Does a Spec Script still have worth?

By Lee Hamilton

The spec script aka the screenplay you don’t get paid to write. It’s a calling card, it’s how you learn the craft, but more importantly, it’s what you’re going to sell and it’s going to kick off your Hollywood screenwriting career. But just how realistic is this notion?

1Information on spec sales can be found freely on the Internet and according to the expertly collated Scoggins Report, there were only 93 spec sales in 2015. When you consider that there’s somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 screenplays being registered with the WGA alone, 93 really doesn’t sound like a lot, does it. The Unknown Screenwriter gives an interesting analysis on the odds of selling a spec script, albeit from 2011, claiming that statistically, you’re more likely to die slipping in the bath or shower than you are of selling a spec script. So, at this point, in amongst wondering if it’s even worth writing a spec script anymore, what positive steps can a writer be taking to try and beat the odds?

  1. Do your homework. This means looking at the data out there on what’s getting sold. Studying what films are wining Academy Awards isn’t the same as studying what films did well at the box office. Examine which genres sell well and are aimed at large target audiences. Adaptations, franchises and move star vehicles all tend to do well.
  1. Find out who’s buying and who’s sold the most. This includes studios, production companies, agencies, agents and managers. Targeting independent studios that buy fewer scripts but have a higher purchase-to-production ratio can give your script more of a chance of being made when it could easily fall into development stagnation at a major studio.
  1. Go the non-traditional route. Writers can now bypass the need to have an agent or manager by using online platforms to promote their work. Ink Tip, Spec Scout, and Black List allow writers to get read and make connections without having to up sticks and move to L.A.
  1. Get noticed. Using your spec script to win one or more of the well-known screenwriting competitions can not only lead to representation, it can get your script into the hands of the people with the power to produce it too. Any prize money should come second to the chance of gaining some priceless industry exposure.

Remember that while your spec might not sell, it still has the potential to launch your writing career regardless. A well-written script can still land you a writing assignment for another project as well as help you network and become known to professionals. Plus it gives you the opportunity to hone your craft, to iron out any creases, to flex your imagination and creativity without limits. A spec that doesn’t sell still has plenty of worth.