Monday, 27 January 2014

WRITING NO BUDGET SCREENPLAYS

READ THIS : Before we get started, Let me just say, once again, that this is my approach to writing and developing film projects. I'm not saying it the best way, just one way of doing it. In the end, you should really find your own way of doing anything, shit that works for some people doesn't work for everyone. It's all just a matter of what works for you as a filmmaker/writer/artist/juggler, whatever. However you should be able to apply any approach back to your own work to try and better the final product.

Also please try to bare in mind I have NO idea whatsoever how good of a writer I am. I've had reveiws that called me 'The Next Tarantino' and on the other hand, I've had reviews that have said that I write at a "GCSE Level" and that I "Should never be allowed near a film again". So all I can say is that I write from my own heart and my own experiences and write with a love for what I do, I can't control who enjoys it and who doesn't. I can just remain true to myself and that's all you can do. So with that said lets go.

Before you start writing you should have done some preparation. I've gone over some of this previously. You Can Find my previous articles to get you to this point below :


When writing most scripts I write looking at 'The Bigger Picture'. That means that, most of the time, I'll be producing or directing the film afterwards and so therefore I keep that in mind when I'm scripting. Looking at what's possible, available, and more importantly, 'exciting' whilst not blowing the budget into the stratosphere. It takes a little bit of practice, but it's something you soon get used to. I'm not saying you should do this, If you want to write a Hollywood blockbuster go ahead, I'm writing this simply from my perspective, as a filmmaker, I make most the scripts that I write and so I'm always keeping that in mind. Slasher House started out as a big budget movie that I planned to sell to a studio. 

Also note that even though I tend to be writing for a low budget, I never let that dicatate what goes into the script. I just write what the film needs most of the time and terrify our art department (Which is usually one guy) with how we are going to achieve it. Put it this way, I wrote a Helicopter into Legacy of Thorn. Everyone thought we would drop it. We didn't. 

Anyway on we go.

My first rule, is that I allow maximum 5/6 locations in a movie, Making Horror, that makes it pretty easy and I like the challenge of trying to make my story work within those constraints. However this is not set in stone and you have to know when to break the rules. 

I learned this the hard way, my first feature Creepsville had 32 locations, it's not surprising that the 14 day shoot ran over into 5 months of pick up shoots and with another 2 days of pick ups etc about a year. Which ultimately led to a delay in its release by 4 years, maybe forever. 

Learning my lesson, when I did my rewrite on Slasher House, I kept my main shoot down to 1 location. and shot for 13 days. (I did do 5 pick ups in my own time when people were available. Even then all these pickups took about 5 days in total. 18 days however is a lot less time than 5 months.  

There are 3 simple steps that I take when writing a script (After all of my pre production for it of course). 

STEP ONE : FINISH YOUR SCRIPT

Seems like a strange first step I know, but finishing your script even in its roughest possible form really is the best first step. Your work really doesn't begin until you've finished your first draft. I know it sounds hard, it is. The simple fact is this, once I finish a script I can see in much more clarity where it needs to be fixed. Kind of like putting a model together, when it's all just bits and pieces its hard to see how it's going to come together. But once you have a framework in place, adding bits, taking away bits and reworking pieces all together becomes much easier. 

My first draft of Legacy Of Thorn was a nigthmare to get through, I was worried that I was over explaining some things, leaving some things out all because I was too close to the story to see it clearly. So I finished it, in the roughest, most brutal way that I could. I just ploughed through, dropping every idea that felt natural and some that didn't and just made sure I got to THE END. 

STEP TWO : REWRITE YOUR SCRIPT

This to me is where you actually find your script and get it to where it's going. Where you nail down important plot points and disregard others, where you add characters, cut characters and everything in between. This is the moment you shape your film into what it will become.

On any script, once I'm done, I send it to various trusted sources and then insist that they ask me questions about points that don't make sense or are vague. Unless you are a genius, then your first draft should raise a bunch of issues that you'll want to try to fix second time round. Armed with what's wrong with your script you should be able to fix most of its major issues right here.

Always try to choose people with as much writing experience as possible at this stage to give you feedback. I haves a little group of experienced writers/filmmakers who I know won't bullshit me when it comes to feedback and I send my 2nd or 3rd draft out to them.


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STEP THREE : REWRITE YOUR SCRIPT

No, its not a typo, Once you're 'done', don't just stop. You've got some feedback, now keep going back over, trying to trim the fat, get rid of as much as you can whilst maintaining your story, add information that might make your audience less confused. Make sure the themes of your story are clear and intact. Just keep polishing it, until you simply have no time left to do so. Every film I have ever worked on, I have carried on writing right up until shooting and sometimes during the shoot, things change and you may have to adapt. 

On Legacy, the location we secured didn't have the school assembly hall mentioned in the script. However, we simply couldn't find another school that met the rest of our needs. The school did however have a set of science labs that were very cool and so, we rewrote the scene to fit with that instead. We didn't really lose anything in the end and actually got a slightly more tense scene than the original out of it, because of the tighter nature of the set.

Your screenplay should be your plan for your film and plans change and you need to be prepared for that. 

BONUS STEP : KEEP WRITING

Getting a little ahead of ourselves here, but its important. Even when you are done and cutting the film, the choices you make here will change the way that someone perceives your film. The choices of shot will completely determine how your audience feels when watching it.

In Legacy, I added a Janitor character in the background of a couple of shots, He was only marginally important in terms of the script and even when shooting. However when cutting the film, I found that he helped solidify one of the major plot points, by including him in more shots. It shifted the focus of the film from the Teenage characters we were following to focus more on the underlying evil that fits the theme of the film. 

Anyway for now focus on getting your script right, it is the foundation from which you will build your film, make sure it's sturdy. 

MJ

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