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D&D Movie/TV Update on D&D TV Show -- Underdark, Small, 6-10 Episodes

Writer Derek Kolstad (John Wick) has shared an insight into the upcoming D&D TV show with Collider, which he says will be 6-10 serialized episodes with an Underdark element.

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His approach is a "tinier sliver" of the world, compared to epic stories like Lord of the Rings. He compares it to Star Wars and Jaws. He mentioned that he's like to go "deeper and deeper into the Underdark".

"In the first Star Wars, you heard about Jabba the Hutt and you don't see him until the third one because you earn at that point, and whatever the budget was for the third one compared to the first one, who cares, right? And I think in Dungeons and Dragons, who has this massive, dedicated community of acolytes, I don't want to suddenly throw everything on screen and say, 'Here's the buffet.' You'd much rather keep the story intimate. When you think of our favorite movies, I'd rather do the First Blood version. It's a guy in the woods being hunted. And it's very small, but you allude to the other things through conversation."


As yet the show is untitled. Kolstad talked a bit about legal meetings and available characters for use. It sounds like he wants to set it towards the end of any 'metaplot' that D&D might have -- "... don't want to go in the middle of the mythos. I want to come near the end where everything is canonical, it's biblical, it's happened. Or, it's about to happen. That way you can revisit certain sequences and storylines that everyone loved in the past through flashback, but where we go is new"

 
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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey


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there are a number of important diminutive characters in the LOTR movies,
This is the key thing. If you only have one major dwarf character you could cast a short actor. And there is that thing that hasn't really been done yet: female dwarfs.

The other thing with LOTOR/Hobbit is that for many scenes you only have your short characters on screen.
 


ART!

Hero
You have just doubled the cost of the set.

And crimped your camera angles.
Only for a fraction of your shots, though, and often those special shots are more dynamic, so it might be win-win.

As for sets, a lot of that just requires plopping down some boxes for the taller characters, or plopping down little raised walkways for walking shots.
 

MarkB

Legend
You have just doubled the cost of the set.

And crimped your camera angles.
Any way you do it will involve some higher costs. An increased (not doubled) initial outlay for the sets may be worth paying if the results are good. It's certainly not "too expensive for TV".

Look at WandaVision. Every single shot that involves Vision not in disguise is a CGI shot because much of his head and costume doesn't physically exist. And they had to completely break down and re-build the set for each new era the show progressed through. Still not too expensive for TV.
 

Look at WandaVision. Every single shot that involves Vision not in disguise is a CGI shot because much of his head and costume doesn't physically exist. And they had to completely break down and re-build the set for each new era the show progressed through. Still not too expensive for TV.
Pretty sure this show will have a budget that is a tiny fraction of that of WandaVision.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
Obviously I meant campaigns we have all played in, FR products, modules, books, etc. LOL
Only time that I've ever used the Underdark in 35 years of D&D is when I ran Out of the Abyss. I found it quite interesting to my surprise (my attitude toward it before that was similar to yours, I presume, generally eye-rolling.)
 

Pretty sure this show will have a budget that is a tiny fraction of that of WandaVision.
I very much doubt that, given that it will necessarily be a fairly CGI-heavy show.

WandaVision's likely budget was in the $100-200m range (I can go into details if you want - my personal estimate is probably around $152m given the actual length of the episodes and so on), which is pretty typical for shows of this kind (and compares favourably to movies about similar subjects, in terms of $ per runtime). For example, Netflix's Altered Carbon was $150m for S1 (S2 unknown but I bet it was a lot less because it looked cheap and made excessive re-use of sets despite being on another planet), and CBS' Star Trek Discovery is somewhere north of $100m per season. Most Amazon Prime originals have a budget of $9-10m/episode so are in a similar ballpark (The Boys, High Castle were both $10m/episode). Mandalorian was $15m/episode (and er... it doesn't consistently look like it, sadly... imho anyway), GoT was similar ($15m-ish per ep). Amazon's LotR show allegedly is looking at a budget of $1bn+ over 5 seasons, so probably about $200m/season, which is really not that much more than one might expect. Indeed it might be a little low. I could go on and on, but realistically you're not making a show like this for less than $10m/episode unless you're willing to have production values so low that they'll be noticeably bad to casual viewers.

Kolstad hasn't announced a network yet, but it's hardly material. I mean, it might not get made - but if it does get made, the odds are very good that it'll be looking at $10m/episode or more - assuming it's on a either a streaming platform or a major US network. They're all in the same ballpark.

Now maybe for you "a small fraction" is "2/3rds" or something or "1/2", and in that case it's mere semantics, but for me "a small fraction would usually mean 1/5th or less and you'd be really stretching the term to get to say 1/3rd. I would suspect this show, if it gets made, is looking at a real budget of $10m+ which is well over half the likely per episode for WandaVision (allegedly it was "up to" $25m/episode, but given the longest episode is nearly twice the real runtime as the shortest, and most were closer to the shorter end, aaaaaaand the last episode had more CGI than all the rest by miles, I think we can guess it averaged at like $16-17m/episode).

If you tried to make it on like $5m/episode it would end up looking like a bad SyFy show, note.

EDIT - I'd note that the primary Underdark setting is perhaps actually attractive to bean-counters, because whilst it means there will be a significant minimum spend on on sets and CGI, it also means that shooting will be on soundstages (or whatever we call them these days) and greenscreens, not on location, and that's a hell of a lot cheaper than shooting on location at the same level of quality, and it's a lot easier to contain maximum expenditure shooting on soundstages rather than on location. Part of why previous fantasy shows have been expensive is heavy location shooting (yes, you can do it in Europe, but it still ain't cheap).
 
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I very much doubt that, given that it will necessarily be a fairly CGI-heavy show.

WandaVision's likely budget was in the $100-200m range
And Doctor Who is an FX heavy show with a budget of about 1.5 million per episode. Disney throw silly money at their shows. Agatha had a refrigerated body-suit under her witchy costume so she didn't get too hot. Go on Doctor Who and you might get a cup of tepid water if you are lucky.

Given the "lets film it all in some caves" approach it sounds more like a BBC production than a Disney+ production to me.
 

and whilst it had real eyeroller of a line (Karli's one about "the only language they understand", seemed out of character and cliched),

Pretty sure it was said in one of the movies that part of what the serum does is amplify who are you are on the inside. So if Karli is consumed by revenge and hate, the serum is going to turn her much darker and into more of a villain. Also, in the comic books, variants of the serum tend to cause insanity. So I could see that line, and the bomb, being a hint of bad things happening inside her.
 

And Doctor Who is an FX heavy show with a budget of about 1.5 million per episode. Disney throw silly money at their shows. Agatha had a refrigerated body-suit under her witchy costume so she didn't get too hot. Go on Doctor Who and you might get a cup of tepid water if you are lucky.

Given the "lets film it all in some caves" approach it sounds more like a BBC production than a Disney+ production to me.
That's not how it works, though, as I illustrated. Do you need me to go on and dig up more show costs? They're really easy to find out.

Doctor Who and the BBC in general are an aberration, and the only reason they spend so little is that they're constrained by the fact that they have to provide a huge broad service, whilst going off a completely fixed budget which isn't expanding (TV licences) and cannot really expand. This isn't going to be a BBC production, unless it's BBC America, who can use much larger budgets, as they aren't constrained the same way. Even then, it would likely be BBC America AND HBO, because it's rare that they don't partner with someone.

You say Disney throw silly money at their shows, but I'm pretty sure I illustrated that they only throw 10-50% more than most other people at them than other people do, which is not that silly. Most people are spending arounds $10m/episode on this kind of thing. Even non-SF shows are often spending $3-5m/episode, and some are spending $10m or even more without even really needing CGI etc. just due to ludicrous location shooting costs and the like.

I mean, dude, Deadwood back in 2004 was $4.5m/episode. The Tick which looks low-budget (though blows Doctor Who away I admit) is $5m/episode. Frickin' Frasier in the 1990s was north of $5m/episode. A show I've barely even heard of, The Alienist, was $7.5m/episode. Marco Polo is $9m/episode, and looks like it cost a fraction of that lol. But location shooting man, location shooting will KILL YOUR BUDGET DEAD. Rome back in 2005 was 9m/episode. The Crown is $13m/episode.

I can go on, as I said. You simply are not going to make a costume drama, fantasy or otherwise, which is of acceptable quality for a streaming service or major network in the US, for less than like $7-8m, and one which has SF elements? I'd be shocked if you could do it for less than $10m.

As an aside, one of friends knows Steven Moffat (like actually has him round the house sometimes - I was invited once but demurred), and he has heard it from Moffat that making Who on the budget they have is basically impossible, and ridiculous amounts of effort have to go into cost-cutting and arranging things to happen the very cheapest way possible, to the point where that's almost more what making the show is about than, y'know, actually making the show. Obviously that's completely anecdotal, and so on, but you can't take a desperation-born BBC show as representative.
 

So? It could have ten times the budget of Doctor Who and still have less than a tenth of the budget of WandaVision.

Without Disney backing, I can't see this show being allocated much more than 10 million per episode.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So? It could have ten times the budget of Doctor Who and still have less than a tenth of the budget of WandaVision.

Without Disney backing, I can't see this show being allocated much more than 10 million per episode.
Is there a reason it would ever need that sort of budget? How much of WV's budget is highly paid A-List or near A-List actors? Neither of the stars of the show can possibly be cheap, at this point.

I doubt the Witcher had a budget anywhere near that of WV, either, and it's fantastic.
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
Is there a reason it would ever need that sort of budget? How much of WV's budget is highly paid A-List or near A-List actors? Neither of the stars of the show can possibly be cheap, at this point.

I doubt the Witcher had a budget anywhere near that of WV, either, and it's fantastic.

Yeah, apparently they spent about $70-80 million for the season, and it's only 8 episodes. So about $10 million an episode.


EDIT: The first season of Game of Thrones by comparison had a budget of $5-6 million per episode.
 

You have just doubled the cost of the set.

And crimped your camera angles.
Still way cheaper than shooting on location, especially if you go for more than one season!
So? It could have ten times the budget of Doctor Who and still have less than a tenth of the budget of WandaVision.

Without Disney backing, I can't see this show being allocated much more than 10 million per episode.
????

I'm going to need you to show your working there.

Dr Who is $1.5m/episode

WandaVision is, say, $17m/episode.

As far as I know, our pathetic human mathematics does not allow us to have a value is 10x more than 1.5 yet 10x less than 17. Can you explain this? 10x more than 1.5, by conventional math would be 15. 10x less than 17 would by conventional maths be 1.7. I'm not seeing how that works out...

Do you mean per season? Because Dr Who is what, 10 episodes/season, so $15m, and WandaVision I already estimated at $152m total cost. 20 x10 = 150, 152 /10 = 15.2 which leaves you with the same issues. I mean, Doctor Who doesn't even cost 10x less than

$10m/episode was what I was saying. It's like right there in my post. Honestly I could see them cheaping out and going as low a $5m thought it'll look terrible if they do, but if the script is good, I could also see the opposite, the showrunner is hot property which helps.

Is there a reason it would ever need that sort of budget? How much of WV's budget is highly paid A-List or near A-List actors? Neither of the stars of the show can possibly be cheap, at this point.

I doubt the Witcher had a budget anywhere near that of WV, either, and it's fantastic.
Why did you "doubt" this though? It's very confusing. Witcher had a pretty solid budget, as shown - $10m. What did you think the budget was? Also Henry Cavill is a bigger name than Olson and Bettany put together. I'm mystified that you'd think Superman was cheaper than Scarlet Witch + Vision.
EDIT: The first season of Game of Thrones by comparison had a budget of $5-6 million per episode.
It worked it's way up every season though - hit $10m at like S5 or S6 and $15m by the final season. When it started out, standards were a bit lower - but it raised the bar itself.
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
It worked it's way up every season though - hit $10m at like S5 or S6 and $15m by the final season. When it started out, standards were a bit lower - but it raised the bar itself.

I know it got higher, but it got higher with popularity. If you look at the first GoT season, there are a couple of small fights but no big set-piece battles. The first season is largely people in nice clothes in rooms talking, the budget largely consumed by the remote film locations and costume design,, and a couple set pieces like the joust or the King reaching Winterfell.

Anyway, my point is I do think a $6 million budget for a smaller show (8 episodes) is possible, though it won't be as action-oriented as the Witcher or later GoT seasons.
 

I know it got higher, but it got higher with popularity. If you look at the first GoT season, there are a couple of small fights but no big set-piece battles. The first season is largely people in nice clothes in rooms talking, the budget largely consumed by the remote film locations and costume design,, and a couple set pieces like the joust or the King reaching Winterfell.

Anyway, my point is I do think a $6 million budget for a smaller show (8 episodes) is possible, though it won't be as action-oriented as the Witcher or later GoT seasons.
I think if you do little/no location shooting, no crowd scenes, no battle scenes, and you keep the amount of CGI down (like, any Mindflayers have to be mostly practical FX and you can't have a Beholder on screen too long), then yeah maybe you could push it that low and keep it looking okay but I'd be surprised if it didn't look visibly lower-quality than something like The Witcher, and you really want to avoid looking cheap these days.

One thing I do wonder is who would be in the Underdark, because if your leads are all classic Underdark races, they pretty much all need quite a bit of makeup and/or other practical or special FX.

I mean, given who it is writing, I'd honestly be shocked if it isn't mostly about the Drow, given they're exactly sort of John Wick-ish badasses who would fit with his vibe.

They also might have some kind of weird FX trick up their sleeves which could drastically reduce costs, but The Mandalorian did that (a lot of the sets don't actually exist but are rendered in Unreal 4 engine, moreso than you'd think) and still cost $15m/episode.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Why did you "doubt" this though? It's very confusing. Witcher had a pretty solid budget, as shown - $10m. What did you think the budget was? Also Henry Cavill is a bigger name than Olson and Bettany put together. I'm mystified that you'd think Superman was cheaper than Scarlet Witch + Vision.
Witcher had basically half the per episode budget of WV.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Witcher had basically half the per episode budget of WV.
That's probably about right. The citation about Wandavision is unspecific since it also includes other MCU TV shows for Disney+ (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Hawkeye) but it does say that episodes may run up to $25 million per. Other less concrete references are that each of the various series is working with a budget in the neighborhood of a full-fledged 2.5 hour MCU movie. (See the WandaVision wikipedia article)
These shows aren't coming cheap. But they are also helping put Disney+ on the map in competing with the other streaming services.
 

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