A lot of you have probably heard the term "overnight success". Many of us, early on in our own careers, will believe these tales of meteoric rise to the top and figure that if it doesn't happen fast enough, it wasn't meant to be. After all, once a movie is greenlit, it should arrive in the theaters within 2 or three years tops, right?
Except that a lot of this PR "puffing" that we read in all the fanzines and consumer-grade trade publications tend to omit a lot of the "less sexy" stuff. The years of toil and seemingly insurmountable odds it took for a film to finally reach your local multiplex. Hollywood & the press like to focus on box office returns, not "development hell", or as I call it "development purgatory".
You see, hell is a final condemnation place where all hope is gone and where there is no escape. It's where your project goes to burn in eternal torment. To me, "development hell" is the end of the road -- no return. But to most creatives, the term relates to having a project in limbo, with no forward progress. It might not be dead, but things aren't looking hopeful either. That's why I prefer to call it purgatory.
For those who may not know, purgatory isn't the end -- rather it's a "holding place" for your soul (or your project). In Catholic theology, prayers to the saints for the souls in purgatory can bring about intercession which could commute your sentence. While prayer itself might not be enough to move your project to the greenlight, it can definitely be helped by some intercession from "angels" or new found champions on your team.
If you actually do the research, you'll find that every big movie had a long and bumpy road. From George Lucas' first penciled draft of "The Star Wars" on a yellow legal pad to the May 1977 premiere of the original iconic movie that changed Hollywood forever, the years and years of struggle to write the script, find a studio to back it, get the budget it needed (and failing that, find a way to get Fox to fund the completion), etc, made the eventual blockbuster success that much sweeter. The same goes for so many other movies.
As an indie producer/filmmaker, how do you get your film out of development purgatory? Well, with the digital revolution in its second decade, the cost of shooting a feature film has dropped significantly. There are many freelance DPs who own their own high-end camera package now, and securing their services will give you access to a professional camera like the Red Epic, or Alexa. Plus, no longer do you need film stock -- today's camera "loader" spends their time changing the memory cards and battery packs, not loading film magazines.
Since the cost of making a film has dropped, the best solution is to shoot it already. In Hollywood, there is an assumption that in order to shoot a feature film, there are certain parameters that you need to follow without question. The problem with this is that it will block your progress. It's been said that ignorance is bliss-- this can be very true when it comes to making a movie. Sometimes the more you know, the more apt you are to "wait until you have everything in place" before you begin.
Instead, perhaps "learning on the job" will be the best way to get your filmmaker education, and complete your film. Most of the advice I've heard from indie filmmaking panels and Q&A sessions after screenings is to "just do it". So take that advice. Don't let the naysayers give you any mental obstacles to stand in your path. The cliche goes "where there's a will, there's a way". But it's so true. Figuring out how to make your dream a reality will probably be one of the most satisfying things that you'll ever do. So do it!