a simple car chase without crashes or elaborate stunts can be time consuming and expensive. You’ll need to block off streets, hire PAs etc etc. Low budget films tend to be dialogue heavy, so make your characters as engaging and three dimensional as possible.
  • If you want the “low budgetness” of your film to be its selling point, go for it, at your peril. Cheesy horror/ sci-fi films from the sixties with low-fi special effects are not in vogue at the moment.
  • Low budget genre films sell best. This means mainly comedy, suspense and horror. Drama films are tenuous because so much of their success is tied to their execution or specialty audiences. Personal films or life stories, more so.
  • Plan your shooting schedule carefully. Low budget films usually shoot over 10 to 20 days, rather than 30 to 40 days many studio films enjoy.
  • Avoid writing scenes which require lots of green screen. Some visual effects that have been pre-planned and budgeted are fine. However, don’t rely on a poorly shot scene to be fixed in the post.
  • Call in favors. If you know someone that will let you film on their farm, write a scene around it. If you are using product placement, subtly include it in your script.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. This was a terrific post; one I can readily recommend to my students at http://www.wordsmythe.ca I often advise my students not to wait to be ‘discovered’ but the craft a screenplay that they can SHOOT NOW.

    Thanks for a really useful distillation of movie-making tips!!

    Cheers – Jana/ http://www.wordsmythe.ca

    1. JG Sarantinos says:

      Always happy to make a difference. Novice writers will rarely sell their early scripts to a studio (even less so, today), so write something pertaining to the current marketplace.

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