Look at the recent box office failures like “The Flash,” “Solo,” “Terminator: Genisys,” or “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.” All of these movies had huge budgets ($200 million+), yet all turned into box office disappointments. That proves that lots of special effects, exotic settings, and overwhelming stunts mean nothing if you don’t have a good story to tell in the first place.
When writing your own screenplay, think like a producer. Nobody’s going to make a science fiction story unless that science fiction story can be shot on a minimal budget like “The Artifice Girl” or “Coherence.”
In “The Artifice Girl,” the bulk of Act I focuses on three people in a room. Two of them are government officials in charge of finding and arresting pedophiles. The third man has been brought into the room because they suspect he knows about Cherry, a girl who the government officials are trying to save but they think the third man is hiding her from them.
Even though “The Artifice Girl” is science fiction, the setting itself is no more different than the present. The bulk of the story takes place in the government conference room, but other settings are a living room. In other words, the near future setting of “The Artifice Girl” was shot using present day settings.
The story doesn’t depend on unique settings, special effects, or stunts. Instead, it focuses solely on the conflict among all the characters, making it far cheaper to make, but also far more interesting than watching another special effects battle that ultimately means nothing in the story.
Another science fiction story also uses present day settings to tell a story. “Coherence” tells a story about a comet somehow connecting all the characters in a multiverse where they run into alternate versions of themselves and their world. Yet the story remains fascinating because it focuses on the character’s actions and dilemmas rather than special effects.
By stripping your story of massive special effects, you’ll be forced to focus more on telling a compelling story. During the production of the original “Twilight Zone” series, Rod Serling was constantly going over budget so he had to find creative ways to tell stories within a limited setting. Today, people still remember “The Twilight Zone” because of its creativity.
So get rid of big budget spectacles in your screenplay and pretend you have no money. Then write a story that can be filmed with no money for special effects or exotic locations. You may be surprised at how creative your story can suddenly become when freed from the crutch of relying on external eye candy like explosions and car chases.