So the odds of selling a spec aren’t nearly as bad as a lot of you thought it might be… On the other hand, there seemed to be more than a handful of you out there who are already second-guessing whether you should be writing specs or something else.
Good. That was my goal.
So for those of you that have dug your heels in a little deeper and decided to KEEP GOING, I figured it would only be fair to discuss how to increase your odds of selling a spec.
Increase the odds?
Is it really possible to increase the odds?
Sure it is.
First on the list shouldn’t really surprise those of you who are serious about being a screenwriter but I’m afraid we have a few stragglers of non-believers that we need to kick off the boat.
Rewrite your spec. Yeah, that’s right. You need to rewrite it. Oh, you say you’ve already rewritten it?
Rewrite it again.
You read that right… On top of that, once you start putting that little bugger out on the market and it doesn’t pick up any interest and a year or so goes by…
REWRITE IT AGAIN.
Damn. Really? Uh huh.
Now in the midst of all this rewriting… Probably quite a few more rewrites than I’ve even mentioned here, you should consider learning more about this craft that you’ve decided to eventually become a part of.
In other words… Increase your knowledge of the craft. Learn as much about storytelling and screenwriting as you can and NEVER STOP LEARNING. The more you learn, the better your rewrites and new specs should be. The better your specs are, the better your chances are of SOMEONE actually reading it, liking it, and moving it up the food chain.
At this point, I should PROBABLY ask you a question about the spec you’re rewriting…
IS IT A MOVIE?
Ouch. That hurt didn’t it?
Well guess what? Most wannabe screenwriters out there writing specs have no idea that their spec hasn’t got a prayer in getting read let alone getting sold.
BECAUSE IT ISN’T A MOVIE.
This is where I should probably explain the fabulous world of spec screenwriting just a little more… Spec screenplays are different from screenplays written on assignment. On top of that, if you are an unknown screenwriter, then the numbers (NOT ME) say that you can’t get away with the same shit A-LIST screenwriters can get away with with their specs.
Why? Because they’ve already broken in.
You have not.
Plain and simple. They can get away with shit you can’t get away with because they have a track record.
You do not.
You can sit there ALL YOU WANT and tell me about this screenplay or that movie that did NOT follow the typical rules of writing a spec screenplay but the fact of the matter is that most of those screenplays and movies that you’re thinking of throwing in my face were written and made by people with a track record and people with a track record are already GIVEN a respectable level of trust when it comes to BREAKING THE RULES.
How do you know if your spec is a movie?
Geez… If you can’t figure this one out, maybe you shouldn’t be writing specs.
But for those of you who KNOW HOW TO WRITE but INSIST on writing what you want, let me help you try and figure it out… You’ve got to write what Hollywood is buying.
You don’t know what Hollywood is buying?
All you gotta do is look what’s playing in theaters right now and what’s been playing in theaters over the past few years to get an idea of what’s selling. In addition to that, there’s plenty of places online that talk about specs that have sold recently.
But it all comes down to the dreaded HIGH CONCEPT.
And guess what? In MY estimation, it’s even WORSE than it was several years ago. In other words, we are in a situation where an outsider who’s written a spec screenplay needs to knock it out of the park with his or her screenplay, title, logline, and synopsis.
The very best situation you can be in TODAY would be that your title sells your spec without any elaboration. In other words, when you tell someone in the business what your title is, the title should already GET THEM THINKING AND FILLING IN THE BLANKS without you having to even go into the rest of your pitch.
Hard? You bet it is.
Extremely difficult but as I said… That’s the best situation you could be in. If you can’t be in that situation — and a lot of us cannot — then your logline better do what your title cannot do. That’s right… Your logline needs to be that raw piece of meat that you show to your hungry dog. Your dog sees that piece of meat and knows exactly what he or she is getting which is why they are jumping around all excited.
You’re about to give them a treat!
Selling a spec AIN’T much different.
So before I end Part 1, let’s go over what a movie is NOT if you’re a wannabe trying to sell a spec…
Your spec is not a movie if…
- Is not high concept
- It is a period piece
- It is science fiction
- It is a drama
- It is a musical
- It is a sequel
- It is a remake
- It is a reboot
- It does not adhere (more or less) to typical Hollywood structure
- It is animation
- It contains too much description
- It contains stage direction or camera moves
- It contains too much exposition
- It has too high of a page count
- It has too low of a page count
- It contains too much dialogue
- All the dialogue sounds the same
To me, selling a spec script is a lot like playing Blackjack… Millions of people go to the casinos and play the game and can win in the short term because anything can AND DOES happen in the short term. We just have to accept that fact.
PEOPLE GET LUCKY.
But then there are those who learn the game… They learn how to count cards. They are now playing the game with a strategy and it is that strategy that SLOWLY turns the advantage over to their side.
I can’t even begin to explain to you how many WELL WRITTEN screenplays there are out there floating around that have absolutely ZERO chance in ever getting sold.
Because they are not a movie.
Are they good writing samples? Yes and NO. Yes because it shows that the writer has a grasp of screenwriting and storytelling but NO when it comes to IDEAS and CONCEPTS.
This is yet another reason why most screenplays that win screenplay competitions never sell. This is yet another reason why many of those screenwriters who won or became finalists in a screenwriting competition are still trying to sell a screenplay.
When it comes to Agents and Managers, they are interested in what they can SELL. When it comes to Producers, they are interested in what they can make at the box office. And even an agent or manager who can’t sell your spec but it got them excited enough to sign you, TRUST ME when I tell you that NOW is NOT the time to ignore what is more important…
WHAT ISN’T a movie.