A Field in England
EXT: TIMES SQUARE – NIGHT
A lightning bolt flashes thought the sky and obliterates a London bus in a tornado of red sparks.
INTERGALACTIC SPACE PRINCESS (21, blue skinned with tentacles and GIANT space wings) descends from the heavens and lands on the street; the ground fractures with the force of her space majesty. An entire French exchange trip tumbles down the ravine in a cloud of backpacks and berets.
Intergalactic Space Princess begins to sing and windows shatter. There is only one man who can stop her.
Undercover cop MACHO JOE (40, grizzled, butch) pulls a machine gun out of the back of his shirt and opens fire….
What’s wrong with this scene? Nothing, if you’re an exec at Marvel. Immediate green light and $100000000 in your bank account.
Fortunately you are not making another Marvel epic. You are making a short film, funded entirely by your own back pocket or whatever you can scrabble together from the kind hearts of Indiegogo/Kickstarter/Gofundme.
This doesn’t mean that you have to abandon all hope of your sci-fi masterpiece; it just means you have to be more creative. What if Times Square were Scottish suburbia? How about swapping the blue tentacles for a bad wig and a big fur coat? Take away all the crashing and bashing and you have Under the Skin. One of the most interesting and intriguing sci-fi films of all time, made so by re-writes demanded by a tight budget.
In this article we’ll take a look at how some incredible films have been made inside of financial limitations, and how you can apply this to your work.
The aim of the game is to make films. Therefore, you have to write films that you can make. Not Steven Spielberg or Christopher Nolan. YOU.
Write a film set in one location. Time is money; travelling between locations is money, time rigging and de-rigging is money. Time spent shuffling your production backwards and forwards is time not spent nailing that scene.
Lady Macbeth was made with the comparatively tiny budget of £500,000 (the average blockbuster costs £200 Million to make) because it was shot almost entirely on one location. The tense, claustrophobic feel of the film is baked in to the script, a perfect example of the restrictions feeding the final product.
You may not have a country house at your disposal, so look around and see what you have. Kevin Smith made his career-launching Clerks for around £18,485. Smith shot the film at the corner-shop where he worked in the day, at night he would pull down the shutters and begin filming. The film grossed over $3 million at the box office and was followed by a string of hit films.
The master of this is Ben Wheatley. Have you seen A Field in England? It’s literally set in a field.
Lesson: If you have a flat, write in a flat. If you have a van, write in a van. If you have a canoe, write in a canoe.
Recently nominated for a BAFTA, Charlotte Regan’s touching short is set entirely within the confines of a police car. We follow the unlikely friendship between a gruff cop and his fresh-faced rookie partner. It’s funny, sweet and simple. Okay, admittedly there are a few other cameo parts gracing the back seat of the police car, but we’re looking at the heft of the work going to two people.
You don’t want to be paying any more actors than is absolutely necessary. More actors = more costumes = more meals = more room for error. Keep it hella tight.
Bonus Prize! Black and White
This is more of a directorial decision but nevertheless something to consider.
Of shooting Frances Ha in monochrome, director Noah Baumbach said: there’s something both old and new about the film, almost an instant nostalgia. At the same time, because you aren’t distracted by color, there’s more immediacy to it.”
Philosophising aside, shooting in black and white gives an instant consistency to backdrops you may have little to no control over.
John Mclean, director of the beautiful, colourful Slow West made his name with the black and white short Slow West. Two actors, two locations, two colours. Mclean was particularly clever in weaving his limitations into the script: You don’t have to show a daring heist if the alarm is light activated. Genius.