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Old 06-07-2012, 02:40 PM   #1
wcmartell
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Default Low Budget Reality

I wrote this post in the Gurus thread, but it was so OT that I'm starting a new thread.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffLowell View Post
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.

STARS
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.

WRITERS
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?

BOOBS
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.

STYLE
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...

Code:
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. DELMAR Horman, why are you giving that skank money? DAVE DELMAR is a massive weight lifter with a troubled childhood that turned him into a bit of a bully. BREEN 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.

- Bill
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Old 06-07-2012, 03:18 PM   #2
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Default Re: Low Budget Reality



Above all the "pros" and "non-pros" here, I take special note when Bill takes time off from his busy schedule to educate and inform us here.

Never stop, Bill. And thanks.
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Old 06-07-2012, 03:20 PM   #3
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Default Re: Low Budget Reality

PS: This line from the script Everything has a touch of evil. has a specific purpose - to cause the director to do this whole thing as one long tracking shot, because they suddenly thought about that shot from TOUCH OF EVIL. It was all the director's idea!

Of course, it also gives you the mood of this particular version of Tijuana.

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Old 06-07-2012, 04:10 PM   #4
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Default Re: Low Budget Reality

how much would JL have to pay a producer to let them show his boobs?
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Old 06-07-2012, 04:15 PM   #5
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Default Re: Low Budget Reality

I work in Sweden. I have to pay people to keep their clothes on.

Joking aside though, low budget (in which I include all European filmmaking!) is an interesting topic. Perhaps because you are that bit closer to production, so maybe do have to think about, for example, the bits of formatting that are relevant to scheduling than if you're writing primarily for Hollywood readers. As I mentioned in the other thread, production companies I work for are looking for screenplays that are pretty much ready to be shot, and that includes scheduled.

It's not just a question of formatting either - where I work, a decent budget for a film is in the region of $5-10 million. To be fair, salaries are on a (depressingly!) different scale, but even so, there are certain limitations that are just a fact of life. While it doesn't dictate story choices entirely, cast size, reasonable locations etc, are just stuff that you learn to have half a mental eye on. Obviously studio movies have budgets too and no doubt writers have some awareness of them, but I don't see stuff like that mentioned around here much, so presumably it's different?

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Old 06-07-2012, 04:46 PM   #6
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Default Re: Low Budget Reality

Quote:
Originally Posted by cmmora View Post


Above all the "pros" and "non-pros" here, I take special note when Bill takes time off from his busy schedule to educate and inform us here.

Never stop, Bill. And thanks.
Yes, he's a class act. DD would have a big gaping hole without him.

But... interesting Bill, this answers something that has been bumping around in my head re Prodcos -- you see Prodcos in the HCD who have a "straight to TV" listing, sometimes it's part of a mixed bag of commercial/ad, features, and S to TV or DVD.

I've always assumed that the script formats were the same... however, I can understand how as "product" ALONE there's a look or feel aimed at with some lower budget films, Seagall and others alike have their own brand of sorts. We know what to expect from a Seagall film, but we've all watched films like Duel, by Spielberg, okay it's a while back, but that was a straight to TV film if I recall?

So, I just figured that there was only a budget thing going on in these types of films, "type" being broad, and even if it's a boobs and explosions flick the scripts looks the same because that's the industry standard, people move between jobs, so they are familiar with the same look, process.

Now boobs and explosions are a good thing IMHO, I always take note when they're around.

Just one more thing, Alex Cox once said that good films don't have to be about huge budgets, that's a myth, but that's the way the market has gone, year on year, with spiralling budgets, and fewer films released, so as a film fan that seems like an unfortunate development to me.

Often the greatest films don't seem to have been made with stratospheric budgets, or at least "weren't". Whether there is a "studio" film, or some other distinguishing aspect that affects all levels of production, that's something others here may take up, how that affects branding, and any other pertinent issues.
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Last edited by The Road Warrior : 06-07-2012 at 05:08 PM. Reason: adding "at" after aimed. Darn screen.
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Old 06-07-2012, 05:25 PM   #7
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Default Re: Low Budget Reality

Quote:
Originally Posted by wcmartell View Post
PS: This line from the script Everything has a touch of evil. has a specific purpose - to cause the director to do this whole thing as one long tracking shot, because they suddenly thought about that shot from TOUCH OF EVIL. It was all the director's idea!

Of course, it also gives you the mood of this particular version of Tijuana.

- Bill

That is just awesome. Great tip, Bill.
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Old 06-07-2012, 06:59 PM   #8
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Default Re: Low Budget Reality

B is for Budget.

There is no other difference between the screenplays - and specs I have written as low budget regularly get me meetings on studio lots where someone passed it to them and they had no idea it was a low budget script... it was just a script. And, the opposite - as I said, often some script goes out wide in the studio world, doesn't get bought... and ends up under some other writer's name in the B world.

The only differences might be: Budget (has to be written to be made on a budget) and these scripts may go through rewrites but there is no "development as a business" - it's all about making this script into a movie. Other than that, the scripts are completely identical.

Whether it's a studio film or a studio home vid division film, both have the same required number of explosions (7) and boobs (3). Obviously, there are no requirements - my STEEL SHARKS, also for HBO - not a single boob other than the director. And I'm pretty sure most of my films have fewer explosions than a Michael Bay movie (we can't really afford them).

Though the popular genres usually echo those $200m movies, there are some genres that either are no longer popular in the big budget world and the B world services that audience (often horror, martial arts, things like that), the exploitation film has found a home here after all of the drive ins closed. I think that might be what Lowell was referring to... there are T&A movies and films with more boobs than the usual studio film (I *proudly* wrote a movie about robot hookers from outer space). But PIRANHA 3DD was a theatrical, and a sequel to a Richard Dreyfus movie with a million boobs, that was a remake of a John Sayles screenplay. So... I'm not sure if there really is any difference!

My script tip today is on one of my scripts...

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Old 06-07-2012, 11:46 PM   #9
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Default Re: Low Budget Reality

B movies aren't just about budget. They're movies that aren't made to be released theatrically. (Unlike non B movie indies, which can be made for the same or less, and are trying for a theatrical release.)

Hearing you describe it, it seems to be a very different business model.
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Old 06-08-2012, 01:11 AM   #10
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Default Re: Low Budget Reality

That's correct - they are usually not trying for theatrical in the USA... but frequently get theatrical overseas. I've had the #7 theatrical in Germany before (beating a few studio films) and #3 in the territory known as "Far East" (those Asian places that are not Japan). Usually there is a home vid or cable deal in place that is funding the film - so they get domestic. A studio's home vid division needs to release movies just like the theatrical division - so they have their release calendars that need to be filled.

Oh, and some get a limited theatrical - a week - due to SAG contracts. Depending on what contract you use, you may have to four wall that Laemmle downtown for a week.

On the lower end, some company like Asylum is all about making the cheap knock off of some big studio blockbuster, and their plan is always to get their version of the movie in video stores (etc) the Tuesday before the big movie comes out. Their BATTLESHIP comes out Tuesday, Universal's comes out Friday. Because the studio knows what date their film is coming out, so does Asylum.

The other element is, well, budget. They know the budget going in. But that's not too different than making a theatrical horror movie (I have one of those stuck somewhere in d-hell) - where the budget is 15-19 million. A company like Lionsgate does horror remakes for theatrical - all in that $15-19 budget range. Platinum Dunes (Paramount) also knows the budget going in.

Oh, and part of that is - no reshoots. The budget is the budget, and you can't go over budget. There is no more money. So the film must conform to the budget. Period.

Maybe the most important element is - they are making the movie. Often they buy a script to fill a cable time slot - so it's like episodic TV... or when a studio buys a script and fast-tracks it so that they can make a set release date (does SNOW WHITE 2 already have a release date?). Time and money are not wasted. It's all about actually making movies... so imagine any of your scripts after they get the greenlight and have a firm start date. That's the B movie world - when they buy the script, it's greenlit and they know when they are going to shoot it... and release it.

Indie films are still made on a limited budget, but often have no distribution in place and bounce from film fest to film fest looking for distribution. It's the unusual way of making movies because it's on spec... no one knows if anyone will ever see the movie at all.

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