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Archive for January, 2010

3 Tips for Low-Budget Spec Scripts Jan 31

Low-Budget Success

With the recent sale of the low-budget film Buried at the Sundance Film Festival, and the success of movies like Paranormal Activity, a lot of screenwriters are hoping to craft the next great low-budget film.

Here are three things screenwriters should keep in mind when writing low-budget spec scripts.

1. Make Sure It Is Contained

One of the key things low-budget filmmakers look at is the number of shooting locations in your script. If your story takes place in five locations or less, it is said to be “contained.”

Here are a couple of excerpts from one of InkTip‘s recent newsletters (where they post industry requests for scripts):

Company F

We are looking for completed feature-length contained indie scripts in the vein of “In Bruges,” “Up in the Air,” “Juno,” or “Thank you for Smoking,” i.e. anything written in a Jason Reitman style. Specifically, though not exclusively, we are interested in screenplays which feature young adults (16-21). Please note, contained means 85% or more of the story takes place in 5 or fewer locations. A location in this context refers to the setup and breakdown of equipment for a shoot, so if your script takes place in five rooms in a single house, that’s still just one location. A city, on the other hand, is not a location. [Emphasis Added]

Company G

We are looking for completed feature-length mystery/suspense scripts that can be shot on a first feature budget. Submissions should be for contemporary, character-driven material that takes place in five or fewer locations. [Emphasis Added]

See the pattern?

If you’re writing a low-budget feature film on spec, make sure it’s contained in five or fewer locations.

2. Embrace the Limited Number of Locations

Some screenwriters are now taking big budget movies they’ve written and converting them into low-budget flims. That’s a very tricky thing to do — especially if the story is to maintain its organic feel.

When James Wan and Leigh Whannell developed their idea for the movie Saw, they built it from the ground up — knowing they needed a story that could be fully realized with only a handful of locations.

The story came out of that mandate, and therefore worked very effectively. If you take a big budget movie and simply strip locations out of it, more likely than not, you’ll simply end up with a watered down version of your original concept.

It is therefore vital that you write a movie that works better as a low-budget movie than as a big-budget picture. The story should capitalize on the limited locations, rather than feel like it’s suffering because of it.

Can you imagine how much less effective (and successful) Paranormal Activity would have been if it were filmed with a large budget?

3. A Low-Budget Film Does Not Mean A Weak Concept

Just because you’re writing a low-budget film it doesn’t mean you can get away with writing a boring, cliché or uneventful movie. Concept and execution are still king.

The Blair Witch Project, had a brilliant marketing ploy with the idea of “found footage.”

Open Water, had a horrifying and attention grabbing premise.

Paranormal Activity, featured some genuinely creepy moments that had never been filmed before.

Buried, takes place entirely in one very claustrophobic location.

Moreover, all of these films made the most of their respective hooks by sustaining tension throughout and building to a thrilling climax.

Does your low-budget spec script have a powerful concept? Is it entertaining/enjoyable/thrilling throughout?

Despite what the headlines tell us, it’s still a very difficult market for spec scripts of all budgets. Whether writing a low-budget indie or a big studio feature, write the hell out of that script! It’s the only way it’ll be sold.


Category: Low-Budget  | 3 Comments
Q & A with Michele Wallerstein Jan 29

Do you have a question that you’d like to have answered by a longtime Hollywood literary agent? Send it in!

questions@scriptwrecked.com


Question: (from Anonymous)
What a great opportunity!! I would really love to know how someone unknown with no sales under their belt gets an agent. Is it possible? Wishful thinking?

Answer: (Michele Wallerstein)
Getting a literary agent is not as difficult as everyone seems to think. All agents, managers, producers etc. are always on the lookout for great new writers with lots of sample scripts and new ideas. You simply need to rub elbows with some of those folks at Pitch Fests, Film Festivals, writer’s panels, writer’s conferences and anyplace that you find that has invited agents and producers to attend or to be guest speakers.

Here is an article for you about how to network successfully at these events. If you have the product there will be agents at your door!

The Who, What, When, Where, Why & How of “Networking”

by Michele Wallerstein

There’s that awful term again: Networking. It’s thrown around in every seminar you attend, in every “how-to” book you’ve read and by every writer you know. They all say it’s the way to get in, the way to keep up and keep current. You’re told it’s something you must do or you won’t have a writing career.

I’ve spent over 25 years of my life guiding the careers of writers, directors and producers. As an agent I’ve submitted scripts and novels, negotiated deals, advised clients, worked with projects, edited properties and sold hundreds and hundreds of hours of movies, mini-series and television shows. I’ve also been the one to fan the flames for a client to make sure that they stayed hot. To keep those fires burning it takes both the agent and the client.

You’re probably a solo worker by virtue of being a writer, or you live in Minnesota or Alaska, not Hollywood, California. Perhaps you’ve always been shy or afraid you’ll say the wrong thing. In any event you’re not sure where and who these magical people are with whom you must network. To really network in the most productive way is to find those people who seem impossible to find. You know they must be out there, but how do you get to them? Why will they want to talk to you?

It’s one thing to give your projects to friends or family to critique. You may even join a writers group in person or go on the ubiquitous internet. Perhaps you have used a professional consultant to help with your work. Is this Networking? The simple answer is yes and no.

Those of us who are or have been in the business of finding the best clients, screenplays, novels, etc., really are working hard to reach out to new writers with lots of talent and great ideas. We’ll search near and far to find that project we can sell or the right writer we can represent. Don’t believe that we are not open to you, because we are.

Finding us isn’t difficult. We are everywhere. We are listed with The Writers Guild of America; we are on the Internet and in numerous published information guides like The Hollywood Creative Directories. We speak at seminars and on panels, we go to every film festival in the world. We are right in front of you.

Armed with this information, the next and most important steps are up to you.

WHO: Since we are out there you must go to every seminar, film festival and writers conference that you possibly can find. Everyone at these events is a potential CONTACT. Every speaker has come to help you with your career and in exchange is looking for a great project and/or client. Always trade business cards with each speaker. Try to engage them in a brief conversation. Compliment their speech or their work, and tell them a little bit about yourself.

WHAT: The contacts you make are your doorways into the mainstream of your writing arena. By following up with an email or phone call regarding your best project, you are taking your second most important step to your success. (Naturally your finished project is the first step.)

WHEN: Every chance you get to interface with industry professionals is the right time to act. Whether your project is finished or not, it is in your best interest to make the person-to-person contact and hold on to their information, i.e. business card, until you are ready to submit something wonderful to them.

WHERE: You will need to go anywhere you can to find professionals as well as other writers. Don’t ignore new writers groups, internet groups, even magazines and books. Anyone whose work interests you or whose work you admire can be reached via internet research or publisher.

WHY: If you don’t connect and network, your work will sit on your shelf and only be read by your favorite friends. If you really want your work published or seen on the screen, you must contact these people.

HOW: After trading those wonderful little business cards, you need to send a short thank you note and reintroduce of yourself. If you are ready, ask if you may send them your work. Be sure to submit your project in a timely manner if they accept your offer. The next step is to ask for a meeting to discuss your project (whether they loved it or not), and to pitch new ideas to them. It is paramount to keep up some sort of sporadic communication with these people, even if it’s a Birthday or Christmas card. You have to let them know that you are not going to fade away. One of them will be able to move your work forward, get it to someone who can say “yes,” or even just give you great advice…. and we all need someone in our corner.

Perhaps you’ve looked at this list and asked yourself “What does this have to do with my writing?” The answer is nothing, but it has everything to do with your writing career.


Michele Wallerstein is a Screenplay & Novel & Career Consultant and author of “MIND YOUR BUSINESS: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career“.

Web site: www.novelconsultant.com

Movie News and Links: 01-28-10 Jan 28

Here are some interesting movie-related stories and links I’ve discovered for January 28, 2010:


Real Life Pandora “Plant” Jan 27

This is cool

Apparently fiction is sometimes as strange as truth.

Check out this undersea “plant” (soft coral?) that has the same defense mechanism as the disappearing plant on Pandora, from James Cameron’s little indie film, Avatar.

Via Neatorama


Top Four! Jan 26

Writing feature screenplays is hard work. Every now and again I find a great excus — er… exercise, that allows me to focus on something else for a while.1

So when Julie Gray, of the popular web site JustEffing.com, held a one page scene competition, it seemed liked the perfect distractio — er… device to sharpen my skills.

Her competition was simple. Write an entertaining one page scene in any genre that incorporated the words: pear, slay and thickening. She’s posted my scene, along with the three other finalists’ scenes, right here, to be voted on.

Normally this would be the part where I shamelessly plug my scene and ask you to vote for it, but in this case, I just can’t do that. You see, after reading all four of the scenes, there’s one I actually liked better than mine.

So please head over to Julie’s site, read the quick one page scenes, and vote for whichever one you like the best (by leaving a comment).


Speaking of Julie Gray, she has some great workshops for screenwriters coming up. Here’s more information:

Julie Gray is packing her bags and setting off on a whirlwind, world-wide tour to teach you how to get your Ideas to the Page to the Screen. She’s off to NYC February 27-28 for an intensive two-day weekend workshop, then jetting across the Atlantic for UK workshops in London (March 6-7) Oxford  (March 13-14). After, that she’s taking some much needed time off in Tel Aviv before heading back to the states to teach workshops in Chicago in April and San Francisco in May. All workshops are $329 with deep discounts given to early-birds including 10% off at the Writer’s Store and $50 off attendance at the Great American Pitch Fest this June, 2010.

Sign up before February 12 to receive a free bundle of three podcasts from Julie’s teleclass series Just Effing Do It!

Oh, and for you local folk, Julie is also teaching The Saturday Series in Los Angeles on Saturdays January 30, February 6, and February 13 at The Lot on Formosa – $50 a class or $125 for all three. Each class runs 9am to 1pm – get in early, get out early, get on with your day! Go to www.justeffing.com to learn more!

Julie Gray is packing her bags and setting off on a whirlwind, world-wide tour to teach you how to get your Ideas to the Page to the Screen. She’s off to NYC February 27-28 for an intensive two-day weekend workshop, then jetting across the Atlantic for UK workshops in London (March 6-7) Oxford  (March 13-14). After, that she’s taking some much needed time off in Tel Aviv before heading back to the states to teach workshops in Chicago in April and San Francisco in May. All workshops are $329 with deep discounts given to early-birds including 10% off at the Writer’s Store and $50 off attendance at the Great American Pitch Fest this June, 2010.

Sign up before February 12 to receive a free bundle of three podcasts from Julie’s teleclass series Just Effing Do It!

Oh, and for you local folk, Julie is also teaching The Saturday Series in Los Angeles onSaturdays January 30, February 6, and February 13 at The Lot on Formosa – $50 a class or $125 for all three. Each class runs 9am to 1pm – get in early, get out early, get on with your day! Go to www.justeffing.com to learn more!


  1. My last distraction got me to the quarterfinals of the Creative Screenwriting Cyberspace Open competition
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