Writing For A Low Budget: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED

Today's guest post is from writer/director J. Blakeson.  J's THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED opens tomorrow, and is the latest in a glorious wave of incredibly strong genre films from all over the world that have graced our shores of late, including  MOON, THE SQUARE, BRONSON, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, and THE PROPHET.  This is part one of a two parter that will finish up here tomorrow. Part Two is here. No-one was going to give me money to make my film. That was a near certainty. I started with that fact in mind, then I began writing the script. People are always telling budding film-makers to” write something that can be achieved on a low budget”.  That sounds like pretty good advice, but it’s also dangerous advice. Because it assumes you’ll actually somehow manage to get yourself some kind of a budget at all– albeit a low one. It presumes someone will actually put their money into your movie. And that tempts you into trying to squeeze a bigger budget movie into a smaller can. This is a mistake. Because the end result will most likely be a scrappily made, cheap-looking movie that needed more money behind it. What these advice-givers should tell you instead is this: write for no budget at all. Write as if you were going to make it yourself with your own money. Write as if every frame of film was coming out of your own pocket.  Only then will you realise just how expensive even little things are. Like feeding an extra actor for 4 weeks. Or blowing shit up. Explosions sounds like they should be cheap and easy, but actually they’re expensive and complicated. So don’t blow shit up. Concentrate on what you already have and what comes for free. Story and character are free. Dialogue is free (except recording and filming it isn’t... so avoid being too self-indulgent on the speechifying, because you’re only wasting your own money). But always remember that writing within your own limitations doesn’t mean you have to be less ambitious with your movie. It actually means you have to be more ambitious, just smart about it. Look at films like “Primer” or “Brick”. They’re both ambitious as hell, look and feel cinematic, but cost next to nothing to make.

When I wrote the script for “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”, I assumed that if I wanted to direct it myself, I would probably have to pay for it myself. So I knew I had to keep it small and contained. Even before I had a story, I had a set of rules...

  1. Use 1 location for 90% of the film.
  2. Only have 3 characters
  3. Don’t write anything that I couldn’t achieve myself on my own money.
  4. If you use a prop, keep using it over and over (because why source and pay for something that will be only screen for just under 2 seconds?)
  5. Keep it simple. But make that “simple” as complex and difficult as possible.

But why these rules? Purely practical reasons: There are only three actors (and not, say, 4 actors) in my film because I happened to know 3 actors who might agree to be in the film. The reason I wrote most of the film’s action in an apartment is because I live in an apartment. So I had a free location. No expense. You get the idea...

And with these rules in mind, I started thinking about a story that would be as dramatic and cinematic as possible. With limited locations and actors, there is a risk it will feel like a stage play rather than a film. So I wanted a story that would lend itself to cinematic sequences and set-pieces rather than extended talky scenes. Very quickly I thought about a kidnap story. Not only was it immediately understandable (no  “Inception” style exposition scenes needed to describe the hard-to-understand jobs of the protagonists... everyone knows what a kidnapper does. Everyone understands the stakes from page 1), a kidnap story also has drama and tension inherent in it from the get-go.

So I started writing.  And as I was writing the script, I enjoyed having the limitations I set myself. It was like a game. It gave me boundaries to push against. Gave me a strict focused framework within which I was free to do anything I wanted.

But all the time, in the back of my mind, was the fact that I had to make it for no money. So I set all the exterior action in manageable locations – places that required no extras and where I could probably shoot with a skeleton crew without permits (if need be). So instead of setting it in crowded streets or train stations, I set it in wasteland, empty car-parks and abandoned warehouses. Of course all these locations make narrative sense in the movie, but this is only because I chose a story that works for these kinds of locations. This is one reason why early on in the script process, I decided to not show all the usual moments you see in a kidnap film – police, phone-taps, a money-drop in a crowded place – because I simply knew I couldn’t afford to shoot them with my own money. But then I embraced this idea and made it the defining characteristic of the film. Instead of trying to hide the confined nature of the film, I played to it. I’d always loved the fact that “Reservoir Dogs” was a heist movie in which you never saw the heist. So I decided my film would be a kidnap movie where you don’t see any of the kidnap (or rather, you don’t see the stuff you expect from a kidnap movie). And when I decided to go that way, the idea came alive for me.

End of Part One.  Part Two concludes tomorrow with "Tricks To Make It Even Cheaper!".

“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is out in selected theatres Friday August 6th.

www.thedisappearanceofalicecreed.com

Twitter: twitter.com/jblakeson twitter.com/FindAliceCreed

Earth Rise and Earth Set

These images were taken from the Japanese space capsule Selene in 2007.  It may be eight minutes without any sound, but sit back and watch things from a different perspective.  If you aren't glad you did, we will put your money back in the bowl.

The EarthRise image Wide Shot was taken from near the North Pole, and the Arabian Peninsula and Indian Ocean can be observed on the Earth.

The EarthSet image Tele Shot was taken from near the South Pole, and we can see the Australian Continent (center left) and the Asian Continent (lower right) on the Earth.