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Imagine, Reliance partner for 'writers lab' meant to banish 'development hell'

December 13, 2010 |  1:47 pm

As Hollywood's movie studios cut back on the amount of money they spend to buy scripts and ideas, director Ron Howard is taking a new approach to the development process. Imagine Entertainment, the production company Howard runs with producing partner Brian Grazer, has partnered with Indian media conglomerate Reliance Big Entertainment for a new "writers lab" that makes 10 screenwriters employees for a year.

The writers will be paid a salary to work exclusively for Imagine-Reliance, writing scripts and serving as "creative executives" for one another, evaluating and giving notes on their ideas outside of the traditional studio process. For any script out of the lab that is sold to a studio, all of the participants in the program will be paid an additional fee for their work, with the writer of that project receiving the largest share.

"This is an idea that has been percolating in my head for a decade," Howard said, "and I think it can make the process a little bit less like the 'development hell' that we all hear about and live."

Reliance will pay several million dollars to fund the program for a year, which will be run by Karen Kehela Sherwood, Imagine co-chair. In exchange, it will have the right to co-finance any projects Imagine sets up at Universal Pictures, where Howard and Grazer's production company has a first-look deal, or at other studios.

Sherwood said nine of the 10 writers, most of whom have film or television writing experience, already have been recruited.

Amid challenging economics for the movie business, all of the studios, including Universal, have been spending less on development as they make fewer films and attempt to cut down on the number of scripts and ideas they buy that will never be produced. Studios also have been decreasing the amount of money they provide to production companies to help fund operations. Indeed, Imagine itself was forced to reduce costs as part of cutbacks at Universal late last year.

As a result, production companies like Imagine are seeking creative new ways to develop scripts that could turn into feature films.

"That's one reason that led us to believe this is a good moment to put energy into this idea and construct the program," said Howard.

Reliance has been one of the primary sources of new capital for established Hollywood names in recent years. It's a partner in Steven Spielberg's live-action movie company DreamWorks and last year signed a separate deal with Imagine to fund some development projects.

-- Ben Fritz

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