Development Executives have the primary responsibility for seeking out interesting Screenwriters and stories, developing screenplays for production, and managing their organisation's development slate. They need in-depth knowledge of the international market for films, and of changing audience tastes. They discover projects with artistic and commercial potential, and use their contacts and skills to recruit teams of Screenwriters, Script Editors and Directors with the talent and experience to transform the initial premise into a compelling screenplay. While all Development Executives must find new projects and nurture writing talent, their exact responsibilities depend on whether they are working for a small independent Producer, a larger production company, or a screen agency.
Development Executives are responsible for acquiring and developing stories and screenplays that will make successful theatrical films, whether they are for general release, the niche market, or (in the case of short films) for festival screening. This requires a keen understanding of tone and genre, of the underlying structure and language of film narrative, and of the emotional impact different types of films have on various audiences. As screenplays take at least three years to complete, and in some cases it may be ten or more years before they go into production, Development Executives must be able to identify a project with real potential, and oversee Screenwriters as they work and rework the screenplay into the best possible version. They should be able to read screenplays, analyse their strengths and weaknesses, and prepare clear Development Notes (Script Notes) to help Screenwriters address these weaknesses without undermining the screenplay's strengths. Development Executives may employ Script Readers to help them filter submissions, and additional Script Editors, to help nurture the writer and develop the screenplay. Development Executives employed by an Independent Producer or Production company must also be aware of the needs of the Production Department, so that screenplays reach fruition at the most opportune moment, and so that the company is never left without good projects to package, finance and produce. If necessary, they should also be able to identify where the development process has gone astray, troubleshoot story difficulties and personality conflicts, and, in the worst cases, discontinue projects if they are not progressing satisfactorily. Development Executives may be responsible for raising development finance: from inside the company, or from the UK Film Council's Development Fund, the Regional Screen Agencies, the European Union's Media programme, Broadcasters, or independent film financiers. They may assist with packaging films, and securing pre-sales and distribution agreements, in order to raise production finance. In larger film production companies the various responsibilities may be divided amongst Development Producers (or Executive Producers), Heads of Development, Development Executives and Script Developers.
Development Executives must be sophisticated cultural observers with a keen understanding of film narrative, and knowledge of current audience tastes and future trends. They should be dynamic and outgoing, with a passion for cinema and film making, as well as an understanding of their organisation's specific development needs. Their primary role is to search out new talent, and to cultivate creative relationships with Screenwriters, Agents, Directors, Financiers, Script Editors and Script Readers, as well as with Broadcasters, Sales Agents, film financiers, top name Actors, and Development Executives from the various Screen Agencies who control the Lottery Funds that may be required to finance the development process. As Development Executives spend as much as fifty percent of their time attending Film Festivals and other industry events, they should be excellent all-round communicators, who can sell the commercial prospects of a project to Sales Agents, Distributors, Financiers, and Funders, and who can articulate their ideas to Screenwriters, Directors and other creative people to inspire them to greater imaginative heights. The ability to troubleshoot story problems demands creativity, discretion and great flexibility.
Development Executives need no specific qualifications. However, competition for this work is fierce, and most Development Executives are highly educated, creative individuals with a particular aptitude for finding new projects and discovering new talent. Becoming a Development Executive typically involves progression through Script Reading and Script Editing (for film and TV), although many successful Development Executives also have prior experience of working in other areas of film and TV production. A number of industry organisations offer courses and master classes in Screenplay Development, including: Arista, the EU's Media Programme, the Script Factory, and some film schools. The Script Factory also offers a Script Development Diploma in conjunction with the National Film and Television School.