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Leveraging collaboration: script development processes in low budget Australian feature filmmaking

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The development of a film screenplay is a complex and collaborative process, beginning with an initial story and continuing through drafting and financing to the start of the shoot. and yet the best ways of understanding and managing this process have never been properly studied. The Screenplay Business is the first book to do exactly that, addressing such questions as:
This article contributes to the emerging body of research on screenwriting practice by drawing together perspectives from industry that reveal an often hidden aspect of the creation of a screen work – script development. Using the same set of interviews that informed a previous work, this article mines those same discussions for insights relating specifically to what is to date a largely unexplored element of screenwriting practice. The perspectives we draw together – from our pool of screenwriters, script editors, script executives and script consultants – serve to both highlight the ambiguity that troubles the term ‘script development’, and also contribute to wider research seeking to define both the concept and the practice for screenwriting scholars and practitioners from an industry outlook. It has been 10 years (at the time of writing) since Peter Bloore wrote of his research that, ‘none of the books available about the film industry and scriptwriting really covered the reality of development [and none] really dealt with the development process as I knew it’. His book is still one of only a few attempts to address this gap in screenwriting research, and so by focussing specifically on the people who experience it, the intention of this article is to try and articulate how we might better understand extant practices of script development.
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This paper takes the concept of the screen idea (as outlined by Philip Parker 1998) and uses it to mean ‘any notion of a potential screenwork held by one or more people, whether or not it is possible to describe it on paper or by other means’, and whether or not that notion has a conventional shape. This concept leads towards a clearer understanding of the process of screenwriting, which in turn helps consideration of what is being evaluated when looking at the products of that practice. The screen idea is the essence of the future screenwork that is discussed and negotiated by those involved in reading and developing the screenplay and associated documents; it is shared, clarified and changed through a collective process. This concept of the screen idea is developed with reference to the work of Roland Barthes in order to clarify the influence of norms and assumptions used during that process that may otherwise be hidden or unacknowledged. The process of script development has been explored in the CILECT conference ‘Triangle 2’ (Ross 2001), and this article takes two of these projects to examine how the screen idea is ‘rewritten’ by the collective process. In these examples it is not possible to attribute single authorship in the face of this dynamic and complex process of creating meaning. The underlying normative drive for a readerly text is made according to assumed, though often unacknowledged and unquestioned criteria.
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