I posted two videos for this post, presenting ideas from two different kinds of movie professionals. The first delivers 10 tips for writing a short film script based on a budget of ‘zero’, or at least, very little. Mark Hertzler makes some very good points, the biggest one being the fact that, if you are the writer AND film-maker, then what you write is directly affected by your resources.
Basically, you try to make do with whatever you have at hand and really cut down on the expenses. It sounds a bit lame, but some of the best award-winning short movies were made with a seriously short budget, so the process is not to be scoffed at.
Interesting enough, although the second video is promoting a film writing course, it touches on the same points, namely, if your film script would be very costly for the producer, it won’t get made – period! Expensive casts of thousands, fantasy science fiction, weird costumes and exotic locations are out.
I like the look of the course he proposes, but seriously – $47 a month for beginning writers is a bit too salty, at least in my view. By far the most interesting proposal I’ve seen for help with screenwriting comes form a script writer called James Lamberg and the course is called ‘Movie In A Month’.
He’s the guy you’ve never heard of but is responsible for over 30 commercially successful movie scripts, and his testimonials are phenomenal. He’s also got he best guarantee on the net – write and sell a movie script within 12 months or your money back. ‘Nuff said.
On with the next reel – 10 Tips For Writing A No-Budget Short Movie.
Hello and welcome to the debut episode of the screenwriters show. I’m your host Mark Hertzler. Now seeing as this at the very first episode, let me tell you a little bit about the show. Like you probably are yourself, I’m an aspiring screenwriter and I’ve written dozens of screenplays from shorts, feature-length, TV and everything in between.
I’m also a film major at a CSU university. I’ve always been a fan of the film shows around YouTube and while some of these cover segments on screenwriting. There’s no one definitive channel for all your screenwriting needs and that is what I’m trying to set out to remedy.
We’ll be doing regular episodes with screenwriting tutorials like the one today, as well as vlogs and script reviews. Now that we got that out the way, let’s jump into the very first episode and it’s my 10 tips on ‘How to write a no budget short film script’.
Number one is working with what you got and whether that’s a location that you have access to that someone might not have access to or a prop or a special costume. You’re gonna want to take advantage of what you already have.
How do you write a short film script?
Somehow write it in your script, whether it’s for scene or you can even base your entire script around a location or property you hve access to. Not only is this a very good prompt and basis to start your screenplay but it’s also gonna add a lot of production value for zero cost to you. For example, I used to work on a movie theater that was allowed to film app so I worked that into four of my scripts.
Number two is find your budget. I would define a no budget film anywhere from zero to about a thousand dollars and you might think that kind of sounds like a lot, but the reality is that you’re at least gonna have to pay for food for every single person on set per day.
Knowing your budget is essential because if you have a little extra dough you can have a little more leeway and maybe write in a couple props that you wouldn’t normally write in. For a true zero budget film, if you have no budget at all, you’re not gonna want to write in anything extra at all. Everything needs to be something you already have access to. So what this will do is, it will set the parameters of what you can and cannot write.
Number three is write to your skills. Just like you might have access to a special location, you also might have a certain skill set that can aid in the production process.
For example, if your visual effects, by all means you should write that into your script, because that way you’re gonna add a lot of production value to the end product with zero costs to the production.
Number four is use screenwriting software. And this might seem like a no-brainer to some of you more experienced screenwriters out there, but for directors and other filmmakers who are kind of just dipping into the screenwriting process to make an end product I found that this is actually kind of a problem among beginning directors.
People don’t want the hassle of formatting a script because it’s a little bit alien to them and it seems like a lot of work but in reality there are free software’s you can get like Celtx which I’ll leave a link in the info box below. They can do all the work for you.
What this will do is, it will help you break down your script and see how long production is going to be, how many characters you have, how many scenes you have, etc, etc and it’ll just help you a lot in the production process as well as the writing process.
Number five is hook the viewer within 30 seconds or half a page or so. Now this might seem like something that’s really hard to do but all you need to do is set up some sort of conflict or mystery within the first half a page or so.
This can be something as simple as an argument between two characters, some sort of mystery item or situation or setting that the character is within, or can be just any old hook that’s gonna get your audience or readers interested within the first page.
Number six is keep it as short as literally possible. This is really important for the no-budget screenplay because every minute or page of screenplay is gonna run you more production costs, so keeping it 5 pages or under is gonna give you your best bet to keep that budget down closer to zero.
Number seven is, unless you’re writing comedy, try to keep dialogue to a minimum. I say this because action-oriented screenwriting is going to be a lot more effective and communicate something to your audience in a fraction amount of the time that dialogue would.
Let’s say for example, guy likes a girl and he talks to his friend for about a page of dialogue explaining why he likes this girl, how they met, what he knows about her. You can do all of this and a fraction about the time if you use an action oriented scene by having this guy maybe make extended eye contact with the girl.
He gets nervous around her when she walks by or comes talks to him. A lot of people struggle with this and think that you absolutely need dialogue in your screenplay in order for it to work good. Good practice for this – if you’re one of those people – is to write a 1 to 3 page screenplay with absolutely zero dialogue and that will help you practice storytelling techniques without dialogue and also prove to you that you can tell a story without dialogue.
Number eight is limit your characters and locations. You want as few characters as possible to keep the cast low and to keep that food money cost bound. And as little locations as you can have because that will also run you more gas and production days, etc.
For example, I just wrote a no budget or low budget film for a production company and I was given the rules that the cast has to be three to four characters max, and use locations around a certain part of a city. Combine characters when possible, cut locations when possible.
Number nine is avoid cliches, and by cliches I’m talking about themes like characters getting ready for their day at work or just their general day by getting breakfast and showering etc. And also certain genres like the zombie genre, the drug deal gone bad cliche, Tarantino kind of copy.
I say this because this is pretty much a go-to for any beginning filmmaker and people in the industry are really wary of these types of films. Now I’m not trying to bash anyone here with this because I can say from personal experience three out of five of my first screenplays were actually one of these cliches I just mentioned.
But while I’d say if you have to write one of these genres, just because you have a calling for it, either one, make sure it’s a fresh and original take on this or cliche. Write the screenplay, get it out of your system then do another screenplay and then film that second screenplay.
Number 10 is avoid sci-fi and fantasy. I say this because generally these two genres are gonna have a much larger budget than other genres would. It’d cost you a lot of props, costumes, set-piece and other sort of costs to your productions.
Alright, that’s a wrap on the debut episode of the Screenwriter Show. Remember to like and subscribe and keep updated for more videos coming soon. I also have some suggested watching of my favorite no budget short films – I’ll leave them in the info box below, as well as one of my scripts and a book on no budget film-making.
Writing Movie Scripts That Sell
Okay, so let’s say you’ve got an idea for a movie. Now in order for that idea to actually become a movie it has to go through two major stages. First you have to turn the idea into a screenplay and then second, we have to turn the screenplay into a film.
Now the writer manages that first stage but it’s the producer who manages the second stage. So as the writer you need to make sure you’re writing screenplays producers can actually use, otherwise you just end up writing for your bookshelf.
Now my name is Jeff Paolo and as an independent producer based in Sydney Australia I spent over 10 years searching for screenplays to produce. In that time my production company received over 15,000 submissions from across Australia and around the world and what I discovered was that 99% of them were literally unusable.
And not just by me but by any production company. We’re talking about thousands of writers spending months or years working on screenplays producers can’t even use and producers around the world digging through mountains of submissions and coming up empty-handed.
That’s a lot of people spending a lot of time getting nowhere. So to try to solve this problem we decided to bridge the gap. What if there was a clear path from the idea in your head all the way through the entire process? A complete and comprehensive, step-by-step system for turning any idea into a compelling original screenplay producers could actually use and then get that screenplay into the producers hands not.
Just another screenwriting course but a screenplay development system where each step builds organically into the next, because here’s the thing – it doesn’t matter if you’re writing a big Hollywood blockbuster or an Australian indie or a European arthouse film or even a micro budget movie – you’re going to shoot in your own backyard to go from idea to the screenplay.
The process is always the same. I’ll prove it to you. You’ve got an idea for a movie so what do we do now? How do we go from idea to the page? Well let’s walk through it. First you have to explore your ideas and focus them into a story, such as with an outline.
Then you have to apply that story to the page by writing a first draft. Then you have to strengthen that story by rewriting, to fix any holes and make sure it’s effective. And then finally, you have to tweak the words on the page to engage the reader and pull them through your story, so that when someone picks up your screenplay they see your idea as a movie experience.
Well guess what? It doesn’t matter where you are, or what you want to write, or what level you’re at. Every writer must go through these four phases. That’s how we get from idea to the screenplay. The only problem is that that doesn’t actually guarantee a screenplay producers could really use.
Because screenwriting isn’t just about the writing. You also have to connect with that producer who’s going to turn your screenplay into a film and the only way that’s going to happen is if you’re aligned with them. If your idea your screenplay is something they want to make, and something they can make, so before you even start this process you need to understand what producers actually need in a screenplay and why they need these things.
So that you’re set up to create screenplays any producer could actually use and then once you’re finished with the process you need to be able to use notes and feedback to reshape your script, if necessary, to align with the exact needs of any specific producer.
Because that’s when you’ll have a production ready screenplay producers can actually use but ultimately even that is destined for your bookshelf unless you complete the process and connect with the producer who’s perfect for your project.
By capturing their attention, drawing in and making the deal because that’s the payoff of the writers stage of this complete process. You know ultimately there’s no one right way to tell a story. There’s no single formula that’s going to work for every idea in every situation.
Each writer and every project are intrinsically unique but if you think about it, the process is always the same and that’s why to bridge that gap between writer and producer we turn the process into a system. We called it Fast Screenplay.
What we did basically was reverse-engineer the complete screenwriting process from the producers perspective, so that each step guides you directly to the sale. We took everything you need to know every skill you need to master and every action you need to take and we carefully mapped it out into a clear path.
All in all it’s pretty simple. Everyday you simply log on to the website from anywhere in the world and get the next step. As you complete each step, you make your way through the process. Through every phase, every movement and every detail.
If you want you can interact with other writers from around the world, or do your own thing in your own space, in your own time – it’s entirely up to you. Because you know, what as long as movies are made producers, will need fresh original screenplays.
Right now technology is opening up unprecedented opportunities for writers and filmmakers around the world, but the one thing technology can’t do is, it can’t put your idea on the page. Only you can do that take action daily. Do one step at a time and keep moving forward through the complete process. Join Fast Screenplay today and we’ll make sure you do. Thank you.