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What’s a Spec Script and Why Do I Need To Write One?

December 8, 2014

If you’re interested in being a screenwriter, a spec script is what’s going to get your foot in the door. A spec script is a script written on speculation. It’s a script you write for free in order to showcase your talents. A film spec script is usually an original idea. A TV spec script can be original, but is often times based on a current TV show that has several seasons under its belt.

Why do you need to write one? To prove to those interested in hiring you that you have the abilities they are looking for or to a manger/agent that you have marketable skills. A movie spec script, if it’s well written, can be optioned. You can read more about what that means here: http://www.writersstore.com/what-do-i-do-when-someone-wants-to-option-my-screenplay/. A television spec script will usually never get produced. The reason to write a television spec script is to prove to the powers that be that you can write for an existing show and stay within the rules that show has created. Here’s a little advice from Alex Epstein on that matter: http://www.craftyscreenwriting.com/excerpts/TV08.html

What’s the purpose of writing a screenplay for free? It’s to get you noticed. A lot of jobs in the entertainment industry require you to demonstrate your talents for free for a short period of time in order to create a portfolio, something that showcases your abilities. This is what you will use to find a job or an agent, hopefully both. Show them your goods and entice them to hire you.

If you’re interested in becoming a film screenwriter, it’s a good idea to have a few spec scripts in your portfolio. It also wise to stick to one genre. I know, you’re asking, “Why, Tony? Why should I stick to one genre when I can show that I am versatile and can write well in any genre?” Because if you’re looking for someone to fix your Aston Martin you’ll want someone that specializes in Aston Martins, not a mechanic that works on ‘all makes and models,’ right? If I’m looking for someone to write a great comedy I’m going to reach out to someone that specializes in comedy. Read more about how to avoid some of the most common mistakes in writing a film spec script here: http://www.scriptmag.com/features/meet-the-reader-12-signs-of-promising-spec-script. So, stick to one genre, one that you enjoy writing, and be the best damn writer you can be in that genre. Once you’ve established yourself, then you can branch out and try other areas. The same goes for TV writers.

If you want to be a television sitcom writer (comedy writers are in high demand) then stick to scripts based in comedy. This can include your hour long drama/comedy shows like Castle or Suits. It’s always good to have spec scripts for at least two different shows. Keep in mind that you’ll most likely have to update TV spec scripts every six months or so because they’ll become outdated. Events that take place on the shows will render your scripts irrelevant. It’s a good idea to try to get a few months ahead of the showrunner; otherwise you’ll have to update those scripts more frequently. It’s important that your spec scripts be from current shows. Never have a spec script in your portfolio for a show that’s been canceled for more than a year. And make sure that you know the show inside and out. Watch every episode you can and read every script you can to understand how that show is formatted: average number of pages, scenes, pages per scene, etc.

To recap, a spec script is a script you write for free to showcase your talents. Stick to one genre. Have at least two in your portfolio. For television, have at least two based on current TV shows and maybe one original. If you want an idea of what a TV spec script should look like you can Google your favorite show with the words ‘spec script.’ Or (shameless plug) you can check out my website: http://www.tonyfolden.com/television. Until next week, keep writing… and watching… and reading.

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