Saturday, September 26, 2009

Development Freeze at Universal

I just saw the following article (a few days after the fact, it would appear):
Universal Says No More Development for '09
Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009
Source: Variety

Universal Pictures put the word out late last week that it will not spend money for the rest of the year to advance development projects.

Variety's Michael Fleming reports, "Word began filtering down to lot producers and the deal-making community this week that development has essentially been frozen at the studio."

A studio insider denied development has completely been frozen and stated that the studio has solidified its 2010 slate, and has made commitments to the projects it feels will line its 2011 slate.

There is also talk that Warner Bros. is paying scale to writers who don’t have established quotes, and most studios are employing one-step writer deals.

What does this mean for new and unproduced writers? I'm not necessarily convinced that there's any real cause for alarm, yet. Though, I must admit, this is a little disheartening to hear, especially since I think my team and I are about to try and go out with my post-Apocalyptic spec. the reason I'm not really worried, though, is that studios often change their plans or contradict some edict they've just sent down. Freezing development could, theoretically, mean freezing development, unless that one amazing project comes along. Exceptions are always a possibility in this business.

Nonetheless, if this is indicative of a larger trend to come, that last sentence about writers without established quotes being paid scale and one-step deals could be a bit worrisome. One-step (or, one draft/re-write) isn't a great sign for someone trying to break into the market with a spec. Typically, writers selling a spec can reasonably hope to be able to have a two-step deal (or more), whereby they are contracted to do a certain number of re-writes before the studio can take them off a project. If the one-step deal applies to specs as well as writers brought on to touch up a script, then there's a chance that new writers with great concepts but no name recognition to back them up could be dropped for an established writer much sooner on.

I'm curious to see if this is the last of these stories, or if this is just the beginning. More than that, I'm interested to know how that affects new writers trying to sell their first spec (yes, I am talking about myself in part, as well). Again, I don't really think there's major cause for concern - yet - but time will tell.

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