The One Rule Of Writing For Independent Film (And It’s Not Even A Strict One)

CJ Walley
11 min readJun 21, 2019
Photo by Chris Murray on Unsplash

Rules, rules, rules – it can feel everyone wants to throw a new one at you when you get into screenwriting and they are almost always fear-mongering bollocks obsessed with the superficial. Good craft will always trump bootlicking but let’s not dwell too much on that because I want to share something with you that might just become your new mantra.

Before we get into this, I’m addressing screenwriters hoping to break into the independent film world in some form. If you’re the kind of writer aspiring to work exclusively for the big studios on nine-figure budget projects, this isn’t going to be of much use to you.

I also want to say, stop worrying that professional readers and industry members are going to throw your script in the trash over minor issues. The title of this article is shameless click-bait. This isn’t strictly a rule but it will serve you well. Spoiler alert; filmmakers see any issues they have in your script as something that can be addressed. Yes I know, shock horror! It’s like they’re competent, open-minded artists or something.

Having returned from being on the set of a feature film production, where I watched my words become reality, I’ve become hyper-aware of just what impact my writing had on production. Seemingly innocent little references had huge impact in terms of logistics and thus cost while other writing choices helped make the production feel like we had ten times the budget.

Therefore, my one rule when writing for independent film is simply this; “always consider production value.”

It’s important to remember that, conceptually, this isn’t just about saving cost, it’s also about maximising what’s available. Look, things are tough right now, really tough. Investors, who’ve rarely ever wanted to throw money at film productions anyway, have watched the box-office and long-tail returns on film change radically from a marketplace where indie film could find a cult audience during its theatrical run and make massive returns via home video to one where you may be going to Netflix cap in hand after expiring all other avenues and looking to reduce losses. It’s a dire scenario exasperated by the saturated media world of the twenty-first century and sadly accessibility to…

CJ Walley

Screenwriter | Film Producer | Founder of Script Revolution & Rebelle Rouser | Author of Turn & Burn