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Indie Filmmaking: Things to Consider When Writing a Low-budget Script


Coming up with a good script on a very small budget is a skill new independent filmmakers need to learn. They need to be trained how to make stories that are less dependent on the props, special effects, locations… stories that can stand alone without so much grandiose scenes and ultra lavish aesthetics. The worst thing that could happen is that your production would stop because you’re running out of dollars.

Here are some things that you need to think about and consider if you are planning to have a low-buget feature film:

Location should not be too expensive. When writing your script, think of possible ways you can cut-down on your expenses for the location. If your grandfather has a haunted-looking house on a hill, then you might like to think of stories that would make that the perfect location. Who knows you might actually produce a great story because of the house-then you can shoot there for free! Do not come up with concepts that include a mansion in Milan if you do not think that is feasible.

Trim down the number of locations. Every location costs you a lot of money. A 2-hour shoot in a small shack would cost you gas/transportation expenses, location rent, etc. Not only that, you’d be spending time setting up the lights, set design, wardrobe…everything. Remove the locations that will not push the story forward. Ask yourself: “Do they really need to be in this place so the story would move forward? What options are available?”

Eliminate/ limit crowd scenes. Crowd scenes require a big place (location problem), and a lot of people so you better be ready to spend a lot of money. Most big locations require big money and a lot of people means a lot of people to pay (and feed during the shoot). There are ways to push the story forward without actually showing the crowd scenes- it could be implied in the story, or it could be thru the dialogue. But if you are persistent, you might want to take advantage of some special events where there are lots of people gathered together- say, a town parade. But please try your best not to ruin the event or inconvenience the crowd. You will also risk getting caught by authorities if you have no permit so if you are not sure that you can pull this off without causing too much trouble, then you better be sure the scene is not so important in the film.

Reconsider the over-the-top special effects. Special effects are not cheap if you want them to appear professional-looking like the glossy ones made in Hollywood. There are millions of stories to tell. Maybe the special effects-loaded concept can wait until you have made your first feature and connected with some producers who’ll pay for everything.

Creativity does have its limits and when it comes to indie film making, most of the time the limit is the budget. It is the scriptwriter’s challenge to work around the limitations to create a compelling film. As a matter of fact, this lack of resources makes one more creative and innovative. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.  Good luck!

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