Often times, it seems to me, that all "development" does is ruin a good script. It seems like good screenplays, when they are good, don't stand a chance after an army of people (who are not writers) have to "fix the story" to justify their jobs.
Is it wrong of me to think this?
Well, yeah... that's kind of an unfair blanket statement to make without citing any facts or specific examples. From my view inside the process I've seen examples of development working both ways. I've seen producers make suggestions and offer guidance that makes a so-so script stronger, and I've seen examples where scripts die the death of a thousand cuts, where small changes bit-by-bit weaken the film.
But honestly, most of the time when development seems to make a film worse, it's because the script was built on an untenable premise to begin with.
Yes, there are plenty of examples where auteurs scream that studio meddling is what destroyed their precious vision - and yes, sometimes that's a fair cry. But let's not forget that there are plenty of instances where a filmmaker went hog-wild once they were big enough to not have to put up with the development process and the result was a weak film.
- Had Judd Apatow not been untouchable, I have faith that the development process would have honed Funny People into a strong two-hour script that told a consistent story, rather than the nearly three-hour film and-a-half that resulted.
- Richard Kelly should BEG people to meddle with his films. The "compromised" version of Donnie Darko is considered by many to be superior to the director's cut. And Southland Tales will stand as the ultimate example of why some directors need to be reigned in from their worst excesses.
- Let's also not forget the Pixar process of writing films, where creative decisions are debated and made by an entire staff that is constantly evaluating the film. This article on Toy Story 3 covers the process in some length.
So while I'm sure there are plenty of stories where some director legitimately complains "studio meddling" ruined a good script, let's not forget that no filmmaker is ever all that forthcoming in crediting "the suits" or the development people with making a decision that improves their film.
On a different note: I once wrote a letter to Oliver Stone, explaining why he should read my script - and everyone, except the teacher, in my screenwriting class laughed at me. They said he would never write me back and that I was crazy. I found humor in their negativity.
They were right. He called me.
Smart lesson, when I was younger, I had similar luck getting a response from Ronald D. Moore, and also got personal letters and email from several other writers I took the time to contact personally.
Representations and warranties
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