Monday, August 10, 2015

Reader questions: How much should I worry about budget when writing? and writing later in life.

Kris writes --

As I'm currently trying to grind out my first feature-length spec, a bit of a harrowing thought crossed my mind; something that often is discussed in various podcasts and blogs of this nature -- keeping budget in mind when writing.

I'm confidently certain that it can happen to any screenwriter might get swept by the imagination he/she puts unto paper, but also understand that studios ultimately answer to what can be afforded, with X amount of blockbusters eating up studio funding.

Anyways, this concern of mine came into fruition amid writing my script; where a teenaged protagonist undergoes a transformation early on and remains in her changed form (a centaur) for the rest of the story. Given that the story is geared more as a drama with supernatural elements -- the focus more on the protagonist's decision to act on her sudden change, and how her family is affected by it -- I don't know of too many films that would have the level of practical-SFX integration I assume would be needed to budget (of course, if on fate's good luck it ever gets picked up); especially for the centaur FX.

I feel the transformation is key in the story to help conceptualize the forced change the character faces to keep it in the story, but also understand how a studio may not pick it up if they deemed it too expensive for a smaller tier film that would likely not be blockbuster material. And I must admit if a potential producer would ask me how much budget I thought the film, my vague understanding of SFX budgeting, being a screenwriter, would cripple my ability to answer effectively.

Given the aforementioned scenario, and writing skill aside, would it better to tailor down the SFX featured in the script to make it appealing to potential producers? Or can I try my best to make the premise and script solid enough that if the script was green-lit, that the SFX projections could be adjusted during pre-production? Also, in your experience, what is often the biggest reasons for a otherwise solid spec reliant on SFX to be rejected due to budget concerns?

Just my opinion, but I feel like it's not the writer's responsibility to budget their film. If the idea you're working on will not work without VFX, then embrace that and write to it. If someone likes your story but feels the price tag is too high, you can always cut back. There's something to be said for writing a budget-conscious script - such as if you're writing a limited-location thriller in a bid to keep the budget down - but once you're in fantasy land, I say embrace it.

Scripts might get rejected because they're too prohibitive to produce by those particular makers, but you'll find most producers stay in a particular price range. Blumhouse is never going to make a TRANSFORMERS-sized film, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to take your TRANSFORMER-sized idea and cut it to the bone just so smaller producers can work with it.

Also, there's a strong likelihood that your first spec is just going to be something that opens doors for you and never gets made. Write the best version of your idea, then worry about where the money comes from.

 Johnny asks:

I'm in my late 40s and over the past several years I've begun to finally screenwrite (features and TV pilot specs) after years of being a really keen film lover. More recently I've been involved with several short films written by others, in a crew capacity.

My screenplays have received decent external feedback, including a few 6 ratings on the Blacklist. I write on a consistent basis, read screenplays, and do a lot of networking and attending film/screenwriting industry events.

I don't intend to give up my (non-film industry) day job anytime soon, and have a family to support. So my question is: what are your views for someone like myself or older who has a passion and dedication for screenwriting, but happened to come to it a bit later in life?

My view is that you're going to have to be ready for the long haul. Does ageism really exist in this business? People say it does, but I've never seen a newbie script from an older writer treated differently from a newbie script from a younger writer. I don't think that's the most insurmountable obstacle, though. If your writing is brilliant, you can probably overcome that.

I don't want to start this debate again, but the biggest handicap you'll have as an older person will be the result of where you settled. If you live in L.A., you're in a good spot because you're surrounded by potential contacts and you'll be able to take meetings at the drop of a hat.  Aspiring writers who are determined to stay out of L.A. are making things more difficult for themselves for many reasons, and I discuss that in this post.

(Whenever I say this, people often argue all the reasons why they don't WANT to move: they don't want to uproot their family, their job, etc. That's fine. That's a valid choice. But I'm under no obligation to reassure you that you're not forgoing any benefit by staying out-of-town. There are tangible advantages to being in L.A. - thus, when you forgo them, you place yourself at a tactical disadvantage. Yes, there will be exceptions, but a few lone exceptions do not disprove the odds or nulify the "rule.")

But if you've gotten decent external feedback, you're still enjoying writing, and it's not actively hurting you to pursue writing, keep with it.  As an older writer, you can't put your family's livelihood at risk by blowing too much on coverage, or seminars. If it's a choice between spending money on your kids and spending money on writing, indulge your kids.

A lot of people pursue writing expecting some kind of instant gratification or validation. Sometimes I feel like that attitude comes with being young and arrogant. When you're not responsible for anyone else, sometimes that attitude can be a positive. The conflict you're going to face is that you have to make your family your priority and your younger competition can afford to make writing and networking the priority.

You seem to have recognized that at the start. That's a good sign. It's not easy for ANYONE to make it as a writer so never put work out there that you know could be better.

1 comment:

  1. I want to comment on both aspects of this post. First, paying attention to budget can bite you in the you-know-where either way. I write independent dramas, and recently had a meeting with a development exec who encouraged me to write MORE expensive scripts since her boss won't look at anything to be made for less than 10 million. So write what you write, and then send it to producers who work in your estimated budget range. Second, as to age - my first produced feature script starts filming in September. I'm 58. I started screenwriting at 45, and the one that's being produced is the second one I wrote. No one involved has ever questioned or commented on my age. Good luck!