Working in Development…

I am posting this piece that describes the JOB of working in Development for the FILM SPARK Students I spoke to in “Welcome to Hollywood,” that fantastic course taught by Professor Collis as part of “ASU in Hollywood,” as well as for all the amazing young film, television, and all-media artists and future agents and executives (you know who you are) I just had the honor of meeting at ASU Tempe.

It’s a pretty straightforward and will be followed by more pieces in this area.  

Enjoy!

THE DEVELOPMENT EXECUTIVE

by Rona Edwards and Monica Skerbelis

What exactly is a Development Executive anyway?

They are hard-working individuals who look for stories, screenplays, and material for their production companies, studios and/or networks. They oversee the writer(s) and give notes on the material in order to elevate the screenplay to production.

Development executives are hired for their opinions and their tastes. They are articulate individuals with a passion for movies, can look at material and see what works and what doesn’t work, and are able to work with both writers and producers to improve the stories and screenplays.

Development executives read and read and read. They form an opinion on the material, discuss it with their colleagues and/or bosses, deciding on whether the material is right for their company or studio. Everyone has an opinion about what they read or see at the movies – from assistants who want to get ahead to the Chairman of the Motion Picture Group. The development executive must have more than an opinion – they must be able to convey whether the material is marketable, castable, fills a niche for their company, and, above all, tells a good story.

Development executives at both production companies and studios have broad tastes in movies and contribute to a wide range of development projects to create a slate of films for their company to produce. They need to be open to a variety of material not just the blockbuster tent-pole movies (i.e., summer event movies) or mainstream commercial fare. They also must pay attention to the domestic market as well as the international marketplace in order to decipher what kinds of movies sell to that market.

In addition to developing material, development executives network with agents, managers, and producers. They attend breakfast, lunch, drinks and dinner meetings. They are aware of material (spec scripts and/or manuscripts) going out to the town via the agencies. They display a keen knowledge of actors, directors, and writers, and are aware of new directing, writing, and acting talent. They watch directors’ reels and read writing samples. They attend movie screenings, oversee dailies of their movies when they go into production, and take pitch meetings from writers and producers.

Oftentimes, being a development executive is a jumping off point to becoming a producer. After spending time developing projects, networking with industry professionals, establishing relationships with talent, and seeing their projects through to production, affords the development exec the experience necessary to produce their own films.

 

One of the primary functions of a development executive is to be able to give concise development notes on material optioned by their company. While formatting depends on each individual company or studio, most development notes begin with a general overview or introductory paragraph, followed by bulleting the problematic areas. It is with these bullets that the development executive backs up these highlighted problems with an explanation of how to improve or resolve the issues.

Some things to think about while reading a script are: The areas that cause you to react negatively:

·What works for you;

·What doesn’t;

·The areas where you get bored or start to lose interest;

·The things about the story you just don’t buy “as real” or feel contrived.

Jot down your reactions and then structure the big problems with big bullet points like we’ve done above.

Development executives should find the one problem from which all others stem. Notes should not just list the problems, but should focus on the things that may actually fix the problems in the story. Always try phrasing your notes in a positive way. For example, instead of saying, “I don’t like the protagonist, he’s too dull and boring, and I have no sympathy for him,” try to give suggestions with a positive spin like, “the protagonist is too one- dimensional, give him a scene where he shows some positive traits. Make us like him and feel for him.” Suggest changes to create a stronger screenplay. Come up with your own ideas and solutions to make the script work better. The development executive’s job is to improve the screenplay, not to hinder or change it from its original intention, in order to push it towards a greenlight picture.

But there are some very strong differences between a studio development executive and a production company development executive. Stay tuned.

You can contact Rona and Monika via their website: http://www.esentertainment.net

Rona Edwards and Monika Skerbelis are the co-authors of “I Liked It, Didn’t Love It: Screenplay Development From The Inside Out” from Lone Eagle Publishing. They have worked as development execs and producers, and collectively have 25 years worth of experience in Hollywood.

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