What Exactly Is A Spec Script?

There are two key types of film and TV scripts that screenwriters write:


What is a spec script, you might ask? Broadly speaking, it is a speculative script; one that hasn’t been commissioned, but written in the hope that it gets sold.

Technically that would include 99.9% of all scripts written. Thousands of scripts are registered with the WGA each year. If you include the film scripts that are registered with other bodies, and those not registered at all, that adds up to a mighty big number. Statistically, scriptwriters are behind the proverbial eight ball the majority of the time.

Don’t let these odds deter you. Not all film scripts are created equally.

The movie business has fine tuned this definition to include screenplays that are presented to buyers in a sellable form, but not with the sole aim of being sold. These types of scripts are sometimes called CALLING CARD or SHOWCASE screenplays. Their primary focus is to sell the screenwriter as a marketable commodity. However, if the film script gets sold, that’s bonus points!

I guess, the refined definition of a spec script is one that a script writer hasn’t yet been paid to write.

Writing An Effective Spec Script

Many screenwriters work in a vacuum. They write what they care about without any regard to how the film industry operates.

Have you thought about how your screenplay might be produced? Will it be sold outright to a production company who will further develop it into a film? Or will be offered a rewrite?

The more likely scenario for emerging screen writers is that they will either get an option from a film producer or they will be brought on board as a business/ creative partner.

S0 how do you make yourself attractive to producers? Brush your hair and wear light make up. Be someone they want to work with. Someone that has a firm vision of their screenplay, knowledge of the film business and someone amenable to feedback.

Writing skill will take you so far. Being someone that movie producers like and want to work with will take you further.

Consider your writing genres. There are staples that always do well.

The key genres that studio execs tend to look for are action, horror, thriller, romantic comedies and broad comedies. They have inbuilt audiences and therefore guaranteed profits, or so the theory goes. Follow market trends. Understand the cyclical nature of the marketplace. Be ready to strike when your film script is in the hot zone.

Occasionally studios might purchase a drama that has star power attached to it, but generally they tend to be a harder sell and more difficult to market to audiences. Then there’s high concept, which is all of the above, but can be summarized in a single sentence.

Read the trades. Period TV drama is in demand right now, so strike while the iron’s hot. Comedy is a tricky genre to sell because many countries produce their own comedy films which are culturally relevant to their markets.

Given that some story theorists claim there are only 64 dramatic situations, you will undoubtedly recycle story ideas. However, you must add your own voice and put your trademark spin on them. When studio execs want something “different” or “original” they really mean “familiar”. Think of it as accessorizing your screenplay.

There is a difference between screenplays that win screenwriting contests and screenplays that are produced. The former focuses on the writer’s ability and the latter on the marketplace. Ideally, you will find an overlap so you can establish a career.

So do we stop writing them? Don’t you dare. Spec scripts can be used as powerful marketing tools, because they indicate your writing style and ability. These are what will most likely land you a writing assignment. Not withstanding, the delight in writing a script anyway. The ultimate in self pleasure.

Go forth and write!

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