STORY BROADS: Writing to Direct vs. Writing Spec Screenplays

STORY BROADS: Writing to Direct vs. Writing Spec Screenplays

Image credit: Jakob Owens

There are a lot of screenwriters out there who dream of writing a phenomenal script and then selling it to a producer who will take care of actually turning those words into a film.

I envy you. You can write the script you want without constantly considering just how you would accomplish it when the film is made.

I never wanted to be a screenwriter so much as I wanted to be a filmmaker. I don’t just want to put my words down on the page (just! Ha! Makes it sound so easy…), I want to be the one to make them come to life. Don’t get me wrong, there are scripts I want to write that I don’t really have a vested interest in producing or directing myself. But they’re greatly outnumbered by the ones I do want to make myself.

So for the past few years, I’ve donned my producer/director hat while I’ve written each successive screenplay. Here are some things I’ve learned in writing both shorts and features that I plan to direct and/or produce myself.

Learn to think about the money

Money is the thing standing in the way of most (great) scripts being turned into films, whether you’re making it yourself or selling it to someone else. But unless you’re independently wealthy, the budget for your first film is unlikely to be much higher than what you’d pay for a decent used car (or maybe a reasonably-priced new car if it’s a feature).

Figuring out how to write a feature that you can shoot for a budget in the low- to mid-five figures can mean the difference between actually getting your feature made or spending the next ten years struggling to put together a couple million dollars in financing.

Things that cost money (this is not an exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea):

  • Multiple locations
  • Large casts (even if everyone is working for free, you still have to feed them and cover expenses)
  • Any kind of special effects
  • Long shooting schedules
  • Costumes and props that you can’t get at a thrift store
  • Complicated shots (dollies, cranes, etc.)

Every single one of those things adds up. Every single thing you add to your script potentially adds a line item to your budget.

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