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Spotlight Interview: Tales from a Badass Development Executive, Part One

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Much like most newcomers, my amazing friend, who shall remain nameless, started with an understanding that there were only three jobs in Hollywood: writer, director and editor. She went to school for film production with the intention of being a director, moved to LA, PA’ed like crazy, worked in editing and script supervising, before discovering her true passion: finding and cultivating new voices for film and television. My brilliant friend is a development executive and after countless discussions with her about development, I knew I had to share her insight with our Ms. in the Biz community. Thus, my spotlight series with my anonymous badass development executive was born.

Let’s go back to the start. I know that now you read at least one book a week plus 5-15 scripts (depending on the week!). Did you read a lot as a kid?

I used to read all the time as a kid. I stopped in college because the work load was so much, so now I just can’t believe that it’s my job to read.

After your myriad of PA jobs, how did you land in development?

I happened to start working in development at a small production company and realized that I loved to read scripts, start developing those scripts, and then work with the team to decide if we want to bring them to a studio or network.

Does the production company that you work for have a specific genre or focus for the scripts you choose to develop?

We don’t. Our department is very small, just me and my boss, and the CEO of the production company, so we collectively choose if the project is something we want to devote months or years of our life to. That being said, our CEO has produced some huge studio features in the past that fit into a specific group, so we are often approached by studios to try and find something similar to what he has done that has already proven successful.

That’s funny! It is just like an actor being typecast for a specific role.

That is exactly what it is like, but we don’t mind, because development is already hard enough as it is. If we are asked to find a specific style of story, that basically means we are already one extra step into the process of selling it.

Going to the actual development process. What does that look like?

It is a slightly different process if it is a book versus a fully formed script. A script that is already developed traditionally would have less input from us, so I will walk through the process if it was a book. If we really like a book we decide whether or not we want to option it or draw up a shopping agreement for it.

What is the different between a shopping agreement and an option?

A shopping agreement is usually free and it says that we can exclusively take it around to different networks to see what might stick. We also do a lot of shopping agreements with spec scripts.

Once we have that agreement for an allotted period of time, we start calling around to different networks that we think might be a good fit and pitch them the project over the phone. Sometimes if they think the project would be a good fit for their company they ask us for a meeting to present a more developed pitch, or, like what was done on the last project, they asked to bring in a screenwriter to pitch their take.

What does that mean? A take?

Well with a recent project, it was a great story but the writers’ take on the story would be what would really bring it to the next level. Because of that request, we called around to all the lit managers and agents we knew, gave them a summary and tone of the project, and they would recommend their clients who might be good at cracking a story like this. They would send through the writing samples of their clients’ work and from those samples we would choose a few writers to bring in to our office and hear their pitch.

From there we choose one, worked on her pitch a bit and then brought her to the network. And by the way, all of this happened super-fast because the shopping agreement was very short term. Once the network agreed they wanted to proceed, we drew up the option for the book to all start working on this project together!

 Is your company still attached to the project at that point?

Yes, we are because most networks want a production company attached to do all the development work. At that point, we spearhead the development and just make sure we are executing the vision of the network. Once we go into production, either our company handles the production, or we partner with another company to take the next step.

Learn anything yet? My Badass Development Executive is a wealth of amazing knowledge! Have any specific questions you wish to ask her? Tweet me at www.twitter.com/deborah_lsmith or DM me at www.instagram.com/deborah_lsmith!

 

Deborah Lee Smith

About Deborah Lee Smith

Deborah Lee Smith is an actress and producer whose love of performing, storytelling, and new experiences has led to filming projects around the world. Originally from LA, she studied Theater and English Lit at UC Berkeley before moving to Australia to pursue her master’s degree in Film Production. She started acting in the Australian film industry before returning to LA and diving head first into acting and discovered a love of producing. Currently, she has two films in post-production that she has starred in, and has received several awards for her acting and producing work. Additionally, she has partnered with another incredible female producer to create Deep Sea Pictures, a full-service production company that has several projects in various stages of development. She believes in working hard, playing hard, exploring the world, and supporting others to tell stories that expand our understanding of the world and the people, places, and things that reside within it!