Development hell, development limbo, or production hell is a media industry jargon for a film, video game, album, television program, screenplay, software application, concept, or idea that remains in development for an especially long time, often moving between different crews, scripts, or studios before it progresses to production, if it ever does. Projects in development hell are not officially cancelled, but progress slows, changes or stops completely.
Film industry companies often buy the film rights to many popular novels, video games, and comic books, but it may take years for such properties to be successfully brought to the screen, and often with considerable changes to the plot, characters, and general tone. This pre-production process can last for months or years. More often than not, a project trapped in this state for a prolonged period of time will be abandoned by all interested parties or canceled outright. As Hollywood starts ten times as many projects as there are released, many scripts will end up in this limbo state. This happens most often with projects that have multiple interpretations and reflect several points of view.
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In the case of a film or television screenplay, generally the screenwriter has successfully sold a screenplay to producers or studio executives, but then new executives assigned to the project may raise objections to prior decisions, mandating rewrites and recasting. As directors and actors join the project, further rewrites and recasting may be done, to accommodate the needs of the new talents involved in the project.
It may also be the case that the screenwriters have an issue with the final rights agreement after signing an option, requiring research on the chain of title. The project may be stuck until the situation is resolved and project participants are happy with the full terms.
If a film is in development but never receives the necessary production funds, another studio may execute a turnaround deal and successfully produce the film. An example of this is when Columbia Pictures stopped production of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Universal Pictures then picked up the film and made it a success. If a studio completely abandons a film project, the costs are written off as part of the studio's overhead. Sometimes studios will halt production on a film to ensure that the actors involved will be available for a different project that the studio prefers.
The concept artist and illustrator Sylvain Despretz has suggested that "Development hell doesn't happen with no-name directors. It happens only with famous directors that a studio doesn't dare break up with. And that's how you end up for two years just, you know, polishing a turd. Until, finally, somebody walks away, at great cost."
With video games, slow progress and a lack of funds may lead developers to focus their resources elsewhere. Occasionally, completed portions of a game fail to meet expectations, with developers subsequently choosing to abandon the project rather than start from scratch. The commercial failure of a released game may also result in any prospective sequels being delayed or cancelled.
- Marx, Andy (February 28, 1994). "Interactive development: The new hell". Variety. New York. 354 (4): 1.
- "Cover Story: Writers Paid for Movies Never Made," Spillman, Susan. USA Today. McLean, Va.: January 16, 1991. pg. D1
- "Dept. of development hell," Kerrie Mitchell. Premiere. (American edition). New York: February 2005.Vol.18, Iss. 5; pg. 40
- "Books Into Movies: Part 2," Warren, Patricia Nell. Lambda Book Report. Washington: April 2000.Vol.8, Iss. 9; pg. 9. (Best selling novel The Front Runner has spent over 25 years in development hell)
- McDonald, Paul & Wasko, Janet (2008) Hollywood Film Industry. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. p. 54
- Schnepp, Jon (director) (2015). The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? (Documentary). Event occurs at 1:27:52.
- Leif Johnson (May 10, 2016). "The 13 Biggest Video Games That Never Came Out". IGN. Retrieved November 4, 2018.