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Writer's Edge: Development Hell

By Steve Kaire

Development is when a script, treatment or pitch has been sold and then begins the long process of getting the movie produced.

After the project has been acquired, the original writer may be replaced altogether or be given rewriting notes by the company or studio. He or she will then incorporate those notes and eventually turn in their final draft. Most often than not, other writers will be brought in to start what seems to be an endless rewriting collaboration. It is not unusual to have anywhere from two to eight other writers brought on board for their input.

After so many revisions from so many divergent sources, the script usually doesn’t resemble anything like what it started out to be. The subsequent writers bring their own ideas and sensibilities to the work. Often the original writer’s vision gets dissipated in the shuffle. That old cliché, “Too many cooks spoil the broth” is appropriate here. Occasionally this formula will improve the final script. But what usually happens is the script has turned into a jumbled mess with patchwork changes that render it incoherent.

development hell

I can relate my own experience with development hell. I had sold a screenplay entitled, “Worst Case Scenario.” It was an action thriller that had a lot of buzz and was one of the top ten projects in Hollywood at the time. Another writer was assigned the rewrite, and he completely transformed the script. The only thing that remained the same was the title and the basic premise. Then a director was attached, and he rewrote the script. After his revisions, a writing team was paid to give it a polish. Three years went by. The final irony was that the production company, which purchased the original script, got sold and the project was shelved forever.

This is the way of Hollywood. And so is this statistic. Ninety-five percent of all projects sold never make it into production. So despite having the good fortune of actually selling your material, seeing it on the screen is a longshot.

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