Ten Commandments Of Microbudget Screenwriting


Screenwriter, Paul Peditto has neatly summarized the makings of the perfect micro budget film.

“The ideal low-budget movie is set in the present. few shots, lots of interiors, a couple of speaking actors (unknowns), no major optical effects, no horses to feed. bunch of not-in-the-guild teens running around an old house with a dude in a hockey mask chasing and skewering them.”—John Sayles

LIMIT LOCATIONS

Central, accessible location (s) if possible. Use exotic locations only if they available to you.

LIMIT CHARACTERS

Opt for non-union roles rather than those requiring SAG minima. Use extras sparingly and only if they’re free.

LIMIT SPECIAL EFFECTS AND STUNTS

Explosions, rain, car chases and action sequences cost. Blocking off streets, hiring PAs, shooting at night and remote locations are time consuming and expensive.

 WRITE TO A GENRE

Forget the period piece: expensive set design, costumes… write for what sells, micro-budget: horror, suspense, sci-fi, comedy and character driven drama.

WRITE LONGER SCENES

This often equates to dialogue scenes over action. 95% of clerks was set inside the convenience and video stores.

WRITE TO A REALISTIC BUDGET

Gunfights, explosions, special vehicles & prosthetic makeup, the vampires you gotta have, that shot of the golden gate bridge that’s absolutely necessary, that Madonna song you don’t own but is perfect for the movie, the must-have crane shot, steadicam or helicopter mounts can all go.  Embrace your limitations. Don’t worry about what you can’t do, focus on what you can do.

BEWARE OF FIXING PROBLEMS IN POST-PRODUCTION

Digital enhancement can work, but limit the green screen & CG effects, color correction etc as post production can chew up more of your budget than you anticipated.

BEWARE OF WRITING SPECIFIC WEATHER CONDITIONS

Rain, snow, floods and strong wind cost money. Also have a contingency plan in case any of these events occur during shooting.

MISCELLANEOUS DON’T WRITES

Animals and Children

Scenes inside football stadiums with one thousand extras.

Sex scenes

FIND THE DYNAMIC CONCEPT IN YOUR STORY

Saw, Open Water, Buried, Paranormal Activity, Blair Witch Project are contained micro budget thrillers. Audiences will forgive the technical limitations of your film if your story has heart.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Ashland says:

    Why no sex scenes?
    Among the other don’ts, this seems out of place. It’s not like it costs more….? (Casting non-union means you had no money to pay the actors in the first place.)

    1. JG Sarantinos says:

      Sex scenes means you’re limiting your acting pool. Most actors expect a pay bump for nudity and sex scenes regardless of whether they are union or not. Sex scenes also affect distribution depending on the rating your film receives.

  2. Ashland says:

    It seems so obvious now.
    I guess sex *doesn’t* sell.

  3. jonathan aguirre says:

    what about kids? wont some in the audience have kids? how are kids irrlevent to those audience members? kinda obvious to me bro…

    1. JG Sarantinos says:

      Kids are discouraged from micro budget features because union laws mean they can only work for a limited number hours per day (4, I think, but check with SAG), there needs to be tutor and a parent or guardian on hand. This can complicate a production schedule, especially with babies.

  4. jonathan aguirre says:

    And define budget for cro(s)^3shake. Inverse inverse inverse….that’s what makes a good movie. read both comments in unision and my last phrase will make sense. or will it?

    1. JG Sarantinos says:

      Microbudget doesn’t have a definitive figure attached to it, but around $150-150k is a good ballpark.

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