The script is quintessentially the most important piece of no budget filmmaking. It is the blueprint for your film. If the blueprint is not designed properly, your film will crumble like a poorly constructed building. Every good movie is produced around a well-written script, and it doesn’t matter how big the budget is, how good the actors are, how incredible the explosions are, or how dynamic the visual effects are unless the story is moving, engaging, and believable.
In embarking on the journey to get the perfect script, there are three directions you can take:
- Write the script yourself
- Option a script already written
- Hire a writer
Writing your own script
As mentioned previously, the cornerstone of a good movie is a good, well written script. The essence of a good script is a good story. The foundation of a good story is inspiration, research, and the ability to develop an idea into a commercially (if this is the route you wish to take) viable product that audiences will want to see.
Before you decide to spend an exorbitant amount of time working on a project, it’s important to know the purpose of the film at the very beginning. Are you going to make a movie for art’s sake, so that the film is an extention of your vision and style, or maybe even to learn the process of making a no budget film? Or are you looking to creat a commercially viable movie that can be sold and (hopefully) generate a profit?
When it comes to developing a story, you should write about what you know. The best piece of advice I can give you is to write what you have seen, what you have experienced, and what you have lived in life. How can you truthfully write a story about the joys and difficulties of parenthood, if you’ve never been a parent? Granted, you may have seen how parents interact with their children, but it’s not the same as if you were to live it yourself. How can you write a real love story that connects with the viewer, if you have never been in love? Writing about love, death, betrayal, loneliness, or happiness without experiencing it seems like a recipe for an empty story bereft of a soul. Filmmaking is about honesty, and writing scenes and moments that truthfully resonate with the viewer can be an insurmountable task unless you are personally familiar with the material you’re trying to convey.
Option a script already written
As a writer, you can create a script around an existing work, such as a book, poem, short story, novella, or even a personal account of the writer. However, to simply adapt the idea into a screenplay could violate copyright laws and expose you to legal liability.
One way of legally using material is to option the rights to use it. An option is a short-term lease that grants a producer the legal right, but not the obligation, to adapt material into a screenplay, produce it oneself, or try to sell it to another production company.
The ability to option a book or story opens up thousands of possibilities, so one way of finding a good story is to go to the bookstore and start reading. If you find a book that you like, call the publisher and get the author’s contact information. Explain how you want to use the book and how you would like to adapt it into a screenplay and ask if the author is willing to consider an optioning the material. The author may want money up front, a percentage of the profits, credit, or any number of back-end profit points that would need to be negotiated. If the conversation gets this far, it’s best to contact an entertainment attorney to help negotiate with the author on your behalf and draw up the necessary legal paperwork.
Hire a writer
Oftentimes, writers are either skilled in writing structure or in writing dialog and character, so finding a writing partner who complements your skills can lead to a much better script. Finding a suitable writing partner can be as easy as contacting local writing organizations, colleges, or university programs with writing courses or seeking writers online or through film industry contacts. When looking for a good writing partner:
- Ask for a writing sample.
- Find a partner whose strengths are your weaknesses.
- Talk with your potential writing partner about the story and make sure he likes the genre, story, and characters before working with him.
- Make sure your partner has the time and commitment to work on the script, especially if it’s being written on for free (otherwise known as “spec”).
- Work out the credit he will receive as well as payment terms if the script is sold, optioned, and/or produced.
Hopefully, the aforementioned details have given you some “food for thought”. Developing a script for your no budget film should never be taken lightly, and IS the most important step of the filmmaking process.
Author by Guy Ryerson