Development hell

Development hell or development limbo is media industry jargon for a film or other project that remains in development (often moving between different crews, scripts, or studios) without progressing to production. A film, video game, television program, screenplay, computer program,[1] concept, or idea stranded in development hell takes an especially long time to start production, or never does. Projects in development hell are not officially cancelled, but work on them slows or stops.


Film industry companies often buy the film rights to many popular novels, video games, and comic books, but it may take years for such properties to be successfully brought to the cinema, and often with considerable changes to the plot, characters, and general tone. The original creators of the source material usually have very little to no involvement in the films' creative control, creating a divide among fans.[2] This pre-production process can last for months or years. More often than not, a project trapped in this state for a prolonged period of time will be abandoned by all interested parties or canceled outright. As Hollywood starts ten times as many projects as are those released, many scripts will end up in this limbo state.[3] This happens most often with projects that have multiple interpretations and affect several points of view.[4][5]


In the case of a film or television screenplay, generally the screenwriter has successfully sold a screenplay to producers or studio executives, but then new executives assigned to the project may raise objections to prior decisions, mandating rewrites and recasting. As directors and actors join the project, further rewrites and recasting may be done, to accommodate the needs of the new talents involved in the project.

It may also be the case that the initial concept, such as key action scene or game feature, once being implemented, fails to meet expectations, making the whole premise moot. At any point, a project may be forced to begin again from scratch. In the case of World War Z, when the final edit was presented, the studio bosses rejected the film and the last 40 mins of film had to be remade from scratch.

It may also be the case that the screenwriters have an issue with the final rights agreement after signing an option, requiring research on the chain of title. The project may be stuck until the situation is resolved and project participants are happy with the full terms, or the project is abandoned.

When a film is in development but never receives the necessary production funds, another studio may execute a turnaround deal and produce the film to make it successful. An example of this is when Columbia Pictures developed, but then stopped production of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Universal Pictures then picked up the film and made it a success. If a studio completely abandons a film project, the costs are written off as part of the studio's overhead.[6] Sometimes studios or producers will deliberately halt production in order to stop competition on a different project, or to ensure that people invested will be available for other projects that the studio prefers.

As a potential writer's strike loomed in 2001, major studios wanted to spend less time and energy bidding on longer-term developments, such as film rights to books. Instead they focused more on buying projects that would immediately receive a green-light such as big budget action thrillers, and high concept comedies written by established and credible writers. Studio executives put all uncertain scripts and pitches on the shelves during this time to avoid taking a chance on a long-term development, and only wanted projects that were ready to go into production. Some studios and producers still bought film rights to books, but only ones that had successful sales. Examples of this are Dino De Laurentiis' $9 million acquisition of Thomas Harris' Hannibal and Miramax purchasing Mario Puzo's Omertà for $2–$3 million.[7]

The concept artist and illustrator Sylvain Despretz has suggested that "Development hell doesn't happen with no-name directors. It happens only with famous directors that a studio doesn't dare break up with. And that's how you end up for two years just, you know, polishing a turd. Until, finally, somebody walks away, at great cost."[8]




Video games

See also


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