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With films from Marvel, Star Wars, and other big franchises dominating the box office these days, a lot of screenwriters are left wanting to write big budget films. You have to spend money to make money, right?

Well actually, a lot of the time it’s the budget that will stop a script getting produced. Making a film is a risk that requires an investment; the smaller the risk, the more likely it is that your script will get made.

If you can get the budget down to $5 million or less, you’ll have a lot more success selling your work. But how do you get a budget that low? A lot of the time it comes from the inherent design of the story.

Here are our tips…

  • Limit yourself to one location – preferably a simple, interior one. Transport costs between locations are no longer a factor, and filming should take less time without the need to repeatedly set up equipment. If it sounds like a challenge to write a single location movie, just remember that limiting yourself can really make you get creative. 12 ANGRY MEN, Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE, and LOCKE are just a few examples!
  • Have a small cast. Fewer actors means fewer people to pay and cater for; you can still tell a great story with only two or three characters as long as you’ve got a clever enough concept driving the drama. Get clever enough and you can even go smaller! Locke features only one character on screen for the entire film as he deals with a number of difficult phone calls.
  • Let dialogue drive the story. Action is an inherently expensive thing to shoot and there’s a lot of risk involved – but tension isn’t fuelled by things blowing up, a fact which is proved by all of the films mentioned above. Instead, it’s the conflict between the characters that provides the drama. Get that concept right and you can make a thriller without needing to shoot anyone!
  • Don’t show everything. If action is important to your script and can’t be completely cut, think about whether the audience actually needs to see it to understand the story. A great example of this is RESERVOIR DOGS, a film about a diamond heist gone wrong where we never see the heist itself, just the buildup and the aftermath!
  • Focus on the human drama. Big fans of science-fiction and fantasy may feel that the above suggestions leave them hamstrung, but by concentrating on the characters at the centre of the story, you can keep the scale small despite an intergalactic setting. MOON does this extremely effectively; it might be set on a lunar base, but it’s the main character’s personal crisis that matters most.

So if you’re looking for your big break in screenwriting, don’t forget to take all of these factors into consideration. Here at WriteMovies, we think about this kind of stuff when judging our screenwriting contests – and producers think about it a lot, too!

If you think you’ve got a good shot at winning one of our contests, the Fall 2019 Screenwriting Contest is currently open – as is our inaugural Horror Award 2019, which gives you free entry to the Fall Contest when you submit. Don’t forget to submit before the closing dates of October 13th and September 29th respectively!

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