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…
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…
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.
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.
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 »