Notes From Development Hell

We’ve all been there, and we all go back whenever we can. Development Hell has a strange attraction to it. Like being Charlie Brown and letting Lucy hold the football for you to kick even though you know she’ll whip it away and you’ll full on your duff. The purpose of the article below is to warn you, but we know it won’t keep you away.

It never does.

by Dina Gachman

barton finkEvery writer who has pitched a story, received studio notes, or listened to a network exec talk about ratings and ad dollars instead of character and nuance knows the true meaning of the term “development hell.” Some producers and execs are skilled, smart, and conscientious when it comes to giving notes on a script, and some are… not.

When we talked to Life After Bethwriter/director Jeff Baena last week, he shared his own story from the trenches of development hell, saying, “I had to do another draft that was the complete opposite of what I had just done, which was worse than a page-one rewrite because it was a conceptual flip. It was god-awful; it was the lowest moment for me.”

It’s good for writers to get another set of eyes on a script, talk about character arcs and hash out plot points. If the notes are communicated in a savvy, intelligent way, they can help take a project to the next level. Creative freedom is valued in some sectors of entertainment (indie film, Netflix, HBO), but all too often writers have to butcher their creation, unravel a well written and taut script because a financier wants to add dragons to an indie relationship comedy so it’ll sell overseas, or make a female character sexier… just because.

There’s definitely a balance when it comes to giving notes and allowing a creative person to flourish – and trusting the people you hire. In honor of all the writers who have sat across a conference table while someone tells them to “just make it funnier,” we talked to ten anonymous feature and TV writers about the worst notes they’ve received, the issues they see with some studio and network notes and the most ridiculous mandates they’ve had to endure.

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