Indie Film: Tips on Writing a Low Budget Script
December 13, 2013
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Writing an indie film doesn't mean limiting yourself to a specific genre. Any story, from sci fi to comedy, superhero to family drama, can be made on a low budget. The trick is in how you tell the story. Here are a few tips to keep in mind before you start on your first draft.
Keep It Simple
Writing an indie-friendly script means limiting your special effects. Fantasy and action films are not off the table, but steer clear of CGI and stick to scenes that can be filmed in the real world. Rely on your creativity and find ways to be more inventive with your storytelling. Focus on finding new ways to tell a thrilling story, without relying on car chases and explosions to intrigue your audience. The result will be a smaller budget film and a more unique story.
You can also simplify your script. Keep the cast small and use only a few locations. Is it really necessary for your characters to be filmed as they walk from a restaurant, out to a sidewalk and then into a car? You might find that in addition to simplifying the shooting, minimizing the locations can actually strengthen the pacing of the plot.
Short and Sweet
When you pen a low-budget script, throw out the standard 120-page formula and scale your story down to a much more indie-friendly 90 to 100 pages. If you're following a typical three-act structure, simply shorten each act.
You definitely shouldn't sacrifice any important story elements just to shorten the screen time, but paring unnecessary details may actually improve your script. When writing each scene ask yourself the following: Does this move the plot forward? If not, you should probably do some editing.
Leave the Casting to the Agents
While it can be helpful to imagine which actors might be best for your characters as you are writing them, be flexible. More than one actor should be right for the part. You may want Ben Affleck, but he may not be available! Don't pre-cast your script.
That being said, do make your characters as interesting and unique as possible to attract big talent to a smaller budget. Compelling characters can make up for the limitations of a low-budget film and can make for memorable performances. Just be sure you avoid quirkiness for the sake of quirkiness. Your characters' unique traits should be relevant to the story.
Wrap It Up
When writing an indie film it's important to have closure. Don't rely on the possibility of a sequel or prequel to complete your story, because the chances of this happening are rare. You can certainly create characters that have potential for future stories, but make sure that your script has a solid conclusion anyway.
Watch and Learn
Write what you know, as they say. You can't truly understand the world of independent films unless you watch them. Check out a good selection of low budget films and really study them. If you're planning to write a script in a particular genre, watch some low budget examples and some big budget studio productions to compare the differences.
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