All the time screenwriters ask me for script leads in the vain hope they have *something* that might magically “match up” with what producers and directors are looking for. Of course, 9 times out of 10 they haven’t. That’s not a problem if you want your work to simply act as a sample when applying for schemes etc, but if you want your best run at potential production, there are things you can do to maximise your portfolio.
It’s true that trends change. What might be “hot” now might not be in a year’s time. That said, after a decade script reading, I can tell you there are certain things that are always in demand for production, to one level or another. Here’s how to maximise your portfolio’s chances of meeting a producer or director’s demands, without crossing your fingers.
HAVE YOU GOT:
1) 2 or 3 Short Screenplays? Short screenplays are still the best way for screenwriters not only to get their stuff made, but learn about the production process and make viable, useful contacts. What’s more, short scripts can attract serious attention and even get prestigious awards. Screenwriters turning their noses up at low budget shorts are crazy. Even if your short script falls apart and doesn’t get out of the can, you will have learnt something. Even better, you’ve forged a relationship with someone you can probably work with later, too. Types of short screenplay that are useful in your portfolio:
i) A microshort, 1-5 pages, featuring 2-3 people, set in one location. It can be anywhere: cafes, pubs and spooky houses are good bets, as are park benches, lifts and schools or colleges. Just as long as it can ALL be shot in one day: this means you don’t want your camera people to have to set up and pack up a lot, which takes time (N.B – this does NOT mean your characters need to be “static” and not move). Also, make sure your location is somewhere a filmmaker can realistically get permission to shoot. Try and avoid the usual short film themes of suicide, depression and loneliness in order to stand out from the crowd.
ii) A lengthier short, 10-15 pages, featuring 2-6 people, set in one or two locations. Again, don’t go “out there” on location, stick to the above but allow yourself a little more room for the filmmakers moving around and setting up the camera, etc in say, a two day shoot maximum. Be ambitious with your theme: 10-15 minutes is actually a LONG time, not a snapshot like the microshort, so try and really invoke an emotional response in the viewer: devastate them, don’t just sadden them; fill them with joy, don’t just try and make them happy. Again, avoid suicide, depression and loneliness which are done all the time.
With both types of shorts: avoid child actors (who must be paid) and animals. Think about Health and Safety issues, as well as potential logistical issues. Think about specialist props: do you really need them? Can your filmmakers source everything you need to make this short easily and cheaply?
HAVE YOU GOT:
2) 2 or 3 Feature Screenplays? I’ve said before that features have great currency in the industry – even if you’re more interested in writing for television in the long run, features still showcase what you can do brilliantly. What’s more, the leads you see online are nearly always for low budget feature-length scripts, so you will be able to spread your net wide. Types of low budget features you should have in your portfolio:
i) A “Contained Thriller” / “Man in a Box” Story. Particularly popular at the moment, “Contained Thrillers” offer high suspense and intrigue within limited locations, with huge life-or-death stakes. BURIED is a good example, as are OPEN WATER, PHONE BOOTH and even as far back as Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW. The key here is in using the constraints of your limited location/s to fuel your narrative, rather than rely on endless flashback to “get out”. Make sure you read and watch as many as possible to get ideas.
ii) A One Room Horror. Popular at the end of the 90s and beginning of the noughties with the likes of CUBE and the SAW franchise, the One Room Horror is taking a bit of a backseat at the moment, since there have been so few new ideas here. That said, if you can come up with that new idea, there’s no doubt your spec script could appeal to someone or even become hot property. Don’t forget – your “One Room” does not have to be one room in the script – if you can redress the same set to look LIKE a different room, then even better.
iii) A Low Budget Comedy. Comedy is always popular and Britain was once known for it. If you can come up with a scenario that lends itself to funny and is in just 1-3 locations (preferably 1 outside maximum, or even none), featuring a cast of ten or less, you could well find yourself in demand. From seeing various deals done I’d venture comedies involving weddings, pregnancies/birth, the workplace, neighbours and Christmas d0 well.
iv) A Character-Study Drama. It’s true that drama is a bit of a dirty word at present – distributors don’t tend to like them, even with stars in. However, if your drama is a truly great character study with a universal theme, you will find someone who will back you, even if it means you end up doing the festival circuit. Win awards and place in enough of them, a sales agent will eventually take a risk on you. So if you’re going to do drama, really go for broke: make it the most insightful, emotion-ridden piece anyone has ever seen and people will get on board.
Before you attempt any of the features above, make sure your premise sings – so your logline should roll off the tongue with ease. Producers want marketable screenplays with a clear hook/central concept, so make sure you check out Writing The Low Budget Screenplay Part 1 and don’t forget the second article too.
HAVE YOU GOT:
3) 10-15 One Page Pitches for low budget pieces like the above? Yes, that many! It’s so when your contact says, “It’s not for me, what else have you got?”, you can produce a pitch and suggest working on a project together from the ground up. You’d be surprised by how often this works. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to sell *yourself* to people as a potential collaborator. Here’s an article on how to write a One Page Pitch.
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