Three Steps To Writing Low Budget Screenplays

As a filmmaker, it can be challenging to raise funds to cover production. We’re all looking for ways to be more cost-effective. The first step filmmakers can take to keep their budget low is producing low budget screenplays.

A few years ago, I branched off of film and began writing for theater. This experience taught me how to write and produce with uncompromising, unmerciful budgets and how to craft better characters.

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Three Steps To Writing Low Budget Screenplays

Film will always be the visual medium. Plays will always rely on dialogue and have a formative relationship with the theater’s space and size. But there are a world of lessons screenwriters can learn from theater, particularly when it comes to writing low budget screenplays.

There are three primary ways to write low budget screenplays:

1. Limit locations: tell your story with as few locations and sets as possible.

2. Small cast: fewer actors result in fewer dollars (and fewer mouths to feed).

3. Write a dynamic script with great characters: Without a massive budget, you need to rely on solid well-crafted characters to account for lack of funding for special effects and other post-production elements.

With these three things in mind, screenwriters on a budget can learn a great deal from stage plays.

1. Limited sets: For the sake of both budget and time, set changes need to be quick and few. Take a look of some popular titles and their number of sets:

  • Glengarry Glen Ross, two sets
  • The Odd Couple, one set
  • Twelve Angry Men, one set
  • Doubt, three sets.

2. Small cast: A smaller cast can focus on the real story and simplify the plot. Plays don’t contain random encounters with small characters the way some bigger budget films do.

For example, in a bigger budget film, the main character might pop into a CVS and have a brief encounter with the cashier. And that would be the only screen time for the cashier.

When writing low budget screenplays, anything this cashier character might say to advance the plot or develop the main character should be accomplished without his existence.

There is an added benefit to having a smaller cast. Ultimately, you will create better characters who only feed off of each other. Which leads to…

3. Dynamic characters: Images make a film. The perfect film would have no dialogue. This is a shared sentiment among many critics, theorists, and writers (including playwright David Mamet). However, as a result, screenwriters don’t have many opportunities to write amazing dialogue.

In theater, due to space and distance, dialogue is used to tell the story. The characters must express themselves more. The drama comes from the dialogue.

Screenwriters should not only continue to watch and study films, but need to watch and study plays as well. Respect the differences between writing for the stage versus writing for the screen. Next weekend, why not search Playbill instead of Fandango and strengthen your writing skills!

If you liked these tactics, you’ll love our screenwriting system.

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ARTICLE BY Anna Kemp

Anna Kemp is based just outside of NYC, where she writes both plays and screenplays. When she’s not in the mad dash hustle to get something produced, she teaches screenwriting. Anna loves helping others write (and actually finish) dynamic scripts as well as talking shop on topics ranging from hip-hop to why Moulin Rouge is awesome and everyone needs to see it. Check out her website.
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