Time to answer a frequently asked question: “What is Development?” Or, more accurately, “What is Development Hell?”

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

After a 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. Occasionally this formula will improve the final script. But what usually happens is the script has turned into a patchwork of changes that render it incoherent.

I can relate my own experience with development hell. I 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 my original script got sold and the project was shelved.

The one big saving grace to this whole situation is that the writer is the only one who gets paid whether the project is produced or not. That isn’t true for the director or the producers who only get paid if the movie actually gets made.

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Read Steve on Screenwriting by Steve Kaire the first Thursday of the month on Write On! Online. Kaire is a screenwriter/pitchman who’s sold eight projects to the major studios on spec without representation. For more from Steve Kaire, check out his CD: “High Concept-How to Create, Pitch & Sell to Hollywood and website: High Concept Screenwriting.

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  1. Bill 6 years ago

    “the writer is the only one who gets paid whether the project is produced or not” — That’s not true. Producers often get paid just for setting a project up.

  2. Debra Eckerling 6 years ago

    Thanks for your comment, Bill. Appreciate it!

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