Here is a list of points to consider when writing a low-budget script. This is definitely not all of them and I’ll try to hit more points over time.
They are some of the things I’ve learned over the years, not necessarily what I’ve put into play up to this point.
Write the script around the best and fewest possible locations that you have available in your immediate area.
You can’t do like hollywood and just build a 3 story battleship, so don’t write one in unless it is just a few locations that you can build or mock up. Also, for the sound man’s sake, consider the audio levels in the environment. You want to have complete control over any sound (heaters, air conditioning, rowdy neighbors, traffic). You won’t want to have too many night outdoor shots unless you plan to do a lot of dialog looping in post. You will want to consider electrical issues for the lighting of your environment. If there are not enough outlets and breakers in the area you plan to light, it won’t work. If you can’t control these things don’t write this location into the script.
Make sure your characters have depth
Do the background work on each actors part and have it conveyed in the story. If the players in your script are not fleshed out they won’t jive with your audience and you will lose them quickly. With a small budget this may be one of the most important aspects of a script.
If you want your script to become a movie that sells, it will need to be a genre movie. Horror, suspense, sci-fi, comedies, or combinations of either, are among the most successful micro-budget flicks. Some would say that close personal stories of a small group of people are better, but realistically you need to give people something that they haven’t seen before. You only have ingenuity on your side. I’ve seen great dramas and love stories on small budgets, but they don’t fly off the shelves. I mean we love making movies but we don’t want to make them for free.
Don’t write in a bunch of gun fights, explosions and squibs.
They are all great, but most of the time they come off cheesy and there is a safety issue. You don’t want to hurt anyone in the process. Most low-budgeters just do the gun flare in post. This is something I will never do again. It takes forever to track, it looks like crap and there is nothing like the real thing. It is better to use blank guns and just enhance the flare in post or just don’t write it in the first place.
Don’t Write for the Green Screen
If you write something that will require a lot of green screen to portray, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Try to create something that can be done out of the box with real life characters and locations. You can plan to do a little digital effect work in post to enhance it , but I wouldn’t get carried away. Otherwise, your editor or you in many cases
will be sitting in front of your editing suite 3 times longer than it took you to shoot the movie in the first place.
Rewrite it until it is done
It’s a lot easier to write and plan the feasibility of a movie than it is to fix it in the middle of shooting. You don’t want to discover too late that it is too complicated for your director to keep straight in his head or even worse way below their capabilities. If everyone working on the movie thinks that it is intellectually below them, they will make it a short production. Some may even quit in the middle and force a dramatic rewrite.
One other major mistakes in movie scripts, especially if you are not directing it, is to write in camera directions (pan, zoom, fade in etc.). I’ll get more into that in a later post. Just remember you are only writing the script for now. When it is time for whoever to put on the directors hat, that will be the proper time to make those decisions.
These are problems that we have had in the learning experiences of our shooting. For some reason I don’t truly learn a lesson until it hits me in the face and when it hits you can usually trace the problem back to the writing. Just remember it’s always the screenwriters fault, so tread lightly.
About the Author:
Founder of Black Meadow Production and writer of Independent Filmmaking