You've probably heard of development executives, and you know they're the people behind the scenes that get your favorite TV shows and movies made. But what exactly do development executives do, really? Today I'm taking a bit of the mystery out of the film and TV development process.
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What is a development executive?
A development executive is someone within a production company or studio whose responsibility is to find content that can be turned into a feature film or television show. They'll manage the various phases of development materials until a project is green-lit.
What does a development executive do?
Development executives seek out content in the form of source material or intellectual property by scouting for talent. If you're a screenwriter breaking into the industry, you might have even had a meeting or two with a development exec. They keep an eye out for up-and-coming talent and original ideas and hold general meetings with ones they're interested in. General meetings allow them to meet a writer or director and see if their goals and style align with the executive's company. If they do, they might be interested in a script by the writer, or they might think the writer would be perfect for a project they already have in the works.
Development executives not only just find talent, but they also help to develop it. They provide development notes to get the script in the best possible place for potential production. Screenplays can take years to get made, so one of the aspects of development is to see the potential in a script and guide it in a way that will hopefully allow it to get made.
How do I become a development executive?
Many development executives start as screenwriters themselves in development departments at production companies or as readers at a network or studio and move into development after that. Today's development exec was likely once that reader sitting on a pile of scripts writing coverage for the higher-ups in the company.
Being a film development executive or a television development executive seems like an exciting job. It can be gratifying to seek out talented writers and help them get their scripts made. But it can also be a job full of disappointment. Much of what development executives work on doesn't get produced. So, you have to be someone who can work on many projects and not get too crushed when most of them don't see the light of day.
Being a development executive is also not a job you can really train for. You can't gain experience in content development without doing it. There are likely schools and courses that can teach about the job, but it's a career where soft skills are essential, not just experience in film. A prospective development executive should be a people person and work to form relationships with talent, including writers, directors, and producers. Forming relationships and networking with people is a big part of the job. It would help if you worked to keep up with who's making what, what's new, and what's trending in terms of movies and film. Aspiring development execs must hone their taste in film and narrow down their likes and things that interest them. They need to have the ability to quickly assess a project and estimate how much it will cost, if it'll be feasible for their company to make, and if it fits its company brand.
How much do development executives make?
According to ZipRecruiter, the average development executive makes $67,970 a year. Glassdoor puts its estimate at just under $90,000 per year. A development executive working at a small company will often earn less, as opposed to working at a more established studio. ZipRecruiter says that it sees salaries as high as $150,349 for more seasoned executives and as low as $22,235, probably for more junior executives who aren't in Los Angeles, so it does depend on where you work. Skill level, experience, and location also influence how much you can expect to earn as a development executive.
Being a development executive in the entertainment industry is a fascinating career that requires specific soft skills. You must have the drive, determination, and ability to see the potential in a project. Hopefully, you found this blog informative and have even gained some appreciation for development executives!