You might have heard that screenwriters shouldn’t write with a budget in mind or that you shouldn’t let the budget dictate your script. While that’s true to a certain extent, being aware of the budget is essential to a writer. As a screenwriter, you should know whether you’re pitching a $150 million blockbuster or a $2 million film. Keeping budget in mind can then help you market your script accordingly and bring it to people who can make it a reality or fundraise to produce it yourself. What things affect the budget in a screenplay? How can you write to keep costs down? Keep reading to find out about how to write a screenplay with a production budget in mind!
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How to Write a Screenplay Based on a Budget
Location, Location, Location
It’s important to consider how many locations you have in your script. Be mindful that each location must be set up and readied for filming, which requires time, and money.
Are any of your locations a busy or well-known place? If you have something set in Times Square or Downtown Los Angeles, those will be expensive locations to film. Thanks to technology, we can often fake locations in films (which can also be costly), but it’s good to try to limit the number of scenes with expensive locations in your script.
If you’re filming outside, the time of day can add to your cost. If you’re filming at night, you’ll require a significant amount of lighting with generators to power everything. At night, in particular, you’ll find yourself at the mercy of the sun. Once the sun rises, if you didn’t get everything you needed, you’ll have to pick it up again the next evening, potentially making the shoot go on longer and making the cost increase.
Outdoor scenes also put you at the mercy of the weather. For every day that you’re dealing with unplanned rain or snow, the cost increases.
You might see movies and find out that outdoor scenes were filmed indoors on a set to look like they were shot outdoors. Filming indoors allows you to control elements like light and weather that just can’t be totally managed outside.
The more characters with extensive speaking parts, the more actors you’ll need to hire, which means spending more money. Keeping main characters to a minimum is a helpful way to keep the cost down. It can be useful to read through your script and ask yourself if you need as many characters as you’ve included. Now’s the time to kill your darlings!
Are you writing with a specific big-name actor in mind? If you think you need to cast big names in every role to bring your characters to life as written, you’ll quickly see your budget inflate.
Be aware that if you have scenes that require many extras, such as a sporting event or a busy restaurant, they can cost a significant amount of money. All those extras need to be paid, so a way to save can be to cut down on scenes with many people.
Stunts, including fight scenes, car crashes, explosions, require experts and doubles to perform them, which can get expensive if your script requires a lot of stunt work. I’m not saying to include no stunts at all, but consider the cost and scale of what you want to do and how many stunts you include. For example, hand to hand combat is cheaper to do than a high-speed chase.
Effects can be accomplished practically by using scaled-down models, animatronics, and pyrotechnics. Effects can also be done in post-production with computer-generated imagery (CGI). CGI can be more cost-effective, but it depends on the scene and what you’re trying to achieve. Cost-effective doesn’t mean cheap! Limiting moments where effects are required can help to save money.
Hopefully, this blog sheds some light on things that get expensive while making a movie and things that you can do during rewriting to decrease the cost. My advice to writers is not to stress about the budget but be aware. Understanding what sorts of elements drive up a budget can help you understand how much it would cost to produce your script. Write your first draft and include all of your expensive, big dreams, but when you’re ready to rewrite, keep these budget-busters in mind. There may be simple fixes that don’t require you to change the heart of your story.
Happy writing to you budget-conscious writers!