The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 20]

June 27th, 2013 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

In Part 8, we considered the value of attaching talent.

In Part 9, we learned about reps wanting to “own all the tickets”.

In Part 10, we dug into how reps generate buzz for a spec script.

In Part 11, we scrutinized the practice of slipping a script to someone.

In Part 12, we acknowledged the role that serendipity can play in the process.

In Part 13, we discussed the strategy of targeting specific buyers.

In Part 14, we drilled down into the strategy of going wide.

In Part 15, we indulged in the ultimate fantasy of a bidding war.

In Part 16, we got a first-hand account of a preemptive purchase.

In Part 17, we thought about one creative choice to write what they’re buying.

In Part 18, we pondered another choice to sell them your dream.

In Part 19, we reflected on the value of a spec script even if it does not sell.

Part 20: The value of a spec script… if it does sell

Congratulations! You just sold your spec script. And for big bucks. Or not so big bucks.

If the latter, it’s still probably for six figures which ain’t bad for sitting on one’s arse all day conjuring up stories.

If the former, maybe it’s mid-six figures. Or even seven-figures. Hey, it can happen witness the sale of “Grim Night” for a cool million dollars to a pair of first-time writers.

In either case, you have broken through the protective bubble that surrounds Hollywood, transitioning from outsider to insider.

But remember this: As difficult as it has been for you to get to this point and achieve this goal, it is just the beginning. And no matter how excited you are by the whirlwind of activity surrounding you, how bedazzling it feels to be the flavor-of-the-week in Hollywood is, how much smoke is being blown up your keester, you must remember this:

Movies don’t owe anybody a living.

So be smart.

* Even if you sell a spec script, I would recommend not giving up the day job. Just yet.  See how things shake out for a year or two. You get a few paid writing projects lined up, maybe then make your move to L.A..

* Sock away at least 20% of what you earn into savings to give you a buffer when the Hollywood winds starting blowing in your face, not at your back.

* Treat each script as if it’s your first and last chance to tell a great story. Yes, there will be assignments you take where the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to being ‘great,’ but even then you need to bring your A-game to your writing.

* Put in more blood, sweat and tears now than you did before. The competition is fierce. So no matter the amount of hours you have put in to get this far, redouble your effort. You want to play with the players? You gotta be able to stay up with the players.

Depending upon how hard you have worked at learning the craft, how savvy you are at working with your reps, how well you slot into the film development system, and how willing you are to put your nose to the proverbial grindstone, you can make a shit-ton of money in Hollywood.

And that spec script you sold? That is your calling card. Depending on how good it is [Black List?], it can become your springboard to a screenwriting career.

Okay, that’s it. Everything you wanted to know about specs in 20 installments. If you have any further questions about the spec script marketplace or writing a spec script, please post in comments. If not, we’ll move onto another subject starting next week.

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

3 thoughts on “The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 20]

  1. MDCisME says:

    Thank you so much for posting all of these and for all the work you put into GITS.

    1. UpandComing says:

      Thanks a bunch, Scott; this was a great series!

  2. Sad to see it come to an end!

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