Movie development departments are an integral part of the production process. There's a saying that a film comes about in the editing stage, but it actually has to come together in the development phase. If you get the development of a story in place then it will serve as the nutritious cream that rises to the top. Development departments are also essential because they scour the earth for potential books, comics, video games and theatre productions: basically anything that has a potential narrative and character arcs hence may provide the vital ingredients for good cinematic storytelling.
It comes as a surprise that FOX 2000- the boutique arm of 20th Century Fox- has hit the brakes on their long gestating adaptation of Yann Martel's bestselling Booker Prize winning novel THE LIFE OF PI. Ang Lee was on board to direct the moderately $70 million priced film version of LIFE OF PI and was even up for making the movie in 3D. Despite everything seeming to be in full swing, Lee and producer Gill Netter came back to Fox 2000 with a budget that was either too high or unrealistic. Fox 2000 is headed by a woman called Rachel Gabler who has delivered a number of hits for antipodean cocksucker Rupert Murdoch; among them The Devil Wears Prada, Walk the Line and seminal modern classic FIGHT CLUB. Gabler has a lot of clout, but even despite her evident commitment to THE LIFE OF PI she knows that mid-budget prestige pictures of book adaptations are a high risk investment in a volatile film market. THE LIFE OF PI is about an Indian boy named Pi who finds himself trapped on a boat with a tiger after a shipwreck that sees many other animals meet their end. The very concept of this story means it could be hard to market and because it is almost entirely set at sea means it will difficult to film and rampantly expensive. It seems like the kind of story that'll feature high-level CGI creature effects without drawing attention to its high-level nature meaning you can't show off the way you can when it's giant robots smashing each other around their metal heads. Ang Lee is one of several top-tier filmmakers whose been attached to THE LIFE OF PI as it was previously to be directed by heavy hitters including M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron and French auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but all of them jumped ship when Fox 2000 couldn't really figure what they wanted from the adaptation.
It's a shame to see Hollywood studios growing increasingly averse to literary adaptations despite their bestselling status. I always thought the studios made 'tits and explosion' movies for the summer period in order to fund the serious award contender films that come out in the autumn and winter periods. Last year THE LOVELY BONES, THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and THE ROAD were much promoted book adaptations that cost too much and delivered very little for the companies that made them. In my post about Working Title Films last night I mentioned how Universal Pictures halted production on Joe Wright's INDIAN SUMMER primarily because of the same worrisome reasons associated with the other films. The UK film industry is renowned for creating successful film adaptations of reputable books such as last year's adaptation of Lynn Barber's AN EDUCATION, but it is equally annoying that our indigenous cottage industry struggles to create worthy original film stories that aren't necessarily coffee table bullshit. I guess the notion of good books attracting good screenwriters that in turn attract great directors who attract even greater actors works well for the British film industry: for now at least.