So you’ve written a great screen adaptation that has been optioned. Unfortunately there is a minefield of potential obstacles that can impede a script’s journey to the big screen. Worse, most of these obstacles are beyond a writer’s control. Backers can back out, finances can fall out. What can a writer do to minimize the chances of their adapted screenplay entering development hell?
- Choose the Appropriate Visual Medium for Adaptation!
So you have a novel you’re convinced is ripe for an amazing cinematic adaption? Or perhaps you have a favorite book series that you’re convinced would make for an epic adaption?
George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series Game of Thrones was famously stuck in development hell for years. Martin recalls how producer after producer would pitch cases about they had “solved” the way to put his films on the big screen, which always inevitably entailed combining or removing characters and entire story threads. Martin felt that this would betray the essence of what made his stories extraordinary in print.
He stubbornly waited, and eventually was approached by HBO to adapt his series into a television. Game of Thrones is now HBO’s flagship series and a pop culture juggernaut.
- An Ambitious Imagination Is Good, But How Expensive Will It Be To Film?
Google “development hell”. You will find enough lists of films stuck in development hell to fill entire graveyards. Some of these films have been stagnant for years or even decades.
One common reoccurring connection between these films? They are overwhelming in the fantasy/action/science-fiction/super-hero genre. These are typically not cheap movies to produce. While a writer should never limit their imagination, some practical level of ambition never hurt. Potential backers may be financially averse to movies that demand a considerable budget for CGI, stunts, and special effects.
The fear of financing the next John Carter of Mars is a very real nightmare to backers.
- Copyright Can be Complicated, Go Public Domain Whenever You Can!
If your screenplay possesses pre-existing copyrighted material, you might as well bury it alive.
Adapting material from the public domain is a fantastic approach to circumvent the legal headaches of copyrighted material. A public domain friendly script translates to a development friendly script.
In conclusion, there is an infinite amount of ways for an adapted screenplay to get stranded in development hell. By simply keeping these three suggestions in mind, one can provide their adapted screenplay with a stronger probability of making it into actual production.