Three Paths To Glory
Ah, to be the poet! On writing only those things that strike his fancy! Writing what resonates with him, period. If they get it they get it, if not, fuck 'em!
THE STUDIO MOVIE
Remakes, sequels, comic book and graphic novel adaptations, Board Game and toy movies, branded entertainment. Tentpole stories, mega-million dollar budgeted. Mythology and monster hooks. Cross-platform marketing possibilities that thrill more than the movie itself. If any of these describe your movie, then it's probably a Studio flick and will have to be sold on that level.
And good luck with that!
Why do Studios fuck with great original movies like LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, or MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE? Because there's $$$$$ in it, dummy! The most recent GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO wasn't awful, but Howard Stern bringing back PORKY'S? Wow, can't wait. Here's an awesome list of 75 Hollywood remakes and reboots in some stage of development for 2012. Included on the list: CONAN, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, DUNE, THE CROW, GHOSTBUSTERS, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, ROBOCOP, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.
Studios, of course, also dedicate a piece of their operations to low-budget film-making in hopes of striking gold in the age of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. You could back 50 stinkers at 1 mil per with only 1 PARANORMAL bringing you back, what, a billion for three movies? Studio bean-counters are brilliant in a I-am-my Beamer mindset. Do they care about the content of SLINKY, THE MOVIE? Probably not, if it costs $30 mil to get in the can but brings back 200 mil. If people are buying tickets for this dreck, IS it dreck? So now you know: If you're writing SLINKY, THE MOVIE, you're a Studio guy. If not, you're probably writing...
This is NOT meant to be any sort of DEFINITIVE RULE, but I'd say, generally, low-end Indy could be considered $500,000 to 2 or 3 million. $5 to $10 million seems high-end Indy. These movies have more leeway creatively. 95 out of 100 will require bankable names to finance. The other five have put together angel financing of some sort through friends, family, or the Pope himself- because getting a million dollar movie WITHOUT a name will take something akin to a miracle. The search for a star can last YEARS. My brother was been on this exact quest for over seven years. It appears he's very close (Google BLACK WINGS PAQUIN) but as my producer friend once said, the money is only real "when I'm eating the steak from the banked check that cleared." Healthy distrust is a good thing.
So, if you're writing a movie with a budget in this range, understand that it's likely won't happen without star involvement. If you have no agent, then the CATCH-22 dance begins. What would that sound like? Call up the Reese Witherspoon's agent. The assistant's assistant answers. "Got a phenomenal project for Reese. Riveting period-piece drama about a lady hot dog salesmen at a Brooklyn Dodgers game who uncovers a galactic conspiracy-" The assistant interrupts you, with three words... "Are you funded?" "Well...not yet, but once Reese is on board-" Click. The call might not even get that far, as only an amateur would call under such circumstances. You need a star to get the money but a star won't read your script without the money in the bank. Unraveling the mysteries of the Sphinx is child's play by comparison.
Look, it's not a panacea for word hunger. It's a world filled with no-name actors, microscopic production budget limitations, drama upon drama that comes from NEVER having enough money when you make the movie.
You're making the movie!
The beauty of micro is the CONTROL it affords you. What exactly is the budget for micro? Like with Indy, there's no one-size-fits-all definition, but I'm comfortable thinking of micro as any budget you can raise yourself. If it's within your power to raise 200K, I'm calling that micro. If you can only raise 10K but it gets the movie made, it's micro.
Liberating in the extreme, knowing that you can pull it off for 20- 30-50K. Wells and Cassavetes would have loved the digital age. No more bad wine commercials. Imagine Orson with an Alexa camera or 7D? A beautiful thing for you the writer, to take back control of the process.
Like I said, no fantasies here. There are TONS of bad micro movies made, perhaps more bad movies made than ever before in history. But a few of them will make a noise, and the film-makers wouldn't have had that opportunity without the technological or marketplace innovations of just the last few years.
So, know the movie you're writing. Know the audience and the market. Once the "fun" of writing the thing is over, then the selling of the toothpaste begins.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, or not.
PAUL PEDITTO wrote and directed Jane Doe, an A-PIX Films release starring Calista Flockhart. The film was awarded Best Feature at the New York Independent Film & Video Festival and grossed over 2 million dollars.
Six of his screenplays have been optioned, among them Crossroaders to Haft Entertainment (Emma, Dead Poet's Society).
He has won semi-finalist honors at Nicholl Fellowship Screenwriting Awards and Slamdance.
Other imdb credits include Home In The Heartland, and The Group, which was accepted at multiple film festivals around the country.
Four of his stage plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing Company, two of which were presented on National Public Radio's "Chicago Theaters On The Air" series. Over 25 productions of his theatrical work have been performed in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York. His adaptation of Nelson Algren's Never Come Morning won 9 Joseph Jefferson Citations including Best Play and Best Adaptation. His adaptation of Ben Hecht's 1,001 Afternoons In Chicago is a two-time Jefferson Award nominee. Pura Vida, a stage play based on his novel, was produced at Chicago's Live Bait Theater, earning a feature article in the New York Times.
He teaches screenwriting at Columbia College and Chicago Filmmakers, professionally consulting on thousands of screenplays since 2002. His book Writing Screenplays is now available for purchase.