Monday, September 21, 2015

The Spec

 I have just finished a new spec script, for those who don't know what a "spec" is, it's a screenplay that a writer writes on his own, with no buyer. Thus the term spec or speculative and which is defined as theoretical, risky, uncertain and unpredictable.

 Doesn't sound good, right?

Why would anybody write a screenplay without having someone ready to buy it?

In my case, of the 10 screenplays that I wrote, three of them were specs. So that's about 3o% of my sales. There's also the rewrites I did for other writers screenplays, and that was ten also. But not specs, of course.

So you can say that you have a 30% chance of selling your unsold script. In my case, I have written 35 specs since 1980 and the last one produced was a Christmas movie called "The Town Christmas Forgot."

Why so many?

Because I like to write, in the words of my last agent, "Jim is a writer who actually likes writing". Well, right now the screenplay called Chase, now going to be made as a French, was a spec. I've have several specs that a few producers are trying to fund now. Sometimes these take years.

The oldest screenplay is Emperor of Mars, a spec I wrote based on my early years in a small farming town in Manitoba called Benito. Population 539. Emperor was "almost" made three times and was optioned another four times.  

It also was my entry into Hollywood when I moved to LA. in 1990. My first agent never really did anything with Emperor for 2 years and when I left him, I got a good agent who took Emperor to every network and studio in town. 

And I recently had an inquiry about Emperor a month ago and once again, I hope to see it get made. That would be around 30 years!

But some movies took longer than that.

So why write specs if they don't sell.

Well, you never know. If anything, it's better to write something when you don't have a job, it gives you something more than hanging out with buddies at Starbucks and talking sports.

I've said this often, writers are the only people in the film business that don't necessarily have to wait to be hired.

What does that mean? 

It means you can write a spec script and even if it doesn't sell, it could lead to something else. That was the case with Emperor. It still hasn't been made but some of the people who read it gave me a job for another screenplay and especially for rewrites of other writers screenplays. 

And they paid for the rewrites or original scripts.

This time I wrote a TV series pilot episode, around 60 pages, it's about a man in his 50's who was married to one woman and dumped her for a 24-year old girl and he suddenly dies, leaving a shabby detective agency to both of the women with the stipulation that they will each get $1 million if they stay for a year. Of course, I'm hoping for a few years.

But there's something else about writing a spec and it shows up when you're not writing. It's easy to get lazy and wait for someone to call, but since you have time on your hands, you can write a spec. 

And it could be sold.

Or they liked your writing but want you to write a screenplay for them, or a rewrite of someone else's script.

That's what I mean about writers not having to be hired when directors, camera people, actors and everyone else have to be hired to work.

Writers can work for themselves and have that 35% chance of selling a spec.

1 comment:

  1. It's money in the bank, Jim; like that one line I did for the BBC in 1973 with Michael Crawford paid me thousands. When I was in LA I got $1,000 for three years because the deal then was that the repeat fee after three years would revert to the current scale so my $71 which I got in 1973 turned into $500 and they showed the episode twice for three years - now I only get a fraction of that. Repeat fees were supposed to compensate the writers and actors for the work they would get in a new production and if we didn't get them they would repeat forever like in Australia.