Writing with one hand tied behind your back.

October 10th, 2010 by Ron

The Script Blogger

Getting writing assignments is a great way to find out if you can write to the standards of others, particularly when you receive a synopsis that you have both comply with and stay within the constraints of.

Recently I was approached to write a Low Budget Western ($450K). Great I thought; but then the producer gave me the brief, along the lines of:-

No more than 20 scenes interior and no more than 15 exterior scenes in the town.

He empathized “I think I can get the town for 5 days easy but more than that I will get some resistance”.

The rest of the scenes he would like to be in woods, open fields and maybe a homestead. He went on, “I have been given access to a ranch and 27 horses for free, but remember my five horse maximum to a scene rule still applies because horse wranglers cost. Then there’s insurance”.

So, no more than five horses in a scene at once, not more than four operating guns (they cost big money).

Also don’t bother wrecking or burning anything…no budget for that.

We have two known actors for the leads, but the rest will be comparably inexperienced so no long passages of dialogue – young actors always fluff their lines and it can add days to the shoot.

No wagons that requires different horses and a different wrangler.

The list goes on.


Oh what fun!

I think writing with ‘Restraints’ improves a writer’s discipline, but this is more than a restraint it is writing with one hand tied behind your back, or is it?

I believe that the more a writer understands the requirements of others in the filmmaking process the better and using your imagination is one of the main selling points of being a writer, isn’t it?

From discussions with producers it is clear that they read scripts with a different perspective to a writer.

Their priorities are different. Often budget is a main concern but more importantly they seem anxious regarding who else will see the script as a vehicle for a film and can they, (the producer) interest financiers, actors, a director and find or build the locations required without too much cost.

And of course the producer is looking for a result in a matter of days. Time is money and although that maybe his constraint he can unfortunately make it the writers with an assignment.

Writing to order is completely unlike sitting at home taking your time to think up a premise, create characters, sub-plots, having time to structure the pace of the story and have a destination of where the story is going, as you do in one of your spec scripts.

But it can be a good exercise to set yourself. Writing a screenplay within say, two months, with a limited number of characters, a limited number of locations and a limited production budget.

2 responses to “Writing with one hand tied behind your back.”

  1. Tina says:

    Tina:
    Your assignment reminds me of how important it is to be mindful of potential ‘restraints’ when writing spec scripts.

    But surely a more positive aspect of writing with ‘restraints’ could be that it leads the imagination into places where it would not have normally traveled.

    Ron:
    I agree, the tighter the budget the bigger the imagination.

  2. Annie Newbury says:

    Goal setting is importance to script writing, and pretending you are on assignment is as good a way as any to get it done. Thanks for the insight!