Write A Indie Movie Script That Can Get Produced

Published: 30th November 2009
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I realized I didn't want to sit around and wait on a call from Hollywood that might never come. I was first inspired to make movies by watching film noir classics like Little Caesar, Public Enemy, and Angels With Dirty Faces. Then I got blown away by urban crime dramas like Goodfellas, Menace II Society, and King Of New York. I put energy into writing a buddy movie that followed the Hollywood formula instead of writing from my creative soul. All along I really knew that I wanted to write and direct hard-hitting urban crime films that featured corrupt and cynical characters in plots with strong subject matters.

At that time the extent of my creative background had been producing industrial videos and reality TV programs. I never took the step of writing a movie script. At that moment in time I had one other friend that wanted to make movies. I asked her if she had any wisdom she could give me. She told me to read Aristotle's Poetics, Syd Field's Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434, and other books by brilliant movie people that I devoured religiously. I was a regular at screenwriting workshops, took a few writing classes, and felt very much the screenwriter despite not having wrote any part of a movie script. It's like a prize fighter that always trains for a fight, but never gets in the ring to see what happens.

After taking in so much information my mind was overloaded with three act structures, plot points, paradigms, story arch, and writing detailed biographies for characters. Writing a script a lot more involved than just sitting down typing fade in, then fade out. But I was eager to write a script that was high concept, smart, and SELLABLE. Yes, I had dreams of selling a script to a Hollywood studio that would be the next summer blockbuster.

I scanned the industry trades trying to predict the next big trend in Hollywood, I read newspapers looking for great story ideas, and watched movies in the hopes of coming up with the next "insert popular movie" meets "insert popular movie" or something like "it's just like Titanic, but it happens in space aboard a shuttle". Then it happened, I found my blockbuster story idea. There was an article years back in Variety or The Hollywood Reporter that said buddy movies were hot. The buddy movie formula made lots of money. Look at the success of the Rush Hour franchise. There it was, I would write a high concept buddy flick with action, funny one liners, and crisp dialogue.

Then I pored over all the notes I had on how to write a script correctly. It took me year to finally finish my first full length movie script. It became obvious I had spent too much time going back to review my notes and re-reading books on how to write a script instead of just sitting down to write one. I was holding on too tight and not letting my creative energy flow. Then I had a clean cut breakthrough. Stepping back from the process I could see that I was not being realistic in what I wanted to accomplish. The chances of an unknown screenwriter selling a script to Hollywood are slim. It does happen, but the odds are against it. I've met so many people that want to make movies, but it never happens for them because they write scripts that can't be made on a independent film budget. The friend that turned me on to what books to read has written numerous scripts. Unfortunately, she's still waiting on Hollywood to call to make her dreams come true.

I also realized I was using all the things I had learned as a crutch. Syd Field and Lew Hunter are masters of screenwriting, but they're not going to write my script for me. What's hot today in Hollywood isn't hot tomorrow. You can't waste your time chasing trends. When all this hit me I decided I was going to write the script that told the story I really wanted to share with audiences. It wasn't about seeking fame or fortune anymore. It was about writing a script that could be made on a independent film budget.

If you're an aspiring screenwriter remember there is no shame in writing a script that gets shot as a smaller budget indie film. I've heard some aspiring filmmakers say they would need at least a million to produce their movie script. They are looking at making movies from a Hollywood perspective. That can lead down a road of never making a movie or making a movie that never gets distributed. Film financing falls through and deals go south at different stages every day. It happened to Slice of Americana Films this year on "Stash Spot" with known talent attached. Money is never easy to find. The less hard money you need to make your movie script the better your chance of seeing it come together.

I wrote the scripts for Consignment and In With Thieves with small budgets in mind. The money that was finally raised would dictate what I would include into the script. These indie backed movies are now being distributed via direct-to-video worldwide. I wasn't making Hollywood movies, but I was living my own dream of seeing scripts I wrote being made. It's great to see words that you wrote on a page come to life with actors. That's a rush I hope every aspiring screenwriter can experience. After filming I flew out to the East Coast complete post production with co-producer/editor Tim Beachum on both films. Before writing one scene I knew what we could do in post production and what we couldn't. That made dealing with unavoidable post production problems that always come up easier to work through.

I would suggest to write two different types of scripts based on budget. The first should be scripts tailored to an independent film budget. The kind of scripts you have a realistic chance of finding money to make. Keep locations and cast size to a minimum. Don't write elements into your script you can't deliver. Keep it close to home if possible. By this I mean if you can use your own residence as a location and production office do it. Try to write locations into your script that are close together to cut down on travel time. Don't fall in love with any one scene in your script because you might hold onto to it when there just isn't the money or time to shoot it. I've been learning the hard way that there is a certain craft to writing scripts with a budget in mind. You're not as free to write what you want. When I was writing In With Thieves I wanted to have a scene where a character was lit on fire in a warehouse. I let it go because of cost. A stunt performer would have to be hired. A safety crew etc. Why bother writing a scene you know you can't afford to shoot?

Now the second type of script goes back to Hollywood dreams. There's no reason a talented screenwriter can't write a small budget indie script and shift gears to writing a Hollywood blockbuster. When you sit down to write one of these type of scripts you can think big. Want an oil tanker blowing up? Sure thing. Want to show the beautiful landscape of Ireland? Go for it. Your creativity does not have to be limited by budget. When you're done you can pitch it to Hollywood agents or enter screenwriting contests to get it sold.

If you're serious about trying to make it in the movie business don't get stuck waiting for Hollywood to come calling. Write indie scripts that can be produced on smaller budgets. It could be one of these indie films get the attention of a connected Hollywood producer with deep pockets. Next thing you know you're writing and making movies in the studio system shown in the HBO series "Entourage."

Go to The First Movie Is The Toughest Learn from one filmmaker's story of how their movies got made and sold. Nothing is held back. Every chapter has solid information that will help you avoid problems and save you money through every stage of production. There are many books on making movies, but not many are as truly personal, entertaining and informative as this one.

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