In the film industry, movie development or simply development refers to the initial stages of working a story idea into a viable script. A producer zeros in on an idea for a script that can be original, based on a true story, or an adaptation. Producers are also routinely given unproduced spec scripts by associates and agents. Once a producer commits to a project, movie development begins and people are brought on board to help with this phase of the project.
If working with an original idea, the story is often fleshed out through a series of meetings and phone calls with writers or associates who will be involved in the project. A synopsis is written, then an outline, treatment, and script. If starting with a spec script, the usual path is one of rewrites and reworking the script idea. In all cases, producers like to get a director and talent attached to a project as soon as possible in order to attract financial backers and a studio. Further rewrites are made to accommodate the wishes or particular style(s) of attached talent.
The amount of time a project stays in the development stage depends on many factors, but a period of months is usually minimal. The process of movie development is a collaborative one that is commonly fraught with opposing creative ideas, conflicting egos and a high potential for tension and stress that can slow down or even derail progress. Hollywood politics might also dictate whether or not a project survives development. Plans that get stuck for years in this phase are said to be in “development hell.”
Assuming a project makes it through the movie development phase, the screenplay is pitched to a studio executive and to additional executive producers that will be providing financial backing. Once a studio greenlights the project, (which might require more rewrites), it moves into the pre-production phase. In this phase all arrangements are made that must take place prior to actual shooting. For example, the movie is fully cast, the crew is hired, and sets are built and/or locations are chosen and contractually secured. Production, or the actual shoot comes next, followed by post-production or final editing and the screening phase. Finally the movie is premiered and released.
Movie development is the first step in a long road to movie production. Hollywood has many more projects in development than will ever be made. Even a project that successfully completes the development phase has no guarantee of seeing the big screen. Any number of circumstances can arise in the interim that will spell disaster or cancellation of a project. By some estimates less than 10% of movie development projects are ever produced, with the vast majority being permanently “shelved.”