More tales from Development Hell: "Instant Karma"

May 1st, 2011 by
There was a deal announced last week that puts the spotlight on what is commonly referred to in Hollywood as development hell. Here are some details via THR:
Sony Pictures Animation has picked up the rights to Instant Karma, a comedy fantasy from Paul Hernandez, who wrote the script and is attached to direct what would be a live-action/CGI hybrid.

SPA is picking up the project out of turnaround from New Line, where it has been set up since 2003. Before that, Karma was set up at Universal with Imagine producing. Universal and Imagine, however, picked it up out of turnaround from DreamWorks.

It is the story that has gained a following over the years with execs unable to shake it off. The tale follows a misguided safecracker from New Orleans through his life lessons from a near-death experience only to find himself reincarnated as a fly. As the hero does good deeds to improve his karma, he moves up the food chain through a variety of animals, such as a frog, raccoon and dog, trying to get back to his human body and the woman he loves.

Okay, let’s see if we can get that history straight:

* Originally set up at DreamWorks.

* Picked up in turnaround by Universal and Imagine.

* Picked up in turnaround by New Line in 2003.

* Picked up in turnaround by SPA in 2011.

In the annals of development hell, this is particularly remarkable. First, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a project migrate to four different studios. Second, figuring stints of 1-2 years each at DreamWorks and Uni/Imagine, the project is at least 10-12 years old. Most scripts that get sucked into development hell end up in a state of perpetual purgatory until they just mysteriously… disappear. But not “Instant Karma.”

Why did this particular project survive such a circuitous and tortured route to potential production? Conversely if it’s such a good project to make it alive this far, why didn’t someone pull the trigger along the way and actually make the thing?

I have a few theories, but I’ll be curious to see what analysis GITS readers might have in reading this particular set of Hollywood tea leaves.

BTW here is a list of ten movies stuck in development hell including “Halo,” “Arrested Development,” and one I’ve been tracking forever “A Confederacy of Dunces.”

UPDATE: Once again a GITS reader swoops in with some key insight. BMF did something I should have done in checking out “Instant Karma.” Since Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio are producing the project, why not check out their stellar screenwriting site Wordplay. BMF did and found this information:

Here are some answers:

“But wait — there’s more! Along the way, we’re going to tell you a story, too: the tale of one screenwriter’s quest to break into the business, and our attempt to help him storm the hill. The project in question is called INSTANT KARMA, and the screenwriter, Paul Hernandez, has graciously agreed to play guinea pig for this column.

As we go through, we’ll also take time out to discuss a few hot topics as they come up. And who knows? The story might even have a happy ending.
Lots to do. Let’s go –“.

http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp39.Cover.Me.html

But wait — there’s more!

“We’re also producers on a screenplay called INSTANT KARMA, written by Paul Hernandez. It’s about a small-time crook who gets reincarnated as a fly, and then has to work his way up the food chain, back to being human. How many times have you heard the line, “Don’t kill that fly, it might be somebody you know?” Amazing to think that there hasn’t been a movie about that!”

http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp42.Mental.Real.Estate.html

Guess Who? Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio.

“You will know Terry, of course, as the writer of Little Ghost Fighters (Philippines: English title). Also, he wrote a popular cartoon called Shrek. And Pirates of the Carribean, starring Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. Kidding, just kidding. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio rule Hollywood with their superhuman storytelling powers. That seems to be working out way better than the time they tried to rule Hollywood with their colony of vicious (but poorly trained) vampire bats.”

There you go, more information re the project. And it zeroes in on what I think is the single most important takeaway for writers: The value of a killer story concept. A Protagonist who has to work their way up the reincarnation “food chain” to become a human again? Great idea. I’m sure the fact it’s such a strong concept is one of the major reasons it’s still kicking around after more than a decade. And you’ve got to think that there’s a really good chance SPA will actually make this movie; I don’t know what development fees they had to pay to secure rights to the project, but after all that time, I’m guessing they are substantial. Why fork out that kind of dough unless you’re serious about producing the film.

Good luck to Mr. Hernandez as well as Messrs. Elliott & Rossio, who have collectively demonstrated more patience than Job on “Instant Karma.”

And a HT to BMF for surfacing that background info and links.

2 thoughts on “More tales from Development Hell: "Instant Karma"

  1. BMF says:

    Here are some answers:

    "But wait — there's more! Along the way, we're going to tell you a story, too: the tale of one screenwriter's quest to break into the business, and our attempt to help him storm the hill. The project in question is called INSTANT KARMA, and the screenwriter, Paul Hernandez, has graciously agreed to play guinea pig for this column.
    As we go through, we'll also take time out to discuss a few hot topics as they come up. And who knows? The story might even have a happy ending.
    Lots to do. Let's go –".

    http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp39.Cover.Me.html

    But wait — there's more!

    "We're also producers on a screenplay called INSTANT KARMA, written by Paul Hernandez. It's about a small-time crook who gets reincarnated as a fly, and then has to work his way up the food chain, back to being human. How many times have you heard the line, "Don't kill that fly, it might be somebody you know?" Amazing to think that there hasn't been a movie about that!"

    http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp42.Mental.Real.Estate.html

    Guess Who? Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio.

    "You will know Terry, of course, as the writer of Little Ghost Fighters (Philippines: English title). Also, he wrote a popular cartoon called Shrek. And Pirates of the Carribean, starring Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. Kidding, just kidding. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio rule Hollywood with their superhuman storytelling powers. That seems to be working out way better than the time they tried to rule Hollywood with their colony of vicious (but poorly trained) vampire bats."

  2. CJ says:

    I think it's interesting that, if I recall correctly, in the original script concept the main character was a deceased race car mechanic who was neglectful of his wife and other important things in life as he pursued his dream of being a race car driver, and had to do penance for what a heel he had been in his "first" life. I guess the story was altered during its extended stay in Dev hell. Do you think it sounds stronger with him as a small-time crook?

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