“El Mariachi” was a low-budget action film that cost $7,000 to make, yet it’s far more interesting than many million dollar Hollywood blockbusters. While everyone marvels at how it only cost $7,000 to make, what’s also important is to study how the screenplay story is also interesting as well. If the screenplay was weak, then the filming wouldn’t have mattered.
Robert Rodriguez actually filmed “El Mariachi” with the intent of selling it to the direct-to-video Spanish market, but they turned it down. Amazingly, somebody in Hollywood saw it and bought the distribution rights, guaranteeing a profit due to the film’s low budget.
For aspiring screenwriters, what this means is that if you want to maximize your chances of getting your screenplay produced, you can either do it yourself or just write the best, low-budget screenplay possible.
The lower the budget needed to make your screenplay, the easier it will be to make a profit even if it goes direct to video. Three common low-budget genres are horror, comedy, and action films.
All of these three genres typically take place in existing locations such as houses, streets, office buildings, etc. Think creatively like a theatrical playwright. A playwright can’t have massive special effects because a stage can only support a limited number of set changes. So think of how you can confine your story to a minimal amount of settings with a minimal amount of special effects like explosions, stunts, or helicopter crashes.
For novice screenwriters, you’re probably never going to sell a science fiction or historical drama screenplay because that would require massive investment in sets and costumes. Think simple and low-budget. As “El Mariachi” proves, you can tell a great story on a shoestring budget. Don’t wait for permission to get started now.