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robertcc
03-22-2013, 01:37 PM
I didn't want to derail the already-lengthy Black Friday thread, but Cyfress had commented on my post about the benefits of developing projects with contained or semi-contained locations. Specifically I said:

One of the benefits of [a limited number of locations] is that it's cost efficient. I told my writing partner that producers would love our new comedy script because the majority of it was set in a cul-de-sac. Sure enough, that was exactly what got the suits excited: "it can be done for a price." We heard that phrase a lot. Movies are expensive and if you've got a script with contained or semi-contained locations that don't get staid or stifling, it makes the project more attractive to budget-conscious producers.

Cyfress responded:

I don't write with budget in mind. I'm not that close to the business side where I am trying to write the wants of the producers with the money.


I came across this article which seems to support what I was saying:

http://www.filmindependent.org/blogs/cut-your-budget-in-half-other-producing-wisdom-i-learned/?fb_ref=.UUuEqM0mv7Z.send&fb_source=message#.UUyhoBnbbRq

When I went through Film Independent’s Producing Lab in the fall of 2007, my lab leader was the unstoppable Ram Bergman (producer, Looper and The Brothers Bloom). Ram’s no-nonsense approach to the film industry gave me tremendous insight and a much-needed kick in the pants. Each week we’d workshop one lab participant’s project. Ram would compliment the exciting aspects of each project, then almost invariably add, “And I think you should cut your budget in half.”

His point: a good producer stretches a dollar as far as it will go. You have a much better chance of paying back your investors if you start with a reasonable budget in the first place.

Because production and marketing budgets have inflated so dramatically, it behooves a modern tyro to prove you can write an exciting screenplay "for a price."

Do you really need that herd of hundred camels charging down a hill, as William Goldman illustrates as a no-no in Adventures in the Screen Trade?

Appreciating this fact, while not letting it stifle you creatively (but actually allowing it to challenge you creatively), will go a long way to helping you establish a career earlier in the game.

muckraker
03-22-2013, 02:30 PM
I think that depends in part on what "establishing your career" means to you. Film Independent is just that -- independent -- as in, very limited resources. That's the indie mindset.

I think most people here are trying to break into the studio system, and while budget is not a non-factor, it's much less of one when those producers are looking for material to bring to the big players.

Plus, the smaller the budget could equate to a smaller payday for the writer as a percentage of the budget. If your film can be made for a million dollars, does that mean the material itself is worth half that?

I've had plenty of scripts read and rejected by producers playing in the studio realm, but never for any reason related to the budget. I guess everyone's mileage may vary, but I'm sure there's room for all types of material so as a writer, I wouldn't spend too much time worrying about it, nor recommend that others do.

robertcc
03-22-2013, 03:02 PM
I think not paying attention to it is a mistake in light of the changing landscape of budgets. If your project is a studio film, it means you are attaching name stars and, believe me, with the salaries they command you won't be poorer for it.

The Avengers is a good example. There actually aren't a lot of action scenes in the film; in fact, I was pissed at the amount of walks and talks. All I could see was the ensemble of onscreen hefty price tags cutting into the special effects budget.

If I remember correctly, John August talked about the weekend he was locked in a room with a producer who demanded something like $5 million be cut from the budget in Charlie's Angels.

This isn't to say screenwriters should obsess over this stuff, just be mindful of it. If you can write a script that's not only great but can be produced "for a price," it will not only make your project more attractive but also signal to producers that you understand the economic realities of filmmaking and can be trusted to deliver a script that won't have line producers pulling their hair out.

YakMan
03-22-2013, 03:57 PM
Yeah, but then in this rank noob's read -- I always hear the "This script isn't 'big' enough for a major's attention. It's more MOTW. Write BIGGER!" The rationale being one can attract said major with (reasoned) spectacle which can then be "written down to budget" in development Hades after the ink dries???

Comments? (...I know this is kinda a re-hash. ;) )

robertcc
03-22-2013, 04:30 PM
Yeah, but why are you paying attention to a rank noob when I'm talking about the people who actually make movies?

nmstevens
03-22-2013, 04:59 PM
Yeah, but why are you paying attention to a rank noob when I'm talking about the people who actually make movies?

I'm not exactly an expert, but from the way in which the business seems to be changing -- and it certainly has changed over the last few years -- movie budgets seem to have polarized in a rather strange way.

You still have the big tent-pole style motion pictures that can easily run at nine figures or more, but once you're outside of that range there seems to be a big step down in terms of budgets for features -- whenever I hear about the money available to make the "next lower down" category of movie, whether it's action movies or comedies or whatever, I always am hearing figures in the lower 8 figures. Twenty million. Ten million.

Those are the so-called "contained action thrillers" or sci-fi thrillers or name your genre. Movies that, because they are contained, allow you to find a way to have those few set pieces that let you have your bang for the buck -- to look big without necessarily breaking the bank.

And when you step down from there, you pretty much step down to a couple million or under a million.

So in a sense, it isn't necessarily about cutting your budget in half as it is about hitting those budget slots -- writing a movie that you can make for a million bucks, or for twenty million bucks, as opposed to five million bucks or fifty million bucks -- because that seems to falls outside the amount of money that investors want to risk on any one project (and I have no doubt that someone will bring up an exception -- and I'm sure there are - this isn't a scientific analysis -- just how the market has struck me over the last few years).


And it seems that a lot of this money is coming from non-studio sources and that a lot of places that once had money and once had deals no longer do. They'll be happy to "partner up" -- but what that means these days is -- we'll be happy to give you notes and have you do them for free and attach ourselves to your script and then we'll go out with it and try to find somebody with money who'll pay you for your script and pay us to produce it -- God willing.

And if you've written a spec script that's going to cost a couple hundred million bucks to produce -- well, that's fine, but an exceptionally hard sell, given the criteria that studios look to to make those handful of extremely high-end movies.

NMS

YakMan
03-22-2013, 05:10 PM
Yeah, but why are you paying attention to a rank noob when I'm talking about the people who actually make movies?

Okay, a clarification here. I, that being me, as the rank noob :o -- have read numerous times on this forum about the Catch-22 complaint wherein a producer is pitched a project only to get the feedback that it's "not BIG enough" for their/Major consideration.

So perhaps the implied point was/is, don't worry about budget in a SPEC -- as long as your "signature scene(s)" is/are valid for the story. You can always "write down" to budget when you're at that stage.

Now -- if you were ASSIGNED a project and upfront given budgetary parameters -- of course you would leave out that which you know in somewhat of an educated guess could be a issue.

So this seems to dabble in onna those nebulous rules area as in, write your SPEC then rewrite it to cut its implied budget in half to increase your chances of a sale.

Does that makes sense regarding me seeking opinion on the one camp saying keep-it-cheap for a sale vs. the other saying keep-it-big, if it serves the story, to make the sale?

YakMan
03-22-2013, 05:13 PM
So in a sense, it isn't necessarily about cutting your budget in half as it is about hitting those budget slots -- writing a movie that you can make for a million bucks, or for twenty million bucks, as opposed to five million bucks or fifty million bucks -- because that seems to falls outside the amount of money that investors want to risk on any one project (and I have no doubt that someone will bring up an exception -- and I'm sure there are - this isn't a scientific analysis -- just how the market has struck me over the last few years).

NMS

Okay, makes sense, thanks for this viewpoint. :thumbsup:

Cyfress
03-22-2013, 06:27 PM
All the stuff us wannabe's write should be viewed as a writing sample. We want to use this sample to attract an agent/manager/producer. This sample will hopefully lead to something where an agent wants representation or a producer is looking for a scribe for a lowbudget buddy film.

I know selling a spec is a powerball ticket so to speak, but you really want to show your chops in a spec because this will be your resume. That's why I think factoring budget issues into the creativity is a mistake.

I mean having expensive set peices for the hell of it wouldn't work anyway if the story has not called for it. Why would you have a 100 camels coming over the mountain unless you set-up that having 100 camels coming over a mountain meant winning or losing.

YakMan
03-22-2013, 11:02 PM
I postulate an example.

I have a scene where sabotage backflips an Abrams M1 off a Semi-Trailer Truck. Now I thought - quite spectacular - but who even wants to think of $$$ CGI'ing that? (Or doing it with the real thing what with a whole fleet mothballed in the desert with nothing to do but dry up -- but I digress). So I rewrote it as a Humvee with recoiless rifle -- of which there've been many scenes of said ubiquitous vehicle getting blown apart on lowly, episodic TV. BUT -- a Humvee doesn't have quite that BIG UMPH impact of an M1 doin' a Greg Louganis. :D

So could I write in the M1 getting blown apart knowing it wouldn't be a deal breaker as a producer would see the obvious "write to budget" of a Humvee if necessary for costing??? Or would this re-slush pile -- and yes, I know, story is ALL -- the script. Just curious on opinion here...??? :confused:

Charlie Rise
03-23-2013, 12:23 AM
Some times budget restraints can help the project.

On a Breaking Bad podcast, Vince Gilligan talked about how one scene was originally going to have Jesse get chased/attacked by guard dogs while breaking into a junkyard. Dogs were $2000 so they came up with the porta potty idea which was only $500.

I think everybody would agree that the Jesse falling through a porta potty is more memorable than the old cliché of junkyard dogs.

nmstevens
03-23-2013, 12:33 AM
I postulate an example.

I have a scene where sabotage backflips an Abrams M1 off a Semi-Trailer Truck. Now I thought - quite spectacular - but who even wants to think of $$$ CGI'ing that? (Or doing it with the real thing what with a whole fleet mothballed in the desert with nothing to do but dry up -- but I digress). So I rewrote it as a Humvee with recoiless rifle -- of which there've been many scenes of said ubiquitous vehicle getting blown apart on lowly, episodic TV. BUT -- a Humvee doesn't have quite that BIG UMPH impact of an M1 doin' a Greg Louganis. :D

So could I write in the M1 getting blown apart knowing it wouldn't be a deal breaker as a producer would see the obvious "write to budget" of a Humvee if necessary for costing??? Or would this re-slush pile -- and yes, I know, story is ALL -- the script. Just curious on opinion here...??? :confused:

That sort of thing isn't a budget killer. Don't look toward individual moments. When you're thinking about budget you have to look toward a script overall.

Almost any *one thing* is affordable in a moderately budgeted movie.

Hell, think of the biggest star you can imagine. Seriously. You can probably afford that star in your movie.

For a day. Or two days. If there's a really great cameo role for that star and his schedule permits him to shoot it. Very often, in a situation like that, you can work out a deal where you're paying the star's rate -- but on a per day-basis. So you get him for a day or two.

Some incredible CGI thing. You can have it. In one or two scenes.

A big crowd scene. You can have it. Once.

The trick is to look at the movie overall. Small cast. Limited locations. And locations changes that aren't going to take the shoot all over the freaking world. So if it's a desert -- then think "Desert -- studio." If it's a jungle, then then think, "Jungle -- studio." Or whatever.

Or you may be able to throw in a town or a reasonable-sized generic city, because you can usually find a place like that close to wherever you're shooting.

But once you start talking about desert and jungle and mountaintop and south pole and Bangkok slum and a chase down Broadway -- this is no longer a moderately budgeted movie.

When you keep the big things small -- cast, locations, overall *number* of effects, then by all means don't worry about picking those key big visual action moments that are going to help sell your set piece scenes.

NMS

tuukka
03-23-2013, 03:51 AM
I postulate an example.

I have a scene where sabotage backflips an Abrams M1 off a Semi-Trailer Truck. Now I thought - quite spectacular - but who even wants to think of $$$ CGI'ing that? (Or doing it with the real thing what with a whole fleet mothballed in the desert with nothing to do but dry up -- but I digress). So I rewrote it as a Humvee with recoiless rifle -- of which there've been many scenes of said ubiquitous vehicle getting blown apart on lowly, episodic TV. BUT -- a Humvee doesn't have quite that BIG UMPH impact of an M1 doin' a Greg Louganis. :D

So could I write in the M1 getting blown apart knowing it wouldn't be a deal breaker as a producer would see the obvious "write to budget" of a Humvee if necessary for costing??? Or would this re-slush pile -- and yes, I know, story is ALL -- the script. Just curious on opinion here...??? :confused:

Others already answered this, but anyway, you are thinking this wrong.

it doesn't really matter whether it's Abrams or a Humvee. Except seeing a tank flip over is much cooler. The prize tag isn't that different in the end. And if it is, the producers will simply change your Abrams into a Humvee.

What matters is everything else.

Say, if that scene happens on a desert, and it's the only desert scene in your film. And they have to ship a 50-member crew and all the equipment to said desert for that scene alone. And they have to stay there for five days to film not just the stunt, but also all the dialogue for the scene.

Maybe rest of your film happens in a warehouse in L.A? Flipping that Abrams on the yard of that warehouse is probably going to cheaper than flipping that Humvee in the desert. Because you don't have that extra desert location. You don't need to move 50 people and all the equipment there.

And if it's a tank, the producers know that flipping tank is going to be in the trailers. It's one of the big moneyshots. The producers know that you *need* cool moneyshots to sell the film. A flipping humvee? We've seen that a thousands time. I will barely be impressive enough to be included in the trailer.

YakMan
03-23-2013, 12:38 PM
Thank you NMS and tuukka. Those are very informed perspectives which are most helpful. And BTW, the Abrams gets it due on an Interstate which is in proximate distance to all the other INT./EXT. scenes. So reading in to what you two have to say -- that moneyshot's in balance with the rest of the story. And yeah, Charile Rise, I totally agree there, necessity can be the mother of story as well.