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Developing a Low Budget Film Concept

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/26/2010

Here are a few ways to take an idea and then bring it into a fully developed film concept for low budget filmmaking.

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    From Idea to Film

    Even the most well thought out film idea or concept is not a project until it has been developed and worked out on paper. This does not mean that just the script needs to be put together, but instead it needs to be thought out both in terms of story structure and how it is going to be utilized. This means that you will have to identify story elements, look at the resources you have, hammer the ideas you want to create, and transfer what is a vague idea for a movie into a project that is ready to go. This is especially true for low or no budget film projects, which present their own challenges and require creativity to fill the gap where money cannot show up. Here are some tips for trying to develop a film concept when the funding is not quite there.

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    Writing It Down

    A film idea is not a film idea until it is written down. All creative ideas are amorphous and lack practicality until something is produced that is able to be looked at and adjusted. The ideas themselves are not fully formed if they do not have the idea to be put into a physical and communicative form. Begin by writing a few sentences outlining the story with a clear beginning, source of progress, and at least the idea of a conclusion. From there develop an outline with a couple sentences for each scene with an eye that the scenes lead from one to another and that they are complete in and of themselves. Once you are there begin writing the script and make sure to bounce the ideas off as many people as possible. Film concepts do not all need to be the same, especially in structure, but they do need to have the ability to transfer from page to film and communicate as a concept clearly.

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    Identify What You Have

    You need to start identifying what you actually have available in the context of the story idea you are working on. This means things like equipment and resources as well as the talent pool you have available and the abilities that you have as the producer and director. Find where you are lacking in anything and begin finding what you will need and then altering your base idea to reflect the specific resources and lack of resources that you find during this process of low budget filmmaking.

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    Must Haves

    Once the project begins to be altered in the context of your resources you need to find what you absolutely must have. This means both the objects of the story space and the crew as well. Find the characters that are not absolutely needed and cut them out. Figure out expensive scenes and try to cut the cost by half or more. Figure out what crew members you are going to need and then eliminate other crew positions that you will not be able to afford on your low budget filmmaking plan.

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    Look at Possibilities

    Low budget filmmaking is all about making contact with both investors and distributors. Part of your low budget filmmaking plan should be to take a look at the possibilities for the film project and to begin adapting it to these parameters. This does not mean that you should alter your film fundamentally so as to find funding and distribution possibilities, but instead look at the possibilities and then possibly flesh out certain points and then figure out ways to sell them to investors during the pitch process. Filmmaking, especially low budget filmmaking, is an art form that does not exist in just making the film. It is not fully realized until the film is shown to an audience, so it is your responsibility to ensure that this part of the experience occurs.