Richard Walter Interview – Should Screenwriters Care about Film Budgets?

Film Budgeteers recently sat down with veteran screenwriting  professor and master screenwriter, Richard Walter. Walter has taught writing for the cinema for the better part of four decades and serves as the Chairman to the UCLA graduate school of screenwriting. He’s also the author of several fiction and non-fiction books and makes regular tv and media appearances to offer his expert opinion. I asked him a few brief questions about where screenwriting collides with the budget of a film and the process of film budgeting:

Film Budgeteers: How concerned with film budgeting, if at all, should a screenwriter be when writing their first draft?  Or even their last polish?

Walter: Not at all. Tell the best story that you can. The same movie can be made to fit multiple budgets depending on casting and a zillion other factors, all of them beyond the control of the writer. The only item controlled by the writer is (the most important of all): story.

FB: In your experience, are seasoned screenwriters more “budget conscious” or more aware than new screenwriters of how their words impact either the development process or physical production itself? 

Screenwriter Richard Walter sitting by a tree

W: No. If they’re seasoned, they’ve learned to stop worrying about budgets and to worry instead about story.

FB: How do you, a veteran screenwriter and educator, break it to a colleague or a student that their script may be too expensive or complex to get sold, developed, or produced?

W: I don’t. It’s not necessary. One of our former UCLA screenwriting students wrote a film whose budget was half a billion dollars. Many have written low to mid nine-figure budget pictures. It might prove to be an advantage, in some instances, to write a movie that can be produced for a nosebleed-high budget.

FB: You’ve lived through all the classic films of the late 1960’s and 1970’s, and had a front-row seat for the transformation of the studio system from a mogul-driven system to one primarily dominated by Wall Street. What, as a screenwriter do you most regret or admire about rise of MBA’s and share prices dictating what movies get made?  Same question, but as a screenwriting educator.

W: It’s a tragedy. The worst part of it is that it’s not just bad art but also bad business. The original moguls embraced risk; the MBA’s try to play it safe. Alas, playing it safe is the most hazardous course you can follow. The notion that movie art and commerce are at odds with each other is a hoax.                                                                                                                                             

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