Blog 4B: An Aside On Writing

Posted By:
Writer / Director
Oliver S. Milburn


For me the first draft is never the first draft; the second draft is the first draft. At first I basically write a script in which every character at every point in their dialogue says exactly how they’re feeling and what their motivations are. So, in the ‘first draft’ of Titanic, Jack would say:

“Rose, I’m really cold here in this water. I think I’m going to die, or at least one of us is. Your survival is more important to me than my own – so pure is my love. I’m letting go of the floating object now.”

And no-one would cry, except perhaps because they’d be smashing their heads in frustration against something very blunt.

That example is an exaggeration, I admit, but the point is that you need to understand the function of each scene, both as a means to move the plot along and a way to define your characters. I honestly believe that when the essence of a story comes to you, it is more of a subconscious process than any spark of genius you have. Various themes – a combination of personal feelings and events – have made a connection in your head and you’ve formulated the bare bones of a story. It is important therefore, to understand that story fully in your conscious mind, because that is the one writing the screenplay.

Needless to say no-one ever sees the ‘first draft’. The draft I present is actually the second draft, in which point I’ve gone through and replaced all the dialogue with a reasonable version of what each character might actually say. I’m sure I don’t need to tell most people, but don’t insult your audience. Allow them to work out character motivations themselves; allowing you to focus on giving your characters realistic dialogue.  As Kermode has noted with regards to Inception, even ‘mass’ audiences these days tend to like a bit of intelligence in their movies.

I recently watched a film, I shan’t say which. In one scene a shot panned to a recently constructed wall with spaces for three windows. One of the main characters puts a window into one of the three window-spaces, he then leans out of the next window space and says “That’s one window in.”


This happened repeatedly throughout the entire movie, with everything from character motivations to physical movements. The characters would state in no uncertain terms what they were doing or why they were doing it.

That is exactly what you avoid once you’ve done the ‘first draft’. Remember you’re making a film; the things you write in the description sections will be seen by the audience, so as long as they’re written clearly they don’t need to be reiterated in the dialogue. If for some reason they do, you hope the director will make that call. This includes emotions depicted visually. If a character has two sweets in front of them and is looking repeatedly, uncertainly, from one to the other, you don’t need them to say “oooh, I’m not sure which one to eat”.

Essentially, because this is film, things visualised are usually much better than things spoken, so try to tell as much of the story in the action as you can. Unless you’re Aaron Sorkin and can write mind-boggling dialogue – there are exceptions to every rule.


Blog 4: Script Development

Posted By
Writer / Director
Oliver S. Milburn


So as I said in ‘Concept’, I’d made the blunder of choosing a type of film which the market was soon to become saturated in.


That’s a good beginning note actually – think ahead of the curve. If you have an idea that seems really relevant now, by the time you’ve raised finance, shot it and finished it it’ll probably be a bit old hat. Learn from my mistake and try to think of what’s around the corner, rather than what is currently emerging. The first good idea you have is probably the one everyone else is having.

For now, don’t do robots, or containment. From what I’ve seen there seems to be a lot of robot scripts/talk flying around at the moment, not sure why. Now that writers are cottoning on to this whole ‘low production cost = high chance of being made’ thing, every writer seems to have a containment movie – generally involving torture – on the go as well.

Fortunately for me, in HLOD I never set out to make a ‘vampire movie’, but a movie with vampires in it. The focus was the revenge. It is an emotion, a goal, which is endlessly fascinating to explore. Sadly in films it is often used as an excuse for – rather than the cause of – extreme onscreen violence, but beneath the physical it is a brilliantly dark and complex idea. The vampire element just seemed to chime with so many of the themes of revenge movies; selling the soul, rebirth through blood… I could go on. I don’t want to spoil the more subtle plot-points, but it also allowed the introduction of a more physical complication to Dan (our hero)’s revenge.

So I had my idea. Emma (producer) liked it. I started writing…

For a brief aside – and a brief rant – on how I write go HERE. I didn’t want to put this in the main blog because, not yet being a well-established screenwriter, my tips on writing are possibly presumptuous nonsense and I’m not quite egotistical enough to include them in a piece which is supposed to be about micro-budget filmmaking.

The basic tip applicable to all filmmaking is that your film is only as good as your script and story. Don’t write the script yourself if you have no writing experience, and don’t assume that one draft will suffice. Redrafting – and I mean real redrafting, not grammar checking – is the key to getting the best out of your story. For example, at one point the ‘baddies’ in HLOD were just common housebreakers. They later became snuff movie makers because that was more interesting and posed far more complex thematic questions which could then be explored within the script. Also, handheld camera footage added another cheap production element.

It is important to tailor your writing with a knowledge of the limits of your production. Things like razor-sharp dialogue, naturally beautiful locations, ominous alleyways, cctv camera footage – all this stuff is your friend because its cheap. Spaceships, explosions and horse-riding are not. Again though, this does not necessarily mean containment.

Final note, I’m sort of anticipating people reading “only as good as your script” and thinking of recent films like Another Year and Monsters, both excellent films in which there was no ‘script’ as such. So I’d like to establish that by ‘script’, I mean the written or understood plan by which the director will work with the actors and crew to deliver the film. It is whatever best suits the film and (vastly) more often than not it is a screenplay. To address those two examples however, Monsters was a road movie in which – the director has publicly said – the desired form of dialogue was very natural. Improvised dialogue suited the production as well as the story, since the crew did not know where exactly each scene would be shot, but instead actually went on a road trip and stopped off at various visually remarkable sites. They had a written plan detailing which particular plot point and which emotional milestones must be reached in each scene and would improvise on that basis. So effectively, the form of the ‘script’ reflects the form of the movie – and would probably be an ill-advised method of making a film like, say, Michael Clayton. Similarly, the actors involved in Another Year have on several occasions mentioned that while the dialogue was improvised, the basic structure and goal of each scene was established beforehand in rehearsals. Again, this suited the natural feel of the film’s dialogue.

Hello to Jason Isaacs.

Useful links:

‘Rewriting your Screenplay: The Road to your Audience’ – Article by Gordy Hoffman

Blog 3 Film is a Business

Posted by
Emma Biggins


When I decided I wanted to make a feature film, my thought process was very much that of a producer. Horrors and thrillers are statistically better selling genres, particularly in the ancillary markets. I was always being realistic with my expectations of how the film would reach an audience based on the fact that it was going to be shot on a micro-budget. A straight-to-DVD, high-concept genre movie was the obvious choice.

However I was also aware that this market is absolutely flooded right now. I needed a film that could stand out above the rest. It needed individuality, something unique. I was also realistic about what sort of budget we were looking at. Locations cost money, as do travel and multiple unit moves. Cast also cost money. If we were going to make a good film we had to keep locations and cast to a minimum. So this was my brief to Ollie (the writer/director), and off he went to immerse himself in a world of possibilities.

Our winning concept was a ‘vampire revenge movie’ – The Harsh Light of Day. The story follows a man who turns into a vampire to avenge the brutal murder of his wife.

Death Wish meets Interview with a Vampire. I loved it straight away. Vampires had once again become the cool new thing on screen, but this story was no Twilight. It had mature themes and a gritty sub-plot involving a gang, who are essentially a far worse threat to our protagonist than the notion of Vampirism. Furthermore, it was our opportunity to offer a different take the Vampire myth. Ollie wanted to represent Vampires as something very biological, and I was happy because it was predominantly set in one house!

Useful tips and links:

A. Do your research:

– UK Film Council Statistic book offers an overview of the UK and Ireland film market.

–  British Video Association provides great advice and practical information about the DVD market

A great book:

The Pitch

Blog 2: Creating The Concept

Posted by

Oliver S. Milburn

If you’re going to make a micro-budget movie there are three things that you must do:

  1. Write a good script – for me the script is still the most important part of a film.
  2. Write a script within your means – no spaceships or monsters (unless you’re Gareth Edwards and can do that stuff), a very small number of locations and preferably a very small number of cast.
  3. Decide – very broadly, the borders are always blurred – whether you’re making something that is radically different or a commercial product.

The third was the problem. Do you make some enigmatic piece that’ll baffle the general public, turn heads at festivals and make less than your budget? Or do you try to make a solid, stylish genre film with a decent shot at distribution and a steady pace at which to start your career. Read the rest of this page »

Blog 1: Introduction from the film’s Director and Producer

In the first of a series of posts, the producer and writer/director team behind The Harsh Light of Day explain why they made the film and what you can expect from this blog over the coming weeks.
Each post will look at a different stage in the film’s production from both points of view. Filled with honest and insightful information, the blog will be of interest to any film enthusiast or budding filmmaker.
For more info on the film visit –