The Levelling



On Development

Posted by:
Tristan Goligher
Film Making

Over recent weeks we've been on our iFeatures Grande Tour, from Bristol to Brighton, and from Cambridge to Newcastle we've had the chance to meet film makers from across the country and talk about the initiative. In all the cities we visited there were a number of common questions and concerns, but one thing in particular caught my interest. Wherever we went, I always found myself talking to film makers with a palpable fear of the 'development process'. 

It led me to ask a lot of questions about development in general, and also the approach to development on iFeatures. For me development is a process by which all involved hope to make the idea, script, and ultimately film stronger. How did something so inherently positive come to be feared and often referred to as 'development hell'?

The first problem comes in defining 'better'. For one person better may be a faster evolving plot, more gags, and explicit drama, where as for another it may be the slow unraveling of human truths. How would Nuri Bilge Ceylan find developing a project for a financier wanting to make an urban youth movie aimed at teens? How would that financier find that process? For everyone involved development is an exciting, but risk laden, leap into the dark. We don't know where it will take us or our stories. This is part of the fun. But this makes it even more critical that everyone involved is up front and clear about their expectations. What sort of story does the writer want to write? What are the producers aspirations for this film? What are the financiers expectations? 

With iFeatures this is part of our challenge. We do not want to develop one type of story. We are open minded and hope to be working with a diverse group of film makers and stories. We must find a way of recognising the films for what they are, and help to develop the projects in that direction. But this means that all the film makers involved must have a clear grasp of what their story is, and furthermore must be able to articulate that intelligibly.

From city to city many questions arose which conveyed nervousness towards interference, and meddling from the 'institutions' and the 'powers that be'. Occasionally people asked outright "will I have to write to certain criteria?" or "will they change my ending?" I'm a filmmaker myself, so I understand where this apprehension comes from, but I've come to think that it's the wrong way to look at the issue. It's upside down, and the onus is on film makers to the redefine this debate. Returning to the point above it's vital that film makers know the type of story they want to tell. What is the story about? What will the film be like? And who is it for? Writers, directors and critically producers must understand this. By doing so it puts you in the driving seat and gives a frame of reference for all the notes that will come, and all the decisions that they will necessitate. Most importantly it will give you confidence. Sometimes you'll get notes which are in opposition to the film you aspire to. You must be able to recognise these, and to explain why they will not work for your story. In the worst cases of development, where this clash is irreconcilable maybe it's simply time to part ways. It doesn't mean that you're wrong, or bad at your job, but it does mean that this different understanding of what is for the 'better' of this project is not conducive to making it stronger. By definition that sort of relationship is not capable of 'development'. 

Film makers, know your mind. Do not be blown in the breeze of opinion. But at the same time continue to listen and recognise when suggestions are helping you.  

On the other side I believe that execs and development personnel have a responsibility to recognise what they are developing and to allow it to flourish in a manner coherent with the film makers vision. On iFeatures I see my role as executive producer, during development, as creating space around the projects so that the writer and the rest of the team can explore their stories, find their voices, and express their individuality. I believe homogeneity is the flag bearer of bad development. At the same time, however, it is my role to offer fresh and objective eyes, and opinion with a view to the bigger picture, and the fullest life for the film. I will give comments when I feel they are useful, and I will stay quiet when I think they are not. 

As a film maker I have had mostly good experiences of development and I hope that all the teams who take part on the iFeatures development will have as good an experience. 

If we are all honest and doing our job well we will hopefully be on the same journey, working towards the best film that each story can be. 

I'm excited already. 


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