Development ExecutivesThe Position of Writers and Development Executives in the Scripting Process

Though writers are the ultimate source of original script material, development executives still have great influence over scripting and what ideas eventually end up in the final project.  Think of the position of development executives as if they were in the middle of a “creativity triangle” with the producer, director and writers occupying the outer corners.

Their functions fall into the broad categories of management and communication, acting as resource and information gatherers and controllers over a large number of projects.  They are permanently employed by production and broadcasting companies and it is their job to make sure projects are profitable and successful.

It is the also the job of the development executives to form successful relationships with the writers and provide business-oriented feedback on script content.  They often act as a bridge between writers and producers, as almost all script versions go through their hands before reaching a producer.  In fact, the writer’s first point of contact is often the development executive and not the producer.

Overall, the development executive’s job could be described as ensuring creative continuity between the producer, the writers, the director and the cast, and they do this with multiple projects at once.  Because their first duty is to their production or broadcasting company, development executives usually have the ultimate say over what projects are finished or shelved and dropped entirely.

Writers can be and often are in a highly subordinate position to development executives. A writer is often at the receiving end of these relationships, reacting to the concerns and conflicts of other members of the creative team and providing changes or feedback in response. This relationship is especially visible in the case of script editors.  As freelance employees who are not directly tied to any particular project, the influence of script editors is greatest only when they are working directly on the script.

The writers’ influence waxes and wanes similarly as the production process moves forward. While these writers and editors have limited influence and even then only in response to other people, the development executive is much more proactive.  S/he assembles slates of projects, hunts for talent, and examines ideas as they come from writers.  The development executive is the project manager, the primary voice of the production or broadcasting company.

Producing an Effective Relationship Between Writers and Development Executives

The relationship between writers and development executives is prone to resentment and frustration.  Because of the development executive serves in a go-between position, s/he often filters out ideas and proposals, whether consciously or unconsciously, often influenced by the need to conform projects to company branding and marketing strategies.

Of course, the development producer’s own biases and tastes also come into play.  Because of this, a development producer often becomes the gate keeper between members of the creative team, particularly between the writers and director and the producer who has ultimate control over a project.

Many writers feel that they’d rather work with the producer directly.  This is understandable, since having direct influence over the man in charge is much more effective than going through a company gatekeeper.  When these feelings arise, the creative team feels divided, with the producer shielded from the director and writers by the development executive, who plants him or herself firmly in the middle.

It is in a development executive’s best interest to develop good relationships with writers and sources of talent.  S/he relies on such sources of creative potential for project ideas and for satisfactory product content.  To develop these good relationships, a development executive should strive to mitigate company influence and his or her own ambitions and desires for the sake of improving relations between all members of the creative team.

The Ideal Relationship Between Production Team Members

The more effective relationship structure between members of the creative team is not a pyramid but a square, with each member collaborating equally with each other.  Though the development executive might easily be viewed as a creative obstruction between his fellow team members, s/he is also in the best position to act as a mediator of information between the producer and writers.  Most problems between writers, executives and producers are issues of trust.  When the development executive manages the lines of communication well, s/he can create a creative haven for writers that can be a source of creative potential.

A “safe space” for ideas should be formed so that the writer can feel free to exercise creativity without fear of offending the producer or that discarded ideas or failures will be kept on the record.  In the ideal scenario, the tastes and sensibilities of the producer, the development executive, and the writer are aligned and ideas flow freely between all parties.