Development hell, development purgatory, and development limbo are media and software industry jargon for a project, concept, or idea that remains in development for an especially long time, often moving between different crews, scripts, game engines, or studios before it progresses to production, if it ever does. Projects in development hell generally have very ambitious goals, which may or may not be underestimated in the design phase, and are delayed in an attempt to meet those goals in a high degree. Production hell refers to when a film has entered production but remains in that state for a long time without progressing to post.
The term can also apply generally to any project that has languished unexpectedly in its planning or construction phases, rather than being completed in a realistic amount of time, or otherwise having diverted from its original timely expected date of completion.
Film industry companies often buy the film rights to many popular novels, video games, and comic books, but it may take years for such properties to be successfully brought to the screen, and often with considerable changes to the plot, characters, and general tone. This pre-production process can last for months or years. More often than not, a project trapped in this state for a prolonged period of time will be abandoned by all interested parties or canceled outright. As Hollywood starts ten times as many projects as are released, many scripts will end up in this limbo state. Less than two percent of all books which are optioned actually make it to the big screen. Development hell happens most often with projects that have multiple interpretations and reflect several points of view. Production hell refers to when a film has entered production but remains in that state for a long time without progressing to post.
Television series can experience development hell between seasons, resulting in a long delay from one season to the next.
Video game development can be stalled for years, occasionally over a decade, often due to a project being moved to different production studios, multiple iterations of the game being created and abandoned, or difficulties with the development of the game software itself.
The concept artist and illustrator Sylvain Despretz has suggested that "Development hell doesn't happen with no-name directors. It happens only with famous directors that a studio doesn't dare break up with. And that's how you end up for two years just, you know, polishing a turd. Until, finally, somebody walks away, at great cost."
With video games, slow progress and a lack of funds may lead developers to focus their resources elsewhere. Occasionally, completed portions of a game fail to meet expectations, with developers subsequently choosing to abandon the project rather than start from scratch. The commercial failure of a released game may also result in any prospective sequels being delayed or cancelled.
If a film is in development but never receives the necessary production funds, another studio may execute a turnaround deal and successfully produce the film. For example, Columbia Pictures stopped production of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Universal Pictures then picked up the film and made it a success. When a studio completely abandons a film project, the costs are written off as part of the studio's overhead, thereby reducing taxable income.
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- Kean, Danuta (April 15, 2007). "No room at the Oscars: The cinemas are full of turkeys yet that brilliant novel you read three years ago has never been made into a film". The Independent on Sunday. p. 1. Available via ProQuest.
- Mitchell, Kerrie (February 2005). "Dept. of Development Hell". Premiere. Vol. 18, no. 5. New York. p. 40.
- Warren, Patricia Nell (April 2008). "Books Into Movies: Part 2 (Best Selling Novel The Front Runner has Spent Over 25 Years in Development Hell)". Lambda Book Report. Vol. 8, no. 9. Washington. p. 9.
- "'The New Mutants' Director Josh Boone Says The Film Never Had Reshoots". Atom Insider. March 9, 2020. Archived from the original on July 14, 2021. Retrieved July 14, 2021.
- LeBlanc, Wesley. "Video Games Stuck In Development Hell: Part 2". Game Informer. Archived from the original on November 6, 2021. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
- Schnepp, Jon (director) (2015). The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? (Documentary). Event occurs at 1:27:52.
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