Write Big or Write Little?Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Should I try and write something that can be made on a low budget or should I aim high and write in everything I can imagine and would love to see in the show?
Nothing on TV is done on a "low" budget. Even an off-brand cable show has a reasonable budget. But you do need to write within a TV budget. That is, fifty percent of your show wants to be on standing sets of some kind, and be aware of how many speaking parts you're introducing. (I go into this in much greater depth in CRAFTY TV WRITING.)

In features, there are two schools of thought. There is the Mad Pulp Bastard school of thought: write something so clever and cheap that they'll have no reason NOT to produce it. (The Mad Pulp Bastard has posted exactly what rules to follow when writing a low budget feature. MPB: what's the link, agin?) And then there's my old agent Caren's school of thought: write a big splashy high concept movie that gets into a bidding war and so gets you on the List of studio approved writers.

Both of these schools of thought have been known to succeed for beginners. I knew a writer whose entire career happened after he sold a high concept spec involving, I think, a heist during a storm. He pretty much coasted from there.

The important thing, as always, is to write what you want to see. If you don't love what you're writing, the reader probably won't, either.

The other important thing is that it is the concept that determines the budget. If your screenplay involves the Fall of Troy, don't try and write it down to medium budget. You'll just gut the spectacle, which is a big part of the selling point. If you want to write low budget, find a fresh reason why a bunch of compelling characters are stuck at one location with an interesting problem. (Then, if they get an expensive cast, the budget can always be upgraded: THE BIG CHILL; MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS; PHONE BOOTH.)

UPDATE: Here's Bill Cunningham's handy guide to writing a low low budget movie. He knows whereof he speaks. Ignore his rules at your peril.



Bill Cunningham's blog (The Mad Pulp Bastard) is at DISContent

By Blogger Shawna, at 10:44 AM  

Thank you, Shawna (hands her a check).

Here's a link to a bunch of my pulp screenwriting tips:


By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 11:28 AM  

Thanks, Alex!

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 1:59 PM  

Of course the best thing to do is do one high concept script that will gt in a bidding war, and a low budget one that's so good that can't NOT do it. Then you cover your bases.

By Blogger Tim W., at 4:09 PM  

also remember, your spec will, 90% of the time, never get made. What it should do is showcase your talent so other will wish to have said talent applied to their rewrite/assignment work. So I say write big.

By Blogger Rogers, at 12:31 AM  

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