Today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome my filmmaker friend J.K. Amalou to share with us his tips on writing successful microbudget movies! Take it away, J.K.!
Writing a microbudget film is a great way to show off your skills and invest yourself fully in the production of your film. The fewer people on a film, the more involved you are with your cast and crew. Your position as a writer will be that of a playwright almost, except that you’ll be working with a tiny film crew. Thanks to the digital revolution, making films has become cheaper than ever. So why not take this opportunity?
WRITE WITH BUDGET IN MIND
Successful microbudget films have been made in every genre. Even in what is considered the most expensive genre by studios: sci-fi. Check out PRIMER.
First and foremost, pick a genre for which you have passion and knowledge. Passion is key because making a microbudget film is certainly NOT for the fainthearted. Without that passion bordering on obsession, you won’t last long.
Horror stories abound in the low budget filmmaking trenches. You’ve been warned.
KNOW YOUR GENRE
Knowledge of the genre you pick is of paramount importance because whatever you write, it must be original. Originality dictates that you pervert the conventions of the genre, so you need a vast knowledge of whatever genre you choose in order to do this successfully.
Originality comes in many ways: concept (OPEN WATER), voice (CLERKS), tone (quirkiness of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE), and execution (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY).
Concept, voice, tone, execution. Hit these four, and you’ll be on your way.
In the glut of films released on DVD or finding their way to Netflix, Amazon, etc., you need originality to stand out. You need three ingredients to make a successful microbudget film:
originality, originality, and…originality (with thanks to Alfred Hitchcock).
TURN THE LACK OF MONEY INTO A VIRTUE
Make lack of money part of the storytelling. To keep costs low, write a script with VERY few locations and characters. That’s the obvious way. Also, avoid what I’ve seen in many microbudget films: making a film which requires a sizeable budget on next to nothing. Trust your writing and show your writing chops:
A cool concept, great characters, a gripping plot, and a couple of locations are all you need.
I’ve seen enough low budget films in which a car explosion looks as exciting as drying paint.
USE GRITTINESS AND INTIMACY AS A BUDGET-BUSTING DREAM TEAM
Few locations and characters mean a strong sense of intimacy. And what better than shooting an “intimate film” on a Canon 5D or even your iPhone (see Tangerine). Such cameras are cheap to buy or rent, and they might not produce the kind of visuals that Christopher Nolan would but the gritty, rough and ready feel of the images would certainly work to the advantage of the intimacy of your story.
Shooting PARANORMAL like a home movie was a genius idea: it added great urgency and realism to the film.
KNOW HOW TO MARKET YOUR FILM
Microbudget films are rarely given a full on theatrical release. Films like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY are the exception to the rule. So think Home Entertainment markets (VOD/DVD). Even if your film is a festival hit like TANGERINE at Sundance, market is still primarily Home Entertainment.
KNOW HOW TO ATTRACT FESTIVAL INTEREST
Being selected at a festival can help, but it does not guarantee success. Major festivals tend to avoid pure genre films as they lean toward drama; serious subjects, etc. But a genre film which perverts its conventions enough will attract attention from programmers. See TANGERINE: a strong love story featuring trans women as protagonists and plenty of comedy.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SCRIPT
Writing microbudget films is a great exercise in squeezing the most out of your storytelling skills. But beware: low budget doesn’t mean you must rush your script to put it into production. I’ve seen that mistake made many times on many films. The money is there, so let’s just start filming tomorrow! No – be sure to remember:
Last but not least, most writers tend to wear several hats: Writer/director. Writer/producer. So be ready to invest yourself in your movie. Making a microbudget film is all about a bunch of people pooling their resources together.
J.K. Amalou directed and produced Hard Men, a low-budget gangster comedy, which sold in over 40 countries. He has also written, produced and directed The Man Who Would Be Queen (2007) a dark comedy about the English middle classes and Deviation (2012), a taut psychological thriller and Assassin (2015). J.K. has also developed various projects in the U.S. for studios like Fox, Disney and Touchstone with such big names as Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Arnon Milchan, Diane Keaton, Mark Wahlberg, etc. In addition, JK has worked as a consultant on hundreds of scripts for companies like Canal Plus, Polygram Classics, Samuel Goldwyn Productions, European Script Fund, MEDIA Programme.
A great place to network for fellow microbudget team-players is the LONDON SCREENWRITERS’ FESTIVAL…
Want to come to London Screenwriters’ Festival? Use my special discount code: SOFLUID-16X to get a £23 discount!