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THE PRODUCTION COMPANY DEVELOPMENT EXECUTIVE
by Rona Edwards and Monica Skerbelis

A production company is usually run by a producer, a writer, a director and/or an actor. Some production companies have first look deals with the studios - this means they must bring every project first to their "home" studio and if that studio passes, then they are free to go elsewhere to try and set up their project. In return for this, the studio pays for the production company's overhead. This may include offices, equipment, supplies and support staff. It also may include a development executive.

Twice a year, Daily Variety offers what is called Facts on Pacts.. This is a complete listing of all the production companies that have deals at studios. It is a great resource to know who has a deal with what studio. Another great resource is The Hollywood Creative Directory (available in print and online) which list not only a wide array of production companies and the employees that work for them but also lists studios and networks as well.

The development executive for a production company, unlike his or her counterpart at the studio, is both buyer and seller. Development executives at production companies must find the material, option it, develop the project with the writers, and then sell it to the studio and/or network (the buyer), or obtain independent financing for it. This gives a lot of flexibility to a production company development executive. They are constantly looking for a wide variety of material for their company based upon their boss' taste and track record. Usually, the companies are smaller than a studio and there is greater accessibility in dealing with them.

Like the studios, most production companies cannot accept any material unless it comes via an agent or an entertainment attorney; if they do accept unsolicited work, they require a signed release form from the writer. This protects the company from future lawsuits claiming that a writer submitted a script that was similar to something produced by that company. The release form indemnifies the production company should they have something comparable in development.

In many ways, a production company development executive works in a similar fashion as a studio development exec. They must network with talent, work with writers in developing material - sometimes based upon ideas, sometimes utilizing original screenplays, and sometimes using source material such as novels, true stories and magazine or newspaper articles.

A production company executive may also package material in order to make it more palatable and attractive to a buyer. Packaging means finding one or more talent elements (such as the director and a lead actor) for the screenplay prior to obtaining financing or submitting to a studio.

A typical day for a creative or development executive at a production company usually begins with a breakfast meeting. The exec may meet with an agent, manager, or other production company executives, in order to find new material, learn about new writers or directors, or submit material to partner with other production companies or directly to the studios. When the executive arrives at the office, he or she might discuss, with a development assistant or other company creative execs, scripts that were read the night before and decide whether or not to go after a spec that may be on the market.

Then it's time to call or e-mail other production company executives to find out what's going on in the marketplace that day. If the company has a project in production, there may be dailies to watch or discussions on how the shoot is going. If a project is in development, there may be meetings with the writer to discuss notes or talk with the studio executive about how the project is moving along and what needs to be done. There may be pitch meetings with writers and/or other producers. When lunchtime comes around, you can bet there will be another opportunity to network with a studio executive or other producers, all with an eye toward buying and selling stories. After lunch, an executive may have production meetings, more pitch meetings, or what are called generals or meet-and-greet meetings. These are meetings usually set up after an executive has a read a spec script and liked it enough to take a general meeting with the writer who wrote it. Sometimes the executive has open writing assignments to fill and is busily reading writing samples sent in from various agents. An open writing assignment is when a project is in development and the writer is being replaced or the company has a book or other underlying material that needs to be adapted. Hence, they will read samples of writers in order to fill the assignment.

The executive's day doesn't end at 6:00 PM. In fact, they stay as late as necessary to complete their day's work or go to an industry-related dinner engagement, or attend a premiere or screening. Do they sleep? Only sometimes...as there's usually a spec script or two to read at night-that's not counting a weekend read of a bunch of scripts.

As you've probably figured out, reading is the backbone of most of the creative jobs in the industry. And, one of the keys to becoming a successful development executive at a production company is not only reading but also networking and relationships. Combine that with a keen eye for material, and sheer tenacity, and you've got the beginnings of successful career as a production company development executive.

You can contact Rona and Monika via their website: www.esentertainment.net

Rona Edwards and Monika Skerbelis are the co-authors of "I Liked It, Didn't Love It: Screenplay Development From The Inside Out" from Lone Eagle Publishing. They have worked as development execs and producers, and collectively have 25 years worth of experience in Hollywood.


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