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in Filmmaking, Screenwriting
on May 13, 2008

Recently I was talking to the script readers in my production office about script reading and development and remembered an article we published years ago by filmmaker and former development exec Barbara Schock. It was a great piece that looked at the screenplay development process with a critical eye, examining why the traditional method so often fails to generate great work. Along the way she offered a series of sensible tips on how to make that process better.

I went home and rummaged through my old issue of Filmmakers trying to find it and then thought to try the web. And there it was for me so here it is again for you: Barbara Schock on Intelligent Screenplay Development.

Here’s an excerpt from her intro:

A large number of scripts that Hollywood develops are shelved or put into turnaround, but, as filmgoers are well aware, many poorly developed scripts are put into production too. A typical Hollywood development scenario: a producer gets enthusiastic about an idea, sells it to a powerful studio executive, and lands a deal. A high-priced writer is contracted to write the standard two drafts and a polish. The first draft comes in and, in most cases, the producer is disappointed. Something’s wrong – it just doesn’t sing off the page. The producer, his or her development person, and the studio executive prepare critical notes for the writer which are usually inadequate to help the writer make the changes that they feel are necessary. The writer makes a second pass, but sensing their lack of enthusiasm, has difficulty mustering feeling for the rewrite. When the second draft comes in, it’s still not that home run the producer was looking for. The project is dropped, or, depending on how commercial the producer believes the idea is, another writer is brought in.

There is a general awareness that the screenplay development process in Hollywood is terribly flawed. Screenwriters are paid more than ever, but at great artistic cost. One wonders what Ben Hecht or Raymond Chandler would have thought about a young screenwriter being paid $4 million for a violent actioner that includes a gunfight in which splattered brains land on a griddle and are fried next to a hamburger?

As the piece goes on, she dispenses advice, bullet-point style, on a number of topics, including editing first and second drafts, how to talk to writers, and how to run a development company. We ran this piece in 1995, but it’s still quite relevant.

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