With over 25 years of teaching and script consulting, I sometimes think that I’ve probably heard and read it all. I’ve heard (and lived it myself)—“My script almost got made but…”—fill in the heartbreaking blanks. I’ve read the most brilliant scripts that were in development hell and never made it to the silver screen. And, I labored over just about the worst scripts (you can define that for yourself—whether it’s lack of story, stilted dialogue, cringe-worthy characters, and so on) and yes, have seen those films on the silver screen. I sat there in the dark movie theater crying out of frustration, not unlike others who demanded a refund on their ticket. Yes, I’m always sincerely happy for the writer who got their movie produced yet dismayed by the fact that somehow it did get produced.
But I digress. Let’s stay positive here.
The following are the most common questions posed by my Su-City Pictures East, LLC clients, students, and seminar attendees regarding spec scripts.
What exactly is a spec script?
A spec script is a screenplay that is written on speculation—meaning without payment or before a deal has been negotiated.
How likely is it that I will sell my spec script?
Selling a script is like winning the lottery. Someone has to win the lottery … and some writers do sell their spec scripts!
I know—you didn’t want to read that this all sounds like a gamble.
To keep sane and focused against such staggering odds, it’s important to keep in mind three potential goals. You want:
1) to get your script sold;
2) to get your script produced; and
3) to have it serve as a writing sample for future work.
How many rewrites do I need to do before I finish my spec script?
This question has been posed to me probably on a daily basis by my clients and students, and it’s usually prefaced with, “I know you don’t know the answer but…”
Right. There is no definitive answer. My response is always the same: It depends on your own gut instincts, along with the feedback you are getting from a script consultant, teacher, trusted friend or family member who will tell you the truth, and/or film executive. You may be able to nail your script in a couple of drafts, or it may take thirty drafts or more. The number of rewrites is not a reflection of how talented you are.
How much money can a beginning screenwriter expect to make by selling a spec script?
It depends on the market, the type of project it is, and who’s buying: a Hollywood studio, which could offer thousands of dollars or more, or an independent production company, which could pay you significantly less.
Take a look at the WGA schedule of minimums to get an overall idea of how this works.
What are the steps to getting my spec script sold?
1. Write a great script. (Yup! That one’s obvious but take your time and don’t submit your script until it’s the best it can be.)
2. Write a strong query letter that will entice an executive to request to read your script.
3. Compose a strong synopsis that demonstrates why your script needs to be made and how it is unique.
4. Prepare a powerful pitch that will inspire an executive to buy your idea and/or script.
5. Target the production companies, studios, and talent (actors, directors, producers) that are a solid fit for your script.
6. You’ve heard the joke: “What’s the best way to Carnegie Hall? … Practice. Practice. Practice.” What’s the best way to break into the film business? “Network. Network. Network.” Writing is solitary, but the film industry is all about connections. No matter where you live, find a way to make personal contacts with industry professionals. Attending script conferences and film festivals is a great first step.
7. Find representation. Query agents, managers, and entertainment attorneys. Notable script competitions often offer opportunities to connect with representation.
Patience is a virtue. Don’t submit your spec script unless it’s absolutely ready. It’s tough enough to get film industry folks to read your work, but once they reject it, it’s nearly impossible for them to reconsider. Your script is your calling card so put your best screenplay forward!