Development Hell: From Script to Screen
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)?
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:
- Introduction to entertainment business
- Overview of lifecycle of a movie (from script to screen)
- Review of screenplay format and styles
- 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
- The Logline
- The Pitch
- The Sale: What does a writer’s deal look like?
- Option agreements
- Writing agreements: outlines, drafts, rewrites, & polishes
- Development and rewriting
- What does a “creative” executive do exactly?
- Attaching talent: actors/director
- Financing & distribution
- Marketing considerations
- Rewrites before physical production
- Physical production/principal photography and (re-)writing on the set
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
LAW AND BUSINESS AFFAIRS
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