Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Budget screenwriting

Here's a lesson I've learned this year. Write low budget.

I used to write low budget features, but none of them were any good. An acquaintance once sent me coverage notes from one of the readers at his management firm that said the only redeeming quality in my screenplay is that it could be shot for cheap.


I was tired of sucking, so when I wrote Not Dead Yet I let it go be what it wanted to be, a massive budget flick that probably wouldn't be made but would serve as a great writing sample. See I thought I could get meetings off it and then people would hire me to write other stuff.

Then the economy tanked. Sony and Universal ran through their year's budget already. Specs that go wide dissipate into the ether. Studios are tightening their belts. Their slates are full.

Know who has money? Oddly enough, the little guys. They don't have much, but they're open to anything good. I've been approached by half a dozen people already asking if I had anything cheap to shoot. And I keep having to say no because my only good script would cost a bazillion dollars.

I have a great writing sample, but unfortunately something I'm unlikely to sell. You never know, with Zombieland's success someone may want what I have, but so far my only opportunities have been for low budget work.

My current project is a low-budget film in a genre that usually takes high budget dollars, so I feel like that one is incredibly sellable in the long run, and as an added bonus, will not suck like my old low-budget stuff. I think it will pair nicely with Not Dead Yet as a good example of what I can do, so I'm trying to get it done as soon as possible. That way the next time someone asks if I've got something their director friend would like, I will be able to say yes.


  1. good advice. Horror scripts CAN be low budget but they're usually shitty and cheesy, so I think writing a comedy is the best genre for low budget. What do you reckon?

    (Although there's that new horror hit film, Paranormal Activity, which was made on a very low budget but I haven't seen it yet)

  2. Comedy's definitely easy to write for cheap, and these days seems to be selling better than other genres. You're so right.

    Horror sells really well to, though, largely because it's so cheap and teenagers love it.

  3. I always get confused by the middle. I know if something's low budget. I know if it's a hundred million dollars. But what's the difference between a ten million script and a twenty million one? That I don't know.

  4. We should BOTH get into the "pretend reality genre". That retarded Paranormal Activity is raking in the bucks, just like Blair Witch.

    Get a camera and pretend to film ghosts. You'll be a millionaire by next month.

  5. That's a stumper, Grant. You have a point there.

    And Just Me, I know right? It's just Blair Witch all over again. I don't get the big deal.

  6. Funny. I banged out my script "Shock and Awe" a year ago knowing it was too expensive to film but would serve as a great writing sample nonetheless.

    Like you and countless others I learned writing big doesn't wash - at least not now.

  7. As with everything connect to the budgeting of films, the range in costs usually is affected by: 1. Who gets attached to the project, 2. projected stunt costs, and 3. number of locations.

    So, the difference in budget between a 10mil and a 20mil film might very well be #'s 2 and 3.

  8. I wonder if either of the people ripping on Paranormal Activity have seen the film.

  9. You can use my name, Matt.

    I haven't seen it. That's my point. I don't get what's making people want to see it. The preview does absolutely nothing for me.

  10. Got a hilarious low budget rom-com right in front of me, getting polished. Set in LA and MX, but the MX shots could be done at an LA hotel.

    It's time sensitive, dealing with current events, so it would have to be super-duper-fast-tracked.

    Probably shoot for 10-20k.


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