Micro Miniature Miniscule Minute Screenplays
Part 7 of our "Survival" series for screenwriters.
All these are well and good, but how about some specifics. One way to study micro-budget movies is to examine LOCATIONS within these movies, and the choices made by the writer on what to use, and what not to use. We can do this with a Final Draft Location breakdown. For instance, this one on PI:
PI-SCREENPLAY - LOCATION REPORT
MAX'S APARTMENT (9 OCCURRENCES)
EXT. MAX'S APARTMENT - DAY (1) P.34
EXT. MAX'S APARTMENT - DUSK (1) P.61
EXT. MAX'S APARTMENT - NIGHT (1) P.79
INT. MAX'S APARTMENT - DAY (4) P.34
INT. MAX'S APARTMENT - NIGHT (2) P.86
BLINDING WHITE VOID (4 OCCURRENCES)
Blank scene intro (4)
BLINDING WHITE VOID (4) P.52
SOL'S APARTMENT (4 OCCURRENCES)
EXT. SOL'S APARTMENT - DAWN (1) P.42
EXT. SOL'S APARTMENT - MORNING (1) P.48
EXT. SOL'S APARTMENT - NIGHT (1) P.93
INT. SOL'S APARTMENT - DUSK (1) P.73
COFFEE SHOP (3 OCCURRENCES)
INT. COFFEE SHOP - DAY (2) P.9
INT. COFFEE SHOP - NIGHT (1) P.71
SOL'S STUDY (3 OCCURRENCES)
EXT. SOL'S STUDY - MOMENTS LATER (1) P.17
INT. SOL'S STUDY - DAY (1) P.27
INT. SOL'S STUDY - MOMENTS LATER (1) P.45
BATHROOM (2 OCCURRENCES)
INT. BATHROOM - DAWN (2) P.1
CHINATOWN (2 OCCURRENCES)
EXT. CHINATOWN - DAY (2) P.4
CITY STREETS (2 OCCURRENCES)
EXT. CITY STREETS - DAY (1) P.93
EXT. CITY STREETS - NIGHT (1) P.80
For brevity's sake I left out other locations with two or less instances including the Electronic Megadump, which conjures up all sorts of images one could only associate with a movie like PI. Aronofsky made this, his first, movie for $60,000. He lay the groundwork for being able to make the movie happen right in the screenplay with his strict limitation of locations. Here, it's all places we can get for nothing or next to nothing: Two apartments (Max and Sol), a Study, a Bathroom, a Coffee Shop, City Streets and Chinatown scenes, and of course the Blinding White Void. Only Aronofsky, right? Want an even more extreme example. Look at the Report for Clerks:
CLERKS-SCREENPLAY - LOCATION REPORT
DAY (30 OCCURRENCES)
EXT: CONVENIENCE STORE (7)
EXT: CONVENIENCE STORE. DAY (7) P.73
EXT: FUNERAL PARLOR (2)
EXT: FUNERAL PARLOR. DAY (2) P.86
EXT: VIDEO STORE (1)
EXT: VIDEO STORE. DAY (1) P.45
INT: BACK ROOM (1)
INT: BACK ROOM. DAY (1) P.34
INT: CONVENIENCE STORE (15)
INT: CONVENIENCE STORE. DAY (15) P.40
INT: VIDEO STORE (4)
INT: VIDEO STORE. DAY (4) P.67
NIGHT (17 OCCURRENCES)
EXT: CONVENIENCE STORE (3)
EXT: CONVENIENCE STORE. NIGHT (3) P.87
EXT: VIDEO STORE (4)
EXT: VIDEO STORE. NIGHT (4) P.127
INT: CONVENIENCE STORE (8)
INT: CONVENIENCE STORE. NIGHT (8) P.118
INT: VIDEO STORE (2)
INT: VIDEO STORE. NIGHT (2) P.106
MORNING (8 OCCURRENCES)
EXT: CONVENIENCE STORE (4)
EXT: CONVENIENCE STORE. MORNING (4) P.3
INT: CONVENIENCE STORE (4)
INT: CONVENIENCE STORE. MORNING (4) P.4
90%+ of this movie takes place in the convenience and video stores! With the exception of a couple of apartment scenes, a car scene, and the two quick exteriors outside the Funeral Home, it's ALL at the stores.
This, of course, the same store Kevin Smith was working at at the time. The movie was filmed when the store was closed (check the DVD for some hilarious commentary). Cost of all locations? Zero. As in 0$. When you learn you can film at the store, you then write it into the script. It's how a movie as influential as Clerks can be made for $27,000.
A study of the best of Micro-Budget and Indy screenplays can yield terrific lessons when you're starting from scratch, trying to carve out a name for yourself. Read Spike Lee's journal of the making of She's Got To Have It. Absolutely fortifying to know Spike Lee, back in the day, struggled to make rent, hit his mother up for money, annoyed and pissed his friends off with money requests, anything to get his first movie made. We're talking about less than $50,000 dollars, again. He honed down the script, rewriting over and over, until it was realistically do-able at micro-budget level.
David Lynch took years to make the sub $30,000 Eraserhead. He had a paper route and grabbed unused sound and film stock from dumpsters. Cassavetes made other people's movies to get the cash to make his own low budget films. Orson Wells made wine commercials. Rodriguez sold himself for medical experiments.
If you have to whore yourself, make sure your script is freakin' in the bag. No flies. You might only get one chance to ride down that moonlight mile…
Make it count.
PAUL PEDITTO wrote and directed Jane Doe, an A-PIX Films release starring Calista Flockhart. The film was awarded Best Feature at the New York Independent Film & Video Festival and grossed over 2 million dollars.
Six of his screenplays have been optioned, among them Crossroaders to Haft Entertainment (Emma, Dead Poet's Society).
He has won semi-finalist honors at Nicholl Fellowship Screenwriting Awards and Slamdance.
Other imdb credits include Home In The Heartland, and The Group, which was accepted at multiple film festivals around the country.
Four of his stage plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing Company, two of which were presented on National Public Radio's "Chicago Theaters On The Air" series. Over 25 productions of his theatrical work have been performed in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York. His adaptation of Nelson Algren's Never Come Morning won 9 Joseph Jefferson Citations including Best Play and Best Adaptation. His adaptation of Ben Hecht's 1,001 Afternoons In Chicago is a two-time Jefferson Award nominee. Pura Vida, a stage play based on his novel, was produced at Chicago's Live Bait Theater, earning a feature article in the New York Times.
He teaches screenwriting at Columbia College and Chicago Filmmakers, professionally consulting on thousands of screenplays since 2002. His book Writing Screenplays is now available for purchase.