Movie Making Manual/Writing/Low Budget

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This Module is part of the Movie Making Manual
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So, you want to create a low budget film, therefore the script has to follow certain guidelines. Some of these guidelines are:

  • The script must have a distinct three-act structure, or a beginning, middle, and end. The three acts are, respectively: setup, conflict, and resolution.
  • Get all the background story, ground laying and introductions done in the first act. The first act should not exceed 40 minutes in length.
  • The film must have a dynamic lead character. A dynamic character is one with heavy amounts of characterization (backstory), and one who develops and changes throughout the story relative to their quest and the film's subject matter. Also, the character must have a goal of some sort, and have some sort of motivation that would make them want to achieve their goal.
  • Life is not black-and-white; everything is in shades of gray. To create fully realized characters, have an aspect of the good guy that is bad, and have an aspect of the bad guy that is good.
  • Bring the story to a close. Do not leave loose ends, or big things for people to ponder on, tie it up with a bow.
  • 100-110 pages maximum. If you write a lot of non-action descriptions in your script you can write a few more pages. The end movie will come to about 90-100 minutes.

Now a few producer notes about the distributors notes:

  • If the character has to swear, then make her swear: you cannot replace the right word with any other word. But keep in mind that any swearing you write, the producer will need an alternative that will shoot at the same time, so distributors can have a "cute" version for tv.
  • Good writers hate plastic characters so even if they say keep the good guy good and the bad guy bad, you should still write characters with depth. Make the characters real instead of plastic, unless you are shooting plastic dolls and/or action figures.
  • Have free reign with special effects, producers can adapt them or replace them later.
  • Action does not mean a sacrifice of character.

And finally a few pointers to help us keep the budget down:

  • Keep locations to a minimum.
  • Keep the number of characters to a minimum.
  • Write for day time where possible.
  • Write in sequences that can shoot on digital (security video cameras etc).
  • Stay away from expensive specialised props and sets.
  • Keep driving scenes to a minimum.

That about covers it. Keep these notes at the back of your mind as you write. If you find yourself faced with something that "feels right" but you think might make the script too expensive or breaks one of these guides: write it. You can discuss it with the producer later. Remember everyone still wants the best script possible.

Maximizing Resources[edit]

You don't want to spend all of your money on actors, and you don't want to spend it all on the quality of your film. The key is finding a balance between these two. It might be wise to lean on the side of spending money on things that will improve the quality of your content if your focus is a character-based story. On the other hand, if your focus is mainly visual you might want to lean towards higher quality equipment.

To Script, Or Not To Script[edit]

Depending on the type of film you are making, you may not want to write at all. Sometimes the best scenes result from raw footage that you shoot when there is no script. This can be especially true if you are writing with a low budget. The aspect of your film that will distinguish it from higher budget films is your ability to capture events that are not scripted.

In terms of scripting for scene changes, special effects, or other events, sometimes during editing you will find that no matter how you scripted the event, you are limited by your raw footage in some way. This may lead to changes in where you decide to place the event.

Low Budget Action[edit]

We want to create a low budget action film, I believe that means we have to write a low budget action script, therefore the script has to follow certain guidelines. Some of these come from the distribution companies, and others come from personal experience. Remember that I mean them as guides and not as rules:

  • Start with a hang-jaw, kick-in-the-ass, adrenalin-pumped, blow-it-up, speed-boosted, high-octane, take-breath-away, holly-cow-how-did-they-think-of-that action sequence.
  • Get all the background story, ground laying and introductions done in the first 20 pages.
  • Keep the story moving forward, no unnecessary tangents or parallel stories
  • Keep the hero a hero.
  • Likewise, keep the bad guy a bad guy.
  • No overt, unnecessary amounts of blood. In fact, no moving blood at all, that means no blood splattering on walls, or flying out of people's chest or flowing uncontrollably from someone's chest. Once again, think cartoon. Moving blood raises the rating and the lower the rating, the more we sell.
  • I hate plastic characters so even if they say keep the good guy good and the bad guy bad, you should still write with depth. make the characters real instead of plastic.
  • Have free reign with special effects producers can adapt them or replace them later.
  • Action does not mean a sacrifice of character.

That about covers it. I do not want all this to scare you, but you need to have it at the back of your mind as you write. If you find yourself faced with something that "feels right" but you think might make the script too expensive or breaks one of these guides: write it. You can discuss it with the producer discuss later. Remember everyone still wants the best script possible.