The key to filming a low-budget movie, Bill Martell says, is first writing a low-budget screenplay:
One key to a “big budget” film which can be shot cheap is to come up with BIG ACTION which doesn’t have to be done for real. “ID4″ blew up the White House… Done in miniature.
It’s also important to keep your actors and effects separate! Two reasons for this:
1) To combine real actors and miniatures or computer effects is expensive and time consuming.
2) Real actors make CGI and miniatures look fake. They give us a point of comparison. This is why Stan Winston built LIFE SIZE dinosaurs for the petting-touching-standing next to scenes in “The Lost World”. We aren’t doing ANYTHING for real!
This DOES limit your palate. You have to find a story where the big action takes place ‘outside’ and the actors work ‘inside’. “DIE HARD” type movies work well for this. But so would “ALIEN” and “ALIENS”, “CRIMSON TIDE , “EXECUTIVE DECISION”, any Star Trek film, and Hawks version of “THE THING”.
Other tricks involve using centralized locations and confined cameos:
By having a large portion of the film take place at a central location, that location can be pre-lit to save time setting up shots. Most low budget films have a primary location where half of the film takes place, then several secondary locations. This reduces down time for crew moves and allows a production to maximize the number of pages shot per day. A low budget film averages at least five pages a day, compared to the page or two a studio film can roll between packing and unpacking the trucks.
Let’s say you can afford to hire Robert Vaughn for one day. You want to maximize his screen time, so you confine him to a location. Instead of spending valuable star time moving the crew from location A to location B, you make sure EVERY SINGLE SCENE Robert Vaughn is in takes place at Location A.
Let’s say he’s the Chief Of Police. You stick him in an office, light it, and shoot every single scene between the Renegade Cop and the Chief Of Police: Chewed out, one last chance, badge and gun taken away, arrested by other cops, finally convincing the Chief to let him finish the case. These scenes are weaved through out the film, making it seem like Robert Vaughn was in the whole thing.
Now take that idea, and multiply it by 6 different locations and 6 different confined cameos, and you have an ALL STAR CAST which seems to be in the entire film. Karen Black as the witness. Martin Landau as the Senator who may be involved. Michael York as the suspect. Teri Polo as the widow of Renegade Cop’s partner. Stan Shaw as the Renegade Cop’s mentor, who owns a bar. You get the idea.
Each actor works ONE day at ONE location to maximize his/her screen time.
This explains why he wrote a number of screenplays taking place on submarines, and thus why his blog is called Sex on a Submarine — sort of:
So I get these script notes. You always get notes from actors, directors, producers, producer’s girlfriend’s, producer’s dog walkers, etc. Endless notes. Most notes aren’t about improving the script, they’re about changing it.
My favorite note was from a producer at MGM — they were interested in this contemporary gritty armed robbery script of mine, kind of like HEAT, and he asked, “Why can’t they be cowboys?”
“Do you mean, have the script take place in the 1800s?”
“No. Still takes place today, but the robbers wear hats and chaps and spurs and ride horses!”
Thankfully that project crashed and burned, but there is still a Village People version somewhere on my hard drive. Most script notes are crazy things like that, and that’s why when you see some dreadful film and wonder why they bought that script; well, they didn’t really buy that script — they bought a completely great script that was the one in a million… then changed it into that dreadful script. And then spent $106 million to make it. You’ll probably be hearing more about that in later blog entries.
So I get these notes from HBO… they want me to put a sex scene in the script. Now, you might expect to get a note to add a sex scene from some direct to video producer or maybe Roger Corman’s development person… but this is HBO!
So I ask, “The script takes place on a submarine with a crew of 110 men, what kind of sex scene did they have in mind?”
And they shoot back, “Well, not a Gay sex scene!” That was back then, today they would want a Gay sex scene (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
So I asked, “Um, where is the woman for the non-Gay sex scene coming from?”
And they give me the standard answer, “Hey, you’re the writer — be creative!” Which just means they have no idea how there can be a sex scene in the script, either… but now it is my problem. Tag, you’re it!
As usual, I argue a little, but you can never win. The golden rule. He who has the gold rules. When you sell a screenplay it is no longer yours, and they can make even the stupidest changes and you are powerless to do anything… and usually your contract includes 2 rewrites and a polish, so you are the one ruining your own script. You have to. It’s all part of the screenwriter’s job.
Despite my logical arguments, HBO insists that I add a sex scene. With a woman.
Well, my script didn’t only have 110 men on the submarine, it also had a handful of terrorists who had taken over the sub, and one was already a woman. So, I write up a sex scene — and it’s still really stupid. We have these terrorists who are outnumbered but have a clever plan to take over the submarine, and right in the middle of this scene, the female terrorist sets down her gun and disrobes to get some lovin’ from a crew member who never asks who she is or what she is doing on the submarine. It is the dumbest scene I have ever written (the cowboys made more sense).
Okay, I’m a pro… I make sure that the scene before the stupid sex scene and after the stupid sex scene cut together perfectly, so that when HBO sees how stupid the sex scene is, the editor can cut the film together without it. Snip-snip and that scene is gone! The film won’t be stupid anymore.
But when CRASH DIVE airs on HBO on March 28 1996, the sex scene is intact.