How Much Should Spec Writers Worry About the Budget In Their Scripts?

The Bitter Script Reader has one of the most informative sites on the web for new writers. Here’s proof from a recent post there:



by the Bitter Script Reader

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.

Read it all at The Bitter Script Reader (including a whole ‘nuther good question and answer)