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What is high budget?

I was just about to pitch a script, and I took a look at what other people were pitching. It seems anything over 500k is considered high budget? That's the budget for the entire film?

What the? Twenty years ago, Full Monty cost 3 million to make. And inflation has gone crazy since then. Five million is pretty low budget for a feature film, and it was even back then.

500k is like, microbudget, not high budget. (For a feature, not a short.)

Most feature films take a least one year for the writer, director, editor, screenwriter and sometimes a few other key players. (if you do multiple roles, then a film will often take you three years.) This isn't part time work either.

Sure, you have the odd film like El Mariachi, Man Bites Dog or Pi, but these are often written by the director or producer, or someone who knows them. Blair Witch Project (20 years old, and I'm not counting inflation and all that) had a business plan that had a budget of 300k. Some people will say it only cost 20k-40k to shoot, but even if that were true then that's the price of the film stock, not the editing, planning, and all that. Depending on how you measure inflation, 300k back then is over 500k today.

Napoleon Dynamite: 300k. But, ten years ago, so figure in inflation.

When's the last time you saw a film in the cinema with a budget of less than five million? Honestly?

(delete this) I say we up the numbers to make the projects more realistic, and pretend like professionals are making these movies. Sure, I made a movie in the house I live in for almost no money, but I wouldn't trust a script to a producer who couldn't raise at least two million. (delete over)

(alternative ending added, June 2018) I say we delete the budget from the script pitch entirely. Any legitimate producer can guess the budget from a good pitch. (Perhaps some scripts I'd trust to a producer who couldn't raise two million. I later wrote about shorts verses features.)

Perhaps we could add something like Rating instead. You know, U/G PG, 12/PG-13, 15... That tells the producer more about the script. Writer don't write budgets.

  • BECTU defines a big budget movie as one that has a budget of £30 million or more and the pay guidelines are different for this class of picture.

    1 year ago
  • It's all relative!

    1 year ago
  • Making a movie costs about a million quid. If you make it for less, it's because people are subsidising the production (and that's fine, as long as they are OK with that!)

    1 year ago
  • Thanks all. Good point about Bectu, Mark Wiggins. The American guilds have more variation. I suppose 30 million is a film with big money (co-productions, multinational studios, conglomerates) while under that the budget might be raised by entrepreneurial independents.

    Paddy, I guess that's one way of looking at it. I heard recently that under 2 million is usually straight to video. I haven't seen a lot of films made for less than five million recently.

    While pitching a script on the script pitch, the writer is asked to estimate how much a film will cost to make. While an accurate budget may be useful to producers, I'm not sure how a screenwriter is supposed to know the budget. Budgeting is another specialised skill. Perhaps the form could say ask about things like time period and number of characters or locations?

    I've seen producer/directors here ask for films that can be shot in 27 days. The writer doesn't know how long it takes to shoot a picture, and they don't know how long it will take you to shoot a picture. If they did, they'd probably produce it themselves.

    If you tell them, "that scene is too expensive, we can't afford a shattering window," they might find a cheaper way to do it. But, I wouldn't expect a writer to know the cost of everything.

    Anyway, I'm surprised how many writers think their feature film can be shot for under 250k. Perhaps it's with the numbers they are given, they suffer from being signposted. Since they know nothing about budgeting, (it's not their job) they figure, "it's more like Boyhood than Harry Potter" and think "low budget" without knowing how much Boyhood cost to make.

    Some writers might even think that budget is how much they are going to be paid (rather than the entire production.)

    Then there are other factors that affect the cost, besides what's in the script. Having both written screenplays and scheduled and budgeted films, I have to say they are two completely different animals.

    My suggestion is just to drop the budget question.

    1 year ago
    • What a screenwriter might answer in terms of the budget question isn't a contract and/or number you'll held to forever and ever... It's an indication you've thought of the costs of your film to make during the writing process... On a very basic level... If you've got: no SFX/VFX, no huge set pieces or crowd scenes, A list cast, very few locations or specially built sets needs, it will cost less than a script with the need to achieve one or more of these variables... The other way of looking at this is if a producer has a limited budget to make a film and asks to see a script of yours. You give them something that includes cars flying off mountains, battle scenes, night shoots of speed boats smashing into port walls etc you'll have wasted their time...

      That said some expensive parts of a shoot can be made cheaper by cheating them in some way or another by what the camera implies vs what the camera sees. E.g. Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is wrongly considered a gory, bloody film by many, but there's very little on camera graphic violence during the entire film...

      1 year ago
    • @Stuart Wright great point about variables. However, I would counter that this depends upon the talents of the director. In Monsters (2010), the self-shooting writer-director was a special effects artist, and competent with the camera, and it was shot in a place with relatively low wages. So, it was actually cheaper to have special effects and outdoor night shots than it might have been to shoot in a studio.

      Also, while it isn't a contract, people tend to stick to numbers they see. If I walk to the shop, wanting ball point pens, and expect to find a pack for one pound, and find that inflation makes them cost four, I might hesitate to buy them.

      Starting off with unrealistic numbers in mind might actually hamper the later production.

      1 year ago
  • With regard to how long it takes to shoot, I’ve worked on productions where we’ve shot 2 1/2 minutes a day, other productions where we’ve been doing 5 minutes. It depends on the subject matter. I know of certain TV dramas where they really bash it out; shooting 7 or 8 minutes a day.

    1 year ago
  • There are budgets, and budgets. What appears on IMDB is usually a very poor indicator of the actual production cost! £1M will get you a decent looking film, a 4 week shoot, nobody getting union rates but everybody being paid, all your taxes etc in order, catering ok-to-good-enough. "Jack & Jill" didn't cost $70M to produce, it was hollowed out above the line!

    You're absolutely right that writers are not qualified to assess the cost of shooting a script, and even for any script it can be shot any of 10 ways at different budget levels anyway. Maybe a series of checkboxes would be more helpful - is it set in the modern day, is it set in the UK, are there any children, are there any animals, are there any stunts or fight scenes or weapons, do you require specific music, are there any exterior shots at night, how many pages are indoor dialogue, CGI/fantastic beasts/custom costumes etc. That would mean producers can mentally tally how many red flags there are. For instance if I see kids, animals, guns, Beatles tracks and desert night shoots I'm going to see lots of reasons why shooting will be slow, and time is what makes films expensive. Individual filming hours cost much of a muchness as there's so much overhead, but I know we can get maybe 8 pages a day in studio and 2 pages a day on location, so can estimate duration and hence cost!

    1 year ago
    • Yours is a more practically presented answer than mine :)

      1 year ago
    • @Stuart Wright Feeling the love, brother ;-)

      1 year ago
    • Yes, you have a great answer. That said, I'm suppose the reason those tick-boxes won't appear is that they are too off putting.

      Perhaps a little note could be said under the pitch "please include, or at least allude to, in your pitch any elements that might affect the budget of the picture, like fight scenes, night exteriors, crowd scenes, animals or children..."

      I suppose the current idea is that producers can search by budget, which sounds like a good idea. But, it's not like there are millions of pitches, and a quick skim of the pitches I read usually gives me a better idea of the actual budget than the writer's estimate.

      1 year ago
  • Also, with regard to pay. What crew will accept as payment varies according to the production. On a big budget movie, a camera operator will get £600 a day (10 +1 - that is 10 hours work and 1 hour lunch), and no one would work for less. However, the same operator will do a low budget Indy for £600 a week where everyone, regardless of grade is getting £600 a week. They pay crew get on big budget allows them to work on Indy films for a much reduced rate; otherwise they would not get made. As a result, its very difficult to estimate crew cost, I would think, as it depends on what individual crew will do it for.

    1 year ago
    • Great point. Again, looking at Boyhood's budget, I'm sure that Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke took less than their usual salary (and the crew might have too.)

      I think a lot depends upon the time the crew is given to prepare, other working environment factors, the "prestige" of the picture (whether it might receive an award, or has an important social message, and is not necessarily commercial in nature), and how close the filming is to the crew's home base.

      1 year ago
  • Okay. So, I had one thing about how high big budget is. I'm bumping this up because I want to pitch something in script pitch, but I really don't want to commit to a budget. (Yes, I've budgeted films before, but I budget after the storyboard, not the script.)

    One problem is that shorts are given the same budget range as features. But, the root of the problem is that the budget question is entirely inappropriate. (I also dislike the choice of genres, but that's easier to live with.)

    What budget would you give a production of Richard III? Or Macbeth? Both those scripts have been filmed with wildly different figures. The same Tintin adventure that was a huge budget Spielberg film was a cheap animation on Canadian television. And, they kept more or less to the original action and dialogue.

    Reading a lot of the pitches, screenwriters don't know their budgets anyway. And why should they? That's not their job. They can't generally afford someone to budget their scripts either.

    Instead, the producer says "if you cut this battle scene, we could save x, is the battle scene essential?" And the writer might say, "yes, this is an effects picture" or "not necessarily. What if we hear these effects, and see carnage in a trench afterwards?"

    I think we should just drop the budget from script pitch. Or, drop the numbers ranges from the budget anyway.

    1 year ago