I've been reading a lot of requests for a "contained script." I understand that means a limited locations, cast, etc. But how contained, is containted? One room, one location,... Any examples?
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"The Disappearance of Alice Creed," "127 Hours," "Buried," "Open Water," even "Rear Window" could be considered a 'contained' thriller. I believe a 'contained' script is a story of events that occur in one, maybe two(three) locations and features a small cast, thus they generally cost much less to produce. I hope that helps. :)
I believe that they'll usually specify. Often, they have a specific location that they want to make the most out of. Say someone purchased a low cost property like a run down hotel or camp ground. Recently, I came across a call for a contained script which specified that they wanted to make use of a church with a graveyard.
What Beth said. It means something that will be cheap because it all takes place in one location or set. Some other examples would be Trespass (both the Nicolas Cage one and the Ice-T one) - Nicolas Cage one takes place in 1 upscale residence, the Ice-T one takes place in an abandoned building, Session 9 - takes place in a disused mental institution, Exam - takes place in a small examination room, Phone Booth - takes place on one block surrounding a payphone, Tape, ATM....
To understand it, think like a producer: they mean they don't want to move their equipment. That could be one room, but it could also be an entire house, a farm, etc. As long as they don't have to load up the trucks and go somewhere else. That's contained.
however I don't think it must have a small cast. If anything because it all takes place in one location, a contained movie often needs more characters to present different conflicts that sustain interest over 90 minutes. Both the Trespass movies gets mileage out of the relationships between all the different characters. As do Exam and Session 9. A similar technique is used in some Agatha Christie adaptations where you have a cast of characters all at one locale/resort - not quite what they mean by 'contained' but still a far more economical shoot than a Bourne installment.
Yes, good point from Dave. Actors are cheaper than locations. I wouldn't write crowd scenes, but half a dozen key characters isn't going to kill you. Real world example: my contained thriller script that's shooting this fall was originally written with a cast of 14 and three locations (one primary, and two that only appeared in one scene each). In my rewrite, I was asked to remove the extra locations and 2 of the characters to get the cast down to an even dozen. (For the record, removing the extra locations nicely tightened and improved the script. Removing the two characters was less of a total win.)
Beth nails it. There are two kinds of Contained scripts, just the general kind like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD or REC (etc) where you may have a whole house... and stunt ones like BURIED and BRAKE (where a secret service agent is trapped in the trunk of a car for the entire film) where it's one very small location. These also usually have limited casts, ALICE CREED is an awesome movie with 3 characters in 2 rooms. BRAKE is one guy in a car trunk (boot) with voices on phones and outside the car. The fewer locations you have, the more you need to pick up the pace of the story because you don't have the excitement of cutting to a new location. ALICE CREED has a bunch of plot twists and lots of suspense scenes. I'm doing a class in this subgenre for Story Expo and am using CREED and BRAKE as my two primary examples.
I don't know if I could consider Castaway a contained story? Yes, a great deal of the storyline was on the Island, but the there were multiple locations on the island, the raft, the plane, the airport, the road, the artist's house.
Another example is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. While the film itself is not so much contained, all of the various castles are different angles or rooms of the same castle. It really comes down to how creative they can get with a single set or location.
The budget might be a good indicator. The less money, the less locations. In the low to zero budget range you can do little more than one or two locations and a few actors.
As in all aspects of screenwriting; I don’t believe there is a clear and definitive definition of a ‘contained script’. Each producer approaches scripts with a basic economic threshold in mind – they have a basic idea of what it costs to shoot for a day. I think we’re just stuck with the fuzzy definition of limited locations, limited cast, limited FX, limited crew… limited money.
When a producer talks about a "contained script" they usually expect the story contains a reason for the containment: the characters are trapped at the location by some story element. It's not just budget, it's the type of story as well.
Kinda like "Devil" by M Night Shyamalan - a few characters confined to a stuck elevator.