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Writing Your Script – For Small-Budget Indie Filmmakers

Guest Blogger: Glenn Berggoetz is the author of The Independent Filmmaker’s Guide: Make Your Feature Film for $2000 (Limelight Editions), which will be available wherever books are sold beginning October 2012.

This weekend, Glenn shot the small-budget film The Ghosts of Johnson Woods and blogged his way through the process, giving tips to aspiring filmmakers along the way. Visit his blog for more entries.

A couple years ago I had an aspiring filmmaker approach me and tell me he had an idea for a great script that he wanted to turn into his first independent film.  He was very excited, as he should have been.  He then proceeded to ask me if he should set aside a year to write his script.  My answer?  An emphatic “No!”

Indie filmmakers typically think they need to spend a year or more writing their script, and it’s easy to understand why they believe this since the script is the most important aspect of making a good film, because, let’s face it, if your script is lousy, even having Will Ferrell star in the film (rememberLand of the Lost?) won’t be able to save the project.

The fact is, however, that as the maker of small-budget independent films, you have to make more than one film every two or three years to give yourself a legitimate chance to turn your hobby into your livelihood.  So set aside a couple weeks to write your script, then get right into putting together your cast and crew (you can do your re-write during this time).  Next, take a couple weekends to shoot your film, then get your next script written and make your next film.

As a small-budget indie filmmaker, you’re not going to make a masterpiece that film buffs put in the same sentence with Citizen Kane and A Christmas Story.  But if you keep writing one script after another (and make films based off those scripts), you’re going to drastically improve your chances of making that one film that launches your career.

More Posts from Glenn:
Being Flexible and Staying Calm
Working Quickly
Try to Avoid This When Filming
Right on Schedule

The Independent Filmmaker’s Guide: Make Your Film for $2000

Award-winning independent filmmaker Glenn Berggoetz shares all he knows about making a marketable feature film for $2,000. While most books on independent filmmaking talk about how to make a film with a budget of anywhere from $50,000 to half a million dollars or more, the reality of the indie film world is that most filmmakers rarely have more than a few thousand dollars at their disposal for making their film. This book is written specifically for those filmmakers, and for filmmakers who would typically waste years trying to raise tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to make their film simply because they’re not aware that there’s another, more efficient way to go about it.

Biggest Mistakes Filmmakers Make

This is an excerpt of The Complete Guide to Writing, Producing, and Directing a Low-Budget Short Film by Gini Graham Scott (Limelight Editions)

The Biggest Mistakes Filmmakers Make

Some of the biggest mistakes filmmakers make have already been alluded to in previous chapters. Here I want to highlight the ones I have noticed the most.

1. Writing too much detail in the action or narrative section, or discussing what the characters are thinking or feeling. Don’t treat the script like a novel. Only describe what will go on the screen and keep these descriptions short—just enough to set the scene, since the director will set up the script based on the chosen location and the available décor and props. Only include the mini- mal descriptions of a character’s feelings to indicate how an actor might show those emotions on screen; don’t go into detail about the character’s internal processes.

2. Keep reading on Internet Video Magazine…

Creating a Mission Statement to Guide Your Filming

Guest Blogger: Gini Graham Scott, author of The Complete Guide to Writing, Producing, and Directing a Low-Budget Short Film (Limelight Editions)


Just as corporations create mission statements to guide their organizations to success and individuals create their own personal mission statements to guide them in making career and other choices in their life, so you might create a mission statement to guide you as you write, produce, or direct your own low-budget short-films.

To this end, ask yourself what types of films you want to make and why.  For example, when I went through this exercise, I determined that my mission in making low-budget short films through Changemakers Productions is to complete a high-quality film through a one-day shoot with a low-budget (typically about $100-300).  Accordingly, everything I do and everything done by the cast and crew I recruit is directed towards completing this mission.

For example, all the work I do to prepare for the shoot is designed to result in a successfully completed short film — which is the mission of the organization, and the actors and crew members I recruit to participate are similarly committed and willing to work as volunteers, because they can use these films for their own portfolios to get other work; and they also enjoy participating in these one-day shoots.

So what is your own mission statement.  Keep it short and to the point – typically it should be only about 5-10 words, expressing the essence of what you hope to do as a filmmaker.  Some key questions to ask in formulating your statement include these:

–       What types of films are you making?
–       Why are you making such films? What is your goal or your purpose?
–       Who is the main audience for your work?
–       What else is important to you about what you are doing?
–       What are the main benefits of your films to others?

Then, weave your answers into this single statement of your mission.  As necessary, cut down your statement, so it is no longer than 15-20 words, and preferably 7-10 words – something you might put into a short tag line of up to 72 characters.

Complete Guide to Writing, Producing, and Directing a Low-Budget Short Film
The Complete Guide to Writing, Producing, and Directing a Low-Budget Short Film
 is a comprehensive step-by-step overview of how to complete and promote a low-budget short film. It begins with how to write a short script, keeping in mind the goal of shooting it in one or at most two days.

It discusses how to finalize your script by getting feedback and then preparing it for production through doing a scene breakdown and possibly a storyboard. It describes how to direct the film yourself or work with a director, audition the actors and cast the short, plan for and participate in the shoot, and work with an editor to finish your film. Finally, it discusses how to get your film shown, including entering it in festivals, and concludes with an extensive list of resources and references, including books, articles, script and storyboard software, conferences, expos, festivals, and more. Available for purchase here.

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