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Screen & Stage
January, 2008


Filming On A Low Fat Diet
Tighten the belt a bit and compromise a lot
By  Ken Robinson

Writing scripts for low budget productions will stretch your ingenuity.
o, this isnít some weird writing diet or a get rich scheme. I wish I knew a good one.
In a previous article I mentioned local filmmakers as one way to get your screenplay made.
That option includes some compromise on the writer's part. Youíll have to alter the artistic mantra in your head that says, ďNobody can tell me how or what to write.Ē
If you have to stand by this mantra, fine. But then you shouldnít be writing screenplays, for two reasons. First, nobody but a soft-touch rich aunt will make your movie. Second, nobody reads screenplays for pleasure. Write short stories or poems if you canít make compromises when it comes to your screenplay.
If you want Hollywood to make your movie, it will have to be commercially viable before anybody will touch it. If you want an independent or local filmmaker, youíll have to write to fit budgetary restraints.
I hear, ďBut I write dramas so I donít have shoot 'em up or car chase special effects.Ē Yes, special effects eat up a budget quickly, but if you have a hundred different sets for your drama, it can be just as expensive.
Now Iím going to say a bad word if youíre still muttering the writers artistic mantra. Money. To get out of hobby mode and make money, you treat it like a business. Itís not called the film industry for nothing. And in any business there are customers. Treat people that can get your film made as customers. This means youíre in customer service now. And how to best serve customers in the low to no budget brackets?
Keep sets to a minimum. For a short script that would be one to three sets. In a feature itís not as simple as that. If you had the whole movie at the kitchen table with two people talking -- donít laugh, Iíve seen them -- it gets very tedious very quickly. With a brilliant story and enigmatic characters, one or two sets can be pulled off.

If most of the scenes are outside, try to keep it to the same type of terrain so the director and crew can stay based in the same general area for most of the scenes.

If itís inside, try to utilize as few different sites as possible. In a house, try to use as many scenes in different rooms in the house as you can. If you shoot in commercial or industrial buildings and the building type isnít pertinent to the story try to use something in the local area that you know about and would be available.
The best mix in a script would be three sets: one outside in a park, farm or ranch. Basically, it would be free to film there. Another one in a house. Youíre bound to find someone who has the right type in the cast and crew. And another in a building that the crew can get access to. There will be people who will let you use their place for free. You just have to ask.
So far our local filmmaking group has or will use a diner, a jewelers, two or three houses, a local city community theater, a doctors office, and a local western fort. A local independent theater let us premier our short for free, they usually charge about three hundred dollars, and they also let us meet there for free. We just had to ask.
As a writer I know how hard it is to ask, but thatís why you work with others who can help you in your effort to get your script on the big or small screen.
One thing about trying to write a script for a low budget production is that it will stretch your ingenuity as you try to fit local places to your story and your story to local places.

It's a good problem to have.IN Icon 

Ken Robinson grew up and lives in Oklahoma. After five years in Ireland, he's been writing screenplays for two and a half years. Four of his scripts have been optioned by Woofenil Works, two low-budget projects now in preproduction, as well as West Law. His email address is:

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Screen & Stage
IN This Issue
Novel To Screenplay: Adaptation 101
Learning The Lingo
Elevator Exposure
Who Profits?
On The (Back) Lot
Lingua Scriptus
Part II: The Script's Key Plot Points
Part I: The Script's Key Plot Points
Origin Of The Screenplay
Scriptspeak: Writing Dialogue

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