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When writing your screenplay, it’s easy for the writer to just write whatever amazing thing comes into his mind. Now, for Hollywood screenwriters, the ones who are pretty much guaranteed a hundred-million dollar budget, that’s perfectly fine. Anything they could possibly imagine - is perfectly feasible. They can actually afford to shoot it (thanks to advances in computer graphics, it’s possible to shoot virtually anything on that budget).


As a screen-writer, there's more to worry about than just what goes onto the page. There are filming issues that will come up. Better face them now, before you're in-production and on-set.


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BACK “A day on a film-set is maddening!” - Maggie Siff 10

You, however, will probably not be writing for a hundred-million dollar budget. So, you’ll have to worry about what’s on the page. You can’t just write down all the amazing things that come into your head. You have to be practical instead.

For instance, perhaps you want a quick scene at the horse-races where your protagonist places a bet on his race-horse. Well, no race-track is going to allow you to film their customers gambling. So, you are going to need to rent out the entire race-track. That’ll cost you $5,000 a day (at a small race-track) up to $20,000/day or more (at a big race-track). You’ll need two or three hundred extras - at $150 a day each. You’ll need wranglers, craft-services, catering, toilets, parking, etc…

Pretty soon, that quick scene at the race-track has cost you $100,000 plus - which might be your entire budget! So, the race-track scene has to go. It has to become an underground sportsbook or something instead.

If you are writing an indie film, you’ll have to think about this stuff every scene you write! You can’t just set scenes in expensive locations. You can’t have babies, animals, water, etc...

panhandling carver he walked by on the street one day! That’s 13% of his budget he just pissed away on things that weren’t in the script.

You never want to piss money away. On a film, you need every penny. So, don’t spend money on things that don’t go up-on-the-screen. And, don’t write things into your script that are going to eventually waste money either. Both are equally bad.

People are going to have to actually film your screenplay (hopefully). Think about what issues they’re going to have - and then make sure that those things aren’t issues! Your movie will be a lot better if the writer plans ahead and spends his budget wisely. Young writers almost never do this. They write scenes with kids and animals on boats, when they could have written the

You can’t have anything expensive. And, on a film set, absolutely everything’s expensive.

I once worked on a shoot that ground to a halt for 4 hours, because the director needed a carnation and didn’t tell anyone. And, it turned out that carnations weren’t in-season. So, we had to send people out to florists all over the city to find one. That flower cost us thousands (and a quarter of a day’s work). All because it wasn’t in the script.

You, the writer, have to pay attention to these things.

The writer I mentioned earlier who spent 2% of his movie’s budget having the first (of about ten) drafts of his script bound all nicely - went out and spent 10% of his budget on a prop that hadn’t been written into the script yet! And another 1% on carvings from a vagrant

exact same scene with adults on dry land and lost nothing in the translation.

If you write your script with the film-crew in mind, the crew will be able to spend the money where it’s best spent. On the giant set-pieces. On the important sets. On the better actors. Etc…

You don’t want the crew to have to spend money on something that isn’t important. And, as the writer, you are the only one who knows what’s important right now, seeing as you are the one who’s actually writing the script. Of course, the director will later take over this role, but that’s after the screenplay is already finished.

So, as an indie screenwriter, what do you want to stay away from?

Well, just so many things really. Absolutely everything costs a fortune when you go to shoot it for a movie.

Kids are one of the worst. There are child labour laws you have to follow that make filming with kids annoying, to say the least. The younger the child the worse it gets.

So, avoid babies and toddles like the plague.

Same goes with animals. It will take days of training each animal - for each simple shot you want to do. The Humane

Society will want to be involved. You’ll need trainers out the wazoo. Everything will take 10x as long to film. Etc…

And, you never, ever, ever want to shoot on water. You’re away from all your equipment. Everything’s moving all the time. People get sea-sick. Where do you get all your power from? Etc... Avoid boats at all costs.

If you’re avoiding boats, it goes without saying that you’ll also want to avoid space-ships, the vomit comet, airplanes, large industrial spaces, big buildings, commercial or retail settings, etc…

Writers love showcasing large settings. For instance, a futuristic sci-fi film will often have a scene where the characters walk through a gigantic futuristic courtyard, surrounded by gigantic buildings. Or a scene in the lobby of one of these huge buildings. Places like that are going to want ten grand a day, minimum. Just to film there.

Giant industrial locations are the same, only a bit more expensive.

So, every time you write a scene like that, be aware that it’s going to cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Just for an establishing shot. If the shot’s important for setting the tone for the movie, maybe it’s justifiable. But, if the shot isn’t important and would just take resources away from the important stuff, maybe it has to go.

For another example, let’s say you want a scene in a grocery store. You’ll need to rent out a grocery-store, most likely in the middle of the night while it’s closed. They’ll still want $5,000 for the night. You’ll have to remove all the products from the shelves and replace them all with Greeked* product. Pretty soon, you’ve spent ten or twenty grand. All for a quick scene in a grocery-store. Was that scene really that important to the story? Or, could all that money have been better-spent elsewhere.

As the writer, you are the only one thinking about this stuff right now.

Don’t make problems for your film-crew in the future. Make sure you’re thinking about things from their perspective from the get-go. You’ll end up with much more money for the things that really matter, and all the unimportant stuff will be cheap and easy.

You wouldn’t believe how many sets I’ve worked on where all sorts of money was wasted - because the writer didn’t think about actually filming his or her words.

The story is created inside your head - but it has to be shot in the real-world.

*Greeking is an industry term meaning a product has been imperceptibly changed to remove all the logos, trademarks, artwork, etc... Anything that could be considered copyright-infringement has to be removed. You can’t just shoot a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese on the shelf behind your protagonist. You actually have to take that box of macaroni and replace it with a fake box of Klaft Macaroni & Cheese. Take a close look next time you watch a movie. The can of 7-up might actually say 7-op. Although, with the rise of product placement nowadays, all the products you clearly see have likely been paid for.

FORWARD On-Set Issues for the Screenwriter The First Turning-Point - The last scene of your first act, when your protagonist chooses his quest The Second Turning-Point - the last scene of the second act The Climax - the conclusion of your story-line, the ending Related Articles: How to Write a Screenplay: Welcome to SCREENPLAY.today - We'll teach you how to write your very own Hollywood-style script or screenplay - for free! SCREENPLAY.today Online Screenwriting Course - Learn How To Write a Top-Quality Script for a Film or Movie - FREE!