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Know What Your Screenwriting Audience Wants: The Business of Spec Scripts

Many of us here on NFS will write screenplays for our own films that we plan to make ourselves. That said, it’s always good to know which scripts are selling in the marketplace: 1) to know what movies may be coming to a theatre near you soon so your script is different (or better); 2) to know the styles and genres of scripts that studios and financiers are buying should you want to sell your own spec; and 3) to know who represents and manages writers of scripts like your own to help you find representation. To shed some light on the spec script market, Scott Myers at Go Into The Story has been running a weekly series on this very topic, covering the history of the spec script market, the buyers of spec scripts, the spec screenwriter-representation relationship and more.

For those of you who may not know, a spec script is a screenplay that a writer writes without a paid writing assignment.

Each Thursday, Scott Myers at GITS has rolled out another installment of “The Business of Screenwriting: Everything You Wanted to Know About Specs” series, now up to seven parts. I found “Part 6: Rolling Out a New Writer’s Spec Script” to be of particular interest, as Scott shared a quote from Chris Fenton, literary manager and producer of H2F Entertainment:


We’d like to have something that works for both the studios and the financiers, a script that could be a big blown-out studio movie as well as something a little more constrained that can work for financiers with smaller budgets. If we have something like that, I want to introduce that writer and their script to everybody in town…, try to get it out to 120 producers…. Maybe it doesn’t sell, but it gets that producer thinking about another assignment, creates an opportunity for the writer that way, too. Bottom line the spec market is a fantastic way for getting a new writer to be read.

If you’re writing a script that you want to sell, thinking about the buyers in two tiers like Fenton mentions — the big studios and the smaller financiers — is a smart way to consider the audience for your script. Obviously, the audience for your movie is one thing, but if you want to sell a script, you have to consider the audience for your screenplay: managers, agents and buyers. If you don’t already have representation, you need to think about what agents and managers want (a script that they can sell) and how they are going to sell that script to the buyers (take out a script that has the most potential buyers possible). As Fenton says, even if that particular script doesn’t sell, as long as it was well-written and demonstrates a new writer’s potential, producers will start thinking about that writer for current or future writing assignments.

While knowing what sells can be helpful to a spec screenwriter, I also believe a writer should write a story that he or she is passionate about seeing on the big screen. Chasing trends can lead to mediocre writing and no original voice. Knowing what is selling is great. Knowing what you write best is even more important. Knowing how to marry your best writing with what the market wants may lead to a spec sale or a writing assignment.

In addition to Scott Myers and GITS posts on spec sales during the year, if you are interested in following the spec market, I also recommend subscribing to The Scoggins Report, a free email newsletter that also tracks spec sales and organizes data throughout the year to let you know who is buying and selling scripts in Hollywood.

Be sure to check out GITS for the complete series on spec scripts and stay tuned each Thursday for the next installment. Also, to learn more about the history of the spec script market, head over to Vanity Fair to read Margaret Heidenry’s recent article, “When the Spec Script Was King.”

Do you find it valuable to know which spec scripts are selling in Hollywood? Does it influence your own screenwriting? Let us know in the Comments.

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[Screenplay photo by Flickr user Joe in DC (CC)]

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We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • Great article. One everyone should read.

  • john jeffreys on 04.3.13 @ 2:24PM

    i think that the moment you start writing scripts based on what you think others will buy or like (and not what you like) is the moment you lose all your integrity as an artist

    • Perhaps you’re right, but at the other extreme when the artist has to double-up as the only audience member, one has to compromise somewhere. Surely the challenge of expressing oneself in a manner which is attractive to others is artistry too?

    • You’re completely correct.

  • John – your point is well taken, but you must also know the saying “one for the meal, one for the reel”.

    • john jeffreys on 04.3.13 @ 4:59PM

      oh, yeah, thats right, i totally ignored the concept of paid jobs and paying the bills kinda stuff in my statement.

  • Booby Hill on 04.3.13 @ 5:05PM

    I can’t afford integrity as an artist. Integrity is great and everything, but WGA scale is better ;)

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