“The first draft of anything is shit.”
Working down from my list, I opened my dramedy (I really hate that term but I’m going to keep using it) for the first time in almost a year. This was a pretty big surprise to me, I honestly didn’t think it had been that long, but there it was, the date next to my file read 2/21/2013. Yikes.
Far from being like a visit from a long lost friend with whom conversation continues to flow swift as the Snoqualmie River, it was more like going back to a high reunion and realizing you hate everyone there. I have never been to one of my reunions, so please no one take that personally. I need to do some serious pruning on this tumbleweed of a script.
First off, I had originally had no plans of making this a low-budget film. Most writers (not filmmakers, writers) don’t get overly bogged down in the budget of the spec they are writing. This is big mistake. I’ve met a ton of would-be screenwriters who tell me their movie can’t be made for less than 100 million. I can’t think of many studios who are going to throw that kind of money at a newbie writer’s spec. Sorry. Of course there are exceptions, but I’m not pinning my hopes and livelihood on being the exception. I recently made two great contacts who helped me make the decision to turn this script into a low budget piece. One is an independent filmmaker who read one of my other, high-budget scripts and liked it enough to ask to see something lower when I had it. Huzzah! The other is a brilliant writer/filmmaker and my fabulous writing partner (you know who you are and I won’t divulge you until I have your permission) who actually taught me what low-budget looks like in script form. So here are my tips and tricks which I will soon be utilizing on my script:
1) Location (not location location location)
The more locations your script has, the more expensive it is going to be to make. This doesn’t mean it has to all take place in one diner or one cabin or one airplane (though think of all the movies that do that and turn out just fine), but if you can limit your locations, you can lower the budget. Also think about culling exterior night scenes and public locations.
Normally it’s show don’t tell, but in the case of the low-budget, do a little more telling. I don’t mean you need to have eight pages of uninterrupted exposition, but avoid extending action sequences. Which brings us to:
Put away your SFX and stunts and save then for another film. This goes for period as well.
Pare down your cast of characters to the bare minimum. Every character needs a actor to portray them, and actors need to be paid. Most of the time. Some do it for the love of cinema. I’m kidding, they’ll want to be paid.
5) Write Something Awesome
Without all the wizz-bang of a high-budget, the script needs to be something really really amazing. Marketable is the key word here. High-concept is great, but what’s most important is fantastic characters, an interesting story and a plot that works. Put ’em together and whaddya got? Something you might actually be able to sell.
I know that I’m about to cut at least two main characters and five locations from my script today. Then tomorrow I can hopefully begin to streamline my plot. I usually don’t do things this way but this is a project I still like but know doesn’t work as it stands, so I’m excited to kill a few darlings. Then I’ll let it sit for a while and work on my high-concept. It’s good to mix it up sometimes. That’s how I write.