Screenwriting and the Budget-Conscious Script

When you’re writing your own script, one thing that must be considered is budget. You can have a fantastic original story, but if your script is not written with budget in mind, you’ll be putting your script in the category of a Studio option. Even if your script receives a “green light” a producer may impose budget-conscious rewrites on your script that differ considerably from your original vision.

A writer doesn’t necessarily need to be budget-conscious when writing their script unless their intent is to have their screenplay made into an indie film. However, the road to indie is a lot greener than knocking on studio doors. For most first-time screenwriters, a budget-conscious script is a good way to get your foot in the door. A writer looking to successfully move into filmmaking should focus on the independent film industry.  If you’re a writer that needs to see your vision to completion, you’ll have a much better chance of keeping your vision whole if you choose the indie film route. The digital revolution has spawned the budget-conscious feature film. Indie filmmakers with the smallest of budgets can now see their vision make it to the screen.

It all starts with a screenplay…

Don’t be afraid to venture out and share your talent. Find screenwriting groups in your area and consider collaboration. Discover how other screenwriters approach ultra-low or micro-budgeted filmmaking as a means to realize their artistic ambitions. Start with realistic goals in mind. List resources that you currently have access to, build a story around what you know. You may find other writers/filmmakers that would be willing to share in the financial burden of producing an indie film.

Compile a list of actors that you know and that are eager to work for screen credit. Most actors, especially those who are just starting out, are always on the lookout for roles, whether as lead or as an extra. If you have access to a locally based talent agent or manager, this can be a big help, but you may be looking at some nominal fees for referrals. The best advice is to limit your cast to five or six roles. Remember, the more actors involved in your production, the more likely you’ll incur expenses related to catering and transportation.

Avoid the flashback…

Many writers tend to use flashback in their story as it relates to a character’s recollection or dreams. Frames: (a story within a story) is also a technique that is commonly seen in scripts from beginning writers using this approach in scenes. Writers should avoid using flashbacks in their script as it will rely on backstory too heavily and may result in a bigger budget from an extraordinary set design and or wardrobe. A favorite flashback period is the 1950’s. Would you know where you would locate all of the wardrobe pieces for your flashback scene? The best approach for wardrobe in a low or no-budget indie film is to locate wardrobe items that you have access to that may increase your production value without increasing your budget. Think thrift stores, friends, and relatives when searching out unique wardrobe items. Avoid writing historical dramas that would require elaborate props and costumes.

Write your script with that fewest possible locations in mind. It helps to have access to many of the locations in your immediate area. Maximizing the least amount of locations, gives your actors and crew more time, freedom to create, and less time spent moving an entire crew from one location to the next.

You’ll want to have complete control over any sound (pedestrians, traffic, planes, air conditioning, cell phones, etc.). Huge consideration in the audio levels in each environment will save you from post production hell. It’s also a good idea to perform scouting for some alternate sites in the event that your first choice suddenly becomes unavailable. You’ll also want to consider electrical issues for the lighting of your environment for each scene. If you can’t control the light and sound for each environment don’t write that particular location into the script. If you find yourself stuck writing a particular scene, put yourself at that location and ask yourself “will this work with my budget?” One of your greatest resources would be to secure locations through family, friends and business owners eager to lend their space on your word. In exchange, they get to experience a little filmmaking magic.

Success is more than luck; its commitment, enthusiasm and simply making a good effort.
– David Spies

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3 Responses to Screenwriting and the Budget-Conscious Script

  1. Found your blog around. Interesting stuff. Is there any landmark post i should be aware of in case i have no time to read everything?

    • David Spies says:

      Thanks for checking out my blog. Each article is crafted with thoughts and ideas taken from my own experience in screenwriting, filmmaking, and include a bit of inspiration for everyone. Browse the articles and read the ones that stand out to you.

  2. adauphin04 says:

    I agree with most of what you had to say. The only thing is that if flashback is integral to the story (i.e., the protagonist lives/holds onto their past and the story is about them letting go) then backstories and flashbacks are necessary. (Mmmm, did I write a screenplay like that….?) LOL! Enjoying your screenwriting tips! :)

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