Most people probably don’t know (and don’t care) what it takes to get a movie made by a Hollywood studio. Even those with a relatively straightforward path to the screen will have faced numerous battles.
Douglas Adams, who experienced the process while getting The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made for the screen (unsuccessfully in his lifetime), once described the process as ‘like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it.’
In Tales from Development Hell author David Hughes (himself a screenwriter) tackles several long-running sagas, some of which made it to the screen, though rarely in the format they originally started out. Everything from Batman, to Total Recall to Tomb Raider.
Even being familiar with some genesis stories, I hadn’t heard any of these before and it’s an eye-opener for any filmmaker (and certainly any screenwriter, aspiring or otherwise) of just how convoluted a process it can be. The book is well researched, with plenty of quotes and comments from producers, writers and others who worked, at various stages, on the films discussed.
If I have a criticism it’s that some of the explanations drag on, with no real clear idea of development. We end up bogged down in descriptions of the various script versions, or endless finger pointing. By and large they pick up again, but some of the stories could stand to be trimmed down (and perhaps more, shorter works included).
You’ll probably find yourself thinking some of the movies that did make it out could have been so much better if they had stuck with an earlier script, but equally you’ll be glad some of these projects never saw the inside of a cinema.
The book doesn’t require you to be interested in screenwriting or know anything about movie development, what it shows is the process of getting a film made and the various changes and stumbling blocks, from changes requested by an actor, direction changes under a new director, or a project’s collapse after the studio head changes.
Each movie has a story to tell, and not just the one that ends up on screen. Tales from Development Hell provides a look behind the curtain and tries to document the story behind the movie, many of which are very interesting.