Screenwriting : How can you tell if you've written a script with a budget that's $1 million or $5 million or $10 million? by LindaAnn Loschiavo

LindaAnn Loschiavo

How can you tell if you've written a script with a budget that's $1 million or $5 million or $10 million?

I posted this question a month ago on "Ask Stage 32" but no one replied. I'm guessing there's a ratio: how many actors, how many locations, etc. Thank you for your reply/ replies.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Show it to someone with some producing experience? Obviously a script that could be shot for $1 million could easily be shot for $20m. But not every $100m script is adaptable as a $2m project. So presumably the key is finding the budget floor. It probably doesn't take all that much experience to ballpark the floor. You live in NYC... have any buddies who are indie filmmakers?

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Alle, I can't find a post you wrote last month. At that time, you noted the number of actors + 2 locations and then gave a $$ estimate. Can you re-post what you wrote, please?

Kerry Douglas Dye

Disagree, Lisa. Someone looking to make a $1m movie doesn't want to read a script that can't be made for less than $10m. Those are different worlds.

Crystal Diane Stevens

Basically a line producer is the guy who comes in and gives you an idea what your budget might be.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

Predict like 4-5 pages a day for an indie drama. 7-8 seems a bit ambitious.

William Martell

I think what Lisa meant was: chances are if it is an indie film it will be written and directed by the same person. But the issues in films at those ranges will be number of locations, number of cast members, crowds and weather and amount of night shoots, etc. For the most part, it's likely that the main difference between those three budgets is the star (which is out of the writer's control). You take a $1m film and add one level of star and it's now a $5m film... add the next level and it's $10m. Those are all really just $1m films with different casts. And the lower the budget, the more pages you will need to shoot per day. Sometimes equipment deals impact that: I had a film (for Showtime) shoot 9 days, because that was 2 weekends and a week of equip rental. Weekends are often cheap rentals because big projects will shoot a five day week and the equipment is unused on weekends. Plus, equip houses used to be closed on weekends so you'd pick up equip on Friday and return on Monday... and get some extra hours to shoot. What few MOWs they still make shoot in 12 days, and I know independent genre companies that shoot a feature in SIX days and some which have shot in THREE days. Those are contained or semi contained scripts written around a central location where most of the story takes place. May have mentioned this is some previous thread, but I am freakin' obsessed with a film production company that makes features for $10k... and they have offices and everything else you'd expect a company to have. When I mentioned this in a class a while back, two people said they know the company I was talking about... and I learned there were two other companies making feature films for $10k as their business model. Yikes! (Ron gave a great answer, so I just had to add my 2 cents)

Bill Costantini

Nice explanation, Ron.

Chanel Ashley

I prefer to think the budget will determine the look and quality of the film - in most cases the screenplay could be made on a budget of either $1-5-10 mill - the same script in essence, but not the same quality in the end product - more money would improve the production values, better quality expertise/actors - I don't believe the script is the issue, it can always be modified to suit the budget.

Jason Dennis

I don't go by "pages per day." List out the locations, count the # of scenes in the locations. Give a half day per substantial scene. Then take the # of total weeks (rounded up to the next week to be safe) and do multiples of weekly rates, add set and basic filming costs, contingencies, taxes/insurance, etc. The SAG min is approx. 3k per week. When I estimate budgets I do multiples of that to estimate my cast cost - for example 20x for a lead. If you have any substantial # of locations and the shoot is measured in weeks as with studio films, it is very hard to get below the $5 mil level. Seriously, the floor is about $4 mil because just basic filming will get you above $1.5 mil. A "normal" movie with a typical number of roles set in the present day and without major fx or anything should get you slightly north of 10. This is with leads making 500k-1 mil rather than any of the big amounts you might hear. It is true that cast is highly variable. This doesn't relate to your question, but for a two hour film, it's very hard to imply a production budget over $70 M from a script - without exorbitant cast pay (or some other exorbitant pay) - so in a way it's heartening, in another way depressing. If you have a very contained script, then Ron's estimates are useful. I personally calculate it differently than the $50k/day IATSE and with films that will get distribution, sometimes actors will defer up front money for a percentage of gross, but Ron's take is very useful for the indie shoot he describes. I write mainstream things, the producer I've talked to is mainstream, so I offer a different take.

Liz Warner

I honestly don't know but I'd be pretty sure labor is a big fixed cost, which would relate to number and prestige of actors. Another big one would be locations. It's one thing if you're trying to simulate Mars and an altogether different matter if it all takes place in a bar. Good question--hope you get some better answers.

Laurie Ashbourne

Production goes by pages per day, Ron's post is mostly spot on but the page count is very ambitious even for an indie. It would also be very rare if you are pulling from a crew pool, (even locals not in LA) that at least part of the crew wouldn't be union and they have a 12 hour turnaround that can really hamper a schedule if you try to do too much in a day.

Parameswaran Nair

Very good question, wonder how I missed it. I have a policy of asking for the budget first if someone wants to make a film, and accordingly decide on the story. It is quite a challenge and that's what makes it exciting to write for a particular budget. The pre-production and post-production costs can be easily estimated as they are on contract. The biggest cost for indie film makers in India revolves around food, travel, and stay, if the actors are FOC. In all this you should know where and how the film is going to be shot and what is the ambition of the film-maker. I have also seen film-makers start with quite some flourish but end up cutting costs to make a sad apology of a film.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Upvoting Dan G.'s answer. Oh. I mean "liking". Wish I could upvote it. Some very wise people have weighed in with too much information that no screenwriter should actually try to make use of.

Owen Mowatt

How many locations do you have, Ron?

Kerry Douglas Dye

Sho nuff, @Lynn. The reason I said she shouldn't try to make use of all that information is that I don't think anyone should try to learn to properly break down and budget a script by reading a message board comment thread. I could be wrong. Maybe she'll read the above and be able to accurately compute her particular script's budget in less time and with more accuracy than if she were to network with some filmmakers who could read it and ballpark it for her. But I still think my suggestion from high above in the thread (get an indie filmmaker in your network to ballpark it for you) is more sensible than trying to do it yourself based all the info being debated in the comments. But I only know what I know, and that ain't everything. I could be wrong.

C. D-Broughton

From my humble understanding: - cast and crew cannot be predicted by the writer but can massively alter the budget - ambitious directing of scenes can massively bloat the days of filming and since down to the director, cannot be predicted by the writer - producer fees cannot be predicted by the writer (and no producer wants to spend 2 years trying to get a project funded for an upfront fee of £10-30k) What the writer can get the gist of though is how many stunts are involved and to what level. For instance, a man driving a car is technically a stunt; a car chase through central London with crashes, explosions and pedestrians diving out of the way is very likely beyond the scope of most new independent companies looking to fund their first feature. Fight sequences take time, so the more intricate, the longer they'll take. As pointed out already, night scenes add up (but can be faked when indoors). In a nut shell though, just count the amount of sh*t you have blowing up and take a wild guess - someone with extensive knowledge will be hired to come in and make a proper estimate anyway, so ask yourself, "If I got some mates together, could we do this ourselves?" If the answer's Yes (not saying it'd be good, mind), then you can guess that it'd cost under £1m.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

@ Lynn Reed - - THANK YOU! I do have a few short questions and will send you a private note! x o

LindaAnn Loschiavo

To all who replied --- MUCH APPRECIATION. Many viewpoints, many experiences and it's helpful to all of us with less experience.

Craig D Griffiths

I am no expert. But I have costed projects in the past (not film). For a rule of thumb. Find your most expensive scene. List everything needed. Don't miss a thing, water, travel, parking, everything you can imagine. Now cost each item. You will have a cost for that scene. Now you can assume a maximum of 3 minutes of film being produced a day. If your scene is 3 minutes it's easy. But do some mathes to get a per minute cost. Multiple that by the length of your script. Nearly done. Now add in fixed costs. This will include actors, insurance and things that don't change (regardless of film length). Tada, ballpark amount. While I was tapping this out on my phone I thought, find a similar film on IMDB and check its budget. Much easier.

Parameswaran Nair

@JohnHunter, LOL! You nailed it

LindaAnn Loschiavo

@ John Hunter --- that's the rule for everything: it will take longer and it will cost more than you estimated. That's true for a divorce, home renovations, Broadway plays, and a trip to Las Vegas. LOL!

Chanel Ashley

Spot on, LindaAnn.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Alle, all best to you and your partner! Champagne toast for the wedding belles!!!

Craig D Griffiths

@JohnHunter we Aussies can make a dollar stretch. Copper wire was invented by two Australians fighting over a penny.

Kenneth David Swenson

I write to write; for me its the words and the culinary soup or the organic symphony of them. If you can't film in Paris but in a parking lot in Burbank; that's up to the production company to figure out how to pull off.

Kenneth David Swenson

addition; the above doesn't apply to "series" work which is usually within a tight framework or bible, and has established sets or locations that are already "in place". Two examples of "make it work"; one of the most dramatic scenes of "Star Trek IV was done in the back lot at Paramount by the temporary building of a massive water tank, and having seen a lot of the background pieces from "The Hobbit" or "LoTR", you'd be surprised what you thought was outside that simply wasn't.

Doug Nelson

LindaAnn; Your job as the writer is to create a really compelling story presented in a bullet proof (spec) format – no more, no less. My job as a producer is to attract the necessary funding to carry the finished film all the way to distribution. HOWEVER (there’s always a however,) it’s up to you, the writer, to understand that the more unique locations and set requirements are going to up the budget. Things like FX, under water shooting, name actors and directors, size of the cast/crew (ya gotta feed & house ‘em), guns and fight scenes…on and on. These things add up pretty quickly so keep these things in mind when you are writing. Every producer’s pockets have bottoms (some deeper than others.) Target your pitches to producers who are in your script’s league.

Kenneth David Swenson

if my project ever goes to script; they'll either need deep pockets or some killer CGI and green screen hardware...

Trey Wickwire

I'm sure there is a formula for the Hollywood process but I don't know what it is. I've done a lot of writing for small studios and for them the budget comes down to effects and location. Effects cost money, everyone knows that but many forget that the location can add up the costs as well. I had one short that never got made because of the location. In south Louisiana I thought a swampy area would be easy to find, not so, at least not that fit with the needs of the shot. Many places will only let you film on their property if you have insurance and pay a hefty fee. Public places often require permits that can go from reasonable to just this side of Pluto.

Kenneth David Swenson

CRAFT SERVICES?

Doug Nelson

Dan, let's not scare her off. As a producer, it's my job to wrangle all the budget items - not hers. (Oh, I include craft services.)

LindaAnn Loschiavo

@ Doug Nelson --- thank you. These things are very helpful to know (-- and to keep in mind before you write a scene, for ex., where an actress could get wet).

LindaAnn Loschiavo

@ Dan Guardino --- thank you for the generosity of your help. You're always spot on!!

LindaAnn Loschiavo

@ John Hunter - playwrights are built for "economy of scale" -- a small cast, a modest set, a focus on STORY. Here's a clip from one of my very economical plays in NYC - http://youtu.be/rEJbRV-WeW8

LindaAnn Loschiavo

@ John Hunter: Mae West has lived with me for 10 yrs + now. My play "Courting Mae West" is performed on her death date. My next Mae event in NYC is Monday, Aug. 17th. John, come up sometime . . . http://MaeWest.blogspot.com

Doug Nelson

Dan - yes I did read it, but I was just a little woozy from going thru your list.

Marilyn Du Toit

I would say the number of actors and special effects your story would require would be a big indication.

Kenneth David Swenson

And fair warning; I would be tempted during a meeting that was discussing both cast options and budget to just shrug my shoulders if the studio complained because they wanted "A" list on a "Z" budget. I would rather see a movie succeed using actors that no one has seen , be done extremely well, and come in under on the balance sheet.

Curt Butler

... simple... consult with a Line Producer! ... if a producer is interested in your script, they will employ a LP to ballpark figures. Cheers, Curt

Michael Eddy

My comment would be: why do you care? Unless you're writing specifically for a low budget film (which nowadays could be anything you can charge to your credit cards) - it shouldn't be your concern. Write a great screenplay. Throw caution to the wind. Budgets can be massaged. Besides - what if you write a "small" movie and suddenly it attracts an A list actor or director - budget changes. I wrote a "period" piece which I thought might balloon the budget but a producer who knew budget breakdowns told me the "below the line" cost would be under $20 million - which sounds like a fortune - except that the average now for a feature is around 60 or more and with prints and advertising - not many films come in for much under 100 million. Nuts, but that's the way it is. So all the factors you mention are part of the equation - but why worry yourself as the writer? Richard Linklater shot BOYHOOD over 12 years and it cost about $2.5 million. Relax. Just write.

Kenneth David Swenson

one of the luxuries of being the author as opposed to the screenwriter. It would be up to him or her to craft it in its full tilt form or fit on the aforementioned parking lot in Burbank. But @Michael you're very right; I don't write a story to make it into a film; even if I can see it playing out in my head.

Georgina Gajdosik

You do a script "breakdown" first, usually done by a line producer

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

@ Michael - I disagree. As writers I think we should have a budget in mind. I think it shows that we're actually thinking about the business side of it, instead of writing purely from a creative point of view. I think we should always find ways to cut costs in our writing. It would make it easier for the producer, but especially easier for us to sell our scripts.

Trey Wickwire

@ Jean Pierre, I disagree with you and agree with Michael. Unless you are specifically asked to write to a specific budget it is more important to show your creativity as a writer than your administrative skills. Readers want to know if you are able to push the envelope and offer new and exciting material. My mentor explained it like this. You want to show the reader how far you can go because they can always visualize less but never more. Whatever you present to them will, in their eyes, be your limit. So give them your utmost and worry about toning it down if requested.

Laurie Ashbourne

Screenwriters that take it upon themselves to understand all aspects of what goes into making a film write better screenplays. This goes from everything to sitting in on acting classes, to an edit bay, to being on set. If you at least have the basic understanding, the blueprint for the film you are writing is much less likely to get ripped apart and therefore be truer to your vision -- which I would think would be of interest to all writers.

Kerry Douglas Dye

^------ On Team Jean-Pierre in this latest debate.

Trey Wickwire

Ok Kerry, Please give us an example of how you would write a screenplay you hope to sell by setting budget limits on it? How would those limits show in the writing and how would those limits help in the sale of the script? I'm very curious to know.

Larry Kostroff

Several cost items that impact budgets are A) Above the line: Producer, Director, Writer, and Cast fees. B) Stunts and Special Effects. C) Production Design: Sets and Locations. D) Shooting Schedule. N.B. A script breakdown will provide a preliminary idea of what the picture will cost.

Kerry Douglas Dye

@Trey, I'm currently targeting the under $2m market, so I'm mostly writing single-location genre stuff that's appropriate for that budget. I suppose I'm lucky that that's the sort of thing I enjoy writing... if my genre were epic fantasy, I guess I'd look at things differently. I've twice seen quite lovely scripts of mine totally gutted due to budgetary considerations, so I'm lately in the habit of writing everything with my low-budget producer hat on. Better I write the inexpensive draft now rather than have some hack come in later and break everything in the process of making it cheaper. That said, I know some writers consider their spec scripts to be writing samples, and if that's what I were thinking, I wouldn't concern myself with budget.

Kerry Douglas Dye

And @Trey, just rereading your take on this topic, it's this line: "worry about toning it down if requested." The thing is, it might not be you who ends up toning it down. The next guy might not see the elegant fix to make it cheaper. He'll just hack out an entire scene, not realizing that the entire script imploded around it. Again, been through this twice. Your experience may differ.

Trey Wickwire

@ Kerry, everything you said was spot on. We are looking at things from two different places. You said yourself that you are targeting the low budget market and I said that my comments were directed towards selling a script with no target in mind. My comments are directed towards the new screenwriter who is, above all else, trying to get his writing noticed and hopefully purchased. Once you have already sold a few things, have some credits, made some connections, etc, everything changes. Hope that makes sense.

Doug Nelson

Laurie – you are what I like to call correct. If screenwriters took the time to understand the basics of filmmaking; this would be a non-topic of discussion. But some like to talk just to hear themselves talk.

Michael Eddy

To Jean-Pierre: All due respect - but it is not the writer's job to worry about the budget. It's their job to tell the best possible story. If you want to be a writer/producer than I suppose you can think budget and try to write concisely and hold down costs, but if not - why hamstring yourself at the start. Movies get made for a wide variety of reasons - budget comes in as part of the end game. Write a great story FIRST. SELL the script second. If the producer/studio has budgetary concerns (and most films are made contingent on signing a STAR - and trust me - they don't care about the budget - their coming aboard will balloon the budget up by another $20 mill or so) - let them voice it after the deal is made. You can always rewrite to save money - on locations or above the line talent. So many things. It's premature and ridiculous for the writer to have that as a concern when they write FADE IN.

Kerry Douglas Dye

See, @Michael, I don't get that. If you're creating a product to sell, don't you need to think about the price of the product you're creating? If I decide I'm going to make jewelry, it's two very different choices to make jewelry for millionaires vs. making jewelry that the average Joe can afford. Don't I need to understand what I'm making, and who can afford to buy it? I guess, again, unless one is not writing to sell. Which I understand is some people's strategy.

David Kurtz

Look for a similar movie on IMDB and scroll down to their budget.

Trey Wickwire

@ Michael and @ Kerry. You are both right but looking at the issue from two different perspectives. If you know before hand what the budget restrictions of your target sales point is then by all means, write to that target. But for the new screenwriter who has no connections and is just trying to get noticed you write as though there are no budget restrictions at all. Showcase your writing not your admin skills. I know folks really want there to be a set formula that they can just follow and thereby be guaranteed success. But the reality is that its all subjective and the formula is in a constant state of flux dependent on a host of variables. You just have to be ready to adapt to the context of any given situation.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

As writers we don't have to worry about budget. We can write big blockbuster movies or small indie films with 21 locations if it fits our story. But if we both write equally great scripts, but mine looks like it has a lesser budget, they're going with mine. Why alienate yourself? I can even argue that it shows more creativity when you can write a compelling story with budget in mind. Finding ways to recycle locations, or implying the explosion, or subtlety flexing you character's super power is a great way to show off your creativity. @ Trey, you said you're targeting newer screenwriters who are trying to sell their stuff. I don't think telling them not to worry about budget is the best advise. How many screenwriters start off writing epic sci-fi/fantasies? Tons. I know this because every thread in screenwriting forums where people ask "what's your favorite genre to write in" Those are the two genre's that usually have the most votes. Horror follows. How many specs get sold each year from those genres? Probably close to none. @Michael "Why hamstring yourself at the start" - It's funny, because that's the exact same question I have for you. And you said "Movies get made for a wide variety of reasons - budget comes in as part of the end game" - I honestly don't know when that's ever the case. Looking for stars and all that jazz, it comes down to budget. If I had a low budget script, that's more money to spend on higher ranked celebs.

Trey Wickwire

I think the key is knowing who is going to do the reading. Studio readers are looking for good stories and are probably interns who can't tell budget sense in a screenwriter. But if you are lucky enough to know who your readers are and what they are looking for then by all means write what they want. All of the work I have done so far has been to a studios requests so budget was small and I wrote for that. The things I'm trying to sell to the big boys are a little different.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Hey, @JP, I threw in my lot with Team Jean-Pierre, but I have to take issue with one thing you said. The two specs I've sold were both horror. In my experience the horror genre is not a bad choice for spec writing.

Trey Wickwire

As I have said a few times now, if you know that the people reading your script expect a certain budget to be written for then write for that budget. From what I'm seeing here, that must always be the case because everyone seems to think its the only way to go. I don't know myself, I'm just a beginner. I certainly agree that understanding budget and how to write for a specific budget is very important. But I still say if you have no budget restrictions to work to then don't worry about it. Write big, if for no other reason than to show you can.

Doug Nelson

Kerry – Although I’m retired now, I still keep my finger on the film industry pulse (a little.) I sense that the sophomoric horror genre so popular now is beginning to wear a bit thin and will soon join the ranks of the weepies, creepies and oaters of days gone by. Most producers I know (self included) are looking for grown-up movie scripts. We’ve seen enough Vampires and love struck Vampires already.

Kerry Douglas Dye

@Doug, good news for me that I don't write about vampires. :) Anyway, I can't follow the trends... I've got to follow my muse. So far I've had some luck with her, and she wouldn't let me switch genres to cowboy musicals, or whatever happens to be waxing in popularity at the moment.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Also, @Doug, I'm a bit offended for the genre. Some of my favorite horror flicks are very grown up indeed.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

I hope everyone will heed Ron's comments. A similar situation occurs in THEATRE. Writers see a play with a cast of 10-12 by a bankable dramatist who's won major awards -- then think they can do that, too. Doubtful. Most writers learn the hard way that producers won't go near a drama freighted with a large cast and other complications. Even Broadway is going the route of the two-hander. It's always about the budget. A good writer is wise to focus on the STORY -- not the expensive fireworks needed to bring a weak story to life.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

@ Kerry, I deleted horror in my reply twice, but then decided to stick it in there at the end. It's borderline for me. Yes people, actually sell horrors, but they end up not getting made or being pretty bad. But I guess this conversation isn't about greenlit scripts, but actually selling them. I was really on the fence with horror. You respectively put me in my place, lol. It's my favorite genre to watch when done right. I've written a feature, but it still needs work that I'm not willing to put in just yet. I take that back. I was really debating over it in my head.

Donny Broussard

Lisa, saying "oh, i just realized you said $1, $5, or $10 million. you don't need to know budget for this price range. this is pure indie." is one of the most ignorant statements I've ever read on a thread like this. Budget is important at every price range. If you want to attract financiers and producers, then you need to hire a Line Producer to help you budget out the film, then once you've raised the money for the film and it's actually going to happen, you make offers to talent and re-budget the film. Make sure you have enough contingency so you can move money around if talent raises the cost significantly. There is no price range where budget is not important! Going into a movie half cocked will never wield good results. Get your script into shape and hire a Line Producer. Period.

Michael Eddy

Jean-Pierre: Disagree all you like. It is your perogative. I have never written anything with a budget in mind. Only a good story. Something I'd want to see at the movies. I've written about a dozen specs in my career - and had 10 of them optioned and of the 10 - two were made. Look - if you downsize the scope of your idea because you're trying to do some phantom producing entity a favor - and assuming that your work is going to get made (about 1 in a 1000 scripts written get produced - so the odds are looong) - you're short-changing yourself and running a fool's errand. Again, my opinion. And also - believ it or not - low budget and micro budget movies are far more difficult to get made then big budget movies - so why put yourself into a cramped box at the start? Studios are far more willing to gamble on (and lose) on BIG budget films where A list stars and/or directors are attached - that's how they hedge their bets and figure on (hope for) a big opening weekend at the box office. They have computerized programs where they can plug in the name of an actor or actress - and see what the film should gross in any country/market in the world. Don't do their job for them. They're pros at this. Do your job - write a great screenplay. That's all you can (and should) try to control. After that, it's all a crapshoot.

Michael Eddy

Trey: why would you ever write for a "reader". You don't know who they are. You write for yourself and for a hoped for audience - of paying customers. Readers all have different credentials. The ones most often employed by the studios are unionized and meet certain standards and have been hired because the understand the sensibilities of the studio people they have been hired to read for - what they are looking for. If it doesn't pass muster with the reader - it's the end of the line. And even when it does - it still might go no further. If the reader reads a great sci fi script and recommends it - and the studio wants nothing to do with sci fi - then your great read went for naught.

Michael Eddy

Kerry: do you need to think about the price (cost) of what you're creating? No. Not your job. Comparing it to jewelry doesn't fly. If I'm making cheap stuff - I try to sell it to cheap outlets in a mall. If I'm going high end - I look to sell to Tiffany's. Movies don't work that way. Any given studio has a slate of films - some big budget, some small. Some with stars. Some without. Some with A list directors, some fresh out of USC Film School. Plus - the vast majority of the films any studio releases in a given year are pick ups from film festivals or foreign markets etc. No studio has a yearly slate consisting only of in house productions any more. This ain't MGM in the 30s releasing a movie a week. Sometimes they just buy the finished product (Boyhood, Whiplash etc. only last year). The writer - who is the starting point for a very long process with a very blank page - needs only to fill it with luxurious words and imagery - and not worry about everything on down the line that might or might not ever come to fruition. No studio moves on a scripot because it's cheap to make. If they see it as cheap - and small - that equates to a limited market. They don't care about small. They go into every deal wanting a home run. Specialty divisions at the majors are dying. Why paint yourself into a small box. Think BIG. No limits.

Michael Eddy

Jean-Pierre: I don't happen to think that thinking big and writing big is hamstringing me from the start. Thinking small and worrying about some phantom budget and editing my ideas and scope at the beginning is hamstringing myself. Also - low budget scripts usually don't attract stars (and in turn, increase the budget). Hard to market films get made because a star like Brad Pitt - with his own company - gets on board as a producer or star - which is the only reason that Moneyball or 12 Years A Slave ever saw the light of day.

Trey Wickwire

@ Michael, The reader is the first person to get your script and then either throw it in the circular file or pass it on to the decision makers. If you have no agent or connections and you are looking to break into the business, then it is this first line of defense you must break through. Just to be clear, I'm not an expert in the industry by a long shot. I know some things and have done some things but I'm still a beginner for all intents and purposes. What I have been offering is my opinion and understanding of the industry so far. Hope its more help than harm. :D

Kerry Douglas Dye

Okey, @Michael. I guess this is one of those, "whatever works for you" situations. If your approach has brought you success, who am I to say you're wrong? It SEEMS very wrong but, I guess it's worked for you. God bless.

Trey Wickwire

If nothing else, we've had a good discussion on the subject.

Michael Eddy

To Kerry and Trey - we shall agree to disagree on points large and small. Otherwise - this turns into a merry go round that no one can exit. Not my first rodeo. Again, only my opinion. Been a writer for many years. WGA member. Sold or worked for almost all the studios, couple indies, TV network or two. Have had 6 agents. Outlived one. Fired a couple. Dropped by a couple others. But lastly to Trey - better not to think of readers as a defense you "have to break through". Better to think of them as the first people you need to IMPRESS. And along those lines - budget should not be a concern. Also - it is a rare breed, but there are some producers and studio execs who actually do their own reading and give their own notes. They're the best. The ones who take a meeting and actually tell their secretaries at the start NOT to interrupt them with phone calls or anything else and they listen to you and pay attention (and sometimes - even take their own notes - without a flunky in the room to do that like a stenographer). I worked for one of those. 3X at 3 different studios. Guy was a class act. He started the ball rolling on one of my produced scripts. Remember also - that all of this is layered and at any given studio - there is usually only one person at the very top who can green light a film. Getting there is a climb commensurate with scaling Everest. The journey is long and treacherous and fraught with peril and disappointment. A win is exhilarating. But those on this thread are writers - aspiring and otherwise - and the bottom line is to write, rewrite, write well. The rest - not your problem. Try to have a great script that acts as a calling card - GETS YOU AN AGENT - THAT'S the first line of your OFFENSE. Someone who believes in you and the work - knows the market - and most importantly - acts as the conduit to get your wrok to a potential BUYER - thus, putting his or her rep on the line by telling said buyers that they've found a talent - and "you should take a look". Agent. Not some reader.

Larry Kostroff

There's a lot of misconception out there. Re-read the Donny Broussard and Michael Eddy comments. They know the drill.

Doug Nelson

You guys have strayed away from the OP’s question and beat what ought to be a no brainer topic to death. I need to find that little stop notifications button –oh there it is. Doug has left the building.

Larry Kostroff

Doug, if you ever return to your building, go to your inbox for another no brainer. I offer this to clear the cyber space tsunami of uninformed opinions. It's not that I'm smarter than a lot of you, I'm just older, and if you know anything about how primitive cultures honered the tribal elders, then, OK, you get the point. The big picture that has everyone's passion--it's possible to be passionate and wrong--is how to get your screenplay into the game. If your brother-in-law's sister's ex-boyfriend, was an extra on a picture starring Brad Pitt, you might have a chance to present unsolicitated material to a producer/production company. Other than that fantasy, the Pitch Meeting might be an entry level device. The definition of a successful Pitch Meeting is not your walkihg out with a check; it's the request that you submit the script for their evaluation process. But you have to do your homework; you have to research the people you'r pitching to; you have to understand their budgetary comfort level, their genre preferences--don't pitch your horror/slasher script if their brand is character-driven love stories--and certainly don't offer your budget predictions. Protect your credibility by respecting the fact that these folks know more about the budget arena than you do--that's their business. They want to know that A) their initial investment will be returned, and B) how they can maximize the profit potential. If your research has indicated one of their past projects--what it cost, how much it made--information available on IMDB Pro--you might dip your toe in if queried "How much will it take to make the movie?" And if you're on a roll, you might add a name or two of cast leads that they have previously used. I'll stop here, Doug, the waters are receeding.

Trey Wickwire

@ Michael, point taken and I agree. :D

Shaun O'Banion

There's no ratio. It's based on everything from shoot days to the size of the crew, number of cast (and whether you're talking about Ultra-Low, Low, Modified Low, etc) SAG-AFTRA contracts - which is also affected by the level of talent. There's Above The Line costs, Below The Line. Insurance. Contingency. VFX. Rates on equipment. Of course, there are always assumptions in a first draft, and it gets refined as you go on, but the long and short of it is this: You need a producer.

Mark Sanderson

Yes, speaking parts, locations, night shooting, action and stunts, exotic locations, and the more shooting days the bigger the budget. A million dollar budget might have 15 shooting days or maybe less.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Mark, if a script is 100 -110 pages, then a crew must shoot at least 7 pages a day (to hold to a 15 day shooting schedule). Realistic??

Donny Broussard

Lisa, the film business is changing at a rapid rate. If you don't understand budget, modern conventions, and marketing, then you are limiting your reach as a writer. Most of the filmmakers on the site are going to have to hustle to get their scripts into the hands of producers and agents, and the more information, marketing materials, and knowledge you have the better chance you have of getting in front of the right people. There is no such thing as a general indie anymore. Every film is different.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Is it me, or did Doug Nelson just dis an entire genre, then slam the rest of us for going off-topic and skulk out of the room? That's some cranky-ass behavior right there. @LindaAnn, 7 pages a day is very aggressive and unrealistic for many stories. But for very low-budget stuff where it's heavy on dialogue with few locations, it is done. Hardly recommended, but sometimes done.

Donny Broussard

She asked how to figure out a budget. You can't lump any script into a general budget without doing the work. There is no tried and true formula. I do get that.

Larry Kostroff

John, I was hoping you guys would help me find out what I'm doing and why I'm doing it here. But I do like cake and frequently howl at the moon if that's any clue. And if you need more information, my favorite color is blue, I play eight on the lottery, I'm a Pisces, and my urine analysis...Nah, that's enough.

Michael Eddy

LindaAnn - fearing that I may open a side order of worms - unless you're talking some low budget - one set - dialogue heavy quickie - shooting a movie (from a 100-110 page script) in 15 days is a pipe dream. An episode of a TV series takes 5-7 days to shoot. 7 pages of script a day is a sprint. One action sequence could take days or more. This thread seems to be coming off the rails. It's under the "screenwriting" heading - but seems to be veering toward the "To Do Lists" for producers or studio chiefs.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Dan Guardino wrote: "There are a few people here I can't figure out what they are doing." I'm thinking of putting this on a T-shirt, Dan, I love it so much! You're fab!!!

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Larry Kostroff: I'm a Scorpio, so I can't get enough . . . . of millinery and other things that begin with M.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Michael Eddy - - thank you. No, my script doesn't have "action sequences" (no cars wrecked) but it is not on one set. This thread has been very enlightening. Thanks to all the people who took the time to reply.

Larry Kostroff

Move over, John. Hey, we can start a new organization for all the other dazed and confused people. We can call it Stage 32.5.

Larry Kostroff

OK John, we're good to go.

Shaun O'Banion

LindaAnn... I would not advise shooting your feature in 15 days. While it CAN be done (I did my first feature in 16 days), it puts a lot of pressure on your cast and crew and with filmmaking being a constantly evolving process (at every phase), you're going to end up with issues... you may not make your days and if you do, you'll be constantly rushed which may cause you to miss things. Not to mention the fact that Post is always the lions share of your budget (because it's generally the longest portion of production) and no amount of editing can erase the mistake of not having covered your scenes well.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Shaun, thank you for making this point. That certainly makes good sense.

Phil Parker

Good points, Shaun.

Larry Kostroff

Bravo Shaun, you've nailed it.

Crystal Diane Stevens

I may have only produced shorts so far, but I will say this, I did all that I could to give everyone on set a GOOD experience. No one was pressured, no was made to feel they had to put in 16 hours days (lol) so you get better when you give more during a shoot. I would NEVER try to do a month's work in two weeks. Everyone will hate you! Just kidding, but you get my point.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

@ Dan Guardino --- some day I'm going to catch that squirrel in the fedora and hug him.

Calvin Vanderbeek

As a Producer, I'd like to add my 2 cents. If you're writing a Ultra Low Budget feature ($200k) , the rule is limited locations and characters, 80-90 page script. Otherwise you're writing a spec script. The Producers will tell you what they have in mind for a budget. Just write!

Shaun O'Banion

Alle - You and I frequently disagree and this is no different. You often mention your "features." Where are they? Can we see them? Played any marquee festivals? Won any awards? Just curious. You may have done your feature in 12 days, Alle... or 14... or 15... but with extremely rare exception, a feature done in 15 days will be sacrificing quality, and if you're sacrificing quality, there's no point to shooting it. So, just because you CAN, doesn't mean you should. Each producer has to do their diligence and determine what is the best route for telling the story... but these days, a quality one hour drama series shoots 8 days (with two or three cameras!) and most indies shoot single cam for budgetary reasons. One hour drama gets cut down to about 42 minutes, right? So... 8 days for 42 minutes of finished film. Compare that to a feature and you'll quickly realize that there is no way shooting a feature in 15 days WON'T be a rushed experience.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

Alle, can you link me to your first and last feature films? Or simply two that you're most proud of? I will PAY to watch them both since you tend to ask for compensation. I'm serious. I'm assuming I can buy/stream them off of Vudu, Amazon or Vimeo on demand? So the link, please. Again, I will be purchasing them.

Donny Broussard

I agree that 15 days is rushing. I've been on sets that shoot 16-18 for SyFy Channel, but we all know the result of that shooting schedule. I also agree that it's difficult to gauge what's real on this site. Maybe we should start a streaming thread. Post either our trailers or links to the finished works. I understand that sometimes there are legal issues or if a film is in a festival and can't be posted, but a trailer can't hurt. I feel that in a lot of the threads I read the answers are rushed and inconsistent. I'm not always right and I don't know everything, but some of the answers on these threads should be shorts on Funny or Die.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

I can't resist an invitation from Donny! Here's my sizzle reel! "Diamond Lil" was on West 46th St., NYC for several months - - http://youtu.be/rEJbRV-WeW8

Donny Broussard

I enjoyed your reel, LindaAnn. Dan, I agree, but most of the people giving advice are doing so referencing their work, or what they've done that relates. I also believe the the business is changing and screenwriters should have a grasp of how the system work because it'll only help them in the long run.

Donny Broussard

If any of their scripts got made into movies they do. But, again I was referring to the people giving advice.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

That makes sense. I agree with Donny. For ex: some of my stage plays found a producer, therefore, I got promo footage. When films get made, there ought to be a reel.

Donny Broussard

I am a screenwriter first and a producer second. The question asked by LindaAnn isn't really a question for screenwriters.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

When B.S. gets old, then it really has a terrible stench. Time to clear the air!!! :-D

LindaAnn Loschiavo

This advice has helped me as a writer because, if you know what adds expense to a script, you can take that into consideration. EX: must a scene really be set at NIGHT -- if you realize shooting at night might be more expensive. When writing a stage play, if your cast of characters is too large, no producer will go near it ---- therefore, it's good to keep the producer's needs in mind during the writing process, when feasible, imo.

Shaun O'Banion

I've never seen any of Alle's work so I can't speak to her credits, but my films are readily available from a variety of retailers and online via Amazon and Hulu. All but the latest which made its World Premiere at SXSW this week. They've also run on Showtime, HBO and other cable networks. If you're curious about them but don't want to buy/rent or aren't Hulu or Amazon Prime subscribers, you can see the trailers on my site (ravenwoodfilms.com). You can also get the following info on my site, but I'll save you the click: I've been in film for 21 years having started as a P.A. way back on SeaQuest DSV. Over the years I've worked with and for such luminaries as Steven Spielberg, Jim Cameron and Jon Landau, Academy Award-nominee Peter Hedges, BAFTA-winner Joe Wright, Academy Award-winner Christopher Walken, Ben Stiller, Judd Apatow and others. I've been a producer (almost) full-time since 2008. I'm a Gotham Award-winner, a member of the Producers Guild of America, a PGA Indie Committee member, and have produced 3 features, several (national) commercials, 2 episodes of the new reality series Day Off for the Planes, Trains & Automobiles network (the latest featuring celebrity chef Tyler Florence and Tony Hawk) and a live event for the White House, Office of the First Lady. Hopefully that gives people some idea of why I made my previous comments and why my opinion may be worth consideration. Alle and I have gone round-for-round on Stage32 before as she's quite the ubiquitous poster with so much to say for having seemingly little to back up her comments (in terms of presentable work). Still, I don't doubt she shoots and shoots and shoots, and who knows? Maybe she rivals Malick... or Bogdanovich or Altman. If she ever gets anything into release, I'll gladly give it a look and, if it's brilliant, I'll have learned to never judge based solely on comments alone. Whether there's any quality to any of her work is, ultimately, subjective anyway... but I'm happy to admit when I'm wrong. What I'VE learned in 21 years of film and television is that you're far better served by giving yourself time - especially as a new filmmaker. And for the record (before Alle's inevitable reply)? My work is FAR from perfect... there are no masterpieces as of yet, but I'm hopeful, and at the least, we've been able to find an audience. My second feature even played theatrically in four cities (domestically)... so I'm ok with posting advice here because I think I have a wide knowledge base, loads of real-world experience and I've even taught at Universities, Art schools and SAG-AFTRA. For Dan Guardino - you mentioned that, " If producers want to argue about how many days it takes them to film a movie they should go on the producers section of Stage 32. The only reason producers come here to the screenwriting section is to toot their own horn and act superior to us screenwriters. I have been a part of this group for several years and listing to their BS is getting real old." I didn't come here to "toot" my own horn or act superior... and though your comment wasn't specifically directed at me, I truly hope MY previous comments (and this one) don't come off that way. I drop into the Screenwriting section fairly often because I find that screenwriters (particularly newer writers) often have questions like the one posed by LindaAnn. I'm sure you know, Dan, that budget should never affect a writer in early drafts - it should only become a concern (if, indeed, it needs to be) once financiers and/or producers become involved. But like I said, many writers often have questions like this and so, as someone of a certain amount of experience, I drop in to see if I can answer questions or offer advice. I added a chunk of my CV above not to brag, but because of some comments which suggested that, when someone comes in offering off-the-cuff advice, it'd be nice to know that he or she actually knows what they're talking about. Hopefully, people feel that I do.

Donny Broussard

I think it's tough for a lot of people here. They want to be a part of a community, but when they don't have much to show it can get uncomfortable. I just want to network with as many talented people as possible. I'll get my credit out of the way right now. I'm a college professor (I teach production management), I've produced 4 films, my first film Little Houses I sold to the Documentary Channel, my comic book/movie combo; Vamped can be seen on the comic book convention circuit and later in the year on Amazon, and The Shelter with Michael Pare will make its debut this year at Cannes. I supplement my income by taking screenwriting jobs and commercial work. I'm always open to talking with anyone, and I don't know everything, but I do have a lot of set experience and sales experience. I learn something new with every project and in my opinion on forums like this if you don't have a firm grasp of the solution to the problem being asked it's probably best to either not offer advice or let everyone know it's just your opinion. There are no rules that can't be broken. A movie shot in 15 days is 99% of the time going to feel rushed, but maybe the perfect filmmaker can make that 1% count. So, think before you post. I hope to work with some of you in the future and wish all of you good luck in all that you do.

Larry Kostroff

As I mentioned once before, I've experienced a resonance with your comments. Now, I feel a parallel to the credentials you posteded. Along with a great many years of working as a line producer/production manager on major films, I've also had significant experience as an instructor/adjunct professor at several prestigious schools in Hollywood and abroad. The screenplays I've written have not yet been produced but I get great pleasure in the effort. Early on, I decided to stay out of the tsunami of misinformation and let you do the heavy lifting. Thank you, Donny

Michael Eddy

Dan The Man - why beat up on yourself when there are so many here who will do it for you...I'm reasonably self taught as well. But why denigrate or belittle your efforts by comparing tnem to the same "...crap Hollywood produces"? Anyone can do the same crap - it's the newer better crap that gets you noticed. And as for it being "just business" - as they said in Godfather II: "It is the business we have chosen".

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