Screenwriting : "I'm a writer! What do I know about budgets?!" by Phil Parker

Phil Parker

"I'm a writer! What do I know about budgets?!"

Do you have a script you're trying to market? Have you seen postings on various websites from companies looking for scripts within a certain budget? Are you flummoxed by the idea of trying to figure out what the budget for yours would be? Seems the general advice by professionals is to look at the production budgets of films that are comparable to yours. A good place to look up that info is at www.boxofficemojo.com But I have a question for those with more experience - since there are so many variables involved, what is an acceptable range to give when estimating? One of my comparables is District 9, but I know they saved money by doing a lot of the VFX themselves. Could I quote $20-40 mill? Or is that too large a range?

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William Martell

I wouldn't cherry-pick one film as an example, I'd look at several similar films. DISTRICT 9 was made by an FX guy, so it was less expensive than a similar film would be. I also think any production company asking the writer for a budget guess is looking for something they can make cheap with limited locations, limited cast, and not much in the way of FX.

Zorrawa Emily Ann Jefferson

How's my screenplay coming along?

Phil Parker

Thanks, William. I've come across several instances where I needed to have a ballpark idea of the budget for my script in order to pitch to the right person, though e.g. a company says they're looking for scripts in the $5-$30 million range. If I THINK mine could be around $30. Should I say it's 1. 20-30, or 2. 20-40 ??

Tennyson Stead

Those budgets are going to vary widely given the resources of any given production company, as well - which is not something you could possibly know. When in doubt, I say send the script and let them figure it out.

Laurie Ashbourne

Much of it is common sense, do you have a lot of VFX, a lot of locations, a lot of speaking roles, a lot of costuming? Can it be filmed somewhere that has a good tax incentive package? Granted, writers aren't line producers (nor should they try to be, but in today's environment it is crucial to understand all of the components that could sway a no or maybe to a yes in a producer's eye. Mid-range (20M) is the toughest spot to write in -- because everyone does it. And Tentpole, $50M or more is very tough for a new (untested) writer to get someone to invest that type of coin -- the script has to high concept and spectacular. $2M is the sweet spot for a new writer because it's less of a risk. Every writer should have a low budget in their reportoire. Some things to consider for this: Minimal cast and locations, no explosions and be judicious about speaking roles. Even if a waiter has one line, that triples that character's day rate. I advise every writer to learn as much as you can about all aspects of getting films made, especially if they are serious about it as a career. It's worthwhile to learn what you can about line producing or how a script is budgeted -- there may even be a webinar on here about such a thing where you can get an overview without breaking the bank.

Doug Nelson

Laurie, you talk true. My job description as line producer was defined as: Get it shot, in the can, delivered on time and under budget. No questions ask.

Eric Christopherson

What is "VFX"?

Eric Christopherson

Question for what I think are called line producers or for anyone who has the answer: Say I want to write a contained action thriller set almost entirely on the side of a mountain where a mountaineer has been trapped alone with his gear by a bad guy on top of the mountain who wants him dead. Does this sound like low budget to you or not? Why?

Dan MaxXx

VFX = Visual Effects

Dan MaxXx

Eric Mountains mean real life danger to Talent & Crew. Stunt people. Specialized cameras. Riggers. Weather. Lots of Insurance. Housing. Could be cheap with unknown talent but who would see a movie with unknowns? There is a "low budget" movie now with a Future Superstar, "The Shallows". shark attack. the movie is under $20mil production. I am guessing the main Actress salary is $3-5mil and director is $2mil

Eric Christopherson

Thanks Dan

Doug Nelson

Eric, the simple answer is no. Dan gave you some pretty good answers as why you couldn't do a site shoot. The weather in the high country can change in an instant so you can pretty much count on delays. With a cameraman dangling on an 11mm line (where it's always windy) you are not going to get a stable image. The rigging required to get some good footage there is very costly to rent, set up and break down. If you shot it in a large studio, the cost of set construction would be astronomical; so no, it's not a low budget project.

Dan Guardino

Phil, nobody expects a screenwriter to give an actual shooting budget but one should be able to figure out if it is a lower budget or higher budget film. If someone is capable of making a $20M budget film they could probably make $40M so giving them that sort of range would be okay but why not just say around $30M.

Jorge J Prieto

InkTip always asks for a. $$$ amount in when you post a screenplay. Maybe, Philip question comes from because of them. Philip? You cannot post a logline without registering your screenplay first.

G.R. Barnett

Thanks for that site because I've been looking for a similar site to research a ballpark figure for my series. OMG thank you!!! :D

Phil Parker

Yes, Jorge, even The Black List asks you for a budget range. It's not uncommon.

Regina Lee

Hi Eric C, here's one consideration for you. To boil it down, the side of a mountain is not a controllable environment. Typically, lower budget movies have highly controlled environments where little can go wrong. Any time something goes wrong on a set, it can mean money. Any lost time during a shoot has a cost. That's a key reason why a movie like THE PERFECT STORM is shot on a sound stage = controlled environment.

Regina Lee

Hi Phil, maybe think of it this way. (This often works...) How should your project be made? It should be a movie like NOW YOU SEE ME; ok, what was the budget for that movie? A financier may well do the same thing. They read the script, like it, decide it should be made like NOW YOU SEE ME, project a box office estimate that is similar to NOW YOU SEE ME, therefore assign a similar budget (i.e. similar projected return = similar projected spend), and if need be, will manage the process of having the script written down to budget.

Regina Lee

In other words, you may not have to have a bottom-up, vetted budget range, but you should have an idea of how the movie "ought" to be made. That's what you'll all be working toward anyway.

Phil Parker

Hi Regina, Thanks very much for the recommendation. I'll definitely keep that in mind.

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