Think on a Budget

Watch episodes of the original Twilight Zone series that ran from 1959 to 1964. Because TV show budgets were limited, they couldn’t afford to travel to exotic locations or use expensive special effects. Instead, they had to rely on being creative within the restricted budget and space available on the studio lot.

Creativity is always about working within the bounds of limitations. Rather than try to spice up your story with massive special effects, car crashes, and explosions, think of being on an budget and try to creatively display action and setting.

In one episode of the Twilight Zone, the Earth is slowly spiraling towards the sun causing the world to heat up and slowly die. Rather than waste money on special effects showing the world overheating, this episode focused on the effects of the heat on two women left behind in an apartment.

To show the dying world, the electricity keeps going out, showing the fan slowing to a stop. Then a strange man breaks into their apartment just to steal their water. Finally, one woman’s painting starts melting from the heat. By showing the effects on people, rather than simply showing special effects, this Twilight Zone episode (called “The Midnight Sun”) creates the illusion of a world overheating without needing to show this to us.

Now compare this creative method to the horrible “The 5th Wave” movie that insists on showing special effects of floods and airplanes crashing. All of these visual special pyrotechnics are ultimately boring because they don’t affect the hero.

In the flood scene, we simply see the hero climbing to avoid the flood waters. Then the flood scene is done with no sense of suspense of tension whatsoever. Next comes the scene with airplanes falling out of the sky and the hero sees it out a school window. Again, since this doesn’t affect the hero in any way, the visual effect is simply boring.

So think as if you’re on a budget. Now only will this create a more interesting story, but it will also create a screenplay more likely to be made simply because it will cost less to make.

Write a screenplay that requires a $500 million dollar budget and no studio will touch it simply because it will cost too much. Notice that movies that require massive special effects are either based on existing franchises (“Star Wars” or superhero comic book characters), books (“Harry Potter”), or existing movies (reboots of “Total Recall” or “Judge Dredd”).

Write a low-budget screenplay and you’ll likely tell an interesting story and make it easier to get made as well. Compare the low-budget debut of the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple” to the bloated budget of a disaster like “Dark Phoenix” and you can easily see that spending more money on special effects never makes a story better.

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