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Imagine Entertainment teams with India’s Reliance for ‘writer’s lab’ to develop scripts

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 writing scripts and serving as “creative executives” for each other, evaluating and giving notes on their ideas outside of the traditional studio process. For any scripts that come out of the lab and are 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 and I think it can make the process a little bit less like the ‘development hell’ that we all hear about and live,” Howard said.

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Reliance will be pay several million dollars to fund the lab, which will be run by Imagine co-Chairman Karen Kehela Sherwood. In exchange, it will have the right to co-finance any projects that 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 experience, had already 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 have also been decreasing the amount of money they provide to production companies to help fund operations. Imagine was forced to reduce costs as part of cutbacks at Universal last year.

As a result, production companies such as 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,” Howard said.

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@latimes.com


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