there is nothing more important than having a great script. Oscar award winning actors, the most expensive camera equipment and posh locations don’t make a movie. Let’s be honest here. If you are reading a blog about technology in film making you probably don’t have a lot of money. It used to be that a small budget film started at $5 million dollars. That was the lowest budget a film could be made properly. I doubt you could still do it at that amount even with digital equipment. The problem is inflation.
What I want to do it look at some ideas that you can keep in mind while writing a script so it can work on a small budget.
Here is a list of things you can’t do.
1 – no children (minors can only legally work a very limited number of hours. they need nannies, teachers, guardians and add expenses. They also take longer.
2 – animals. this includes your well trained dog. No snakes or foxes or anything like that. Either it will take a lot longer than you expect, someone will get hurt, or it won’t work
3 – FX yeah this includes fancy makeup. Makeup is a time drain. It makes days take longer. Longer days require overtime. Overtime requires feeding the cast and crew extra meals.
4 – fancy locations – on micro budget films the biggest cost drivers are locations. Even a cafe has expenses. If your filming in there the electricity has to be turned on. A staff member has to get paid. Things get moved and broken. I know one train of those is have the entire movie take place in one location. Or if you can have two locations. These need to be locations that you can control. It’s nice to be able to leave lights and equipment setup for the next day. It’s also nice to film in a location where the cops don’t show up. Locations with angry neighbors is a common issue. Parking is one thing that pisses neighbors off first. Then trash and noise. I would even propose write the script in a location that can be filmed in one day. So you film and never have to go back. The problem is reshoots. You almost always need to go back. And you won’t be welcome so you will have to beg. Another concept I love is the 8 location story. The movie broken into 8 mini movies each at a different location. You could film weekends. If you wanted to try a 16 day shoot. Each weekend at a new location. Out of all the film projects I have worked on the most watchable was a film we did on weekends. Another great thing about 8 mini movies is you could film the feature as 8 shorts. A 90 minute film would be 12 minute shorts. Filming 6 pages a day is doable Hollywood usually does about 4 pages a day.
5 Number of characters – its tough to find a lot of good actors when your a nobody. Even if you have money actors with names don’t want to get involved unless the film has a distribution deal before filming. If you are not paying actors it’s tough to get people to show up and commit to a lot of days for free or almost no pay. The fewer actors you have in the script the better your final film will be. If you had 3 actors in each mini movie that would require 24 actors. That’s two dozen people. Good luck finding that many people who can act and actually show up on time. Even the smallest of casts has a lead, a costar, love interest, and a bad guy. If you have a friend who is a great actor be sure to write a story for them. I would even ask them what kind of stores they like the best or think they are right to cast in. Then make them a producer on the project so they have more of a vested interest. Then cast their significant other in a part as well. If you are really lucky the lead and love interest will start dating and not fight or break up until after principle photography has ended.
6 – Period stories. Do not write a story that takes place in the 80’s or the past. In fact don’t write anything that takes place in the future. You don’t have the art department and crew to get sets right. You don’t have enough crew members to manage the props. It’s a time drain and an added expense an amateur film maker doesn’t need.
7 – extras. Don’t write scenes that require a bunch of extras. Even if you pay $100 a day it’s going to be tough to get enough extras to show up unless you cast Tom Cruise or some other famous actor. It’s a waste of money. A busy Friday night bar scene is going to need how many extras to look real? 20-30-40-100? The bar scene better take place Sunday night when the bar would be dead. In fact don’t write a scene in a bar. It costs too much to rent the location and they usually have noisy equipment. Oven fans and refrigerators that are hard wired and don’t turn off. You won’t get clean audio even if you film after hours.
8 – chase or car scenes. In order to film a car scene safely you need to hire an off duty cop. Usually they want you to hire two of them. You need to put the vehicle on a trailer and tow the car with the actors. You need permits from the city to use their streets. If your going to do a car scene, it’s probably going to need to be green screened. At least if you film on a sound stage you can get clear audio.
9 – out door scenes especially at night. When you film outside at night you need a lot of light. When you film outside there isn’t always electric power. There are birds and planes and a lot of other things that create noise and ruin scenes.
10 – Guns
technically this falls under FX. safety, permits, cost