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Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make With Low Budget Horror

Low budget horror has been all the rage for YEARS now. But don’t take my word for it  — I’ve drafted in an expert, Samantha Horley, an ex sales agent. Sam used to work at such companies as Salt and Summit Entertainment, so really knows her onions – she even helped make the commercial success that was The Blair Witch Project. Over to you, Sam!

Low Budget Mistakes

I get approached regularly by investors, sales companies and distributors, directors and producers, looking for low budget horror films. Some of them even  have that rare beast – the cash to fully finance!

But there is a dearth of good product, though I did recently set one up with a sales company. The script needed a helluva lot of work … But it had the holy filmmaking trinity:

  • the hook was really good
  • it would be low budget – aka cheap!!! – to make
  • it was clear the writer knew what they were doing.

Sadly, this is not always the case. Here are my top 5 mistakes writers make so often with low budget horror.

1) There’s no hook

Newsflash: a clever new creature isn’t a hook. How it kills people might be. Your low budget horror really needs a cracking two-line pitch to let us what the hook is – WHY we would watch it. MORE: 7 Things Agents, Producers and Filmmakers Can Tell From Your Pitch

2) The writer isn’t a horror fan

I’ve known many writers have a crack at horror because they think it’s more likely to get made. Nope. Horror geeks are a community, be they sales agents, distribs, festival programmers, websites, critics and the fans. If you’re not one of them they’ll smell you a mile away! What’s more, many horror films have clever nods and winks to masters or mentors, some are veritable homages. If you can’t talk the talk, you’ll never walk the walk.

3) It’s utterly implausible

It may be totally made-up but I still need to believe it. Eg:

  1. The hokum doesn’t work. Whatever the hokum, the hokum “lore” needs to be totally watertight, and should be used as a smart device, not an excuse to explain away hokey shit.
  2. It’s total nonsense. Whatever the world, I really need to believe all this would really happen, AND everyone’s reactions and responses to it are utterly bang on and believable.

4) The script itself is just crap

Horror writers writing at a low budget often seem to think they don’t need to follow the rules of a good script, e.g:

  1. The story is non-existent. We still need a page-turning script where we are dying to know what happens in the story. This is not just about who lives or dies.
  2. The structure poor, the tone all over the place, the pacing terrible. Some writers don’t seem to understand the use of tension as an essential device and rely on the promise of a director making it scary.
  3. Monotonous (no sense of humour). Some scripts take themselves way too seriously, I’m not saying make it a comedy but you do need pressure valve releases to give your audience a physical response, be it laughing or jumping.
  4. Crappy characters. The worst are two-dimensional characters you don’t care about. In any genre you need to emotionally invest in the characters. In horror, in order for an audience to be scared, they need to be scared with them and for them. Also, crappy female characters!! 50% of a horror audience is women. And don’t start me on female characters who fall over while running away.
  5. Other issues.  These include blowing your load too early, showing the creature too quickly.
  6. An over-reliance on gore. Nuff sed.

5) It crosses into another genre

  1. Horror comedy. These don’t work unless you’re Simon Pegg and don’t @ me with Tremors, it’s old and wasn’t successful at the time. Grabbers didn’t work even though it was (arguably) a really good film.
  2. Horror/thriller. Lucy writes very eloquently about this HERE.
  3. Arthouse or drama horror. YES there are exceptions like Let The Right One in and Stakeland but these are few and far between and Stakeland was uber low budget and had a great hook (throwing vampires out of helicopters to infect the enemy? Yes please). Don’t assume that you are exceptional. For every exception there are hundreds of films that get made and never see the light of day, or never get made at all. MORE: 8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Horror Screenplay DEAD


6) They are too expensive to make!

Writers MUST take responsibility for budgets. No, you don’t need to know exactly how to budget your film. But if you want your script made, BE SMART! Watch low budget films in all genres (if I have to watch low budget British social realism, so do you, it’s your job). Take note of the number and smart use of locations; the number of characters and set-ups. And if there’s a creature? Know how you can do it cheaply, as you will be asked.

Do the research and be clever. In other words, be creative … Which you are, aren’t you???

BIO: Formerly in international sales, Samantha Horley’s genre credits include The Blair Witch Project 1 and 2, Jeepers Creepers 2, Stir of Echoes, Donkey Punch, Grabbers and recent credits include Freehold which premiered at SXSW Midnight 2017, and a thanks on Prevenge. Follow The Vipers Nest on Facebook for details of Samantha’s next one-day workshop “Write a Script the Market Wants” as well as information on up and coming British and Irish filmmaking talent, and film releases.

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