Archive for November, 2010

“Mark’s script was the best page-turner I’ve ever read,  I flew through it.”
Director Tony Scott (Unstoppable) 

(Sorry for the strange format WordPress is acting funny today.)
After several days of talking about lower budget Indie films I thought I’d jump tracks and look at the other end of the spectrum. Unstoppable, which came with a budget of 100 million dollars, is a full-bore Hollywood film. I saw it last night and enjoyed the ride with the rest of the audience in the theater. In its simplicity it’s reminiscent to many films including Speed. 


In this case you missed the movie’s advertising, the story revolves around a runaway train. Simple, right?
The film was shot in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Since I’m a big fan of seeing parts of the country that don’t get much screen time, it was a fresh way to give a time-tested genre a new twist. The film was inspired by true life events regarding an unmamanned train incident known as the Crazy Eights incident in Ohio back in 2001.
The script was written by Mark Bomback, who also wrote Live Free or Die Hard starring Bruce Willis. Bomback is a graduate of Wesleyan University where he was an English major. A couple of years ago Vanity Fair mentioned Wesleyan’s Entertaining Class and how the small Connecticut school “has turned out a shockingly disproportionate number of Hollywood movies and shakers” listing among its graduates, Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind), Michael Bay (Transformers),  Matthew Weiner (Mad Men), and Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm).
That’s just a partial list that most films schools couldn’t match. (Anybody know why? Secret handshake?)
But back to Unstoppable, the movie.
“Like a lot of children, I liked trains as a kid, but I certainly wasn’t a fan. I started researching the film (Unstoppable) from a place of complete ignorance. Trains are ubiquitous, but you never think about how the entire country depends on them so it seemed like an interesting setting for a film. Trains haven’t been done in a while so I thought this might be a new way to introduce them; they’re so old school, they’re new school. We wanted audiences to think that Frank or Will could die at any moment and the movie would still continue because audiences would understand the train can’t derail until, at best, the end of the film. So the question is, how do you maintain that sense of tension? I did my best to stay within the bounds of realism and not go too far.”
Mark Bomback

in its opening week has made back about  a third of its production budget and is on track to break even in the states. But because it’s a universal action picture it will do well overseas it will probably cover it’s advertising budget and then some.

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This is The Un-official 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns (or Low-Budget Film Rule Book) based on his comments from the director’s commentary of Nice Guy Johnny, which he wrote, directed, co-produced and acted in. The film was made for $25,000. and shot in 10 days and features fine performances by co-stars Max Bush & Kerry Bishe.  The film and its iTunes & Netflix distribution model sets a new standard to follow for independent filmmakers producing sub-$100,000. movies.

1) Find up and coming actors who are talented and hungry. (And willing to do their own make-up/wardrobe.)

2) Use a crew you’ve worked with before, and shoot digitally.

3) Find free locations.

4) Don’t worry about film permits.

5) Don’t worry (obsess) about continuity.

6) Don’t mourn what you don’t have & ask lots of favors.

7) Pick locations where you can use little or no lights.

8.) Hire people for little money who can wear multiple hats on production. (But give them a cut of any profits.)

9) Even if you wrote the script & are the director— don’t be afraid to hold the boom mike when needed.

10) Don’t fall in love with a continual shooting schedule. Chip away shooting days and hours when you can.

If you haven’t seen the film, here is the trailer that will give you a taste of the results:

Scott W. Smith

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On the DVD director’s commentary of writer/director Edward Burns’ recently released film, Nice Guy Johnny, Burns offers a lot of insight as to how he and his small crew shot the feature film in just 10 days. Burns says the film was made for $25,000 (under $75,000 including deferments) by cashing in a thousand favors.

Burns used mostly free locations (shooting often at homes of  friends and family) and had the cast do their own make-up and provide their own wardrobe. And because they had a 3-5 man crew on most days the lighting was keep to a minimal and they shot with a digital Red camera, so there were no film costs.

Edward Burns in "Nice Guy Johnny"

Edward Burns: I have Will Rexer our DP here and he can tell you a little about our minimal lighting package and shooting this daylight scene.

Will Rexer: We approached this entire movie looking at locations and looking at light— looking for things that worked naturally for us. I think we had two lights in here (shoot at Puffy’s Tavern in above photo) that just sort of complimented with what God already gave us, and that’s pretty much how we approached most every scenes. We found locations that worked and lighting that worked and then we just complimented it and that was pretty much it.

EB: And one of the challenges, but also one of the blessings maybe, is we knew we weren’t going to have any generator obviously, we knew there was no truck with an entire lighting package. It was lights that could be plugged into any outlet that would have to be carried by our four man crew. And what that did was it freed us up to work much more quickly than we could have given sort of the normal size of a crew and a lighting package. But it also freed our actors up to be able to play within the spaces in a way that they probably couldn’t when you have  more detailed lighting.

WR: We could pick the time of day we wanted to be at a location and make that work for us and then we could compliment the lights. We didn’t have to turn around and have to get a reverse shot of you. We didn’t have to be moving 25 flags (light modifiers) and having a whole crew march around— we could just do it. It allowed us to work pretty freely.

EB: And it allowed us to make a film in ten days—which is unheard of. But there is a little bit of magic that comes with that because you’re shooting so many pages in one day that the actors are sort of in character the whole day. You’re knocking off so much work there’s a rhythm that everybody falls into that provides a certain kind of creative freedom.

So if you’re writing a script that you’re thinking of making as a low-budget feature it’s good to have a set of locations in mind that will work not only for the story but that will simplify the production process. In larger budget films there is always a concern of what is called a “company move” where the 75+ person team and equipment must be moved from one location to the next. Even on a big budget film producers and production manager have to find creative ways to limit the company moves.

For instances the entire Georgia part of Forrest Gump was shot within a ten mile radius of the opening bench scene  in Savannah, Georgia. (The Viet Nam scenes were even shot on the same plantation where Forrest grew up, and where they also shot Jenny’s house.) That meant the cast and crew could stay in the same hotels and the producers could avoid all the expenses involved with moving the cast and crew.

One of the reasons Sleeping with the Enemy (in which part of the story takes place in Iowa) was shot in South Carolina is because they could shoot the beach town and the small town that’s supposed to be in Iowa both in South Carolina without doing a major company move of shooting in two states that are far apart.

One low-budget trick that is often used to keep costs down is to shoot in one primary location. Burns doesn’t stick to that approach, but because he has such a small crew they are able to shoot in cars, at the beach, in a bar, in homes, and in New York City and on Long Island without it being a major hassle.

You can watch Nice Guy Johnny via iTunes, VOD, or Netflix.

Related posts: Edward Burns on Telling Smaller Stories.

The Ten Film Commandments of Edward Burns

Screenwriting Quote #146 (Edward Burns)

Screenwriting Quote #68 (Edward Burns)

Scott W. Smith

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The website indieWIRE has an excellant article called Toolkit Case Study: How Indie Hit “Winter’s Bone” Came to be. It walks you through the various stages of the five year journey that Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan took from first reading Daniel Woodrell’s book, through developing and financing, to the sale and distribution of their Sundance winning film Winter’s Bone.

Here’s a quick overview.

The book Winter’s Bone was optioned for high four figures or low five figures. They researched the Ozarks where they wanted to shoot and put together a photo album to get investors interested. After 25 potential investors passed on a project they got pretty far down the road with one investor before that fell through. Another financer stepped up agreeing to pay half of the budget at which point the descision was made to cut the budget in half and get the film produced.

The article points out along the way how casting directors Paul Schnee and Kerry Barden found six key actors. After the production was completed and the film edited they hired various people from publicist Laura Kim to producer rep Josh Braun to guide them as they prepared to sell the film. They made a deal with Roadhouse Attractions even before the film was shown at Sundance or picked up its awards.

As of this writing, the $2 million film has made just over $6 million at the domestic box office. Because prints and advertising (P&A) were kept low on this project I image by now everyone has made their money back and then some. Winter’s Bone is not an off-the charts financial success story. But it is an rare high-quality independent film that thankfully got made and found an audience.

And know that in that five-year period that they were working on getting the film made, there have been hundreds if not thousands of independent films that for one reason or another never found an audience or a distributor.

Lastly, when Winter’s Bone receives some Oscar nominations don’t forget the five-year journey that it took for the filmmakers to get to that point.

I also found a link to the Winter’s Bone press kit that is a solid  reference for filmmakers.

Scott W. Smith

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“She could sense blood driven by heartbeats pulsing from the torn places beneath her skin.”
From the novel Winter’s Bone written by Daniel Woodrell

Seventeen year old Ree Dolly has a simple goal in the movie Winter’s Bone—to find her father. But it proves to not be an easy task. I’m sure the same could be said for writer/director Debra Granik as she sought to find a way to turn Daniel Woodrell’s novel into a movie.

Granik certainly didn’t take the easy road in making her second feature film and she was rewarded for her efforts when earlier this year the film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Granik and co-screenwriter Anne Rosellini also won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance. Glowing reviews followed.

“Every once in a rare while a movie gets inside your head and heart, rubbing your emotions raw. The remarkable Winter’s Bone is just such a movie.”
Peter Travers
Rolling Stone

No one is going to confuse Winter’s Bone with Toy Story 3, but if you want a sign that American cinema is alive and well in 2010 then those two films would be a good starting point. And as different as those two are, they have themes that intersect. To borrow Bob Segers’ phrase, both films have characters “seeking shelter against the wind.”

On one level Winter’s Bone is not an enjoyable to watch. But on another level it’s like watching Tender Mercies in that you are being exposed to characters and a world foreign to our largely suburban culture.  And as harsh as the realities are there are moments of grace.

On a filmmaking level Winter’s Bone is a pure delight. The casting is rock solid. Jennifer Lawrence carries the lead beautifully and the entire cast of not so familiar faces made me think Granik had somehow discovered an acting troupe in the Ozarks. While she did, in fact, find some of the actors involved in an acting group in I believe Arkansas, she found others from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama—those with Southern backgrounds that served the film well. Granik also used local people for smaller roles.

And while John Hawkes, who plays the character Teardrop with amazing presence,  is not from the south,  he was born and raised in rural Minnesota and started his career in theater in Austin, Texas.

The actors give the film an authentic texture as does the location in rural southern Missouri where they shot the movie. On the DVD commentary Granik and cinematographer Michael McDonough talk about being influenced by the photographs of Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Shelby Lee Adams.

Photo by Dorothea Lange

McDonough who shot the film in 24 1/2 days using the Red camera says,”I think one of the things you’ll notice with a lot of the interiors in the film is we deliberately lit from the exterior which is what daylight naturally does. So our film lights are outside—there may be some lamps inside, but—the main lighting is coming from the outside and it lets us work really freely with the actors inside. There’s not all the trappings of filmmaking. You can look at multiple angles without seeing film equipment and it lets you work fairly quickly and more importantly naturalistically.”

Granik, who won the best director award at Sundance in 2004 for her first film Down to the Bone, said in an interview with Ruthie Stein;

I really think you don’t have to spend that kind of money ($20-30 million) to make a good film. It helps lighten the load (to have less money). You want to make a film with a fleet-footed and agile crew that doesn’t leave a footprint. You don’t want to mow down things in its wake. I like to work small and take a gentler approach to actually trying to capture something.”

A common question I found myself asking over the years as I’ve traveled around this country and overseas is, “What do these people do?” What is their everyday life like? Films offer a chance to explore some of those questions.

Granik said in an interview with Sam Adams, “What keeps me going is that life has lots of bonbons, a lot of treats. You have your mundane life, and then you go into another neighborhood, another zip code, and you’re all delirious again. You’re all delirious and caught up, and then you want to make stories about it.”

If you ever get writer’s block, just look out your window at your neighbors or take a drive in the next town over. There are stories everywhere waiting to be told.

Scott W. Smith

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“I won a competition with the first (short story) I ever wrote. Which gave me an unrealistic notion of how easy this was going to be.”
Daniel Woodrell

The movie Winter’s Bone is one of those movies that hits you in the mouth. And if you’ve ever been hit hard in the mouth, you recall that nothing really prepares you for the distinct bitter taste of your own blood.

Winter’s Bone is not a date movie. Nothing really prepares you for what you’re about to see—though a good start would be reading Flannery O’Conner’s short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find. (Followed by reading Faulkner unpack the Snopes family and watching Deliverance.)

Before I actually talk about the finely crafted movie by director Debra Granik, I want to go back to the roots of the novel Winter’s Bone and its writer Daniel Woodrell. Because without those roots you could be tempted into thinking that Granik was just slumming. At first glance Granik, who was educated at Brandeis University and NYU film school, seems primed to look for art in the plight of the rural poor and downtrodden.

And that’s where Woodrell comes in. Woodrell was not only born and raised in Missouri, but today lives in the small town of West Plaines near the Missouri/Arkansas border. While I imagine the meth and poverty world depicted in Winter’s Bone is foreign to many (most?) people in Missouri, Woodrell in an interview with The Southeast Review said,  “I honestly live among some of the people I’ve written about… All of my research, as far as that goes, just comes from the world around me. I see people who live that kind of life every day.”

That’s what regional writing is all about.

Woodrell, like Flannery O’Conner, is a product of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Since receiving his MFA he has published eight novels—and gone through his share of hard times. But in 1999, his novel Tomato Red won the PEN USA award for fiction and his novel Woe to Live On became the Ang Lee film Ride with the Devil.

In an article titled The Least Governable Region of America you’ll find this exchange between Dustin Atkinson and Woodrell in regard to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop:

DA: Did Iowa prepare you well?

DW: “Yeah. Probably did. It’s a rough racket, trying to be a writer. I have a nephew who kind of wants to be a writer, but he’s heard the stories about me and my wife (writer Kate Estill) after we got our MFAs. We lived way below the poverty level for most of our years together. It didn’t bother me. I’ve never really had money, so life was normal. And my nephew, who’s grown up very comfortably, has said, “I want to be a writer, but I don’t want to make those sacrifices.” Well, for many writers, being willing to make the sacrifices is the first requirement.”

Tomorrow we’ll look at the film Winter’s Bone, based on Woodrell’s book and which was the winner of the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury Prize.

P.S. If you’re curious, I didn’t even realize there was an Iowa connection to Winter’s Bone until after I saw the movie and thought to myself, “Who writes this stuff?”  I started digging around and discovered Woodrell. So as you can see from one of my earliest posts (over 750 posts ago) The Juno-Iowa Connection, I often haven’t had to travel very far for material.

Related posts: Screenwriting from Missouri

Scott W. Smith

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“If you are an aspiring filmmaker, in this day of inflating budgets and runaway production, the truth is you can make a movie for no money in New York… and have a blast.”
Edward Burns

Back in 1995 Edward Burns showed the world a little film that he produced, directed, and was also the lead actor. That little film, The Brothers McMullen, had a big impact on his career. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of ’95 and won the Grand Jury Prize. The $25,000. film was released later that summer and grossed over $10 million.

“For my first film, basically what I did was I wrote a list of locations I knew I could get for free. I live in New York, and I knew you don’t need permits to shoot in Central Park. So I put five scenes in Central Park. Part of indie filmmaking is that you have to believe in compromise.  And that isn’t necessarily a dirty word.”
Edward Burns
Indiewire article by Peter Knegt

And though he has gone on to earn big paychecks as an actor on large Hollywood films as varied as Saving Private Ryan and 27 Dresses, he’s never lost his desire to write and direct smaller pictures. Among the nine features he’s directed, in 2004 he made Looking for Kitty using a $3,500 Panasonic DVX 100 camera. In 2009 he made some Webisodes called The Lynch Pin using the Red Camera.

One thing Burns has resisted doing is the Hollywood offers to direct big budget productions that he doesn’t have the heart to make.

“The minute someone writes you a check, there’s artistic compromise… You’re not able to cast the people you want to cast. They’re offering and sometimes making changes they feel the film needs. That’s frustrating. On a low budget film, there are also compromises. You need to find free locations to film. There are no special effects. Nobody is going to look at your film and say ‘Wow, that’s a cool shot.’ You have to be OK with telling smaller character stories. But that’s all I’ve wanted to do anyhow.”
Edward Burns
Chicago Tribune

And just a couple weeks ago he released his latest smaller story, Nice Guy Johnny, that he pulled off making for $25,000. using a three man crew and just a ten day shooting schedule. The movie was released iTunes, Video on Demand, and Netflix. And Burns still owns the copyright to the film. Could this really be Hollywood 2.0?

“Distribution models are starting to dismantle.”
Edward Burns

“My stuff is low concept. Usually character driven, and usually born out of a type of character I either know or come across that I get excited about exploring who they are, and a lot of times where they come from. So I try and look at environment, their community, their family, and they are mostly born out of that. Periodically I’ve tried to find a little bit of a plot just to drive the story forward in order to explore who these people are.”—That’s how Burns summed up the smaller stories he tells during a Q&A session at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. It’s a model that I think works in whatever unlikely place you find yourself writing screenplays.

Tomorrow we’ll flash 15 years forward from Burns’ success at Sundance and look at a different kind of film by different filmmakers that in 2010 won the best picture award at Sundance, Winter’s Bone. A small story set in the Missouri Ozarks. (And one that just happens to have an Iowa connection.)

Screenwriting Quote #146 (Edward Burns)

You can purchase the Nice Guy Johnny script with Burns’ notes at Amazon.

Scott W. Smith

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I have written previously about screenwriters who wrote 10-15-20 screenplays before they saw their first one produced. Here’s the second part of that equation:

“If you want to make independent films, it’s so competitive, and it’s so hard. You’ve got to keep at it. Times in my career where I’ve become lazy or distracted, not only did I feel dissatisfied, like when I go two or three years without a film. But there is a definite ‘Out of Sight Out of Mind’, ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately?’ thing that happens. So I think it’s important to keep working for the more practical and financial reasons and it helps to keep you fresh. I throw out a lot of what I write. Since The Brothers McMullen, I probably have 25 un-produced screenplays that I will probably never do anything with. But they had to be written in order to write the one that followed it.”
Writer/ Director Edward Burns  (She’s the One)
Interview with Cynthina Ellis

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“The world needs a new culture around creativity…Being Creative makes this planet a better place.”
Chase Jarvis

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”
Genesis 1

About ten years ago I read a Tom Peters quote that off the top of my head was something like;  “Sometimes to rejuvenate yourself creatively, you need to move to another climate or another culture.” Seven years ago I moved to Iowa (“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by”—Frost) and that has made all the difference. Long story short, it turned out to be the change I needed to rejuvenate myself creatively. In a sense it was a step back from the track I had been on.

I had been on the traditional track, doing traditional things, with a traditional mindset. Even the places I lived were somewhat traditional for somebody with a creative mindset—Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando. And along the way I got to work with some good people on good productions, traveled a good bit, and kept up with the creative changes by embracing new technology as it came my way, like shooting stills and video digitally and going from editing film on a Steenbeck flatbed to editing with an AVID. (And now FCP, Motion, Soundtrack, etc., etc.)

But I ways also looking for something different. Something that tapped into that creative ideal I had when I was 18-years-old. Along the way I was also reading Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, and Seth Godin. Turns out the same people Chase Jarvis*, a Seattle-based photographer, has been reading. Jarvis is a piece of the puzzle of bridging the gap between the old traditional creative guard and a new way of doing things that is well on its way. This new thing, this wave of change, Jarvis calls “social art.”

What is social art? Jarvis says, “I can’t say exactly what it is, but I can tell you that it’s creating content and context. It’s interdisciplinary, it’s participatory, it’s interactive, and it’s symbiotic. Everybody can win. Most importantly I think social art is incomplete if there’s not another person on the end of the pipe in some way, shape or form participating in that art with you. “ (Have you ever written a screenplay that didn’t get produced? Yeah, me too. That’s a good example of an incomplete art.)

Social art could be a communal dinner where someone is sharing their art of cooking, while another is sharing a song, and others are showing photographs, paintings, and films. What a wonderful world, right?

And despite all of the negativity associated with the Internet there is an amazing amount of sharing of creative content. Dare I say communities connecting via Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and the like. Today people are connecting and freely sharing information with the same zeal that the old tradional guard tried to hide.

Last week Jarvis spoke in New York City at the Photo Plus Expo and said, “I’m asking you to put yourself at the center of a new art, a social art where you’re creating something and sharing it with those around you…Take more picture, be fearless, put yourself out there, shoot more films, build tools—the iPhone app is a great tool, and educate. At the end of the day what I’m talking about is the democratization of creativity.”

It’s an exciting time to be in the creative arts. I have a first hand view of young creative people (some with no traditional arts education) who are carving out niches taking pictures, producing music videos, making films, painting, creating animation, and designing graphics and websites. And they’re earning a living not even aware of the fading traditional way of doing things.

“This is the most exciting time in the history of the world to be a photographer…It’s the first time in the history of the world that content creators are also distributors. Anybody in this room, if you took a picture of me in the hallway you have— within five minutes—you can have a blog, a Facebook account, Twitter and be sharing your work. The content creators are the content distributors. And the best thing about this is we don’t have to ask anybody’s permission.

Until now everything previous to this you had to have permission if you wanted to show your work on any sort of scale. Sure you could show your work to your friends, you could walk around New York with a portfolio, walk into five ad agencies in a day, sure—that’s that scale. You needed permission from the gallerist, you needed permission from the magazine editor, the photo editor, you needed to get tapped, selected by the ad agency to be able to show your work on any sort of scale. Those days are over. Any person in here can share what they create, with scale, right now.”
Chase Jarvis
PDN PhotoPlusNewYork

This may not be the most exciting time in the history of the world to be a traditional screenwriter. But to be a screenwriter with a “social art” mindset it’s an incredible time. Imagine writing a script, doing an online reading, gathering a following, rasing money through a Kickstarter campaign, making your film, generating interest via your blog,  and distributing it via DVD sales on your website and iTunes rentals and sales. That is not the future, these are tools that are at your disposal right now.

Over the weekend we’ll look at how writer/director/actor Edward Burns is a great model for independent filmmakers. For his latest film,  Nice Guy Johnny, Edwards is both the creator and the distributor.

*Jarvis has a blog and you can follow him on Twitter @chasejarvis.

Scott W. Smith

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“Visiting the set of Piranha and talking to the people involved in making it helped me learn one of the basic rules of film production, which is talk is cheap and action is expensive.”
John Sayles

The term low budget is relative. Some talk in terms of a $10 million film being low budget, others talk about $500,000. being low budget and others talk about $10,000. being low budget. Talking about film costs is like taking about affordable housing in Manhattan, New York versus Manhattan, Kansas (The Little Apple)—they’re two different worlds.

In his book Thinking in Pictures, writer/director John Sayles talks about the writing parameters for writing low budget films using a union cast and crew. But in general most of his considerations ring true for any size productions. If you’re trying to keep your costs down on a script you are writing, Sayles says the first requirement is an understanding of what costs money in making a movie.

“Anything set in a historical period costs more for costumes, props and sets than the same story in a contemporary setting would (unless you’re doing Adam and Eve in Griffith Park). Shooting on location brings with it the expense of lodging, per diem, travel days, long-distance phone calls and shipping of film materials. Each speaking part you add means another day or more of Screen Actor Guild (SAG) minimum wage, even for a few lines. Music you don’t own the publishing or performing rights to can cost a fortune. Precision camera movement calls for a crew that can pull it off—the best people in those categories are expensive to hire. Star actors cost a lot more than SAG minimum and can run you into lots more maintaining them in the style to which they’ve become accustomed. Special effects and stunts are more expensive and increase your insurance bills. Action scenes and stunts are more expensive to shoot in terms of shots and man-hours per screen minute than dialogue scenes are. Special equipment—cranes, Stedicams, helicopter mounts—all cost a lot. Each additional day you shoot has a price tag on it.”
John Sayles
Thinking in Pictures: The Making of the Movie Matewan

There are those that think you shouldn’t inhibit your writing by worrying about the expense of shooting. Just tell the story as best you can. But it’s not easy to get any film made, so if you’re not working on Steven Zaillian-sized projects at least consider this post food for thought. Every film has concerns about costs and sometimes whole scenes are cut because of budget restraints and others need to be re-written to accommodate the budget.

One famous scene in a studio film that was changed from how it was originally written was in Rocky when Rocky Balboa pays the skating rink maintenance guy to let Adrian and him into the rink when it’s closed. The scene was originally written to take place on a busy skating rink, but the producers decided they didn’t have money in the budget for all the extras, so it was re-written to basically be just Rocky and Adrian and it turned out to be a solid scene. Probably better than how it was originally written.

“Embrace your limitations” should be the motto of the low budget filmmaker. (Actually, I think I first heard that phrase was from DP Nancy Schreiber on the DVD commentary of the $150,000. film November in which she won a cinematography award at Sundance for shooting.) Don’t worry about what you can’t do, focus on what you can do.

Sayles writes, “The ideal low-budget movie is set in the present, with few sets, lots of interiors, only a couple speaking actors (none of them known), no major optical effects, no horses to feed. It is no wonder so many beginning movie-makers set a bunch of not-yet-in-the-Guild teenagers loose in an old house and have some guy in a hockey mask go around and skewer them.”

But it doesn’t have to be a horror film. Here’s a short list of films of various budgets that all took advantage of shooting mostly in one location (some with no wardrobe changes over the course of the film):

Panic Room
The Tenant
Phone Booth
12 Angry Men
The Breakfast Club
Paranormal Activity

Rear Window


Take note that those last three films were directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  “Embrace your limitations.”

Scott W. Smith

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