Tribeca Talks: The Girlfriend Experience

Screenwriters Spill on Budget Concerns

Tribecatalks Should your expected budget affect the way you write a script? According to screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the duo behind Rounders, Oceans 13, Runaway Jury and now, Stephen Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, the answer is a resounding no.

Last week, as part of the Tribeca Talks series, Koppelman and Levien chatted with former Premiere critic Glenn Kenny about the constraints — or lack thereof — placed on their work by budget quandries. “We
don’t spend a lot of time in the early stages thinking about the budget
and writing to that level,” said Levien. “That comes later — if at
all.”

Still, when the pair penned their first script Rounders, they wrote it with the idea that they may have to produce it themselves for under $500 K. Luckily, Miramax
and director John Dahl signed on, earning the project a healthy $12
million budget. “If we had shot the movie ourselves, we’d never get to
some of those locations,” said Koppelson, noting that they ended up
with access to the Tropicana and other classic Las Vegas casinos. “And
it was just amazing to see things you’d just put in on a whim — like a
scene set at a Chinese restaurant. They build that restaurant from the
ground up, just because we wrote it in.”

These days, besides working on film’s like Soderbergh’s Tribeca opener, the relatively low budget Girlfriend Experience, the New York-based writers are called in to do revisions on others writers’ scripts.

Koppelson recalled an uncredited clean-up the duo did on Michael Bay’s Bad Boyz II. “You’re
called in to write certain set pieces,” said Koppelson. “But Will Smith
came in and pointed Michael and said, ‘He’ll take care of the action.
Then he pointed to Martin Lawrence and himself and said, ‘We’ll take
care of the funny.’ Then he pointed to us and said, ‘ You take care of
the character and dialogue.’ And they were almost done shooting the
movie! But you give them what they want.”

Even
if that means going over budget. “Michael wanted this one particular
boat house effect, and getting that single shot would cost one million
dollars,” said Koppelson. “But when the studio pointed that out,
Michael was just like ‘Yeah.’ And he got his shot.”

Clocking in at a modest $1.7 million, Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience
— a drama about a call girl, starring porn star Sasha Grey — was a
return to their more down-to-Earth roots, budget-wise. “We had to trade
on Stephen’s name to get some of those things negotiated,” said Levien.

But
Koppelson said a little strategic back-scratching helped them score
some major set pieces. “We negotiated one by offering to include the
name of the place on-screen for five seconds. They were happy, we got
what we needed. It worked out well for everyone.”

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