With budgets dropping for both film and TV, we all have to be good at writing scripts that work when the money is tight.

The upside is that when you get good at low budget scripts, you get to be a better writer and storyteller at all budget levels. The downside is that it’s not just a matter of cutting out the battle scenes and helicopter shots! The real costs of a low budget movie are not necessarily what you think.

I’ve written, directed and produced successful and award-winning low budget films of all kinds. So here’s one crucial tip:

The main cast is one of the most cost-sensitive items that most writers forget.  Quality actors cost. And of course you want to have the best acting. There’s no point in writing great characters that can only be played by expensive stars.

So, take another look at your low budget project in the light of what quality of actors you are likely to be able to afford. There are many great up-and-coming young actors who would be happy to work for little or even no pay. What they lack in experience they make up for in enthusiasm and drive.

So, what kind of part would attract such an actor? And, just as important, what kind of part would they be able to handle?

Inexperienced actors tend to love big emotional scenes but have a narrow range and tend either to underplay them or force them.  To succeed at low budget you need to give them the kind of emotions that they can get their teeth into, that will stretch them but not take them into areas they can’t yet deal with.

This means giving them actions that strongly express their inner lives. Experienced actors (and directors) are usually better at finding the inner life of a character without assistance, so make sure your script guides your less experienced cast towards the inner contradictions and roundedness that they can learn their craft on.

A good low budget script steers them away from indulgence and laziness equally by ensuring a strong storyline with authentic emotion – putting obstacles in the characters’ way that will help the actors create the right emotions – to help them react angrily – to force them to express their love, etc.

Up-and-coming stars need you, the writer, to provide those natural obstacles and actions that will help them find the authentic emotions that audiences love. So when you rework your script, give them big emotions, and select your obstacles and actions with great care to make them real.

Similarly, with structure, genre, dialogue, action, scene construction, location, visuals, there are so many ways you can help a low budget cast and crew create a great story and distract the audience from the gaps in finance, if you know what you are doing – and ways to make it worse if you don’t!