I wrote this post in the Gurus thread, but it was so OT that I'm starting a new thread.
Originally Posted by JeffLowell
I'm willing to bet there's a lot less room for stylistic creativity if I were writing something like a low budget straight to DVD thriller. They're not trying to woo A list talent; they want a movie for X dollars with Y explosions and Z boobs.
That's not at all how it works. Most of my stuff has been for cable-nets (HBO is probably behind the majority of my films). HBO wanted a movie that could air between two big studio films and seems like one of them... but only costs $3m to make. So the screenwriter's job is to find the high concept low cost idea, or to find the production value element like Navy cooperation.
Since the death of cable films - rubbed out by THE SOPRANOS and other cable series - the main players have been studio home entertainment divisions. I was on Disney lot a couple of weeks ago for a meeting, and a couple days later had a meeting with a guy at Fox Home Ent. Though this has cooled down in the past couple of years due to video sales decline - they are still making studio D2V movies like BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA 3.
There is a star system here, too - where everyone is fighting for the big names, who are only going to do a couple of movies. So, Michael Dudikoff got paid a million a film because he was once a theatrical action star. Seagal now gets more than that - he *turned down* UNDER SIEGE 3 because WB wouldn't pay him his *current* rate. These guys and a bunch of others can get a movie made - so everyone fights for them. Often the problem is - you *can't* pay some star's rate - so it's all about the project. One of my USA Net flicks got an Oscar nominee *movie star* to work for pocket change just based on the script. Because there is no money to make deals with, competition all comes down to the project.
There are still thousands of scripts trying for hundreds of slots and often the scripts out there are by name writers working under some other name like Jack "TD" Robinson (Phil Alden Robinson making a house payment). There are lots of scripts that bounced around studios and end up here... with some pseudonym on the title page. Those scripts are the competition. But because they have that pseudonym - all scripts are equal. So if there was a stack of scripts and one was by Donald Stewart under a pseudonym, they can't use "From the writer of CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER" to sell it or cast it or anything else - so it all comes down to words on the page. The choice is going to be - which project will attract talent (to work cheap) and an audience?
Though I joke about boobs and explosions - a script filled with either isn't going to sell just because it has them. Same as in Findlay, Ohio. Half the time they aren't even in the script you sell - they are one of those notes you get from HBO. That's why my blog is called Sex In A Submarine - on CRASH DIVE HBO gave us the note that it needed a sex scene. I said, "It's 110 men on a submarine - what kind of sex scene did you have in mind?" But HBO wanted R rated content so that their movies didn't look like network movies - and I wrote in the stupidest sex scene in the history of cinema.
Plenty of room for style within the lines. You are writing for production - even if it's a spec. It's like writing episodic TV - they will make this script. So all of the format stuff for production is required, but you can have as much fun as you want between the lines. But you still have only so many words per page, so you tend to focus on the words that end up on screen. You are writing a movie, not an unmade spec script... even when you are writing a spec script. The goal is to get that spec sold and made.
Because I was talking with some friends about this script a couple of nights ago, here's the opening to the first draft of THE BASE...
EXT. BORDER CHECKPOINT -- DAY
Cars filled with tourists move slowly through the checkpoint
into Mexico. On the American side: clean maintained streets.
EXT. TIJUANA, MEXICO -- DAY
But just across the border: crowds, garbage everywhere,
buildings crammed together on pot-holed streets. It seems
darker, more dangerous. Everything has a touch of evil.
EXT. STRIP CLUB -- DAY
A honky tonk street lined with dives. Neon flickers outside
a strip club. COLLEGE KIDS on Spring Break laugh drunkenly
as they leave the club, one belches loudly.
We sneak in while the doors are open.
INT. STRIP CLUB -- DAY
Almost everyone is American. Four clean cut young men watch
a pair of aging STRIPPERS gyrate on stage. When the Ugly
Stripper dances in front of them, one of them puts a dollar
in her G-string.
Horman, why are you giving that skank
DAVE DELMAR is a massive weight lifter with a troubled
childhood that turned him into a bit of a bully.
This is the closest he's been to *****
in months, Del. Give him a break.
ARTIE HORMAN is the youngest of the group, and the most unsure
of himself. Maybe still a virgin. Wears a tourist sombrero.
See, you can do whatever the hell you want, as long as you have INT and EXT and DAY and NIGHT and all of the other stuff they need to make the movie. The script exists to get the movie made.
Because the movie is either going to be sandwiched between two big studio movies on HBO, or sitting right next to the latest blockbuster in BLOCKBUSTER, or in the same Redbox kiosk or suggested to you by Netflix - it has to be mostly the same as those other films... but the big difference will be *budget*. Your script is going to have limited locations and limited speaking roles and limited crowd scenes. All of those things have to be addressed in the script along with everything else (character, dialogue, etc).
By the way - this opening scene from THE BASE *does* have boobs! And the next scenes show these guys - Marines - take on a Drug Cartel... kill them all... and take over their operations. No explosions in that scene, but plenty of gunfire and suspense. But those elements would be in the A movie version of this... because there really is no difference.
Except this got made.