12 Tips For Writing With A Low-Budget

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I often receive emails from new filmmakers who have ran into an obstacle that cannot be moved. Often it is usually something to do with a particular location, such as a restaurant, but, they don’t have access to one. Perhaps they want to film in the night, but they don’t have access to lighting equipment. Quite often my reply is; change the script to something that you can do.

That isn’t to say that everyone should quash their ideas and settle for bronze. Everyone needs to dream, but sometimes when it comes to DIY filmmaking, it’s better to aim for solid ground than the stars. The same can be said for colour grading. A lot of new filmmakers will instantly try and achieve the summer blockbuster ‘Teal & Orange’ look with a T2i. The T2i has limited colour data and a shoddy codec, too much grading quickly ruins the image and ironically makes the footage look more amateurish than the standard captured image. The short film below was shot on a T2i, and it took a lot of convincing for me to believe it wasn’t shot on anything else. The filmmaker understood the limitations of the device and worked with them instead of trying to push them.

Understanding your limitations and work with them. I wish someone would have told me that before I started writing a project of mine which has always failed to stay afloat as I made it heavier than the team and I could carry.

There’s a handy pocketbook aptly titled; The Guerilla Film Makers Pocketbook, you can pick the book up on Amazon for next to nothing (nothing being $10). In the book, the author lists 12 tips that you should try to follow when writing with a limited budget.

  1. There’s an inevitability that your script will be a little dialogue heavy. Make it fascinating.
  2. Keep your characters to a minimum. See if you can cut out or merge multiple characters into one.
  3. Keep your locations to a minimum and preferably in places; you can get for free.
  4. Write something that can be shot during the day and outside. Less need for lighting setups. In the woods for instance.
  5. Set the story in the present so there is no need for period or futuristic costumes and props.
  6. Keep your script under ten pages; it’s less to film.
  7. Avoid visual effects, even if you are a whizz on after effects. It all adds time, and no-one is impressed by VFX, only great stories.
  8. Avoid explosions, car crashes, etc. unless you are prepared to ‘cut away’ instead of showing the action (which can work very well)
  9. Avoid snow, rain, mist and even exterior night if possible.
  10. Avoid using animals or children. If you have to use kids, get older ones to play younger.
  11. Audiences will watch anything no matter how cheap, as long as the story keeps them engaged.
  12. All these limitations must become your allies and inspiration.

Even though these tips will limit your options, it’s better than failing time after time because your project is too big. These tips are fantastic guidelines to follow and will help you write and finish a great short film.

About The Author

Lewis McGregor is an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and online content creator from Wales.

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  • Mike Kozlenko

    great article! one thing I was wondering though- if you don’t have the budget to get really decent actors, would you be better off trying to have as little dialogue as possible? I’ve noticed that most actors, especially on a no-budget level, unless they’re actually professional, struggle to deliver convincing dialogue. So maybe it would be better to have the characters talk as little as possible? what do you think?

  • RockyJohan

    “Keep your script under 10 pages, it’s less to film.”
    But what if i actually enjoy filming and want to film something thats longer then 10 minutes 😛

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