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Writing for a low budget film doesn’t mean you need to limit your creativity. There are many tricks you can use in order to make the most out of the story you have in mind with a little amount of money.

Yes, Virginia is a 12 minute short film I wrote and directed which deals with themes of hope, grief and problematic love. The film is not afraid to explore the grey areas between love, lies and deceit, and will hopefully be a film viewers will discuss even after they leave the cinema.

Whilst writing the film I learnt a few things about writing for a low budget, including the following four handy tips:

Set Up Your World’s Rules

First things first, it’s time to decide where your film is set. Is it set in the ‘real world’, is it a fantasy, is it a period drama? You need to figure out what the world your film is set in is, and what the rules are. Yes, Virginia is set in a world just like ours, except the main character Virginia can grant people’s wishes. This obviously isn’t your everyday occurrence but I wanted this to be accepted as normal in this setting. The rules are simple: if Virginia hears the words ‘I wish…’ she automatically grants that person’s wish, everybody only gets one wish, and it’s impossible to undo a wish.

Once you’ve decided the rules of your own universe, you can begin to craft the characters that inhabit it.

Focus on the Characters

A story is only ever as good as the characters that inhabit it. To create a snappy narrative short film you need to craft characters that the audience is going to identify with. It’s possible to create a completely nonsensical world and make it believable by creating grounded characters with plausible intentions. If you give the character a clear goal this helps the audience (as well as the actor) to track their progress across the film’s length. A key part of a plot is the main conflict. You can make the main conflict come from the characters themselves by giving them conflicting goals and actions.

You can show what kind of characters they are through the clothes they wear as well. I wanted Virginia to be dressed in smart dresses and also bought her a necklace to wear – a bird in a cage, hinting at the themes of the film to eagle-eyed viewers. Nick is dressed in a shirt and trousers, to give the impression that he is the ‘every-man’ archetype.

Photography by Bertie Watson

Limit the Amount of Locations

In order to keep to a shoe string budget it’s important to limit the amount of locations you use. Having multiple locations quickly increases your budget because of the cost of renting, travel to the location and the increased price of filming over multiple days. Once you’ve decided where your film is set, start contacting friends or family members to see if they know of anywhere you can film it on the cheap or even for free, then if this isn’t possible start looking further afield.

With Yes, Virginia we had two key locations, a TV Studio, for Virginia’s television debut and her dining room, for her and her partner Nick’s anniversary dinner. We set up a simple green screen for the television scene, mimicking American talk shows, and we shot it in one evening. The dining room scene proved tricky to secure a location for, nobody in London appears to have such a luxury! We finally found a location through posting on Facebook groups and trawling through websites like JJ Media which specialises in film locations.

Show Don’t Tell

When I first started writing the script it was all set in the one location and a lot of the dialogue got bogged down in the rules of Virginia’s wish giving gift. This gave me the idea of the opening scene, Virginia on live television granting a wish to a blind woman. By doing this I was able to show the audience that her gift was in fact real and has made a difference to other people’s lives, something that becomes very important later in the film.

In the first draft of your script allow yourself to get lost in the dialogue and write as much as you want. Then later when you come back to it, strip the dialogue back to the bare essentials by deciding what needs to be said, and what you can show instead.

Fade Out

Hopefully these four tips will help you when writing for a low budget film, as it helped me when I was making Yes, Virginia. You can find out more about my film on our social media or our crowdfunding campaign, that we are currently running to raise festival submission fees.

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About 

Harvey is the Filmmaker in Residence/Tech Genie and is often referred to as the Brad Pitt of Raindance*. He is currently crowdfunding for his latest short Yes, Virginia.

*Once. Sarcastically.

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