As screenwriters, whether we are aware of it or not, we wear several ‘hats’: Obviously the most important one is our screenwriter hat, but we also act as director — in how we execute scenes — and as producer — in how we frame and locate scenes and sequences. While you may be relatively oblivious to these aspects of your screenplay, if a studio buys it and you move into development, you will be forced to become aware of these issues.
The recent behind-the-scenes saga of The Lone Ranger provides some interesting insights into the mindset of a producer. Per THR:
Jerry Bruckheimer says he never had any doubt that The Lone Ranger would get made with star Johnny Depp. But the project proved to be the most difficult negotiation of his career after Disney halted production in August as the budget reportedly spiraled beyond $260 million. Disney CEO Robert Iger set a hard number — $215 million, according to a knowledgeable source — and agreed to go forward with Lone Ranger only if the filmmakers hit the target. In an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bruckheimer explains how they got there.
Some excerpts specifically related to the project’s script:
THR: How did negotiations get to the point where Disney shut down the movie?
Bruckheimer: We had a script that we kept working on. It was evolving. You start looking at locations, you look at the menu and say: “I like all these desserts. I want ’em all.” And you hit a number and they say, “We can’t afford that.” Then you start cutting it back.
Disney would have much preferred us cutting stuff out of the script. But the competition is fierce. You can’t compete with The Hobbit, you can’t compete with Transformers if you do that. The audience will stay home.
THR: Did you have to lose sequences from the script? There was talk that some train sequences were cut back.
Bruckheimer: We cut a sequence involving a coyote attack — supernatural coyotes — and a small animated segment. The train [scenes] are intact. We trimmed it a little bit. Gore made some sacrifices creatively, but nothing that would hurt the film. We had to work it out. The studio set a number, and it was always our responsibility to get to the number.
You can read the whole article here as Bruckheimer gets into all sorts of issues a producer faces in budgeting a scripted project (e.g., locations and tax rebates, reducing size and scope of sequences, travel costs).
In general on most scripts, I don’t advise thinking like a producer most of the time. Job #1 for you is to write a great, entertaining story and that means giving free reign to your creative impulses. However there are some projects, such as contained thrillers, where the producer’s mentality pretty much comes with the conceptual territory. Moreover if you hope to work as a screenwriter in Hollywood, at some point you have to become aware of a producer’s concerns and mindset. Indeed eventually you will probably want to become a writer-producer, so it’s never too early to start learning how to wear that producer’s hat.
For more on this subject, read the interview I did with screenwriter John Swetnam — here — and scroll down to the last few paragraphs. He has a solid take on things and you would do well to heed his words as he sold the spec script Evidence earlier this year.