If you've always wanted to work in the exciting, creative television or film industries and have a particular gift for spotting "the next big thing" before it emerges, you may have what it takes to become a development executive. This is a high-level management position within the studio power structure, generally above creative and studio executives. A development executive (DE) is in charge of reading scripts, managing creative talent behind the scenes, and getting new movies and TV shows into production. DEs are not only expected to stay on top of the latest trends, but also must be able to identify and develop a hit before the competition beats them to the punch.
To become a development executive, you might start out as a scriptwriter or reader at the network or studio. This provides an excellent opportunity for studying film narrative and scriptwriting techniques. Reading hundreds of submissions per week is one of the most effective ways to learn what works and what doesn't. Once you've internalized the basics of a good script, you'll soon be making recommendations to your overseeing producer on stories that higher executives might find worthy of a possible new TV series or feature film. Should a show or film you pitched go on to achieve success, you'll be well-positioned for a promotion and further along on the way to DE status.
Cultivating industry connections and relationships with creative talent is critical to an aspiring development executive. A key part of this job is seeking out writers, cast members, directors, producers and staff the studio or network should be working with. Assembling the right production and creative team for a new show pilot show can make all the difference in whether the show becomes a hit. Development executives are always on the lookout for genres and show concepts that the studio or network needs to fill missing spaces in the programming lineup. For a DE, innovation and breaking new ground with a highly rated show or blockbuster film is always a goal.
As with many jobs in the entertainment field, talent, industry connections and experience are more important to potential employers than a college degree. Taking some courses in screenplay development, film/TV production, scriptwriting, and marketing or advertising can be extremely helpful in preparing for this career, however. Your local community college or university likely offers informal and night classes where you can pick up some of the needed skills even if you do not plan to pursue a degree. Other vocational schools and technical institutes devoted to film and television production — such as the Art Institutes of America, the National Film and Television School, and the EU's Media Programme — are also viable options for study. Nearly all of these schools offer internships and job placement for any student looking to become a development executive.