TURNAROUND. In development parlance, it has the worst of connotations — inertia; limbo; damaged goods.
So when news spread last week that Universal Pictures put some projects into turnaround, and let the options lapse on a handful of others, one might have expected that producers at other studios would steer clear of the stuff.
But development personnel on both coasts are diligently reading the material from Universal, which includes “American by Blood,” an Andrew Huebner novel that Kennedy/Marshall was developing; and “R.I.P.D.,” a Peter Lenkov comicbook that Dark Horse Entertainment prexy Mike Richardson was developing with Larry Gordon. Kennedy/Marshall is no longer producing “American By Blood”; Richardson and Gordon hope to place “R.I.P.D” elsewhere.
A studio puts material in turnaround when — for one reason or another — it gets cold feet about the project. If the studio hasn’t put a writer on it, the turnaround process can be as simple as transferring the title on a car.
But if Studio A runs up significant costs on the material, such as multiple drafts, there could be a bundle of rights and entanglements that follow the project to Studio B.
Studio B may then have to pay off those costs before greenlighting the movie.
“I’ve had a bunch of these things,” agent Richard Pine says. “Each time you have a new writer, it gets more expensive. It becomes like a pox.”
UNIVERSAL HAS NOT DISCLOSED its reasons for the housecleaning, though it may have something to do with its imminent sale by Vivendi.
Under most circumstances, studios are loathe to put projects into turnaround, on the off chance that another studio will take the ball and run with it, producing a hit that the first studio couldn’t deliver.
“Turnaround is a recipe for embarrassment,” says literary manager Michael Siegel, citing the case of “Home Alone,” which Joe Roth, then head of Fox, picked up in turnaround from Warner Bros. after Warners balked at the budget.
“That was a billion-dollar mistake,” Siegel says.
It wasn’t the last time Joe Roth profited from another studio’s castoffs. His Revolution Studios picked up the underlying rights on two of its biggest hits — “Black Hawk Down” and “Daddy Day Care” — in turnaround from Disney and Fox, respectively.
Revolution partner Todd Garner says those acquisitions were part of the company’s strategy, early on, to get a few films quickly into production.
“We were a little bit at the mercy of other people’s development,” Garner says.
Garner, who oversaw a huge development slate in his previous job as co-prexy of production at Disney, says filmmakers often develop material in good faith only to find the ground shift.
“There’s a bunch of things that get beyond your control — for instance, regime changes, changes in the spending, up years, down years,” Garner says.
“You can have perfectly good intentions when you buy things, and then the winds shift.”
BOOKS, OF COURSE, tend to have longer shelf lives in Hollywood than scripts or pitches, and Huebner’s novel, about a band of scouts tracking the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians after the battle of Little Big Horn, is no less topical today than it was when U optioned it prior to publication.
“The story is a perennial story,” UTA agent Howard Sanders says of the novel. “It’s like a wine.
But rifling through properties from another studio’s development slate has its risks.
“There’s a little bit of tarnish,” one book scout said, “though there are often books that you think somebody else is messing up, that you could do better with.”
When it comes to turnaround, it may be best to bear in mind Oscar Wilde’s famous aphorism about second marriages: “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”