Screenwriting Tips For Low Budget Filmmaking

Screenwriting Tips For Low Budget Filmmaking by Adam Patel

I started screenwriting when I was ten. I wrote epic stories that took place in weird and wonderful worlds. They were both spectacular and breath-taking. The only problem was that they would have required a budget in the hundreds of millions to produce.

About two years ago, I got a punch in the face from the fist of reality, and became a producer because I realized something very important. In independent film, he who controls the money, makes the rules. Literally – you can have anything if you can pay for it.

Producing changed the way I thought about writing. And here I share with you my screenwriting tips on writing for low budget, based on mistakes I’ve made. Screenwriting Tips

Screenwriting Tips For Low Budget Filmmaking

I hope these five screenwriting tips can serve as both a lesson and a career strategy to new screenwriters and producers.

1. You’re a screenwriter. Imagination is never your problem.

Writers know how to write. They know how to think imaginatively and create worlds and stories which can have audiences on the edge of their seats, or take their breath away. Unfortunately, before you write the next Lord of The Rings or Avatar, you’re going to have to do something a lot more low key. Why? Because YOU have the power to make a cheap film yourself. And your first credit is the first step on the road to being able to one day write your own fantasy epic and having a realistic chance of seeing it on screen.

2. Write something that you can produce yourself.

Many writers are arty people. I’m one. I know. We’re a right brain lot. We dream. We concern ourselves with possibility rather than probability and practicality. So when you raise the idea of producing to a writer, sometimes they’re not that keen. But there’s one reason why writers might want to produce in the very beginning: Because it means you don’t have to find a producer.

So write something that you can produce yourself. It’s going to be a story you can tell cheaply (unless you’re a rich person). And the aim of this is not to make the best film ever made. It is to get your first writing or producing credit on a feature film. Of course, make the best film you can. But if it sucks, don’t worry about it too much. Your next film will be better.

3. Write for locations you know you have access to.

One of the greatest challenges of a producer is to find locations for the actors to play out the scenes in the script. Location rental can cost a lot. And sometimes locations can be difficult to find and or get access to. When I wrote my first low budget film, I had written what I thought was a decent script. And it probably was. The problem was that although it had very few locations, they were not locations I could easily access. And when I came to produce the film, I quickly realised this. It was a hard learned lesson. So I had to go back and write another film that I knew could be filmed in locations I had access to.

4. Write something with a lot of talking.

Complex action sequences take a lot of time to shoot. The first time I got on a film set, back in 2011, I was amazed by the kind of time lighting takes. So if your film contains a complex action sequence with lots of different shots making up a sequence, you’re asking for a very long and painstaking shoot. It is your first film. Keep it simple. Think soap opera. Talking heads. Talk is cheap. And it is your challenge as a writer to find ways to make that compelling and interesting. (Soap operas put me to sleep!)

5. Maintain creative control.

At the end of the day, following these screenwriting tips for low budget filmmaking is about keeping the power in your own hands. Don’t write anything that you don’t have the skills or resources to film yourself. If you spend months or years waiting around to get a producer attached or to get a certain actor attached before somebody is going to give you production money, your destiny is not under your control. It is in the hands of others. And you cannot control other people.

Keep your shoot simple by limiting both the locations and the action. Talking really is cheap. Writing for low budget is like having a producer (yourself) looking over your shoulder when you write and catching you in the act of writing something that will be impractical for you to film.

I hope you enjoyed these screenwriting tips and genuinely wish you the best of luck with getting your first film made. For most of us it is an adventure we’ve been dreaming about since childhood. I hope my advice helps you make it happen!

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Adam Patel is a British screenwriter and producer who has worked on several independent films. You can visit his blog for more film making articles and content as well as news of his latest projects. And if you like it, please follow on Facebook!

 

Comments

  1. Dan says

    I would say, understand what makes a film INTERESTING, there are some very dialogue-heavy movies that are amazingly interesting (12 Angry Men– not one action scene, more drama than most Hollywood psychological thrillers). There are movies chock-a-block full of intricate CGI and hundreds of millions of dollars of effects that still manage to be dull (remember the 17-minute pod racing scene in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace?)

    In some great low-budget films they use DIY practical effects to amazing results! Understand what is possible and what’s not, think of how it can be done. Breaking through a glass window: not practical, even professional stuntmen have been hurt working with large sugar glass sheets and they take a lot of expertise to do safely. Breaking through a wall? That’s more practical with some extruded foam insulation, some white paint, a bit of sandpaper, and some wood shavings and sawdust you can make a passable “thrown through a wall” effect that you can cover up with clever lighting and camera angles to make look perfectly fine. You can frame the shot so that you can use safety equipment that’s right up to professional standards without breaking the bank.

    Fight choreography is another place that it’s tough to get looking good on the cheap, just because stunt fighting is a martial arts form in its own right, and untrained people can get hurt. So you’re stuck with high-school-play-level stunt fighting and punches that clearly swing a foot wide. You can write around that, rather than have Detective Dirk Danger punch the baddie out, have him use a wooden board instead, that way instead of an incredibly fake stage punch, you can have him swing full-bore with a long block of styrofoam covered with woodgrain shelf paper, even break it over his head as it leaves the shot. With some convincing foley work and avoiding showing the white styrofoam ends, the audience can suspend disbelief.

    That’s what I think of when I think of writing around a budget. You don’t have to nuter your movie you just have to make wise choices Don’t go for gunshot wounds that would require tons of elaborate liquid latex makeup, shoot the baddie in the gut instead so you can use a cheap hand pump, some stage blood and some cheap aquarium tubing to show a spreading bloodstain instead.

  2. says

    I agree with everything except #4. A lot of talking is boring. There are so many talking head/soap operas out there! At Superseven, we did action sequences all the time. Fights, car chases, high falls, we even set a guy on fire. We used a lot of stock footage, natural light, and did 39 episodes, won several awards and spent about $7,000 total. Talk may be cheap, but it’s also dull. Brevity is the soul of wit.

  3. Jennifer Fischer says

    These tips are spot on. This was exactly the approach we took when we developed, wrote and produced SMUGGLED, my latest micro-budget film that has done quite well for us. By coming up with a compelling story that could be told intimately and casting it well, on our budget, we were able to make a film with a limited budget that moves and engages audiences.

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