Writing Mid-Budget Features: Do or Don't?

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  • Writing Mid-Budget Features: Do or Don't?

    So, I'm kind of seeking some insights on a concept I'm developing from anyone who has some knowledge on the business side of things or is already getting advice from their reps on the core of the matter. I figured my dilemma might potentially be worthy of a larger discussion on writing with a script's budget in mind, so I figured I'd put it here.

    So, here's the deal. I have this weird, quirky comedy idea that is centered around being a live action movie where one of the two main characters would have to be created using an actor in a motion capture suit for a CGI character model.

    While it's all certainly doable from a technical perspective, the type of CGI I have in mind is something that no one has ever seen before in a live action movie, so if a studio were to ever make it, there is some level of novelty to the idea that could potentially make the movie marketable to audiences and just maybe make the script marketable to a producer.

    But here's where I'm iffy on it. I have a general idea of how much things cost, and I would ballpark this concept at costing somewhere around 30 to 50 million dollars due to the CGI element, and I think a producer would probably come to the same minimum estimate on the logline alone.

    So, here's my question. With less and less mid-budget movies being made these days, if you have a concept that screams mid-budget movie, should you expect that script to be dead on arrival, or if it is well-written or high concept enough, do these types of screenplays still have a puncher's chance of being sold in the current spec market?

  • #2
    My philosophy is write whatever you want -- it's free on paper -- and if you find success -- let producers/buyers figure out if the movie will be 10 million, 50 million or 150 million dollar budget. I never had a rep mention budget to me -- not that I'm some huge success. I'm just saying, I think you can make any movie for zero dollars or 1 billion dollars just depends on what they choose to do.



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    • #3
      Originally posted by Bono View Post
      My philosophy is write whatever you want -- it's free on paper -- and if you find success -- let producers/buyers figure out if the movie will be 10 million, 50 million or 150 million dollar budget. I never had a rep mention budget to me -- not that I'm some huge success. I'm just saying, I think you can make any movie for zero dollars or 1 billion dollars just depends on what they choose to do.
      Thanks, Bono. That helps.

      Yeah. I kind of figured, and that's my usual philosophy. I think I'm just starting to get more in my head than usual lately, and I've fallen into the trap of thinking, "This script won't sell because of reason X" with everything I do. And since I'm going back to working 16 hour days soon, I think I just want to make sure I'm not wasting my limited writing time on a concept that would have no chance.

      But if no one in the industry is currently discouraging writers from writing things that might cost a little more than others, then that makes me feel a little bit more comfortable with what I'm doing.

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      • #4
        Go for it.

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        • #5
          A VP of Acquisitions once said to me regarding mid-budget films, it takes just as much time to write a $40 million movie as it does a $4 million movie, so why wouldn't you write the $40 mil one?

          Write it the way you want, because if you do, it will be your best work.

          Good luck, Prezzy.
          "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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          • #6
            Thanks, guys. I really appreciate the feedback. And again, it's helpful to know that the industry is still open to something between indie flicks and big-budget bonanzas.

            I'm definitely going to go with my usual instincts and write this thing now. Odds are it'll still never get made, but when isn't writing a spec script playing the long odds?
            Last edited by Prezzy; 02-07-2021, 01:31 PM.

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            • #7
              The most common benefit of writing a spec script is that it impresses people, and they hire you to write or rewrite something else. I've had two movies made from original spec scripts, but I consider that a happy bonus - much more of the work I've done has come from spec scripts that turned into samples. The first spec that got me a lot of work was a black comedy about Hollywood - I wouldn't have wrote it if I were thinking about commercial potential, but I loved the idea and went for it.

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              • #8
                Jeff, you make a fair point about a spec also being a sample. That's always a possibility too, even if it is a little less glamorous than selling a spec or getting a chance to make your own movie yourself (although that can be far less glamorous than getting a writing assignment depending on the circumstances).

                This might be a silly question to ask, and I'd probably know the answer if I had a rep, but how exactly does a sample getting a writer an assignment work in practice? As in along the lines of how much a writing assignment will line up with the voice of a sample script.

                Not that this is necessarily my style, but like, is a script filled with dick jokes going to land a writer an opportunity to write a family movie about dancing kittens because it demonstrates an underlying talent for good dialogue and story structure?

                Or is it more like to get the writing assignment for the dancing kittens movie, you need a good sample script about singing puppies?


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                • #9
                  Does anyone on this board have any hard facts about how the pandemic has changed studio production budgets & distribution models? I would guess that the days of $100-$300 million block busters are over and producers are probably hungry for smaller projects with more commercial potential.

                  --fallen

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by fallenangel View Post
                    Does anyone on this board have any hard facts about how the pandemic has changed studio production budgets & distribution models? I would guess that the days of $100-$300 million block busters are over and producers are probably hungry for smaller projects with more commercial potential.

                    --fallen
                    I think it is way too early to assume or think this. Studios will continue to make expensive, "blockbuster" style films, in some fashion or another. And/or Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Max, etc. will too.

                    For this discussion, studios have generally cut out mid range films -- especially romantic comedies, but other genres too. It's either big budget fare or possibly the lower budget breakout film that is easy enough for them to distribute and see a return on. (Think horror films, thrillers, etc.) But probably very few to any romantic comedies & comedies for the time being. Though, not entirely impossible, I don't think.

                    From what I've seen in terms of our listing deals each month, for the most part, mid-budget films will end up on the streamers, more than anything else. We continue to see that very frequently, at this time. They have monthly fees coming in to prop them up for doing film so this type & budget.
                    Last edited by Done Deal Pro; 02-10-2021, 07:13 AM. Reason: Fixed grammar, etc
                    Will
                    Done Deal Pro
                    www.donedealpro.com

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Prezzy View Post
                      Jeff, you make a fair point about a spec also being a sample. That's always a possibility too, even if it is a little less glamorous than selling a spec or getting a chance to make your own movie yourself (although that can be far less glamorous than getting a writing assignment depending on the circumstances).

                      This might be a silly question to ask, and I'd probably know the answer if I had a rep, but how exactly does a sample getting a writer an assignment work in practice? As in along the lines of how much a writing assignment will line up with the voice of a sample script.

                      Not that this is necessarily my style, but like, is a script filled with dick jokes going to land a writer an opportunity to write a family movie about dancing kittens because it demonstrates an underlying talent for good dialogue and story structure?

                      Or is it more like to get the writing assignment for the dancing kittens movie, you need a good sample script about singing puppies?
                      It's pretty simple: a producer likes your script, tries to get it bought by a studio. The studio might not think it's right for them, but they like your writing. Now either the producer or the studio might send you a script for a rewrite, knowing that you can execute. You pitch how you'd change it, and they hire you. (Or they send you a book or movie they're thinking of adapting, etc.)

                      The tones don't necessarily need to match. My dark comedy about murder in Hollywood got me my first rewrite - of a Jungle Book movie.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Done Deal Pro View Post
                        For this discussion, studios have generally cut out mid range films -- especially romantic comedies, but other genres too. It's either big budget fair or possibly the lower budget breakout film that is easy enough for them to distribute and see a return on. Think horror film, thrillers, etc. But probably very few to any romantic comedies & comedies for the time being. Though not entirely impossible, I don't think

                        From what I've seen in listing deals, for the most part, mid-budget films will end up on the streamers, more than anything else. We continue to see that very frequently currently. They have monthly fees coming in to prop them up.
                        I can back that up: I just started pre-production on a mid-budget comedy for a streamer.

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                        • #13
                          Thanks, @Will and JeffLowell for this invaluable insight!

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