Rewrites, remakes, and creative differences: a review of Tales from Development Hell

This script is perfect. Who can we get to rewrite it?

In his newly updated book, David Hughes gives more than a tourist’s definition of the dreaded “Development Hell.”* Like Bilbo Baggins, he’s been there and back again, and his difficulty in slaying the dragon—getting a movie made and in theaters—is a problem that plagues amateur and seasoned writers, producers, and directors alike. Tales from Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? is a insider’s guide to Hollywood’s rejects, flops, and almost-weren’t—and more so, Hollywood itself.

Like Vern’s Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis,  Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics (also from Titan Books), Tales from Development Hell (the expanded version, out today) belongs in every cinephile’s collection. It profiles some of the hottest movies in years, beginning with their conception and detailing their progress and devolution from brilliant scripts to idiot rewrites, thrown about by bossy studio executives and moody actors. Most chapters strike a relevant note. For example, the Planet of the Apes story ties in nicely with the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes movie starring James Franco, and Lady Croft’s big screen adventures are ripe for renewal now that Crystal Dynamics is prepping a total reboot of the video game series Tomb Raider. Hughes includes household names such as Indiana Jones and lesser known curiosities like Isobar, a broad selection certain to deepen the knowledge of any movie lover. Hughes even ends the book by describing his own excursions into Development Hell, reiterating the idea that regardless of a script’s quality, Hollywood is as Hollywood does.

That’s the most valuable asset of Tales from Development Hell: what it bares about Hollywood. From the outset, Hughes explains the process of filmmaking behind closed doors—a needlessly lengthy, overly complicated mess from start to finish, even in the best cases. While he doesn’t sound cynical, he isn’t exaggerating, either. Hughes supports his claims with 200+ pages of evidence that show how Hollywood dirties the handiwork of others, bringing in writer after writer, director after director, and actor after actor until the script either winds up in the trash bin or on the desk of someone who knows zilch about the project, reducing the finished film to a tenth of its original glory. That’s movie-making in a nutshell. Everyone blames the writers and often neglects to pay them for their numerous drafts. Meanwhile, actors push for fatter paychecks and meatier roles, occasionally arresting the entire development of a film. And studios turn down elegant scripts for ones that they think will resonate better with audiences—99% of the time for misguided reasons.

Tales from Development Hell teaches a brutal lesson to aspiring filmmakers and screenwriters: Even if your movie isn’t totally incinerated, you might have to trek through the bowels of Hell just to get it made. So the next time you criticize a movie for its untimely appearance, its poor writing, or even if you’re commending it for its success, keep in mind all the work—and conflict—that was dumped into it. The story is much bigger than you might think.

*This book was provided for honest review courtesy of publisher Titan Books.

5 thoughts on “Rewrites, remakes, and creative differences: a review of Tales from Development Hell

  1. KM Huber

    Have to admit I am quite critical of film, usually the writing, preferring the wit of the 30s and 40s. I have tempered my comments in the last ten years, as I don’t see many current films. It does seem that publishing art in this country is continuously convoluted and who knows to what purpose.

    Again, well written review and much to ponder. Thanks!
    Karen

  2. Sarah

    That’s an eye-opening review, and it explains a lot. I’m going to have to have a look at this one, your review has me curious now…

    1. Stephanie

      If you get a chance to, definitely take a look! I love movies and the stories behind them, so this was a really interesting read. I couldn’t stop chatting it up to my boyfriend—”So apparently, when they were making ___”—haha, poor him (more than once it was while we were both reading), but I’m fascinated by this stuff. :)

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