Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How to Sell a Spec Script: A Marketplace on Fire!

screenplaySo you’ve written your first, second or maybe even your third screenplay, and by now you’re sitting around feeling accomplished, the weight has been lifted, you start to feel lighter and suddenly you float on to a wave of confidence perpetuating your consciences into thinking that; you’ve just finished writing a great story and it’s about time somebody reads it.

The good news is; you’re right. Initially you will always be entitled to your self-righteousness that is of course until somebody begs to differ, but you know this…you’re a spec writer with all the original ideas. Now, here’s the bad news: nobody in Hollywood cares about spec scripts anymore. Well, that’s not entirely true, there are people still genuinely interested in finding fresh material, grant it if the screenplay is being represented by a third party. Sad to say, if you’re on the opposite side of the fence, the ratio is rather unfavorable until you find someone to rep you. Finding an agent or a manger is a daunting task, which might possibly scare you into believe negative stereotypes regarding green screenwriters. Green is a term they use in the business to identify those with little or no experience.

Just in case you haven’t the slightest clue of what a spec script is -or- what warrants a script to be considered spec, then please allow me to explain.

A spec script is a "speculative" screenplay, one that the Variety slanguage dictionary defines as being shopped or sold on the open market, as opposed to one commissioned by a studio or production company. In other words, an original script with nobody attached is considered a speculative property until a legitimate producer signs on thus making the project live.

*** The importance of representation *** source: wikipedia

The process of going out with a spec script can be an extremely tense and nerve-wracking one for a writer. If the writer has an agent, the agent will identify a number of prospective buyers who may range from small independent producers to executives working in the major studios, and attempt to build up heat under the script. The script is sent out simultaneously to all the prospective buyers, usually to be read over the weekend, in the hope of attracting a bidding war.

Sounds like a headache, right? I would know, I’m experiencing these scenarios first-hand and at the moment it’s stressful but there is light at the end of that tunnel. Luckily we are at a time where spec scripts are becoming hot commodities, first time writers are suddenly striking million dollar deals with top notch studios and production companies are signing writers left and right, trying their best to stock up on material for whatever preemptive strike maybe coming next. My advice, read the trades. You’ll need to better associate yourself with the business before going in head first, personally, I’ll do whatever it takes to better the odds. Every little bit helps.

So, what triggered the feeding frenzy? Well, it’s complicated. A few major studios have closed shop (New Line) including specialty production companies such as Warner Independent, sad to say because I enjoyed their release catalog but basically the heavyweight buyers are stepping in to fill the gaps. There are more reasoning factors in play here but let’s focus on the good parts of this article rather then the politics.

Okay, well how do I get a piece of the action? Well first and foremost, you’ll need a great script and as I stated earlier, you are always entitled to your own self-righteousness; just make sure you truly believe it. Now, you’ll need to focus on finding an agent or a manager who will help promote you as a viable screenwriter. Here’s the irony; most agencies won’t accept your submission without another form of representation or some type of referral behind it, leaving the inexperienced with very little choices. The other day I was talking to an assistant for one of the bigger agencies in Hollywood, and I was trying to get the name of the person in charge of handling new clients, (never send out query letters addressed to: whom it may concern) instead I was forwarded to a handful of different agencies that may be, in fact: better suited for my needs. So, let’s talk about these options.

screenwriter working

Obviously the big firms such as ICM, CAA, UTA, William Morris and Endeavor function on the; don’t call us, we’ll call you method. I mean it’s logical, think about how many people are trying to be screenwriters and in turn how many of them are legitimately talented. They wouldn’t be exclusive if everybody was able to get in. Now there are smaller boutique agencies that have the power of bigger firms, just with smaller offices. Don’t expect a white-on-white Bentley as a signing bonus either, i.e. Mark Wahlberg. These particular agencies are run by working professionals with uber amounts of experience looking for a more intimate setting. They also accept first-person query letters and since you’ve made it this far, I’ll give you the name of two reputable sources you should seek out now: Benderspink and the KSGB Agency. The others you can find on your own steam or you can catch me in an e-mail and I might oblige.

Next, you’ll want to ready your introduction via a query letter which is, usually a one-page description of your film, with a very short biography carefully intertwined within that description. There is a phenomenal article on the subject of breaking the ice located here at www.wordplayer.com including letter samples and everything else you need to do to prepare yourself. Wordplayer is a column heavy website dedicated to the art of screenwriting - written by Terry Rossio (Academy Award ®-nominated writer of Shrek and Pirates of The Caribbean 1, 2 & 3).

Of course, there are other ways to get your script read. Most of these tactics belong to the unorthodox fair, you can always jump some producer’s fence and leave your screenplay at their door which might be illegal -or- you can start a website and write a ton of material about screenwriting, hoping that someone might take notice of your work. I prefer the second choice, obviously. Either way, there’s work to be done! Pick up the trades, browse the internet for screenwriting groups, attend seminars, write, be prolific, be self-sufficient, write some more, start a website, and most of all be happy or at least look happy; when performing all of the above.

The marketplace won’t be on fire for long, “I think this year is unique because of the strike” says Jake Wagner, Energy Entertainment. “I see this going strong through the summer as well. And fall is typically a time where there’s a lot of spec buying going on, so I see it continuing throughout the rest of the year” says Wagner. Well, let’s hope so.

In other news, my blog posts have turned 50! I guess when I hit 100, I'll have a party with punch and pie. Everyone is invited. Any questions for The Slackmistress? Please send em' over.

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32 comments:

Chick Lit Gurrl said...

Great article....already planning to use some of your advice, :-)

John Darko said...

Hey, thanks! I'm glad to help. Just remember to mention my name, whenever you hit it big, lol.

Missak said...

Awesome post again John. I've got a question though. I'm close to finisishing up my first screenplay, but don't expect to shop it around until I'm fully prepared. Do you think it would be better to write a couple more screenplays (2-3) so that the agents/production companies take me more seriously?

-Missak Artinian

Missak said...

Awesome post again John. I've got a question though. I'm close to finisishing up my first screenplay, but don't expect to shop it around until I'm fully prepared. Do you think it would be better to write a couple more screenplays (2-3) so that the agents/production companies take me more seriously?

Alex said...

Very well written John. I will take alot of things from the article. I have a screenplay I am working on now, my first. You have inspired me to go for the gold. Keep it going Darko.

kathleenmaher said...

I always appreciate this kind of solid advice. Thanks. I'm not getting far--let's say I'm standing still at best--with novels and novellas.
And I've always imagined, if I studied it, I might write good screenplays. Or maybe not. Dialog is perhaps my biggest strength. And all plots are remakes. (Is that a myth?)
My main problem, though, is that I watch about six movies a year. Why? I spend all my time writing blog fiction.

Chimbles said...

My script is my life, my life is my blog... it would make a killer sitcom!!

Cheers,
Chimbles

toby said...

Great Articles..

David B said...

First time visitor. Found you on a google search. Very well written article. I'm a writer myself with 26 years of experience in the film industry and I must say you have touched on so many things that I have yet to see in a blog. Well done John Darko.

Michelle Kafka said...

Interesting piece. I will be getting into script writing at a later date.

Thomas said...

I have some questions regarding my career as a writer, you seem to be very knowledgeable in the field John - so I was wondering if you could help me out. I sent you an email with a question on which I
m kinda lost looking for answers your help would be great. Thank you again John Darko.

stormwhistle said...

Keep up the good work dude, the movie industry is a tough environment. preserver and keep movin towards your dreams. Just like Sylvester Stallone http://chickensoupforyoursoul.blogspot.com/2008/01/stallone-story.html and Robert Rodriguez they went through hard times to see their success.

John Darko said...

Thank you guys for the kind comments. Those of you who have sent me e-mails regarding the topic at hand, I will be getting back to you as soon as I have some time to myself. At the moment I'm a little under the weather so might be a few days - none the less, thanks for reading.

Jim Green said...

You could't have picked a tougher more competitive profession (short of the art world). I can only imagine what it's like to get someone to read your script amidst the ocean of script writers all vying for the same attention.

Hell, I'm just trying to get people to read my blog.

BillyWarhol said...

I just have a Killer Idea* ;))

I think thass 1 Step Below a Killer Script!!

;))

I know it would make a Great Funny Movie tho with a Huge Audience that can "relate"*

Désirée said...

Good article. A link to this blog post will appear in a blog post of mine tomorrow at writerofmoviescripts.blogspot.com
Have a happy day

Trooper Thorn said...

Thanks for the article John. This summer I started posting episodes of my two screenplays on my blog. I had over 500 reads on one of them.

Of course I received no offers to produce the movie, but at least someone other than my aunt have read it now!

Anonymous said...

great article. it was a lot of help. I also used Pavaline.com and they were also big help, plus they might even film your script.

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