The enemy of art is the absence of limitations, said Orson Welles. It is a truth that independent micro-budget filmmakers must embrace, and it starts with the script. Writers who keep the micro -budget challenges in mind may benefit when creating stories which are ready to materialize at this budget level. But first --
Why the micro-budget feature?
The reason to make a micro-budget feature extends well beyond the difficulties any filmmaker faces in raising money for their independent film. While it is probably more difficult than ever to get your independent film made, excellent stories are still able to surface. So why make films for a fraction of the budget when it is possible to aim higher?
As many of our readers know, raising money for an independent film means relinquishing a certain amount of creative control. This is not only because of wealthy partners who have expectations and demands. Expensive films require a well-known actor to add value to the film for distributors. Name actors or directors often bring with them a set of expectations that the producer or writer may not have considered. Selling an expensive feature is also more risky, especially in today’s saturated market. A cheap independent film will not be hindered by the same factors and may, therefore, find a quicker route to production.
What can a writer keep in mind when writing a micro-budget film?
The first and most obvious thing: location. A single interesting location that can be used in many different ways will take a micro-budget film to the next level. Relying on an expensive location (driving on a busy freeway for example) or incorporating multiple locations may be cost prohibitive. Additionally, the elements inside a location may have a huge impact as well (finding a club or concert hall may be possible, but filling it with hundreds of people may be an issue). Visual effects created in post or practical special effects can cost prohibitive as well. The bottom line is that micro-budget filmmaking forces the writer to focus on the story and not be able to solve difficult moments with the use of narrative ‘fireworks’ as many Hollywood movies do. The writer must be aware and selective with the use of resources, possibly saving the spectacular moments to pivotal or climactic scenes.
But what about the money?
The writer should have a realistic expectation for reimbursement. The WGA minimum for a spec sale, for a film under $200k, is $12,510 as of 2018. Writers of micro-budget features are not paid their worth on the front end of the deal. The good news is that if done well, micro-budget features have a higher likelihood of returning their investment. The answer to the salary problem is the back-end, where writers can and should negotiate percentages (points) from the net profit of the picture. As we know, there is virtually no limit to how much money a very successful film can make.