View Full Version : Production budget of a book

10-07-2014, 08:03 AM
Hi all,

After seeing Gone Girl at the pictures last night, I got to thinking about how the budget for the film version of a book would differ to the book itself. Does anyone know how much a book costs to actually produce?

I know that question is like asking "how long is a piece of string?" because there are so many levels of books, but I guess I'm talking about a book one would expect to end up on a bestseller list (because of its author). I make that assumption because a film like Gone Girl had a certain amount (~60 million I believe) invested in it because it was expected to do well at the box office (which I'm equating as similar to best seller lists, which of course they aren't really).

Why am I asking? Because I'm interested in the notion that an artist has less control over something with a bigger budget because of the implied greater risk.

DISCLAIMER - I'm assuming that novelists have more control over their work than a director/screenwriter has over their film.

10-07-2014, 08:49 AM
My editor wrote this in 2006, but I'm sure others can correct anything in it that's changed:


It's a very thorough breakdown of the costs involved in the average book. The total ends up around $36,000.*

That's a lot of money, but in reference to the OP -- I work in film, and you can't make more than a titchy-tiny short at decent quality for 30-40k. (With a few exceptions, like well-directed found-footage horror.) You generally need a budget in the hundreds of thousands even to make a low-budget feature with any production value (and that's VERY LOW budget). See here: http://www.sagindie.org/resources/contracts

Now, as to whether an author has more creative control than a screenwriter -- I think definitely yes, but it's not because of budget. Writing is much more collaborative than I thought before I did it -- I've been amazed at how much my betas, editor, cover artist, and interior book designer bring to the finished product creatively; I'm definitely not the only creative brain involved -- but I would still say I'm the primary creative mind behind the work.

In film, on the other hand, you have the director, DP (director of photography aka the cinematographer, who actually frames the shots), actors, and editors, all of whom have TREMENDOUS creative input, at least equal to the screenwriter's on most projects and sometimes far exceeding the screenwriter's influence. You have the production designer. You have the people who do the lighting, sound, art department, costumes, hair & makeup, fight or dance choreography, and special effects, all of which can have a lot of artistry involved even if they're arranged at the director's or production designer's behest. You have the casting directors who cast the actors and put together the palette of talent in the film. You have the VFX artists, soundtrack composers, animation team, and other post-production workers. All of these are, again, creative positions, and I'm probably forgetting some! All of these people have quite a lot influence over the piece that is the actual final film. And people in other departments, like producers, often give creative input as well.

In other words: I don't think it's so much the budget that limits a screenwriter's influence over the final product versus a novelist's as that they're fundamentally different: the final product the screenwriter contributes to is intentionally a creative work heavily influenced by a HUGE number of other creative artists, many in measures at least equal to the screenwriter. Whereas the final product of the novelist has many fewer other creative players and the author is generally considered the primary artistic mind behind the final work.

* This is for trade publishing, obviously. Self-publishing has waaaaay more variance -- at least I'm assuming so! -- but in an entirely anecdotal this-is-my-observation way, I think most self-publishers spend between a few hundred dollars and a few thousand dollars (low thousands) self-publishing a book. I can only think of one case off the top of my head in which an author spent over $10k self-publishing a single title.

10-07-2014, 09:09 AM
That makes sense, and good point about the degree of creativity in film making versus novel writing. Even though the budgets are smaller, I would imagine the profits are usually smaller too so its still probably got the same degree of risk.

That's a lot of money, but in reference to the OP -- I work in film, and you can't make more than a titchy-tiny short at decent quality for 30-40k. (With a few exceptions, like well-directed found-footage horror.) You generally need a budget in the hundreds of thousands even to make a low-budget feature with any production value (and that's VERY LOW budget)

Very true. About five years ago I spent two or so years writing screenplays for TV comedy shows (none produced, obviously). This was in the wake of Summer Heights High, which was a huge success for the ABC and led to more federal government funding for "British model" TV comedy (meaning a short episode run). Of course that has changed now with the feds cutting budgets hugely... but anyway, I chased up a local TV writer and asked him to have a look at the scripts, which he did. They were pretty awful, but I was eager for feedback because I knew I was learning. What was actually disheartening was the level of restriction budget placed on the actual content. I knew I wouldn't be able to have a 1000-foot CGI tidal wave, but I never realised I would have to limit my cast to about three, with just as many locations etc etc.

10-07-2014, 10:07 PM
Turning a novel into a movie can cost as little as a couple of hundred thousand dollars, all the way up more than a hundred million dollars. A single actor can cost twenty million to get. If it really is a true bestselling novel, chances are you'll have to pay more than a couple of hundred thousand for the rights. Sometimes a lot more.

I'm not at all big on the word "artist" where a novel is concerned, but a writer can have anywhere from no control at all, all the way up to script and casting approval. It depends on how much Hollywood wants the book, and on how much business savvy the writer has.

Many witters don't want any control at all because they think of themselves only as novelists, and know nothing about making a movie. Other writers want almost total control, and sometimes they get it, especially if they have a big enough name. Writers not only sometimes get script anbd casting approval, they also write the screenplay, and on occasion, even direct the movie.

It really boils down to just how much Hollywood wants the book, which boils down to how much money they think the movie will generate. More often than not, the best a writer can hope for is a nice check for the rights, and opportunity to visit the set and watch his novel be turned into a bad movie, but sometimes the writer really does have more control than is probably good for him.