Compiled and refined by Ted Hope and James Schamus
1. Write to direct. A screenplay, especially a no-budget screenplay is a very loose blueprint for a film – ultimately every choice you make will compromise something else.
2. Write for what you know and for what you can obtain. This goes for actors, locations, animals, and major propping or set dressing. If your friend owns something, anything, write it into the film.
3. Remain flexible. Recognize the essential element in a scene and allow it to take place in a variety of locations or circumstances.
4. Choose an aesthetic that will capitalize on the lack of money (i.e. period anachronisms, monochromatic color schemes, etc.). Invest meaning in everyday commonplace things – make an orange a totemic object John Ford would be proud of.
5. Don’t over strive. Don’t try to show how much production value you have (you don’t have it, so you’ll either fail or unbalance your film). A film that people say is “well produced” usually means that the story didn’t have much going for it. Keep the story aligned with the budget.
6. Don’t limit yourself to too few locations – it’s a dead give away of lack of dollars. I like the number eight.
7. Use everything more than once. You’ve already paid for it, so use it, use it, use it.
8. Write for a very limited audience – your closest friends. Do not try to please anyone – crowd pleasing costs.
9. Write to cut it back later. You can trim to subtlety.
10. Contradict the above commandment and only write what you know you absolutely must shoot.
11. Keep it simple. You can learn how to do the impossible on your next film. No dogs. No babies. “Business” is expensive. Keep it controllable.
12. Keep it intimate. Dialogue and close ups are cheap.
13. Make the most of a day’s work. It’s easier to get a commitment for one day than it is for a week. Exploit people’s willingness to give a day.
14. Ignore everything listed above if it doesn’t further the story.
[Note: I was an intern at Good Machine Music, the company’s music-supervision division, in 1998…and I’m suitably proud to have worked among those folks. —Sean Howe]