Reinforcing the shoestring

For those unaware, I had the good fortune last year to connect with a producer-director seeking a writer for their microbudget feature project.

After hearing their ideas and what they were looking for, I started developing the story, keeping them updated as things progressed at a decent clip.

One of the comments occasionally made during all this back-and-forth was, and I’m paraphrasing here – “Is there a way to cut the costs on that?” Since this is a micro-budget project, it’s imperative we get as much out of every dollar as possible.

Thus the changes and alterations began. A scene originally intended for a hospital room now takes place in somebody’s bedroom. A scene in a restaurant now has the two characters drinking to-go coffee and talking on a park bench.

You get the idea.

As the writer, it can be a bit of a challenge to revise a scene or sequence to accommodate the budget, but it also forces you to dig deeper into that creativity and come up with a solution that works just as effectively, if not more so.

If this were a regular spec, working within a budget wouldn’t be an issue. I’d just write whatever worked for the story. But if that script got picked up and the producer needed changes made, then they would be made.

Looking over some of the revisions, I also realized that some scenes could pack even more of a punch by utilizing sound and lighting (or lack thereof) for emphasis, rather than on just what we see. Leaving things to the imagination – what you hear and don’t see – has the potential to be much more effective.

(For a strong example of this, check out the 1942 classic horror-thriller CAT PEOPLE.)

Taking this “less is more” approach also helped with resolving a story problem in a significant way. A sequence that would already have been challenging to make is now drastically different but would be very simple to pull off, and we’re both very enthusiastic about how the end result would look.

While some aspects of the story and how it’s presented may have changed, the tone remains the same. There’s still a ways to go with the script, but writing it with this kind of mindset helps me figure things out so the story is just as compelling while also getting the most bang for the buck.

4 thoughts on “Reinforcing the shoestring

  1. Congrats, Paul. You are now officially writing while wearing a producer’s hat! As you’ve already learned, it calls for developing a new skill (always a good thing when trying to sell a project or get a movie made). Nice job bringing us all along for the ride!

  2. Paul, I appreciate you helping these people but if they can’t even dress a bare set with a table and a checkered tablecloth to make a restaurant or hang an IV bottle next to a bed to fake a hospital room, maybe they should go into another line of work. Val Lewton (Cat People) used a fog machine to cover his bare sets so maybe they could pretend they are in a London fog and you can only hear the actors and not see them. Sorry, but sets can be done cheaply without changing locations or sacrificing story elements. Set decorators and prop people can make magic.

  3. Great read Paul! Thanks so much for the insights and congrats on the gig! Another approach I’ve found useful is to ask everyone connected to the project what they have access to. You can get some amazing elements that look expensive by doing this. My cousin is a doc and lent us an exam room on a day she wasn’t working. Same cousin had a Chihuahua, so we wrote that in to solve a plot issue. Another friend had access to a mobility scooter so, knowing one of our actresses had mobility issues, we wrote that in so she could be off her feet for her day of shooting. Every one of those things would have been expensive to rent.

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