Monday, August 22, 2016
Gee, that "sounds" great! But...
All screenplay writers bitch about the dreaded “Development Hell.” You do draft after draft and eventually the studio says “Nah, we’ll just reboot SPIDERMAN again” and your project is dead. Sometimes you can get it in turnaround, and sometimes another studio will be interested, but most of the time the script just sits in a warehouse that must look like the final scene of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARC.
Once it goes there, rarely is it ever heard from again. I don’t know a single feature writer who doesn’t have at least two screenplays in that graveyard. Maybe three.
Only one time did David Isaacs and I enjoy a second life with a screenplay. We had written a movie for Columbia (now Sony) called PLAY-BY-PLAY, based loosely on my experiences as a minor league baseball announcer. By the time we turned in the draft there had been a regime change at the studio and as is usually the case, the new execs toss out everything developed by the old execs. I don’t know if anyone there ever read it.
But that was still one of the GOOD stories because at least we got paid.
Getting back to Adaptive. They bought up a number of screenplays that languished in development purgatory. Then they novelize some and make movies from some. (Their first movie hasn’t been released yet. Let’s see how well they fare. Lots of start-up production companies come and go. There seems to be an article in the LA or NY TIMES once a year about this. Here’s the recent one for Adaptive. )
So all of that is the good news.
The scripts get torn apart and re-imagined by the Adaptive executive team. And the original writers are usually kicked to the curb. Plus their compensation is minimal. Something like $1000. And Adaptive then owns the intellectual property. If it goes on to be the next HUNGER GAMES, everyone gets rich but the writer.
If Adaptive decides to novelize the script they “audition” five or six writers, who are asked to write sample chapters, ON SPEC. And I’m sure Adaptive asks those writers in the bake-off to come up with treatments, their take, suggestions, etc. FOR FREE.
Something about the original script had to spark the Adaptive execs. It seems to me that original writer is entitled to more involvement or more compensation. The whole approach by Adaptive is ingenious in that it can develop terrific material while still paying very little. Not that they’re remotely interested in anything I’ve done, but my discarded screenplays are worth at least the WGA minimum. I also deserve the option to write the novel or redevelop the project with them. And you know what? If the resulting book and/or movie is a hit, it was still a bargain for them.
When something sounds too good to be true it usually is.
The one place you won't find Hollywood endings? In Hollywood.