7 tips on writing a low budget film from Ludo Smolski

Publicity still of Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild: the hit low budget film of 2012

This post is about a screenwriting talk given by script editor Ludo Smolski arranged by ShowFilmFirst.

Smolski’s talk covered the basis of screenwriting, and finished with seven tips for those writing low-budget films.

What a “low-budget film” is varies depends on who you ask. Some filmmakers say it’s under $500,000, some $250,000, others $1 million. Meanwhile distributors reserve “low-budget” to describe films where it’s obvious a director tried to do too much with the available money (poor CGI and visual effects are typical examples of this).

Smolski said these tips were especially applicable to scripts written for Film London‘s Microwave program. This part-funds films with production budgets less than £250,000.

The reason you should write a micro-budget feature is simple: they get made.

There is nothing inherently wrong with writing a $400 million science-fiction 3D extravaganza as a spec script. But you are highly unlikely to find a movie studio who will make your script.

But you could raise the money for a low-budget film yourself, and go from final draft to distribution in less time than it takes for a studio to reject your $400 million sci-fi epic.

Ludo Smolski’s “Low-budget magnificent 7”

1. K.I.S.S

Keep it simple screenwriter.

2. Give yourself rules

Set rules or limits for yourself when writing the screenplay. Smolski described the Dogme 95 manifesto, and Advance Party and Advance Party II rules as empowering, rather than restraining for filmmakers.

3. Minimize locations

Micro budget films are usually shot on location because hiring studios and constructing sets is expensive and time-consuming.

But changing locations is also expensive and time-consuming, so keep costs down by:

  • Keeping the number of locations to the absolute minimum
  • Pick locations that are accessible – semi-detached house = good. Buckingham Palace = bad
  • Pick locations that are near each other – if your script needs a shop and a flat, find a shop that has a flat above it

4. Small parts

Three characters are ideal for micro-budget films, as it allows a wider variety of relationships and conflicts that a two-header or solo piece.

5. Simple premise

Keep your screenplay’s core idea simple. But you can make the telling as complicated as you want.

6. Entertain

As Smolski said, no one goes to see a film just because it’s cheap. Audiences want you to entertain them. So make your film entertaining.

Making a genre film, as opposed to a straight genre, is a good way of doing this. So think about making a horror, comedy, war, science-fiction or period film.

Due to the huge number of horror fans worldwide, a fresh, original horror film stands a good chance of becoming profitable.

Comedies do well in their country of origins, but rarely do well elsewhere in the world. Every country has its own sense of humor, that people in other countries don’t share. (There’s a reason why we don’t see German comedies in UK cinemas.)

War, science-fiction and period films are sometimes expensive, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write one.

7. Team

Find people who want to direct, produce and shoot films and make some shorts together. This will help you build experience, people you can lean on and will give you a body of work to show investors you know what you’re doing.

Links to my earlier posts containing tips from Ludo Smolski’s tips following are below.

If you have any advice you’d like to share, please leave a comment.

Thanks for reading.

Ludo Smolski’s Screenwriting Tips



5 Comments on “7 tips on writing a low budget film from Ludo Smolski”

  1. Andrea S. Michaels says:

    I really liked what you wrote here so I shared it on twitter. And now I have bit offtopic question: how did you add your twitter name to the link? It automatically pops up as via @rcosgrove! I’ve been wanting to do that for a while now! :)

  2. […] 7 tips for writing low-budget films from Ludo Smolski (camdenscriptanalysis.wordpress.com) […]


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,763 other followers