Tuesday, 1 November 2016


I do a lot of coverage of screenplays these days. I see a lot of common mistakes.

The following are a series of concise screenwriting tips.


When you start out as a writer you'll often hear others say - "Don't think about restrictions - just write as it comes to you - don't create any boundaries - just write and let it flow."

While this is good advice to a certain degree - especially for those writers who have trouble putting words on the page - there ultimately comes a time when you have to think about your market.

While screenwriting is at its heart is a creative pursuit - ultimately - you are like any other business (assuming you want to do this for money - for those not wanting to make money out of screenwriting - disregard this post - for the rest - read on...).

Think of the car industry - it's all well and good for a car designer to be told to design the most amazing car they can with no restrictions.

What's the end result? You end up with a state-of-the-art car that costs about $10m to make.

Now let's go and look at the car market.

Oh, shit - there's a really small about of people out there willing to spend $10m on a car.

In the car marketplace - the main sales go from around the $10k mark up to $100k.

That's the sweet spot - that's where most car owners are happy to buy a car.

The same needs to be done for your film.

There are only a handful of production studios that can make a $200m film. We're talking less than 10 worldwide.

These companies typically develop these $200m films internally.

Jump down a notch to the $100m film category - sure, there's a handful more production companies that can raise this kind of cash - but again - because of the amount of money at risk - they're only going to want to work with creatives who have a proven track-record of delivering quality product on budget.

So unless you have a slew of great credits - writing for this price-point is a waste of time.

Jump down to the $50m mark - again - there are more production companies who can raise this kind of money - but again - $50m is a lot of money - so again, these producers aren't going to risk it on (essentially)  unknown creatives.

Jump down to the $20m mark - yes, there's a lot of production companies that can raise this capital to make a film - but again - $20m is a lot of cash to risk on unknowns.

Jump down again - to the $15m price point.

More production companies - and here you will see some 'little knowns' getting their break - but these are still few and far between.

It's not until you jump down to the $5m category that you start to see more 'first-time directors/writers breaking in.'

But even here - they want SOME kind of track record - a short film that did well - a feature script that won a major script comp - or made it onto the Black/Hit/Blood/Brit list.

It's really at the $500k - $3m range where you see most of 'new creatives' getting their break-through.

So with that in mind - if you have little or no IMDB credits to your name - and you don't have really good representation - then this is where you should write your screenplays for.

If you can come up with a high concept feature film that is set in 4 or less locations with a cast of less than 6 you have an immensely better chance of getting your film made than if you've written the next Titanic.

Think about that for a while...

So that's MACRO film budget.

Let's talk scene level film budget...

What do you mean by that?

How you write each scene can have a major effect on the budget of your film.

I recently reviewed a script with a gorilla in the scene. Then I thought - how damn expensive would it be to get a gorilla for that scene?

Where the hell would you start?

Then I looked at the scene - the gorilla was not central to the scene. The gorilla was window dressing. Sure, it made the scene better, but the core of the scene didn't change if you removed the gorilla.

The scene was set in a forest.

A forest is quite possibly one of the cheapest places to shoot a scene.

There's no set dressing. No lighting (assuming you're shooting at day.)

You really only need minimal crew and your cast.

So, with that gorilla scene in mind - the moment the writer removed the gorilla from the scene - the shot went from a $20k day - to a $2k day. That's a rough estimate - obviously - but you get the idea.

Securing large public locations can be costly.

Shooting a scene in LAX will cost you an arm and a leg.

Think about that important meeting you have between two characters that happens at arrivals in LAX.

Is there any reason why you couldn't have the meet take place in the BATHROOM at LAX.

That way - all you need to get is an establishing shot of LAX - that won't cost very much at all.

Then you can go to ANY BATHROOM in ANY BUILDING and shoot the bathroom meet between your two main characters. Have some audio effects of flight calls being announced on PA speakers and you've sold the moment - simultaneously you've reduced your budget dramatically.

The same goes for scenes that take place in sports stadiums.

Is it imperative that the scene is shot in the stands at a packed football match?


Could you have a scene-setting shot of the football field - a drone shot perhaps - something you could buy from stock footage for a couple of hundred dollars.

Then the important scene - the important moment - that was going to happen in the stands surrounded by thousands of people - could take place inside - say in a cafe - or a bar - or any location that's small and doesn't require paying one thousand extras.

A really good test is to go through your screenplay - look at each scene - think about what the core of the scene is - ask yourself, what are you trying to do with that scene?

Once you know what the core of your scene is - think about alternate locations and ways to execute that beat.

You'll find that almost every scene can be executed in a far less expensive way.

Cost of production is something that any producer that's worth their salt considers as they read scripts.

If a producer knows that they can get a film made for $2m - then they're going to pass on any script that doesn't meet that budget - regardless of if the film is a great script or not.