What Defines a Studio Film?

As the name implies, a studio film is partially or wholly financed and/or produced by a film studio. This means that in addition to producers being involved in the decision making processes, studio executives also have a say on things like casting, script changes, and allocation of funds.

By definition, a ‘film studio’ is simply a large production company that has its own hard equity (actual money), and is capable of distributing and advertising its own projects worldwide.

The major studios are Disney, Warner Bros, Universal, Paramount, Dreamworks, Fox, and Sony. A ‘mini-major’ is a film studio that produces fewer projects, often works with smaller budgets, and functions on a smaller scale in most areas than the major studios. Mini-major studios include Summit, Revolution, Lakeshore, Lionsgate and the Weinstein Company.

A major studio won’t usually produce or finance films with budgets under $20 million. Most studios have smaller independent arms that make projects with budgets from $6 million to $20 million. The mini majors will also work in the $6 million to $20 million range. You won’t often find a film with a budget lower than $6 million being produced by a studio. A studio may come on board to distribute the film, but it would be rare for them to be involved in the financing or production of a project that small.

Not every film with a budget over $20 million is a studio film; there are some anomalies. For instance, Oliver Stone produced ‘Alexander’ for around $160 million dollars without the backing of a studio. This would therefore be considered an independent film regardless of the size of its budget.

The Stages of Script Development

Development of a screenplay can either involve a writer developing a story ‘on spec’ (for free), or being hired to develop a story for a production company or studio.

When writing on spec the writer moves through each stage of development without a producer attached, hoping that a producer will later ‘option’ (lease) the already written screenplay and produce the film.

Before a script is written, most professional projects go through the following stages:

• Concept
A concept is simply an idea for a project … preferably an idea that can
easily be summarized into a logline.

• Logline
A logline consists of one or two sentences that summarize a film. An example of a logline would be: “A bumbling scientist must rescue his family and the world when an army of aliens tries to wipe out the human race.”

• Synopsis
A synopsis is a general outline of the main plot points in a film in under
a page (around 300-450 words) in prose (like the blurb on the back of a

• Treatment
A treatment is like writing your script out as a novella or short story. A treatment can be anything from two to thirty pages. Sometimes longer. It should cover the entire story from start to finish and include every scene in the film.

• Outline
An outline lists every scene of a film in order. It establishes each location and summarizes what happens in each scene. Outlines can be several paragraphs per scene (complete with characters, what happens in the scene, and even some dialogue), or as simple as one sentence per scene (e.g. “EXT: STREET - scene where Chris, Lee, and Gemma save the cat”).

There are no rules governing how long or short an outline needs to be as long as it includes all of the intended scenes in the film, creating a modifiable skeleton for the screenplay.

• Script
Once the treatment is done, a script or ‘screenplay’ is written. Optimally,
a producer hires a writer and pays them to write a screenplay based on a
Note: A project can be at the concept, outline, and even at the
treatment stages with a producer before a writer is hired.

An acceptable length for a feature film script in Hollywood is between
90 and 120 correctly formatted pages. Any script shorter than 80 pages or longer than 125 pages is unlikely to be read. A screenplay in LA should be laid out in the format that is used in the screenwriting program Final Draft™.