Spec Script Sales 2012: Overview

December 21st, 2012 by

We may have another script acquisition deal announced before the end of the year, but that is unlikely as most people in the film business have left town for the Holidaze. As noted with today’s deal for the spec “Peste,” my count for the year is 95 deals. That is likely not a definitive number at this point. Over the next week or so, I will be reviewing deals to see if there are some to add to the list.

For example, The Scoggins Report, put together by Jason Scoggins and Cindy Kaplan, is reporting there were 104 spec sales in 2012. Plus they have tracked another 22 deals for scripts submitted before this year which brings their total up to 126 deals.

As I have discussed before, tracking spec script deals is an inexact science. What exactly constitutes a “spec script”? Some deals that are reported involve zero dollars, some are options involving a few thousand to ten thousand dollars. Are those “sales”? I don’t count them as such, but others do, so sifting through the details leads to some gray area.

In any event, I will go through deals reported in The Scoggins Report as well as other sources I have to finalize the 2012 GITS spec script sales list.

As of now, sales are down 16% compared to last year’s total. On Twitter @SeanCrose asked: “I was thinking last year the spec market was back. Don’t tell me it’s fading into ether again.”

Actually even if the final number of spec deals stands at 95, that is a good year. Here are the sales totals from 1991-2011:

1991: 28
1992: 40
1993: 89
1994: 101
1995: 173
1996: 155
1997: 141
1998: 110
1999: 83
2000: 92
2001: 101
2002: 114
2003: 89
2004: 75
2005: 58
2006: 59
2007: 64
2008: 88
2009: 67
2010: 55
2011: 110

The numbers in 1991 and 1992 do not reflect actual total deals, rather those numbers are more about the lack of sources available back then to track acquisitions. So if we toss out those two years and just look at 1993-2011 [19 years], there were 1824 spec script deals. That averages out to 96 spec script sales per year, which means the current total of deals in 2012 — 95 — is almost exactly the same total.

But let’s dig a bit deeper: What if we just consider the last 10 years [2003-2012], basically the period after spec script’s so-called Golden Era (1995-20020. During the last decade, the average number of spec script sales per year has been 76. In that context, 95 spec script deals is a very healthy number.

If you talk with managers and agents, the overall sense you get is it’s a tough market and nowhere near the ‘stupid money’ days of 1995-1997, but studios and independent production entities with their own financing are definitely buying content, not just spec scripts, but pitches, novels, graphic novels, comic books, and so forth.

In other words, the last two years represent a significantly better situation than 2010 when the consensus was the spec script market was pretty much ‘dead’.

The total of spec script deals may be down compared to last year. If you believe The Scoggins Report, deals are actually up slightly compared to 2011.

No matter the exact numbers, the bottom line is the spec script market rebounded in a big way in 2011 and remained strong in 2012.

If I surface additional deals from this year, I will post those during the next couple of weeks, eventually finalizing a year-end list with totals.

Then in January, I will do my annual breakdown of spec script sales: Agents & Managers, First Timers, Genres, Studios, Top Sales.

5 thoughts on “Spec Script Sales 2012: Overview

  1. Shaula Evans says:

    I’ve really been looking forward to this. Thanks for the work of tracking and crunching all the info, Scott.

  2. Debbie Moon says:

    Good news all round, if spec sales are still high! And to echo Shaula, thanks for collating this info: a tremendous resource for writers.

  3. No writer working to break into HWD should be even close to the mindset of the so called market being down. Brainstorm for that concept-idea for the global masses; structure out the writing for solid completion; do the actual writing and rewrites and DO NOT think your work is golden; research and send out queries; send out scripts to responses as well as fests…and start again. Marketplaces change; and no one knows jack about anything in HWD. Just do the legit work other storytellers have done before and stay out of your own way.

    1. Scott says:

      Mark, I agree. As hackneyed as the old saying goes, it’s true: “If you write a great script, Hollywood will come looking for YOU.”

      That said, I do believe it can be important for a screenwriter to track trends and sales, if only to make sure you aren’t working on a story precisely like one that just sold. Besides when you work as a writer in Hollywood, you need to know what’s selling in order to be informed for conversations with your reps, producers, studio execs, etc.

  4. What was surprising to me was that after this year’s very strong start, as soon as June/July arrived all buying just stopped.

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