There are a few words that give me Producer PTSD. Anamorphics*. Horse. Underwater. The list has grown over time. I have found that choosing a script that is producible is the first step to success with an indie project. So, what makes a film producible vs. not producible? Well, that is a loaded question and something that every Producer is going to have a different answer to. In this post, I am going to give what I look for in a script I might consider taking on an indie budget.
Nothing Trumps a Good Story.
First things first, you should have a good story. If you aren’t captivated by the script, you can’t expect anyone else to be either. A good story is the foundation for everything else. It doesn’t matter how great the acting is or how sick the FX are if they don’t have a compelling story to back them up. And it goes the other way too. If the story is solid, it shouldn’t need fancy cars or or anamorphic lenses to tell it effectively.
Indie Script Kryptonite.
Yes, certain aspects of a script can be kryptonite to a low-budget, AKA: indie production. When I read a script, I’m often keeping a tally in my mind of things that make this story doable vs not doable.
Doable Clause: Let me reiterate – my version of doable may be very different from another Producer. Everyone has different connections and contacts, so while an opening sequence that totally obliterates a perfectly good Tesla may be out of the question for me, it may not be for another Producer who has a dealership connection.
- Montages. I have found that inexperienced and lazy writers often rely on a montage to move the story along when they don’t have something better. Too many montages in a script are definite kryptonite and should make any Producer cautious about the project as a whole. What makes too many montages kryptonite? Think about it. Montages often involve multiple characters, locations, times even – to film a single montage can take a whole day! Montages are complicated to schedule and are often a big-ticket cost that isn’t thought of for lower budget projects.
- Ensemble cast. An ensemble cast is a double-edged sword. While having a few extra actors may help hide inexperienced talent, it can also cause scheduling challenges and cost more money. Especially if you are seeking name talent. Actors’ fees will add up quickly the more of them that you need.
- Locations. Or just too darn many. A ghost-filled pirate ship. The National Mall. Space. If you can’t imagine getting a cast and crew there, let alone paying for it, maybe it is something to consider. Likewise, if there are just too many locations, it may hinder the schedule and the budget. Something to consider.
- Action. That Tesla story was real, I once received a script that took a perfectly good Tesla and destroyed it in the first few pages after a car chase and a dive off of a cliff. Action – whether it is a bar fight, car stunt, or even a simple walk and talk, all take time and money. It’s smart to weigh the amount of action in the script with the budget to make sure the money and time needed are available.
- Visual FX. If someone tells you it is simple – don’t believe them. I have yet to experience any type of VFX on an indie that were actually simple. If nothing else, please consider this – by the time you are in post-production and working on the FX, the budget has often gotten tighter and any unforeseen surprises may make a larger headache than you or your budget are ready for. And reshoots are often out of the question. At the very least, make sure you make every effort to understand any VFX, and have a plan in place before you agree to Produce the project.
But what if?
What if it is a great story with an airplane in it? This happens all the time. First, I talk to the writer and see if there is a way to change the plane to something more manageable. And/or, see if you have any plane connections you didn’t know about. Often, solutions are right in front of you and you didn’t even realize it. Creative problem solving is what makes Producers buzz…so do what you are good at. Now, is it a fleet of planes? That might not be worth pursuing.
To Produce or Not Produce? That is the Question.
Well, that is really your call. I hope my knowledge helps spread some insight to you on your next venture. Wanna talk it out? Find me on Insta @pdxalyssa – PM and let’s chat about your next project. I’m happy to speak to you about my personal experience and offer insight.
*If you aren’t sure what anamorphics are, they are VERY expensive lenses. Look them up. Ridiculous. I once had a DP who would ask for them repeatedly over multiple indie projects as if they might suddenly descend from heaven on their own. Get real buddy. We will be using the best we can afford, but that ain’t gonna be anamorphics.