The Five Stages of Development Hell

star wars Michael Arndt

This week the producers of Star Wars Episode VII [insert title here] have thanked original screenwriter Michael Arndt for his outstanding contribution so far and have now let loose director J J Abrams and The Empire Strikes Back script writer Lawrence Kasdan on the project (Kasdan is retaining a screenwriting credit on one of the subsequent stand-alone films, and has an overseer role on the (grits teeth) “franchise”.  Obviously, we don’t know the behind the scenes machinations, or how much of Arndt’s original draft will be retained, but I thought it would be fun to remind ourselves of the five stages of development hell, from author David Hughes excellent book, Tales From Development Hell.

 “The script is perfect. Who can we get to rewrite it?”

1. The writer turns in a script so unutterably perfect they would stick pens in their eyes sooner than change a single syllable of it.

2. The producer or studio executive, too busy / bored / illiterate to read the script for themselves, sends out for “script coverage” – advice on the potential of the script from a professional script reader. If this doesn’t instantly lead to the script being junked and the writer being fired and replaced – either by a younger, hotter, cheaper model (a “tyro”), – the writer will be given “notes”. “Everybody gives writers notes, ” says screenwriter Richard Friedenberg (Dying Young, A River Runs Through it), “[even] the garbage man. And the notes always conflict.”

3. If sufficiently encouraged to do so, the producer / executive might then actually read the script. “This is perfect,” he (or, one time in a thousand, she) might say. “Who can we get to rewrite it?” Then, in order to justify their own on-screen credit / exorbitant salary / job title / parking space, they will throw their own ideas into the mix or, more commonly, take ideas out. In Hollywood, ideas are anathema,” says screenwriter-producer Gary Goldman (Basic Instinct, Total Recall, Minority Report). “And the bigger the budget, the more forbidden they are.”

4. The writer then scurries away to rewrite their magnum opus, doing their best to incorporate all the different, conflicting notes, and resubmits the script for approval.

steps 1 through 4 are now repeated continuously, with the script continually evolving-and, in rare cases, improving-until finally someone decides it’s good enough (although probably not quite as good as the first draft) to make into a film…

5. The latest draft of the script is sent out to actors and directors, in the hope that it will attract one with sufficient clout to actually get it made. Interested directors-who may be attached to up to a dozen projects at a time, in the hopes that a studio will eventually give one of them a “green light”-will almost certainly want a rewrite, to incorporate twenty-minute tracking shots, elaborate set-pieces, thousands of extras, impossible locations, etc, any of which can add a couple of zeroes to the budget the producer has in mind. Interested actors will almost certainly want a rewrite, to make their scenes larger, their character more heroic, their journey more arduous, their dialogue more, well, you know, gooder-even (especially) if it means stealing the best lines from other characters. In other words, as one veteran screenwriter puts it, “tweaking a draft to better suit a star who’s expressed interest, only to have said star drop out of the project.” Since the desires of the studio, producers, director and actors are usually mutually exclusive, all of them will blame the writer, who will be fired and replaced by anew writer…taking the whole process back to stage 1.

Originally posted 2013-10-27 11:29:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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