I don’t want it to seem that my recent obsession with micro-budget is for everyone, or that by any means is it your only option toward a career in screenwriting. I’ve almost certainly over-simplified the process by telling you there are really only three movies you can write—Studio, Indy, or Micro. So, how about defining my terms…
Studio-budgeted flicks are the A-list populated, branded product, sequel/prequel, mega-$$$ projects that by definition leave spec scriptwriting almost entirely out of the equation. If you’re an unknown writer knocking off Studio-budget movies looking for a path to success you’re looking at the wrong blog. You’ll be wanting to check out writers who are actually writing movies at the Studio level. Taking meetings, making their rate on assignment work and, you know, actually doing it. It would be BS to say my screenplays have ever been considered within these Hollywood inner circles—even when I was with William Morris or Writers And Artists—because, frankly, the movies and genres I write are not those considered by the Studios.
You’d think that small bit of honesty would be easy to admit, but the vast majority of screenwriting consultants will never cop to it, though there reality is pretty much the same as mine. It’s bad business to admit your deficiencies, no upside to it. But here at Script Gods, it’s no skin off my ass to tell you the truth. My stuff just isn’t suited for Studio level. Remember what I’m telling you: Know Thyself.
If you’re writing movies with mega-budgets you’re writing scripts for Studio level budgets. That means it’s something with a devastating hook, killer concept and delivery, adapted from pre-existing material with a built-in audience and demographic. If you’re not aware of these factors, you’d best get up to speed fast. Check the list of Top Grossing Movies for 2012. This is the landscape of the Studio movie:
||Marvel’s The Avengers
||The Dark Knight Rises
||The Hunger Games
||The Amazing Spider-Man
||The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
||Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
||Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
||Ice Age: Continental Drift
||Snow White and the Huntsman
Like the song says, it ain’t me babe.
If you’re not writing for Studios, then who else is your target?
Well, it might be the “mini-majors” who produce their share of genre-based crap, but also the character-driven stuff that goes over big at Oscar-time. Don’t know if there’s any one budget margin to define Indy movies, but if you need one to ten million to make the thing, then yeah, it’s probably Indy. This means you, or a producer interested in your project, will need—not want, need—A-level talent to not only bankroll the movie, but to market it on completion. Are there rare cases of “angel” financing for vanity projects with B and C-names attached in the million dollar range? Sure. Don’t want to seem strident here, but for the majority of Indy movies producers will need that namesigned and sealed for your script to see the light of day. Not just a name either…a bankable name. Someone who in the here and now present tense will put asses in the seats at $11 per ticket. That means the protagonist and antagonist that you write have to be marketable. Why the hell would a producer get behind anything that doesn’t blow them away in terms of commerciality? Because it moved them? Give me a break! Yeah, of course it has to move them, or lay them out on the floor laughing like the next HANGOVER 2. Or scare the shit out of them like THE RING. That’s a given. It also has to be a lock to get them their money back…and then some.
What Indy movies made a hit this year? Check the list for the Independent Spirit Awards.
I have some small personal knowledge of movies made at this level. I have several projects optioned and even greenlit even up to the five million dollar level, life looking awesome, me doing my best Iggy Pop impression, singing lalalalalalala…..only to find cold morning light come to all but one of these projects that were reliant on OPM—other people’s money. That is the definition of Indy for me, not the cold morning light of misled writers, but that fact that you need other people to deliver, that you cannot possibly control anywhere near enough of the process.
I’ve also spoken of my poor brother, now into the EIGHTH year of the process on his movie project BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL. How do you have Elijah Wood, Anna Pacquin AND Tom Hiddleston—all prime examples of name actors who are 2013 bankable—and yet NOT have the money in the bank????
The movie was greenlit and announced in dozens of place online with all the stars signed and in place. Then Anna Paquin– gadzooks!– got pregnant and had twins. The project was put on hold. This blurb just recently came out:
“Tom said: “Black Wings Has My Angel is based on a novel by Elliott Chaze, it’s a sort of noir thriller. It’s a great script. I signed onto it a long, long time ago.
“Anna Paquin was going to play opposite me, she’s had a baby, so being a mum is much more important than being whatever that low life character is.
“It was a sort of fun noir thing, but it’s way, way off in the future.
“It’s just Thor 2 at the moment.””
The situation is in flux, and as my brother reminded me, today’s development hell is tomorrow’s greenlit movie, so I wish the poor fellow well!
Good Reader, you must know thyself. What movie are you writing? What’s the audience/niche? What’s the budget? How will you go out with it without representation? Do you need to live in LA? Failure to ask these questions will lead to years going by for you with even the most optimistic writer being chipped away at, the most hopeful losing hope. Placements in screenwriting contests that lead nowhere; Pitchfest contests read your script and zero happens; Consultant feedback taken and rewrites done, send the thing back out and Z I P P O. Been there, folks. Is there any hope for the dusty downtrodden? The screenwriting proletariat?
Micro-screenwriting is you writing a script to be made with money exclusively controlled by you. Meaning, literally, whatever can pull out of your pocket, or your mom’s pocket, or your 1000 Facebook friend’s pockets. That could be $500 bucks. It could also be $50,000. It’s an amount you can raise yourself, no content-controlling strings attached by outside money people. It means you’re writing a script along the lines I’ve documented here previously. These are just common sense measures. New in terms of the DAILY technological advances in terms of cameras and such, abilities to make digital look so fucking good on such small $$$.
Everyone is making these movies. I mean that literally. Have you seen this year’s submission numbers from Sundance? Here’s a snippet from John Cooper’s interview about the 2013 Submission Process: “To me, it says that independent film is thriving. It’s certainly exciting for us to receive 12,000 submissions this year for the first time ever, but more than that, we were really pleased by the overall quality of the films submitted to us. Each year the quality of independent film seems to rise, and we’re chalking that up to this idea of a vital independent film community – directors, producers, DP’s and art directors all continuing to work in independent film throughout their careers and also well-known and really talented actors joining these projects.”
12,000! For how many slots? 150? Do the math! Odds ain’t great you’re making it into Sundance with your Micro movie. Is it possible? Absolutely. A friend of mine got in two years ago with ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS. $35,000 budget, no stars, first time director at the helm. He beat the odds because of a great soundtrack he provided himself with his band Califone, and because it had an uncompromised and uncompromising vision that was truly original.
The record number of submissions just demonstrates that writers and filmmakers have woken up to the DIY revolution. Audiences stoked by social media, digital distribution options through VOD platforms, lower budgets freeing up the movie maker from traditional distribution necessities to get their money back or even, God forbid, to profit from their work. There are great blogs to be found on these subjects at Ted Hope, Seth Godin, or nofilmschool.
For you, Good Reader, it’s a matter of know thyself. What movie are you writing? When it’s done, how will you go about breathing life into it, to make it actually see the light of day?