Anatomy Of A Spec Script Sale

Here are some excepts from BOSI tracking the path of a spec script to a pay check:

Firstly, agents sift through their market intelligence, box office data and historical evidence to determine which producers would be the most appropriate for the material and more importantly, who will have the greatest potential and influence to sell a project to a studio.

The list of producers compiled by an agent will likely include a combination of studio producers and indie producers who have strong relationships with the various buyers in the marketplace.

For clarity’s sake, a studio producer is traditionally defined as someone who has a deal in place at one of the major studios. The business has significantly changed and producers with studio deals are rapidly entering the endangered list.

Then you have the indie producer. Keep in mind that most people view indie producers as the guys who made small films either for the festival circuit or for specialty audiences. Today there are some well known producers without any kind of studio deal. Anyone without a major studio deal is traditionally framed as an indie.

Additionally it should be noted that the studio marketplace is loosely defined as follows: Warner Brothers, Universal, FOX, Paramount, Sony, Disney, and (to some extent) MGM/UA are considered the MAJORS. All the remaining buyers are traditionally categorized as mini majors (eg Lionsgate) or independents (eg. Sidney Kimmel Entertainment).

There are many factors that agents consider when trying to sell a script:

  • Does the producer have a deal? Is it a new deal or is it an old deal that may not be renewed?
  • What’s the producer currently developing? What’s on their current production slate?
  • Does the producer have strong relationships with studio executives? Which executives? What’s the studio executive’s shelf life look like? Is the executive on the way up or on the way out?
  • What have they recently sold? What have they recently made? Was it a hit? Is the buyer happy with the performance?
  • Can the producer offer any additional meaningful market intelligence to navigate the buyer’s maze that will help make the sale?
  • Does the producer have strong relationships with talent, directors, or their respective agents? Could the producer be successful in packaging Buster with strong elements that may elevate the potential for a sale?
  • Has the producer ever read the screenwriter’s previous works? Is there a pre-existing relationship with the producer?

Ok. Now that Buster’s agent has carefully identified the key target producers for each buyer(s) he will initially contact, it’s time to execute. Spec scripts traditionally hit the market on Tuesdays. This year over 300 specs have already been circulated. Fewer than 10% have actually sold.

Next, the agent prioritizes his phone sheet, rehearses his/her passionate sales pitch about some hot new script that they’re infinitely excited about. Then they pick up the phone, dial, inhale, then ring, ring, ring… and finally a voice on the other end:

“Lorenzo di Bonaventura’s office…” (It should be noted that assistants rarely answer the phone with the gratuitous “hello”).

A pre-emptive offer can be made based on the historical performance of the key talent, or they can request the script. Once a firm offer is made and hits the tracking boards such as, other studios to which producers don’t have exclusivity make counter offers until one is finally accepted.

Coverage reports start appearing promptly along with details of any attachments, letters of interest and distribution deals. If the coverage and buzz is glowing, a bidding war may erupt between studios. Alternatively, the project could fall flat in the water.

Ultimately, the underlings must convince the studio boss to greenlight a project and commit the funds and resources. If a project has come this far under the guidance of development and production executives, the studio boss are likely to say “yes” to the sale.

Here are the steps a working writer considers:

  • They were immersed in the marketplace and understood its needs
  • They crafted a story that was meaningful to them (something he knew), but framed it in a commercial vehicle
  • They delivered on the execution of his great idea
  • They were not emotionally attached to what was not working in the script and sought the guidance of others to make it the best possible draft
  • They created dynamic characters that would attract movie stars and a world that would attract directors
  • They introduced a concept which was (not only) familiar, but (also) different
  • They effectively distilled the concept to “sound bytes” that conveyed compelling moving images, clearly identified its audience and more importantly was easily translatable in a few moments from one person to the next.

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