When people think about writing a low budget screenplay they tend to turn in one of three directions. Comedy, drama or horror. I understand this. These are the movies that populate theaters and cable tv these days. We write what we read and we write what we see. That old run of writing what you know comes into play. The problem is that the two dominate forms of screen writing has all but been lost during the last decade.
We no longer write westerns. I understand this based upon budget to a certain extent, but the micro budget rules can apply to a western as well as other types of films. If you are the writer and the film maker and you live in an area of the country that offers a western setting then you should not be afraid to write a western.
The suspense script is not so much about budget as it is about technique. Most of you have not been taught how to write a suspense script. Many confuse suspense with mystery. For most of the past century suspense was king and horror lived in a back room. Hitchcock dominated the box office with one suspense story after another. Suspense films still are a large part of the international film market it is just here where the suspense film has been filed away.
Why should you consider writing a suspense script?
Suspense offers the best of all worlds. A little horror, comedy, action and drama. When done well they stand the test of time. They will challenge you as a writer.
What are the rules for writing a suspense story?
One rule applies always. This rule is the exact opposite of a horror script.
In a horror story something is chasing you. In a suspense story you are chasing something. You being your lead character of course.
Jason, Michael Myers, Freddie and the shark from Jaws is chasing the lead. They are always being stalked or menaced by the creature in the darkness.
In a suspense story the lead is doing all the chasing. He or she is trying to track down the monster. Find the threat before it is realized. Locate the bomb before it can go off. Get the wife or child back before it is too late.
Modern suspense classics are Disturbia (remake of Rear Window), Taken, Basic Instinct, The Usual Suspects and Momento. I recently saw the movie Stoker and this disturbing little film reminded me of what world class suspense is like. I watched the movie the first time as a writer and the second time as a film maker. The budget is listed at twelve million dollars. I imagine that a lot of that budget went to pay the stars and for once I have to admit they earned their salaries. Every performance was pitch perfect and the suspense does not work nearly as well if the number one person who is in danger is not some one that we as viewers are not familiar with. The movie need Nicole Kidman in the same way that Hitchcock’s films need Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly.
Okay back to the budget. If you take away the salaries for the stars and the director and shot it using a small digital production crew this film could have been shot on an ultra low budget.
You need to look at movies and read script from films shoot in the forties and fifties. Many of the great suspense films from those days were low budget B suspense films. Many of the rules that apply to micro budget film scripts were learned from those films. Limit the cast and the locations and the number of sets. Find a lead character that can not let it go. A character who has to chase the answers down. A character who does not blink and then let them go for it. Or you could show us two sides of a characters personality. One side decent and kind, the other side dark and violent. Which side will come out in the end? Which person will reveal themselves and to whom? Suspense is built that way. It comes down to when will the bomb go off. Just keep in mind that sometime the bomb is a secret or sometimes it’s a person.
Okay that is it for today guys. Good luck with your no budget screenplay. Please take a moment to stumble us on stumble upon and to share this post with a friend.