Writing for an independent film is very different from writing a big-budget movie. While both types of movies need a great screenplay, Hollywood production companies can afford to do whatever they want, and no budget is too big for them.
When writing for an indie movie, you want to be realistic about what you can afford and what resources you can get. In this particular case, we’re talking about how to make a movie for under five thousand dollars, based on my last feature film, The Job.
7 Surefire Steps To Writing For Independent Film
Movies like this have been made in the past and everywhere: it’s not rocket science. What you need to do is to limit your story to the following: location, cast, and time. Those three main ingredients will send you easily over budget when overlooked in the pre-production stage, especially when writing a screenplay.
Let’s say you have ten characters as examples of what not to do. Your story takes place in this luxurious hotel. You have a few scenes next to the ocean and maybe even a nightclub. And it all takes place during the 80s when rock and roll were in the air.
That’s great. But now, being realistic, how much would that cost?
We’re talking about a multi-million dollar movie here.
You’d have to hire a hotel and get permits plus insurance for your production because no hotel will let you shoot on their premises without permits.
Then you’ll have to cast actors, rehearse with them, and pay for rehearsal and audition spaces. Then on top of all of that, you’ll have to add a wardrobe and props from the 80s.
You get what I mean. You don’t want that.
You want to have as few locations, characters, and props as possible. Then you get creative. You can make a great film set in just one or two areas. Several well-known bank robbery movies only use two locations, and there was also a movie about a guy lying in a coffin for ninety minutes and talking on the phone.
If they could do it – you can do it too. Please get used to this attitude from now on. Every time you have a problem, say to yourself, “If they could do it, I can do it!” Perspective is essential, not just in filmmaking but in any business. When writing for independent films, the more you write, the more you will learn.
Here is the exact method I use when writing for independent films. When you use this method to craft your screenplay, I recommend using different ink colors for each scene. This will give you a visual representation of the story. Do it by hand. Please do not do it on your computer. It has to be by hand, or it will not work.
01. Start your Screenplay with a Title
I’mI’mbig believe that a title is something that carries the story into the open world and to the people. Your title has to be simple, have meaning to the report, and be memorable. After the title, some writers immediately move on to the treatment or synopsis, inspired by the film’s sound. But not you, not now.
02. Number A Piece Of Paper to One Hundred
When you finish, you will have two pages of numbers. Those are your scenes, and this will serve as a visual reference to your story. This will provide an overview of what works and what needs changing. Some writers use index cards. I prefer using paper just because of pure simplicity and time saved. Once you have your numbers, take out a pen or a pencil.
03. Write Down Each Scene
Start with number one first. This is your opening image. This is what the audience sees first. So you need to make sure it’s fantastic! Write in this format only:
EXT. STREET – DAY.
I presume you know all the writing slang: EXT means exterior, INT means interior, etc.
04. Move To Scene: Fifty
Do the same thing: write down your scene. This scene is called the midpoint. This is precisely what it says it is. It’s an event that happens at the sixty-minute mark in EVERY movie. This is where your characters get back on track and start reacting to the surrounding circumstances.
05. Go To Scene: One Hundred
This is the end of your movie. This is the last scene people will see before they go home or return to their everyday lives. It has to be GREAT. You want your film to be remembered. And by ending a film beautifully, you will accomplish just that.
06. Go Back To Scene: Twenty
This is an event that genuinely kicks your movie into motion. This is where the story truly begins. All that happens before here is to introduce your characters and set up the story for this event. Let’Let’s your character gets in a car crash. Now he is in a wheelchair. And he is sad because he was a star basketball player with a scholarship at of the best universities in America. Is their life over? No! He has to live on!
07. Now Go To Scene: Seventy
This is the concluding point of your story. Here your character either succeeds or fails miserably. So that you can better understand what I’m I’mking about, look at my above example and imagine your character got back on their legs. Or he succeeded in something completely different from what he originally intended. Or he did not succeed. ThatThat’sto you!
The Goal Is To Finish Your Screenplay
When you finish this exercise, sit down and open the screenwriting program of your choice. If you have money, you can research one of the fancy solutions like Final Draft or use Writer Duet. You can also find you can use free screenwriting software alternatives. Once you have your screenwriting software, you write your story.
When writing for an independent film, listening to your guts and instincts is crucial when writing for an independent film. Open your mind, relax your fingers, and don’t think about it. You already know what you want to write. Now let your unconscious mind do the rest. Be patient and be grateful for every great page you finish.
Remember we did those scenes we numbered? On average, a feature film screenplay is ninety pages long. Each page of script equates to roughly a minute of screen time. If you type JUST ONE PAGE for each one of your scenes, you will have a finished movie script consisting of one hundred pages, plus a title. Boom!
When you finish your pages, drink because the work is not done yet…
When writing for independent films, most veteran screenwriters will tell you that nothing is written. It is rewritten. ThatThat’s it works. Get back to your script a week later or even the next day, and you will find things that don’t and need to be fixed. Once again, follow your gut and do as many rewrites as needed.
Once you are happy with your screenplay, CONGRATULATIONS!
You just got yourself a movie script written by you.
Now make that movie.
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Hank OrioOrion’sut feature film Despair is a psychological thriller about a psychotic woman who invades the lives of a married couple in Scotland. HankHank’sond feature film, The Job, completed in 2017, is a heist story about a bank robbery. It was filmed in two days, with one camera, lens, and light. Hank followed this up with his third feature film, a thriller called The Boy With A Knife, about a cunning psychopath traveling the world.