What the f#@k is “contained?”

You’ve heard this buzzword — Contained.” Everyone seems to be looking for it. But what the actual f@#k does that even mean?



(You can find Part One, Two, and Three of this series right here  here and here)



Basically, this means: think smaller and cheaper. Fewer locations, fewer cast, fewer special effects, and so on. And it’s not just low-budget producers paying attention to this nowadays. The big studios are running on fumes; even Marvel has issued an edict of sorts: bring ’em in for $100M or less. Perhaps they’ve finally come to realize that making $300M bombs is an unsustainable business model? 

So how do you keep it contained, and how do you know what’s expensive to shoot? Well, you need to think like a producer. For example, say you have 20 locations in your script. Every one of those is an expensive company move. Every time you have to break down, go elsewhere, and set up again, is a massive time and money suck. How to contain this? Can we maybe use 6 locations instead of 20? How about two? Producers love, love, love contained. Give ‘em a script that largely takes place all in one room, they will be ecstatic.

Don’t forget: everything costs money in a movie. How much is it going to cost to fill an entire theater with extras dressed in old west attire? You’ve got the expensive location rental, and every one of those extras needs to be paid and fed. So: is there a way to do this with a dozen extras? Make it a rehearsal instead of the actual performance?

Fight and battle scenes, stunts, special effects, even music licensing – all of this needs to be carefully considered when thinking ‘contained.’ So before you write “The Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’ plays on the radio,” think about just how much that is going to cost the production (hint: probably around $1M. Seriously.) Maybe just say a groovin’ pop song is playing? Or don’t mention it at all. Music is not the screenwriter’s purview anyway.

Remember, those huge studio tentpole budgets are for huge studio movies – not specs with no underlying IP. The industry would much rather read a contained and affordable spec feature like MOON or EX MACHINA than the next fantasy epic with 17,000 special effects shots. In a movie, everything costs money. So remember: less is more. Think like a producer and demonstrate you know how to save them money – that is the way to their dark, desiccated little hearts.

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