Writing an independent film or screenplay may seem like a fun way to spend a rainy weekend. While it certainly can be, writing one that gets read by folks other than your loving family and friends is much more of a challenge! Writers who take this craft seriously know that hard work can pay off, but it can also be frustrating to produce an independent film worthy to show at the annual Sundance Film Festival. Having some inside knowledge of how to write your story so it will attract the eye of an indie film funding company is key. Following are some proven tips to use in your noble endeavor:Budget your story: This may feel like the last step, but actually setting your budget first helps in determining what size/type production company or financier your writing will attract. If your funds are limited, keep characters in your story to a minimum. Unless you rub elbows with experienced actors who’ll work your project for free you probably can’t afford to pay a large cast. Having a half dozen roles performed by good actors is much better than having a dozen bad performers butcher your work. If you’re planning to shop your story to a production company, it’s wise to keep speaking parts at twelve or less. Companies are more likely to work with you if you show you are aware of the budget constraints.
Story length: It goes without saying you must tell a great story, but can you do it in say, 25 pages or less? If you’re approaching 75 – 100 pages, your film may be pushing two hours onscreen. Small production companies and financiers may either ask you to trim it down, or turn you down until you’ve proven yourself in the big league as a good risk. Keep in mind that big timers like Quentin Tarantino only put 100 minutes into his first film, “Reservoir Dogs,” and “Blood Simple” by the Coen Brothers ran only 99.
Story genre: A mistake many writers make is going in and out of genre. If you’re writing a horror film, don’t turn it into a comedy 20 minutes in unless you’re deliberately out to combine two genres that blend well together, such as “Ghostbusters” or “Young Frankenstein.” Most indie writers are influenced by non-genre films that are quirky, such as “The Virgin Suicides” or “Slingblade,”which catapulted Sofia Coppola and Billy Bob Thornton respectively into the film writer’s limelight. Watch and learn from successful writers but apply your own unique plots, twists, characters, and messages.
Set your story: One huge way to keep your feature within budget is by keeping sets to a minimum. Plan your story around one or two set changes to minimize costly trips to various locations, resetting cameras, sound, etc. (Remember, Tarantino shot 60 minutes of “Reservoir Dogs” in the warehouse.) It’s also a good idea to keep your story contemporary rather than a period piece. Shooting in the “now” is easier and less costly than hunting down and renting period clothing, furniture, backdrops, etc. Though special effects have come a long way digitally, they are still costly. If your story cannot get by without them and your budget is low, it’s best to use them sparingly, but remain critical how they’re used. Movie goers can get tired of too many cyborgs running amok, or totally thrown off if your contemporary romance drama suddenly features an alien for a waiter in the final dinner scene.
Keeping these points in mind as you write your story will help keep you on track for a better chance obtaining funding. Once your story is ready to shop, please visit IndieFilmFunding.com and sign up for your opportunity to join the ranks of today’s successful indie film writers.