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The Micro-Budget Screenplay: Preparation
Feb 4th, 2017 by paul peditto

Chat Poster V2

My new Script Magazine article is up. If you’re writing a micro-budget screenplay, maybe check this one out. It details some pitfalls along the path of my making CHAT (photo above) and gives some insight on the earliest formats your script can take in the outlining stage.

Here’s a piece of it:

“Glance at the Go Into The Story Spec Script List for 2015 and you’ll see 55 specs sold last year. Then add up the screenplays registered with the Writer’s Guild that year– shall we say, conservatively, 50,000? About 1,000 to 1, though I’ve seen the odds– especially for those without an agent or manager– at much worse. Then look at the WGA 2016 Annual Report to see that for all the tens upon tens of thousands of folks writing screenplays last year, exactly 1,799 got paid. For every spec screenplay writer you see on Deadline.com breaking through with a magical story of success, you could point to a thousand dreams that didn’t pan out.

Jez Peditto, so you’re saying I should stop dreaming of being a screenwriter? I should stop writing… because the odds are against it?

Script EXTRA: 11 Ways to Develop Your Screenwriting Hustle

Not at all. I’m talking today about the need for re-calibration. A mental rearrangement of priorities. From Old School to New. The need to know yourself…and your project.

When you write a screenplay and ignore budgetary considerations, you guarantee needing other people’s money.

Needing other people’s money cedes power. It guarantees the need of L.A. and the necessity of the L.A. mechanism. It’s why you should consider writing with micro-budget in mind. When you write for cost you increase your odds of seeing the script happen. Because you control the mechanism.

The real question should be: How do I write a movie for the absolute lowest price possible without compromising the vision of my film?”

Read the rest of the article here!

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Writing The Micro-Budget Screenplay: Post & Marketing
Jan 10th, 2017 by paul peditto

seed and spark

It’s a movie, now what?

In Part 4 in our Micro-Budget series we’ll assume the movie is shot and you’re in Post-Production or the marketing phase.

We’ve been using the movie I wrote/produced, Chat, as a case-study. Before we get to Sales Agents and Distributors, some life lessons for the writer as your flick hits the edit room. Unless you directed or financed it, it’s doubtful you’ll be in the edit room making final decisions. Too many cooks in the kitchen. Your writer-head needs to be in the right place to surrender control. The whole purpose of Micro, you thought, was keeping control. So that if the movie fails at least it’s your movie that fails.

But let’s stay positive and say you did direct or produce it and will have at least some say on Final Cut. The only thing that matters at this point is what you got in the can. The script is still important, but much more to the point is the footage you got. For instance…

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I mentioned in the previous posts how our Director, Boris Wexler, got permission to shoot in the Board Of Trade offices where he worked. It looked nothing like the sleazy XXX-chat office I’d first imagined.

INT. SYD’S OFFICE- CONTINUOUS

Falcon timidly, stranger in a strange land, stands before SYD, 48, a toad. As Syd searches the messy office for paperwork. Falcon scans the room…

Because we shot at Boris’ Board of Trade offices, this scene was moved from Syd’s office to the Conference Room. More spectacular visuals than a simple office scene, really opened things up and gave us a new take on the seedy backrooms you’d expect from an adult chat cam operation.

EXT. FALCON’S APARTMENT- LATER
Falcon emerges, holding a large wreath, staring up at the sun. He places powerful protective sunglasses over the contacts, stepping into light.

EXT. STREET- CONTINUOUS
Alien landscape, cars and people move very fast, dizzying. A crying child, a jackhammer at a construction site, the screaming of an EMT van passing with cherry lights blazing. All these exaggerated, hypersensitive for Falcon, who walks with wreath toward…

EXT. CEMETERY- LATER
Falcon bends, laying the wreath again a newly dug stone. He stands back to observe the wreath, the stone, the empty cemetery.

EXT. CHAT OFFICE BUILDING- LATER
Falcon looks up at a piece of paper with scrawled writing, then at a nondescript commercial building. He moves inside.

All were filmed as written. Nothing wrong with these scenes in and of themselves, but in front of a test audience we learned that the pacing of the movie’s open was slow. Top and bottom trims were made to each of these and some were outright cut. In the edit room it’s not about what was in the script any more. It’s about maximizing what you SHOT.

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INT. CHAT OFFICE HALLWAY- CONTINUOUS

Falcon walks the fluorescent corridor. Still wearing protective sunglasses, he drifts past door after door. Partial glimpses inside… CHAT MODELS in various states of undress, typing on keyboards or chatting into computer cameras, office cubicles made to look like bedrooms. This is an Adult Chat studio complex and business is very good indeed. Falcon’s sunglasses hide his eyes, but the fluorescence still brings pain.

We shifted this scene to after he screens the video of his daughter doing sex chat for the first time, weeping upon seeing her.

Thus, we accomplished (I hope!) the four keys to the first 5 pages: 1-PROTAGONIST established 2-TONE established 3-WORLD established 4-CONFLICT established.

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  • MARKETING & DISTRIBUTION (ONE STEP BACK, ONE FORWARD…)

Lotta micros (like ours) trying make it into A-level film fests with no name actors and limited marketing funds. Sundance had over 12,000 submissions last year– an all-time record. Might be the ex-craps dealer in me but the mathematics of making Sundance ain’t great.

But so what? You’ve got options like never before to get your film out there, maybe even make enough $$$ back to make your next film, and the next, and get noticed. That’s how Ryan Coogler goes from low-budget Fruitvale Station to Creed.

Your marketing approach should be personal and right for you. You might not want to give up control to a distribution company. You might choose to 4-wall it (where you pay to screen it, fill the house via social media, and take a piece of the door) in a handful of cities hoping to draw critical buzz. Maybe you’ll choose to keep 100% control, promote it yourself and put it out on a place like Seed & Spark. Maybe you’ll try to get into major film festival or go the B and C-level or not bother with the film fest circuit at all. Be a student of how small-budget movies emerge from the pack. Be original — like never-seen-before original– like Tangerine, a movie about transvestite prostitutes shot on an iPhone for low, low money.

tangerine

So what happened with Chat? Anything to learn from that? I believe it happened in this order…

*Showcase Entertainment signed on in late summer 2014 as Sales Agent. Yes!

*Sundance rejection. Boo!

*10 other A-level Fest rejections in 2015. Boo! But…

*Summer 2015 Gravitas Ventures agrees to distribute Chat! North American Cable and VOD. (75%-AVOD, SVOD, TVOD revenue retained indicates we’ll at least be able to start paying investors back with an outside shot of fully paying them back. The gold standard: Breaking even.) Yay!

*Armed with Gravitas deal Showcase actively sells this movie at AFM in New York, foreign markets, and DVD distributors. Nice! But…

*Trailer needs reworking—cost is 5,000$, right off the top. Boo!

*First check back in 2016 from all digital platforms indicates the obvious: Don’t quit your day job, Peditto. Rrrr….

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So what’s all this amount to for you? How should you handle distribution? It’s a personal choice, as I mentioned. It’s nice my movie is selling on a dozen online platforms. Without stars and Sundance-less, we had no illusions about making it into theaters for a theatrical run, though we did get two nights at Siskel Center-Chicago this Spring…

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The key is realistic expectations in a crowded marketplace. Lotta product out there. The decisions are many: Film fest submission or no? Name actor in a cameo to help with sales later or no? Self-distribution or give away a piece and hook on with a company like Gravitas Ventures? How much will you get up front to give away pieces of domestic, foreign and digital rights? Will you make anything without major festival cache? Imaging you’re making this micro-budget movie to make big $$$ is surely a prescription for Zoloft. Better to keep it realistic.

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  • “YOU DON’T NEED PERMISSION FOR ANYTHING”- JOHN LYDON

Read Spike Lee’s journal of the making of She’s Got To Have It. He struggled to make rent, hit his mother up for money, annoyed and pissed his friends off with money requests, anything to get his first movie made.

David Lynch took years to make the sub $30,000 Eraserhead. He had a paper route and grabbed unused sound and film stock from dumpsters.

Cassavetes made other people’s movies to get the cash to make his own low-budget films.

Orson Wells made wine commercials.

Robert Rodriguez sold himself for medical experiments.

Pillars and icons of filmmaking, all. They didn’t have the technological advantages you do today. But they made it happen.

paramount

Hollywood. Home of the true 1%.

Behind this gated community are the impeccable hedge rows, million-dollar mansions, and Lamborghini excess. The Country Club of which you are most definitely not a member. You cannot apply to this club. The gatekeepers know you are not of their cloth.

They can smell you, folks. You are the Unwashed. They can smell your wanting, your desperation to join them on the inside. They have set up impenetrable motes and ramparts to stop you.

How will you scale these walls?

Write and MAKE a quality micro-budget movie.

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The church of D.I.Y. is upon us. The church of Micro-Budget, and all the digital miracles therein. In 1996, Jane Doe cost $225,000 to make in 18 days on Super 16 film.

In 2014 Chat cost $44,000 to shoot in 18 days with a Canon 5D Mark III.

This is what micro-budget has done. Enabled a freedom never before allowed. The freedom to pull all these projects out of the realm of needing millions from other people, needing bankable stars, needing to make artistic compromises, and moving it… into the realm of possibility.

Remember those 12,000+ submissions to Sundance last year? Record number. The D.I.Y. “revolution” is tied into digital technologies and easy access to those technologies. Meaning the availability of great cameras, advanced software programs available for home use.

Then add social media, crowdfunding, and digital distribution options through VOD(Video-On-Demand) platforms. Lower production budgets freeing movie makers from traditional barriers of entry.

This is a very good time to be making movies, and a very good time to be writing them.

Micro-Budget movies are not a panacea for world hunger. This is a world filled with no-name actors, microscopic production budget limitations, drama upon drama and the stress that comes from never having enough money when you make the movie.

But, the point is…. you’re making the movie!

It all starts with the script.

For so many years it was just a dream—getting your movie made.

You’ve talked and talked about it. With Digital technology, it’s there to be had. There’s no better time to write a micro-budget screenplay.

So let’s go…write the damn thing!

Indie Screenwriting: What I Learned From Roger Corman….
Nov 15th, 2014 by paul peditto

roger-corman-interview-6

One of the best screenwriting teachers around is William C. Martell. You should check his site out. Quite some time he penned this article about writing for Indies on a budget. It’s an ode to Roger Corman and has some timeless lessons that can be applied to writing for digital D.I.Y. movies today.

Now, to show the love and care I have for you Good Reader, and all Script Gods readers, I am resurrecting this article, and presenting it here. It has nothing to do with the fact that it’s November in the year of our Lord 2014 and I am feeling a bit shut in today.

Therefore, without further ado…

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  • CORMAN: MR. INDIE

I think there are three good reasons why any look at writing Indie films needs to include the only film producer in the world who has never lost money on a single film… and made more films than most studios.

Let’s start with “Piranha”, or that “Star Wars” rip-off “Battle Beyond The Stars”, or the T&A gangster movie “Lady In Red”. All three were written by John Sayles, the king of Indie film makers. “Piranha” was his first produced script… Sayles learned from Corman how to write films that could be shot on a limited budget, and took that knowledge (and his script earnings) to the art house world with “Return Of The Secaucus Seven” in 1980. Sayles wasn’t the only one who started with Corman: Francis Ford Coppola, Patrick Shane Duncan, Martin Scorsese, Terence Malick, Carl Franklin, Jonathan Kaplan, and hundreds of others began their careers with the King of the Bs.

Second: Corman is an actual Indie producer. He’s not affiliated with any studios, he makes whatever he wants to make, his films are privately financed. He makes Indie genre movies…

  • IT’S THE BUDGET

But even if you do have a great Indie script and want to direct and produce your own film, there’s a lot that you can learn from Roger Corman. The first rule of Indie films: There’s never enough money and there’s never enough time. Studios can solve problems by throwing money at them, but Indies have to use ingenuity, imagination, and pre-planning. Indie films are made by design, and the set is the last place to discover that your script is too expensive to film on your budget. The key is to DESIGN a script that is both easy and inexpensive to shoot.

Time is money. Even on a credit card film where the cast and crew are friends you’ve talked into working for free, there’s a limit to how long they’ll donate their time. These people don’t want to spend their entire lives working on your dream, they have dreams of their own!

So here are over a dozen techniques for writing a film that can be made on an Indie’s limited budget. I learned all of these things the same way John Sayles did, from writing genre movies for low budget producers like Roger Corman.

-Piranha-[Roger-Corman's-Cult-Classics]

  • CONCEPT

Every new location means a crew move. The producer has to pay the crew to pack all of the equipment into the truck, drive to the new location, and unpack the truck. That is wasted money. So the fewer crew moves in your script the better.

Say you wanted to do a movie about a pair of Lesbians who share a drive cross country, begin hating each other, but end up falling in love: “When Harriet Met Sally”. That’s hard to do on a limited budget because it’s a “traveling story”, with lots of different locations and lots of characters at each location.

So, let’s change it to a more budget friendly concept: A pair of Lesbians become reluctant room mates, begin hating each other, but end up falling in love. “The All Gyrrl Odd Couple”. Easy to do on a limited budget. There is a central location where most of the story takes place (the apartment). The focus is on the two lead characters (which actually improves the story) and secondary characters either come to visit, or are people they encounter in the corner coffee/poetry shop. Because half of your script shoots at the central location, you can “walk away” at the end of the day – no time or money wasted on crew moves.

  • THE CENTRAL LOCATION

If you’re filming about half of your film at the central location, you need to find a place where drama and conflict can take place. “Reservoir Dogs” takes place in the warehouse a bunch of armed robbers are going to meet in to divide their loot. My “Steel Sharks” movie for HBO had two central locations: The sub control room where Gary Busey guided the submarine and the Aircraft Carrier control room where Billy Dee Williams ran the whole operation. We cut between these two locations and the half dozen others so that every couple minutes we were someplace new – no boring backgrounds. Take care to find a location where different types of people will bump into each other – that leads to conflict.

Read the rest of this entry »

Micro-Budget Screenwriting- Top 10 List
Oct 29th, 2014 by paul peditto

 

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“The ideal low-budget movie is set in the present, with few sets, lots of interiors, only a couple speaking actors (none of them known), no major optional effects, no horses to feed. It’s no wonder so many beginning movie-makers set a bunch of not-yet-in-the-Guild teenagers loose in an old house and have some guy in a hockey mask go around and skewer them.”

–John Sayles, Thinking in Pictures

Doing research for a book proposal, I came across these stats:

• Amazon search-keywords: Hollywood Screenwriting: Yields 20 pages, 754 books.
• Amazon search-keywords: Low Budget Filmmaking: Yields 41 pages, 549 books.

There are 754 books available today to help screenwriters in their quest to “make it” in Hollywood. Also, 549 “how-to-go-low-budget” books show the A-to-Z method of making movies for no money. But… what about the space between these?

• Amazon search-keywords: Micro-Budget Screenwriting: Yields 1 book.

Mega-audience for screenwriting books. Mega-audience for “how-to” low-budget filmmaking books. But where’s the book targeted specifically for screenwriters who want to write and make low-budget movies? A book for the 50,000+ screenwriters who registered scripts with the Writer’s Guild last year, who are desperate to find alternate strategies for making their films? Or who, through advances in digital camera technologies and software, no longer have to wait for Hollywood’s approval? Where’s the book for writers who are moving not toward Hollywood, but away from it?

Annie capture 1

You’d think there would be more coverage here. There isn’t… for a reason. When you go online and search micro-budget screenwriting, soooooo much of the advice covers the same 5 or 10 bullet points. Hell, I’ve contributed a list like that myself.

How do we write a movie for the absolute lowest price possible without compromising the vision of the film?

Let’s expand out on some of those bullet-points with today’s Top 10 list… cue music, Paul…. how to write a micro-budget screenplay:

  • MICRO-BUDGET= WHAT YOU CAN PULL FROM YOUR POCKET

There’s no definition for what micro-budget is. Elusive. The thousand bucks I pull out of my pocket might equal the hundred thousand bucks an angel financier pulls from theirs. If I’m reaching for a definition, micro-budget is whatever funding you can pull from your pocket, or the pockets of your family, or the pockets of every friend you ever had when you mail the personal email begging for cash during your 30-day Kickstarter campaign. Micro-budget is money you directly control, without strings. The “unlimited-budget-write-your-dream-first-draft” has no place here. You raised, or can raise, $25,000–you sure as shit better write the movie with that figure in mind.

  • CONCEPT= GENRE + SIMPLICITY + VISION

Pre-dating Robert Rodriquez for the grand-daddy of Micro, for me, is Roger Corman. Look at his IMDB page: 408 Producer credits! Do you know of anyone who has more? His 56 Directing credits date back to 1955. And while Attack Of The Crab Monsters or Teenage Cave Man might not make AFI’s Top 100 movies of all-time, very few men can claim to have a “School” created from their aesthetic. Corman mentored and gave a start to many young film directors such as Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich.[He helped launch the careers of actors Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson.

His low-budget B-movies made sure the stories reached the largest number of people by telling it in a recognizable genre. Certain genres always work for Micro– horror, comedy, thriller, drama. Corman went one-step further, adding campy comedy to his horror, or thriller aspects to a drama. These were “mash-ups” of genre done with simplicity and for a price. After you make a hundred of these you would not only know how to bring these in for a price, but for what appeals to a younger audience. Remember, Corman’s “Piranha” was called the “Best film ever made about the Viet Nam War” by Variety. ” The man had the ability to infuse genre pieces with a vision specific enough to father the “Corman School”, predating digital D.I.Y. by 40+ years.

On genres, it’s probably safe to say you should stay away from period-pieces or post-Apocalyptic action. Anyone who’s seen Primer knows Sci-Fi can be done cheap. Robert Rodriguez made El Mariachi for the infamous $7,000 bucks so Action is also on the list. Look at Fede Alvarez, who wrote and directed the remake of Evil Dead. How did a young filmmaker from Uruguay get that gig? He made a short film (Panic Attack!) that looked like it was made for a million dollars… for $300! Based on that short film he got noticed and representation in Hollywood. That is how you play the game! Show the Hollywood gatekeepers you can make a high-quality commercial product dirt cheap.

  • WRITE WHAT YOU HAVE= THE ROBERT RODRIGUEZ SCHOOL

Dude literally wrote the book on the subject. Predating the digital era, his advice of using what you have is more relevant today than ever. Locations, props, wardrobe– the goal is to pay for nothing. While unlikely you can get away with that goal for some expenses should try to never pay for a location. Take the resources you can bring and make an accounting. Dad owns a bowling alley? Set the movie in a bowling alley. Mom runs the local Salvation Army store? Guess the wardrobe and props will be coming from the Salvation Army. Friend owes you a favor who has a truck that can be shot or used for crew transport? Make the call! Beg, borrow, and steal. And this is only to start… time to flush the ego.

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  • CENTRAL LOCATION= FEWER COMPANY MOVES

For our micro-budget film Chat the director Boris Wexler managed to nail down the Board of Trade offices he worked at to be our cybersex chat offices. Amusing juxtaposition, thinking of what was happening in those conference rooms from Monday through Friday, and then what nastiness we were up to from Friday night until Monday 4 a.m. when we finally stopped shooting our marathon weekends. This location was worth at least $10,000 dollars (if we would have had to rent a similar space) and added tremendous production value. We shot here 10 of the 18 production and a pick up day.

You as writer need to understand the basics of film production. Sure, you can read twenty books on the subject, but wouldn’t it be better to get down on a film set or two? To understand that every new location you write= a crew move= $$$. The producer has to pay the crew to pack equipment into company trucks and vans, drive to the new location, and unpack. You want to limit the necessity of company moves.

Read the rest of this entry »

(OPM) Other People’s Money & The Need Therein
Oct 22nd, 2014 by paul peditto

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My good friend Colin Costello, a former Chicagoan who moved to Los Angeles, recently wrote an article about the how a writer needs to be in Los Angeles to be a professional. I asked Colin to define his terms—if, by professional, he means in the strictest sense someone getting paid to practice the art of screenwriting—then sure, L.A. is where the money and infrastructure is. The six TV shows shooting in Chicago right now employ reams of local actors and crew, but the production $$$ making this happen isn’t homegrown. It ain’t coming from Oz, either. These are L.A.-based production companies cashing in on Chicago’s great production resources, locations, and that soft money 30% tax incentive.

Sure, the established Writer’s Guild writer going the traditional route of agencies, pitching, and assignment work would have to be in Los Angeles. But if he thinks that the only way to make it, then I’m willing to debate him any day of the week.

You do not have to be in Los Angeles to make your movie.

hollywood_sign_kWhich might lead to the broader question of what “making it” even means.

I never used to write with budget in mind. I had stuff to say, I went about saying it. I knew I was a writer because I was going to write, with or without a payoff. Back in those days it was poetry and plays. The only thing complicated was attempting to pay the bills as a horse-and-carriage driver, a vibrating pillow salesman or even working the graveyard shift at the porno bookstore (Screenwriter Tip: If you take a gig at a porno bookstore to try to write your play in peace, don’t pick the graveyard shift. That’s the busiest shift by far. You’ll want to go morning shift. Write that down.)

Writing plays for non-equity Chicago theater companies, you don’t think about stupid shit like niche or budget or audience. You’ve got the paper-pirate Ar-tist hat on sideways and none of that other bullshit matters.

In a perfect world writers would write the scripts they need to write. Writing with that passion would result in a better script, maybe even a great script. This would garner a great placing at Inktip or Black List and attract the A-List producers who comb online websites for the next big thing. Or maybe it makes semifinals at Nicholl Fellowship and bags you a manager. The script would then be sent on to Jeremy Renner’s production company where you would sign a 6-figure deal, watch major talent attached and the movie make 50 million. You would then be part of the Writer’s Guild, take meetings, pitch and do assignment work.

In a perfect world…

filmspeed-74785-1You’ll tell me there are dozens of writers who have been signed off Black List and writers XY and Z who have gone on to make AB and C from such humble spec roots. It’s likely the craps dealer in me that wants to point out that for every writer you can name with a magical spec script story, I could certainly point to a thousand whose dreams did work out quite as well. That Bukowski line about the American Dream, and how the mythology tells us we can all be big-ass winners, while ignoring LOTS of folks in the gutter who never got a taste of the dream.

Great Peditto, so you’re saying stop dreaming? Don’t let rip? Don’t pour out your original and dazzling and passionate ideas?

Nope. I’m saying know thyself…and your project.

By ignoring budget and shooting for the stars you pretty much guarantee needing other people’s money. This guarantees the need of L.A. and the entire L.A. mechanism.

Sure, you might bag a producer off Black List who will option the script and ask you for budgetary changes. It happens.

It also doesn’t happen. Everybody writes the best story they can write. Everybody gives it their all. Everyone dreams of that glittering prize of a writing future you’ve got in mind.

If you’re doing assignment work for an Indie producer or Studio writing within their budget is mandatory. Chances are you won’t have reached this stage without full conception of what your words cost. If they’re budgeted at 5 million and you hand over a 50 million dollar rewrite, they won’t be able to use it, and won’t be happy with you, at all.

Writing the spec script is different. If you feel you need 100 million to tell the tale, go ahead and write it. Just understand that the list of folks who can actually make your flick just got narrowed by the necessity of find 100+ million.

Needing other people’s money, by definition, cedes power to them. It’s why you should consider writing with budget in mind.

From here on in, I will.

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