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Friday, September 12, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Development Hell – Part Two (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

Welcome to Development Hell

Part II: The Waiting Game Sucks, Let’s Play Hungry, Hungry Hippos

The production company I’m currently working with has (at least) 12 other projects in development; ranging from television to feature films. And only one – count ‘em – one development executive. Granted, he has a slew of interns working for him, but the bulk of the work rests solely on his already heavily weighed down shoulders. So what does that mean for me? It means, when I send in the latest draft of my script, I have to get in line. It might be days, weeks or even months before I hear back. And you, as a writer, have to really become OK with that: the waiting.

One time, I turned in the latest draft of my script, and started the process of waiting. Two weeks later, I received an e-mail from the executive apologizing and telling me it would be awhile before they would get a chance to read it because they just entered production on another film. Production time: TWO MONTHS. That meant, for two months, I was being pushed to the back of the line. (NOTE: So think about THAT when you’re waiting for a production company to get back to you while querying. You know how I’m at the back of the line? Well, you’re not even IN the line.)

Most companies won’t talk in depth about what they have in development, and it is certainly not your place to ask (unless you’ve developed a good relationship with them). You’ll start to wonder where your project ranks. And even if you had the gall to ask them (which you shouldn’t), they’d most likely tell you that ALL their projects are equally important. Which is BS, just like when your parents say they love you all equally. (Spoiler alert: they love your sister more.)

The worst part is that you’ve most likely told your friends and family that you’ve optioned a script. And what do they want? Updates. And why wouldn’t they? It’s exciting, and they’re excited FOR you. But what they don’t understand is that development is a slow-going process every step of the way. Even in the studio system, most films spend YEARS in development, unless they’re the lucky few to be on the “fast track”.

So whenever you’re at a party or a family function and every-single-person opens with “So, what’s going on with (insert script name here)?” and you have NOTHING to tell them, it’ll start to nag at you after awhile; especially as the months go by. And every time you talk to that person, and have no updates to give, you’ll start to see their interest fade and give way to good ol’ skepticism. You’ll try to think of things you can tell them that put a positive spin on it all, but if someone doesn’t understand development, it just sounds like a lot of nothing.

Because of this all, you’ll be tempted to contact the company. Don’t. If they have something to tell you (about your script drafts, the state of financing, actors attached, etc), they’ll tell you. You don’t want to become the needy writer they quickly become sick of working with. Because REMEMBER: you want to keep a good working relationship with them. They just might make your next film. But they won’t if they remember you as that writer who wouldn’t leave them the hell alone. If you do e-mail them, make it short and sweet and only do it EVERY SEVERAL MONTHS. But I really would advise against this, unless you have the type of relationship that merits it.

The best thing you can do – and the thing I even have a problem with – is to throw yourself into something else, like another script. It’s tough though. Having your script in development IS exciting. You want to know what’s going on with it. After all, this could be your big break, and the “green light” could happen any day…in a couple years.

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile/praise you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog@gmail.com. New to P.J. readership?  Click here for more articles!

4 Comments so far

1.

Henry Christner
September 12th, 2014 at 8:59 am

These essays are so valuable — and entertaining. My thanks.

2.

KP Mackie
September 12th, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Really good stuff. Great advice to be patient.
Not always easy…
Thanks.

3.

P.J
September 14th, 2014 at 10:30 am

Thanks! I’m glad you guys are enjoying the posts. If anyone ever has a topic they want to see covered on the blog, e-mail me at pjscriptblog@gmail.com.

4.

Anthony Cawood
September 14th, 2014 at 3:14 pm

The frustration for screenwriters as they wait, wait and wait some more isn’t mentioned anywhere near enough…

Patience is both a virtue and a pre-requisite for a screenwriter.

Thanks for another great article.

Anthony

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