Development Hell: Taking a Screenplay from Script to Screen

AS.061.385.13 (H)

Development Hell: From Script to Screen

Intersession 2011

Johns Hopkins University

Film & Media Studies

Instructor: Chris Aldrich

5 Meetings: Thursday 1/20, Friday 1/21, Monday 1/24, Wednesday 1/26, Friday 1/28
Meeting times: 1:00-4:00 PM

1 credit, graded: S/U


Writing a screenplay and physically shooting it are the easy part of filmmaking; it’s the pitching, rewriting, developing, packaging, and ultimately “selling” it that are the tricky parts. We will discuss how production companies and studios decide to option or purchase articles, stories, novels, screenplays, or ideas and put them into development and why sometimes it can take a minimum of a year and a half to 10 or more years for them to ultimately be made. The roles of writers, directors, producers, financiers, studio executives, agents, and even actors in the continued development process will be discussed. What is “packaging” and how does it work? What pitfalls exist that might put your project/script into “turnaround” thus ending your “development hell” (or maybe even starting it all over again)?

Course Requirements

All students are expected to attend class and actively participate in discussions, pitches, and critiques. Throughout the week, reminiscent of the seminar style, we’ll also recreate the conditions of a typical writer(s) meeting with a producer or studio executives and students will get the opportunity to pitch/sell story ideas.



Day / Topics:
Thursday 1/20

  • Introduction to entertainment business
  • Overview of lifecycle of a movie (from script to screen)
  • Review of screenplay format and styles

Friday 1/21

  • Creative development process in feature film
  • History of development
  • Brief overview of the television development cycle
  • The Players: Writers, Directors, Producers, Actors; Agents, Managers, Studio Executives

Monday 1/24

  • The Logline
  • The Pitch
  • The Sale: What does a writer’s deal look like?
  • Option agreements
  • Writing agreements: outlines, drafts, rewrites, & polishes
  • Checklists
  • Negotiating

Wednesday 1/26

  • Development and rewriting
  • Packaging
  • What does a “creative” executive do exactly?
  • Attaching talent: actors/director
  • Financing & distribution
  • Marketing considerations

Friday 1/28

  • Turnaround
  • Preproduction
  • Budgeting
  • Casting
  • Rewrites before physical production
  • Physical production/principal photography and (re-)writing on the set


Recommended Texts

There will be no required text for the course. In fact, no good text covers this particular topic directly. The most relevant texts to parts of our discussion can be found below. The most useful are highlighted in bold; those by Palmer and Squire should be readily available in the bookstore. None, with exception to some of those on law, are particularly dense; most are fairly light reading.

Primarily for a feeling of roundedness, I’ve listed a handful of representative (and primarily popular) books on screenwriting itself. Typically if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. The only person slightly less ubiquitous in Hollywood than a writer with a script is a writer with a book about writing scripts.


Farber, Donald C.; Baumgarten, Paul A. & Fleischer, Mark: Producing, Financing & Distributing Film, Second Edition (2004) Limelight

Lazarus III, Paul N.: The Film Producer

Levy, Frank: Hollywood 101: The Film Industry (2000) Renaissance

Palmer, Stepahanie: Good in a Room: How to Sell Yourself (and Your Ideas) and Win Over Any Audience (2008) Crown Business

Squire, Jason E.: The Movie Business Book, Third Edition (2006) Open University Press



Appleton, Dina and Yankelevits, Daniel: Hollywood Dealmaking: Negotiating Talent Agreements (2002) Allworth

Biederman, Donald E.; Martin E. Silfen, Robert C. Berry, Edward P. Pierson, Jeanne A. Glasser: Law and Business of the Entertainment Industries (2006) Praeger

Litwak, Mark: Dealmaking in the Film and Television Industry From Negotiations Through Final Contracts: 2nd Edition Expanded and Updated (2002) Silman-James Press

Wharton, Brooke A.: The Writer Got Screwed (but didn’t have to): Guide to the Legal and Business Practices of Writing for the Entertainment Industry (1997) Harper



Field, Syd: Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting

Goldman, William: Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

Hunter, Lew: Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434

Kaufman, Millard: Plots and Characters: A Screenwriter on Screenwriting

McKee, Robert: Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting

Seger, Linda: Making a Good Script Great