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how to guide by Andrew Lowes | 2001

How To Scriptwrite Part 4 - Writing For Low Budget

Getting a feature script bought by a production company is not easy. They are only going to buy it if they think that they have a reasonable chance of being able to raise the budget necessary to produce the film. Unfortunately the funding structure in Britain means that raising production finance is by no means easy. Therefore the films that do get made mostly tend to be quite low-budget affairs. It’s all very well spending years lovingly crafting your blockbusting science-fiction epic but the sad reality is that it is unlikely ever to get produced in this country. To stand the best chance possible of your script being bought it will need several things. It will need to tell a good story, it will need good, strong characters and above all it will not cost a fortune to produce.

That is not to say that as you are writing you should be mentally adding up how much every element is going to cost to put on screen. Acting as a writer and accountant simultaneously is hardly going to be conducive to the creative process. Probably the best idea is to do a first draft and then scrutinise the script for any elements that can be usefully jettisoned. First drafts are always full of dead wood.

Location, Location, Location

So what things are likely to push up the costs of a film? The first place to look is in the number of locations that you’ve used. Locations can be a logistical nightmare for filmmakers. To get into a location they almost always have to pay a fee to get access to them. Then they have to arrange to get all the cast, crew and equipment to and from the various places they may be shooting. Every shift of location means that the lights, sound gear and cameras have to be re-assembled which can take hours if the lighting set-up is particularly complicated. A lot of different locations mean a lot of extra money to be spent. Carefully check to make sure that every location is needed.

The type of location you set your film in also needs to be considered. Some places will be more expensive to gain permission to film in then others. Some will be almost impossible to gain access to. Supermarkets are a case in point. It is notoriously difficult to get filming permission from them. In the past some films have even been driven to have to re-create them using studio sets because they couldn’t find anybody willing to let them shoot in one. Building sets is also not cheap as they not only have to be constructed but dressed with props. Space has to be rented to build them in.

Locations, which carry an element of risk can be very expensive to film in, as extra insurance may have to be arranged.

Similarly a big cast will also push up costs enormously. Not only do they have to be fed but in many cases accommodated for somewhere. They will need to be costumed and made up. Transportation will need to be arranged to ferry them from hotel to the location. None of these things are cheap. So make sure that every character is necessary. Quite often a writer will over burden a script with too many characters. A lean cast not only makes sense from a financial point of view but as it gives each character more screen time they benefit from better character development too. In addition, an endless stream of different faces can confuse audiences. Films based on real events often create composite characters for some roles for precisely this reason.

Boom Bang-a-bang

Stunts are clearly not going to be cheap. Not only do they take time to set up and film but they have to be carried out under the supervision of trained professionals. If sequence calls for a car to be blown up then a car will have to be bought from a scrap yard and painted up to look like new. It will then have to be rigged to explode. Again, this all costs time and money.

Make sure that any stunt or effects sequences you incorporate are absolutely vital to the plot. Not only will this bring the budget down but it will make for a better film. Nothing looks worse then a poorly tacked on stunt sequence. For example in the BBC film ‘Face’, a scene involving a shoot out on a London street becomes ludicrous as Phillip Davis strides down the road blasting at a police car with a sawn-off shot gun. The police car then explodes in a huge fireball. Up until this moment the film had been fairly realistic but this set piece came straight out of a Hollywood action movie and just didn’t sit comfortably within the rest of the film.

It’s also tempting to believe that an effects sequence could be done cheaply using computer generated effects. Whilst it is true that cost of using CGI has fallen it can be far from cheap. If it is a film intended for cinema release then the costs involved can get quite pricey, depending on the complexity and number of sequences you envisage.

So far what I have talked about sounds like a tremendous creative barrier but that doesn’t need to be the case. It just requires a little more lateral thinking on behalf of the writer. Besides which you can always save the stunts, special effects and cast of thousands for when you sell that big budget blockbuster to Hollywood!

Screenwriting Part 5 - WRITING SHORT FILMS

Screenwriting Part 4 - WRITING FOR LOW BUDGET

Screenwriting Part 3 - LAYOUT


Screenwriting Part 1 - STRUCTURE

Film Insurance - Do you need it?

How to transfer tape and digital video to film

How to register a limited company for £31. A seven step guide.

How to make your short film eligable for the Academy Awards

An introduction to the role of Company Secretary

Company Secretary Guide - Part 2


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