Development Hell: Conquering the Content Devil

Columbus, Ohio • Saturday, January 30th, 2016

Development Hell.

That’s a word thrown around frequently in our industry, and often very loosely. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, it refers to the generally-long-and-frustrating-multiple-year-process by which a producer tries to get a project off the ground. You’re going through script revisions and talking to agents and attaching cast and finding cash and generally talking about the project to anyone who will listen.

You are essentially building a business — you’re developing a plan, a marketing angle, getting sales estimates, and finding investors. The difference being that the success of this business is completely dependent on the output of a single product: high risk, high reward. Alas, it’s very easy to fall from the clouds and get stuck in “Development Hell”.

Nowadays, however, I feel that “Development Hell” is more of a reflection on the filmmaker or producer as an individual than the institution that we’ve come to know as Hollywood. Twenty years ago, when digital cameras were a thing of the future, there was a much more traditional and singular path to get your project off the ground.

Now, with the advancements in and accessibility to technology, there is no traditional way to get your project made, seen, or produced. You have so many options to get your content out there, to prove yourself, that if you feel like you’re in Development Hell, it likely means that you’re waiting for results to materialize rather than taking action yourself.

You need to be relentless. Humbly, graciously, aggressively relentless. I was once told that was my best quality (it is perhaps one of the greatest compliments I’ve received), but it is exhausting. To be that relentless consistently in your career, to stay grounded while doing so, and to ensure you’re not driving everyone crazy, can very literally drain the energy straight out of you.

That being said, it is necessary. And it will be worth it. How do you keep up that relentless push through ‘Development Hell’? Here are a few tips & tricks that work for me:

1. Know WHY you are working on the project. Write it down in big bold letters.

This project will likely take months, even years of your life. Doing it because “it’s fun” or “you think it’s cool” is not enough. When you’re down in the trenches and you’re over-budget and behind-schedule, and you just unnecessarily yelled at a PA because your coffee is luke-warm and you now feel like an asshole and you’re stressed, you need to remember why you’re doing this. What message are you trying to send? What does this project mean to you? Write it down. Stick it somewhere. Never forget it.

2. Pace yourself.

This is a marathon — not a sprint. You go through ups and downs and highs and lows: pace yourself. You have plenty of time. Don’t burn yourself out. Do it right, don’t do it fast.

3. Create Collaboration Calendars

This is a simple, easy tool for me that can help to keep you motivated. You need people — filmmaking in any sense is a team sport. When everyone is on the same page about timelines, it allows you to motivate one another. Always give a timeline, due date, or schedule a follow-up call. Never leave something ambiguous.

4. Give yourself off-weeks. Get away.

Go to the beach. Go to the cabin in the woods for a weekend. Go visit the zoo. Hell, just don’t even think about your project for seven straight days. This is a creative process — you are a creative individual. Creativity requires a lot of brain power, which means you need to recharge it every once in a while. Take care of yourself and your mind above all else.

5. Shoot something.

Technology has changed the industry — take advantage of this. Development no longer is a packet of scripts and contracts and bullshit paperwork, physical production can very much be a part of development and it will help you move your project forward. Be strategic about it — know what you’re shooting and why it will help your business — but there is no longer any need for Development and Production to be exclusive of one another.

At the end of the day, Development is only Hell if you let it be. Don’t dance with the devil, take that f**king pitchfork and show him who’s boss.