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.
Part 9: “Own All The Tickets”
So let’s assume a writer has nailed a spec script. It’s ready to go to market. Now comes a crucial component: The actual process of taking out the script. Check out these observations from Chris Fenton, literary manager and producer of H2F Entertainment from an interview I did with him:
I have a philosophy called “Own All The Tickets.” It’s the idea that everything’s basically a lottery, but it’s not a lottery if you own all the tickets. By that I mean, you want to have the best team possible put together, you want to have the best piece of material that’s ready to go, you want to time it right with movies that might be similar to the script that open the weekend before and make a ton of money… you want to put all the lottery tickets into your hands, anything you have control over. Because if you have them all, you can end up winning.
If you have half of them, you have a 50% shot of winning. If you just got one, it’s truly a lottery. So you have to try to pick up every single advantage you can, put it all together, and hopefully that gives you an edge to get it done.
Good agents working with good managers and a team that’s out there spraying the market with phone calls and e-mails, creating buzz and hype, and using relationships to see if there’s a last-minute piece of packaging, hopefully that all adds up to a sale for a writer with a good piece of material. And that’s what I mean: Own all the tickets.
This goes back to discussions we’ve had before, how a big key to a spec script sale is to hit a buyer’s comfort level. Their default mode is one based on fear because a bad decision that leads to an unprofitable movie casts a dark shadow on their career. This is a big reason why most people on that side of the desk in the movie business are leery of fresh, original stories, preferring the safety net of familiar titles — remakes, sequels, prequels, adaptations, and so on.
So what do reps do? Attempt to pull together as many elements as they can for a script project that hit a buyer’s comfort level. A producer the studio is comfortable with. An actor a studio is comfortable with. A sense of heat generating around town about the script suggesting it’s a strong commodity.
Of course, so much of this goes directly back to you and your choices in terms of story concept, genre, and how you shape the story itself. Which is why if you are attempting to sell a script to Hollywood, you need to make yourself aware of what studios and financiers are buying, what they’re producing, what’s working at the box office and what’s not.
Just by doing that, you can provide a rep with lot of ‘tickets,’ thereby making their job easier, and raising the chances you will land a deal.
Next week: Another installment in this series.
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.