Friday, December 6, 2013

The Low Budget Holiday Script

Another holiday season has arrived and we find movies in theatres and on television with holiday themes. This is nothing new. Holiday movies have been part of the film making landscape since the very early days. Simple stories about home and faith and family.

I say home and faith and family while leaving out Santa Claus because after watching two weeks non stop of these kinds of films I am going to suggest that we all take a step away from the I am Santa films.

I understand why many filmmakers pick the Santa film, it is a way of making a movie all inclusive and a way of avoiding questions of faith. I would ask those film makers the question “Is that what you really want to be?” The equivalent of oatmeal or canned tuna? The holiday film that embraces faith and family most of all is the most popular of them all, It’s A Wonderful Life. The second most popular are versions of A Christmas Carol. Even the story of Santa Claus is based upon the life of a Christian Saint.

To do something truly memorable and lasting you may need to embrace this part of the holiday theme.

Switch for a moment to the area of comedy I am not against in anyway films such as - Plains, Trains and Automobiles or the first two Home Alone films. Comedy has its place. Although those movies are not low budget. You should always try to find a place to include a little comedy in your film even if is a serious drama. A holiday film script that is too down beat can be a hard sell. I wish that good old fashion tear jerkers were still popular, but audience are not demanding them. A lead character with a strong sense of humor is a good thing. They may not tell the jokes, but they should be able to get the joke or have the ability to laugh at themselves. 


 The great thing about holiday films is that most of them are at their core very simple scripts to write. The plots usually come down to two subjects. Either going home or appreciating what you had at home. A nice twist on this theme is the Nicholas Cage film, The Family Man.

The going home plot can fit perfectly into the no budget screenplay world. You can set one of these stories inside of a car or on a bus. Keeping your characters on the move can keep your story fresh as you introduce new characters and situations every few pages.

A few words on watching your budget in the travel and home types of scripts. Do not constantly change mode of transportation. This works great in a large budget film like Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but will kill a micro budget film. If your character or characters are travelling by car you can change vehicles a few times without blowing up a budget. If it is by bus the same bus location can double for multiple buses locations. After all if you have seen the inside of one cross country bus then you have seen them all. Plane and train travel can be done on a low budget depending on area of the country and access to sets. If you or the person that will be shooting your script lives in LA. NY. or a Canadian film making center then this can be done without blowing up a budget.

Now a note on the faith based holiday film.

You can write for a larger cast and crew than a standard low budget film because the film maker will, if he or she is smart, partner with a church or community organization that will open the doors to many free locations such as churches and community centers along with many people who will be willing to offer their services for free. Just remember the trade off in this area is that you must present a G or PG rated story with no subject material that will be objected to. This will include Santa and elves, do not include them. In the faith based world Christmas is a high holy day. Christmas is the beginning of the love story between mankind and god. Although there are a few dozen new family and faith based films coming to television this year there is only one that will playing in theaters. The Christmas Candle, and it like almost every such film has been beaten up by critics. If you want to be loved by critics and to win awards you are not going to get them if you write in this niche. Critics did not care much for It’s A Wonderful Life so understand that you will have little to no hope of winning them over.

I may have suggested rules, but the truth is that there are no rules. You can tell your holiday story anyway that you wish if you are going to be the film maker. If you want to take your screenplay to market then you will have to consider some of the basic rules. Directors and producers seem to want the familiar. This is perhaps why there has been hundreds of variations of the Christmas Carol plot.

Last note on the subject, you can mine classic songs for material. By classic I mean those in public domain. If you want to use a modern song then go out and negotiate for permission to do so. One of the most popular Christmas films in recent years was the movie Christmas Shoes. I believe that most movies based upon songs are thinly plotted, but it can get you from start to finish and just finishing a script gets you ninety percent of the way to seeing it produced someday.

Now if you feel that I have left out the subject of horror and holiday films. I did this because I have seen all of the Silent Night Deadly Night films. A few about killer snow men and the legendarily bad Santa Slays. I do not want to aid you in writing a horror movie for the holidays.

Peace on earth and good will towards men.

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Thank you for visiting and happy holidays. 

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