Book Review – Tales From Development Hell


I’m generally not a fan of non-fiction books; I read to escape from real life. However the one exception I make is for books about film. Learning more about what I’m passionate about and reading the ins-and-outs of the business gets me excited, and this couldn’t be more true than with the book I just finished: Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? by David Hughes. Hughes, in a miraculously unbiased way, discusses the paths of certain projects that have led them into development hell.

How well would The Sandman translate to film, and will we ever find out?
Each chapter is reserved for a project, but not necessarily for one film. You have some instances, like with The Aviator and Outbreak where multiple studios are trying to race and put out their version of the same story first. Then you have chapters on movies that seemingly took forever to make, like Batman Begins and Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. Some of my favorite chapters were on projects that still haven’t come to fruition, such as Crusade, Isobar and a film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s comic book, The Sandman. If you haven’t heard of any of these, the reasons are all laid out in this book, but I’ll give you a taste.

Crusade is a script originally championed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven that would have been an epic action-adventure-romance about, what else, the Crusades. Isobar was to be a sci-fi action thriller about an alien on a train (way before SyFy made it cool) that was championed by Ridley Scott, Joel Silver, Sylvester Stallone, with designs from H. R. Giger. Most of you should know Gaiman’s comic book, and how hard it would be to bring the proper feel of The Sandman to the big screen, but you’d probably be surprised to know that the first version of the screenplay was endorsed by Gaiman. So all of these sound pretty awesome, right?

Well “awesome” is in the eye of the beholder, and what better place is there than Hollywood for one person to be blind and send all of these projects into limbo? In reading this book, I was amazed at how often that truly is the case, when one person becomes tied to the project who just doesn’t “get it.” They could order script rewrites to add scenes in to appeal to kids, to make it more “Hollywood,” or as an actor need their scenes to be beefed up. I was astounded to find so many projects ruined by big egos and low intellect. Hughes also speaks from experience, as he includes a chapter on the projects he’s worked on that never made their way out of development hell.

Could David Hughes' version of the script been better than this bomb?
To a budding filmmaker, especially a writer, this may sound like the book would be extremely disheartening. However you also need to look at all the examples of crap movies getting made that this book touches on, then you could be an optimist and say, “If I write a pile of poop, it still might get made!” In Hollywood, it’s all about getting your foot in the right door, and truly “who you know.” You get excited when reading this book to think about certain movies floating around that may eventually get made. Yet at the same time it can be frustrating to see one person come into a project and cause a train wreck. However you feel about each project, it is enjoyable to read about their histories.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s amazing to me how Hughes, as a writer himself with quite a few of his own projects in development hell, can write each chapter without any obvious bias. He gives you a summary of the subject of each project, the history of the project and any other films that relate to it, and discusses the different people attached the projects at different phases. He did a great job of relaying all the information he had gathered and explaining the timeline of how each project ended up where it did in every chapter. You learn about the development process, the key players, and what it takes to get a film made not only for the specific scripts outlined in his book, but also in general.

Tales From Development Hell is a definite must-read for any film buff, film student, and filmmaker (aspiring or current). But it’s also entertaining for casual readers, and anyone who has ever watched a movie. It’s entertaining and informative, gets you worked up with frustration and excitement (I love it when a book elicits emotion), and it’s a quick read. It should come as no surprise that I give this book 5 out of 5 Nerdskulls. Definitely check it out, and while you’re at it pick up Hughes’ other book, The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, which is what I’ll be reading next.

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Anarchy Jones