Last week, the UK Film Council announced its first round of long-term slate funding deals with six production outfits. The $7m (£5m) annual development fund is designed to give promising companies long-term support in beefing up their development capabilities, both in terms of property acquisition and personnel.
Fragile Films, Archer Street Tiger Lily, Kuhn & Co, Autonomous, Dragon Pictures and The Jim Henson Company, as well as The National Film and Television School were all recipients of the finance, worth $1.767m (£1.262m) from the fund's annual $7m (£5m) purse - a hefty commitment to development in itself.
The UK's chronic dearth of development has long been criticised for the failings of the industry's film product. A development culture low on finance means that producers tend to exist hand-to-mouth, frequently pushing substandard scripts into production in order to access finance and the benefits of UK tax breaks.
"It's an endemic problem that films in the UK often go into production before the script is ready," Jenny Borgars, the find's head, told Screendaily. "Obviously with the nature of the structures that the UK has, it is difficult for producers to sustain their businesses because there is very little money to be made when you're developing. It is always incredibly important to make sure that scripts are put through a rigorous process, so that the story is really worked through in a rigorous way."
"You need resources," agrees Debra Hayward, head of film at Working Title Films. "Historically that has been part of the problem. It can be a case of throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. You might have to develop five films to get one."
With a focus on thorough development, Working Title averages around two to three years' development per project, although there are exceptions like Lawrence Kasdan's French Kiss, which was in development for one year. "It's the bedrock of the whole process," says Hayward. "We really work our scripts hard, and you could say that no script is ever truly finished. There is not a kind of cut-off point - we never let the script go."
After only two months of active production, Bristol-based Aardman Animations recently laid off around 90 crew members working on the $40m Tortoise Vs Hare in order to put the project back into development. The company plans another six months work on the story reel and character interaction for the film, which has spent 15 months in development compared with Chicken Run's 2.5 years.
While the rigours of prepping plasticine can make the process more protracted than live action development, Aardman places a particular onus on development. Both half-hour Wallace And Gromit episodes, for example, were developed for around 18 months each, and the Wallace And Gromit feature, scheduled to be Aardman's next project after the completion of Tortoise Vs Hare, has already been in ongoing development for around a year. "Gromit never said a word in his life," says Arthur Sheriff. "Now that takes development; you know what he's thinking, you know he's smarter than Wallace, and you know he can save the day."
The spartan development culture in the UK contrasts directly with the US studio development model, where scripts can be developed for interminably long periods, often with scores of rewriters and fixers.
"In the US, there's money in development," says Elemental Films' Owen Thomas, producer of the acclaimed UK digital feature One Life Stand. "So there's a huge pressure not to put things into production - nobody gets fired in development."
That UK development culture has historically been geared towards fast-tracking scripts into production also means that the UK's skills base may be out of synch with the demands of development.
Says Borgars: "What we have here is some great original storytellers, but what often tends to be a problem is that when you take one of those great and original stories and put it through the development process. It is, by its nature, a long-term, rigorous and on some levels quite a technical process, and that's where the fallout between what is instinct and what is technique occurs. The US culture is so different to ours in that they regularly do employ a lot of writers to rewrite work. We don't have a very strong culture in the UK for rewriters and rewriting - it's not something that a lot of people feel very comfortable doing."