A few weeks ago I was invited to sit on the Microbudget Screenwriting Panel for the StarLite Film Festival. The festival was held in historic downtown Winter Garden at the beautiful Garden Theatre. The panel consisted of six screenwriters with varied backgrounds and was moderated by movie critic Roger Moore. The panel began with a brief background description of each writer and then moved forward into the main topic: writing screenplays for microbudget films. Each writer had a different approach on how to get from beginning to end, but we all agreed that on some level the budget drives the script.
It is my opinion that it is extremely important not to limit your creativity when writing, but to be realistic about what can be accomplished within budgetary constraints. Creativity isn’t restricted by budget, rather budget can challenge and push you to be more creative within your writing. By addressing your limitations, you can be more concise and effective while developing your script. Most of the writers on the panel agreed with this view and acknowledge that if you write outside of your budget, you will not have a movie. It is better to start with budget in mind, then innovate, stretch and bend your ideas to fit within those boundaries.
Being the solitary person on the panel to have only written a short film (and a feature in the works), I was asked many questions involving my time at Full Sail University, where I graduated from in 2010. It isn’t a secret that many student writers and filmmakers fail to understand budget. Fortunately, the two final projects at Full Sail, 16mm Film and 35mm Film, are teacher advised and student run. The script is developed by students, pitched to producers, and brought to life by the crew. Everything must fit within the budget… or else it doesn’t happen. Students buy the props, negotiate deals, build the sets, supply daily catering, manage locations, fill out the paperwork, cast the actors, then shoot and edit the film. If more money is needed, the students must find a way to secure more funds. Because of this education, I learned quickly how to write within my budget. My best learning came when shooting on location. With travel time, setup time, and filming time, our crew was only able to pull off about half of the shots we could have if we were on set. A piece of advice that I shared with the panel was that “you’re not going to get twenty locations in a short, let alone a small feature.” Keep the locations close and give yourself ample time to setup and shoot. If you don’t, it will be a waste of time and a waste of your budget.
It was a delight to speak at the StarLite Film Festival about my filmmaking and screenwriting experiences. If asked again to participate in a panel discussion, I would say yes in an instant. It was a learning experience for the audience and screenwriters alike, and a great way to network personally with an eclectic group of filmmakers.