Panel: Develop films without studio control

4:00 AM PST 11/07/2006 by Carl DiOrio, AP

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The conglomeration of Hollywood has bred increased caution and copycatism among movie executives, so feature writers should develop their own projects before approaching studios with scripts, panelists at an AFM screenwriting seminar said Monday.

"I don't think I've ever worked on a good movie that was developed (at a studio)," said Jessica Bendinger, who wrote and developed the hit cheerleader comedy "Bring It On" before bringing it to Universal.

Disney execs weren't enamored of her most recent effort -- the gymnastics comedy "Stick It," which Bendinger wrote and directed -- until it scored well with test audiences. And a previous project, "First Daughter," which she wrote and brought to New Regency/Fox, had 16 writers attached during a development hell that marred the finished product, she said.

Tyger Williams ("Menace II Society") said he likes to consult his kids for feedback on feature projects.

"I haven't sold anything over the last three years that my 10-year-old and 16-year-old haven't told me they would watch," Williams said. "So basically, I have been limited to in-house development."

Billy Ray ("Flightplan"), who moderated the panel called "How Trends Are Developing Content," questioned the merits of turning old TV shows or current video games into movies.

"I don't want to sound like the old man on the mountain, but in my day the creativity went into the movies, and the video games ripped that off -- not the other way around," Ray quipped.

But Doug Atchinson ("Akeelah and the Bee") said the emergence of mobile and Internet entertainment platforms won't influence most screenwriters.

"Nobody writes a movie so it can be watched on a phone (or) computer screen," Atchinson said.

More than 125 people crowded into a hotel conference room to hear the panel, one of several offered at the AFM's annex location in Le Merigot in Santa Monica. When audience members were allowed to ask questions of the panelists, someone wondered how to help his kids with their short attention spans.

That prompted a couple of panelists to emphasize the importance of childhood reading, then Ted Elliott ("Pirates of the Caribbean") told a story about how Michael Eisner feared kids would be bored by Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" until he attended a kids-packed test screening.

"None of them wanted to go to the bathroom!" Eisner enthused.

Such market-research aside, Elliott also supported the notion that movie development simply isn't a core function for studios these days.

"We're getting to a point where studios are for distribution and advertising only," he said.
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