What is a Spec Script? [& How Do I Write One in 2023?]
Are you looking to break into Hollywood?
Writing a spec script is one of the best ways to do just that!
A spec script, which stands for “speculative screenplay,” is an original screenplay written as a way to demonstrate your writing skills and understanding of storytelling in order to get hired as a writer on a paid writing assignment or land a representation deal.
In this article, we will provide guidance on how best to structure your spec script, strategize what elements should be included, offer advice on creating compelling characters & dialogue, and discuss what to do with the script once it’s done!
With these helpful tips, anyone can write a successful spec script that will show off their creativity and talent. Keep reading to learn more about writing spec scripts!
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What is A Spec Script?
A spec script, short for a speculative screenplay, is a screenplay written on speculation. This means that the writer creates the script without any guarantee of it being commissioned or sold to a production company.
The primary goal of writing a spec script is to showcase your talent as a screenwriter and potentially attract interest from producers, agents, managers, and other potential employers in the entertainment industry who can help get your work produced.
In short, a film or TV spec is basically a writing sample that a film or TV writer can use as a calling card to get the attention of the TV or filmmaking industry.
Spec scripts are essential in the film industry because they allow aspiring writers to demonstrate their skills and creativity without needing an existing connection with studios or production firms.
Many successful Hollywood films started as spec scripts before getting picked up by major studios, such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Juno,” and “The Hangover.”
In recent years, there has been an increasing demand for original content due to streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
As these platforms continue to grow their libraries with unique stories that cater to various audiences worldwide, opportunities for aspiring screenwriters have expanded beyond traditional film studios and existing television systems.
Spec Script Basics
Let’s start by looking at some general information about most spec scripts.
Differences between a spec script and a shooting script
A spec script is an original screenplay written by a writer without a production deal. In contrast, a shooting script is a finalized version of a commissioned script that includes technical details such as camera angles, lighting cues, and actor movements for use during filming.
TV spec script vs. feature film spec script
A spec TV script is typically shorter in length, usually around 30 to 60 pages, while movie spec scripts can range from 90 to 120 pages. TV specs also usually follow a series format, written as either an original pilot for a new TV series or a standalone episode of an existing television show. In contrast, movie spec scripts tend to be original material or standalone stories with a beginning, middle, and end.
Additionally, television spec scripts often have to conform to the style and tone of the show they are targeting, while movie spec scripts have more creative freedom.
How to Write a Successful Spec Script
Writing a spec script necessitates an awareness of the fundamentals and conventions of scripting for film, as well as knowledge regarding the type you are constructing.
In this section, we will discuss the essential steps for creating a compelling spec script that captures the attention of studios and filmmakers.
Conduct research and develop your spec script idea
The first step in writing your spec script is selecting your genre and developing a unique concept based on a great idea.
This involves researching popular genres within film or television, identifying what interests you most, and brainstorming ideas that bring something fresh to the table.
Creating compelling characters
A successful screenplay relies heavily on its characters. Spend time developing complex protagonists with clear goals and motivations while crafting interesting antagonists who challenge them throughout their journey.
To help create memorable roles for potential actors in your original pilot or movie, consider using tools like Sudowrite‘s AI character development tools or Novel Factory‘s Character Builder tools.
Tips for writing engaging dialogue
Your script’s dialogue should be natural yet engaging. It must convey vital information while revealing character traits and emotions.
Avoid using excessive exposition or on-the-nose dialogue; instead, opt for subtlety and subtext to keep viewers engaged.
Outline Your Story Structure
An engaging story needs a solid structure to keep viewers hooked from beginning to end. Familiarize yourself with traditional three-act structures used in screenplays or experiment with alternative formats if it suits your story better.
Use outlining software such as ArcStudioPro or Celtx, which can assist you in organizing plot points effectively.
- Act One: Introduce your main character(s), establish the setting, and present the inciting incident that sets your story in motion.
- Act Two: Develop character relationships, introduce obstacles and conflicts, and build towards a climactic turning point.
- Act Three: Resolve conflicts, tie up loose ends, and conclude with a satisfying resolution for your characters.
Format requirements for a spec script
To ensure your spec script is taken seriously by industry professionals, it must adhere to proper formatting standards.
Use screenwriting software like ArcStudioPro, which automatically formats your screenplay according to industry guidelines.
- Title Page: Include your title (in all caps) centered on the page, written by [your name] beneath the title, and contact information (email address/phone number) in the lower left-hand corner.
- Action Lines: Write action lines in present tense describing what happens visually onscreen; avoid overloading with details or camera directions.
- Dialogue: Keep dialogue concise yet natural-sounding; use subtext instead of stating everything explicitly through words.
- Parentheticals: If needed, add brief parentheticals to clarify character actions or emotions during dialogue. Use sparingly!
- Scene Headings: Use scene headings (also known as sluglines) in all caps, indicating INT. or EXT., location, and time of day.
Understanding the market and tailoring your script appropriately
When tackling the task of writing a successful spec script, it’s crucial to understand the market and tailor your script appropriately.
You’ll want to research current trends and themes in film and television, as well as the types of content that are popular with audiences. By doing so, you can ensure that your script not only showcases your unique voice and perspective in a fresh story idea but also has the potential to be commercially successful.
Don’t shy away from getting feedback from others in the industry, either. Ask other writers, trusted friends, and colleagues to read your script and provide constructive criticism.
Submitting Your Spec Script
Once your spec script is finished, it’s time to start researching and preparing for submission to potential buyers. This can be a challenging task, as I know well!
In this section, we will discuss how to find the right industry professionals for your work and provide tips on submitting your script effectively.
Finding the Right Production Companies
The first step in submitting your spec script is identifying production firms that may be interested in producing films or TV shows within the genre of your screenplay. To do this:
- Research successful movies or television series similar to your original script and note down each production company.
- Browse industry directories such as IMDbPro, which provides contact information for various film professionals, including producers and executives.
- Attend film festivals or networking events where you can meet industry insiders who might be able to connect you with relevant contacts.
Tailoring Your Submission Materials
To make a strong impression when submitting your film and TV specs, ensure that all materials are professionally presented and tailored specifically for each company. This includes:
- Cover Letter: Write a concise cover letter introducing yourself as a writer and briefly summarizing the story of your screenplay without giving away too much detail. Mention any awards or recognition received by previous works, if applicable.
- Title Page: Include an industry-standard title page featuring the title of your screenplay, author name(s), contact information (email address & phone number), and agent representation details (if applicable).
- Script Formatting: Ensure your script follows industry-standard formatting, which includes proper font, margins, and pagination. Use screenwriting software like ArcStudioPro or Final Draft to help with this.
Tips for Submitting Your Spec Script
To maximize your chances of success when submitting your spec script, keep these tips in mind:
- Follow Submission Guidelines: Always adhere to any specific submission guidelines provided by the production firm or studio. This may include file formats (PDF is preferred), how many pages they want to read initially (often a specified number of pages), or whether they accept unsolicited submissions.
- Pitching Events & Screenwriting Competitions: Participate in pitching events such as The Great American PitchFest or submit your screenplay to reputable competitions like the Nicholl Fellowships and Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition. These can provide valuable exposure and opportunities for networking within the industry.
- Be Patient: Remember that it can take time for executives to review submitted scripts. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back immediately; continue refining your craft, working on new projects, and submitting other works while waiting for responses.
Frequently Asked Questions about Writing Scripts
Do people still write spec scripts?
Yes, people continue to write spec scripts as they remain a valuable calling card for showcasing a writer’s talent and creativity. Spec scripts can help writers gain representation from agents or managers, get staffed on television shows, or sell their original ideas to production companies.
Does Netflix buy spec scripts?
Netflix occasionally purchases spec scripts; however, they primarily work with established writers and professionals in the film industry. As an emerging writer, it is more likely that your intellectual property would be picked up by a production company or studio first before being pitched to streaming platforms like Netflix.
Is it worth writing a spec script?
Writing a spec script is absolutely worth the effort and should be part of your writing portfolio, as it allows you to showcase your unique voice and storytelling abilities. A well-written spec script can open doors in the industry by attracting attention from agents, managers, and executives who may want to collaborate with you on future projects.
Can I use AI to Help Me Write a Script?
As technology continues to advance, so do the capabilities of artificial intelligence. One area where AI can assist individuals is in scriptwriting. If you’re looking to streamline your creative process, tools like Jasper or Sudowrite can be incredibly helpful. These AI-powered programs are designed to help writers generate ideas, structure their scripts, and even help with dialogue. By trying these tools, writers can spend less time brainstorming and more time focusing on the art of storytelling.
Final Thoughts: Write a Spec Script
Writing a spec script can open up the door to fantastic filmmaking opportunities – you have the potential to create stories, dialogue, and characters that bring life to an entirely new world.
However, your hard work is only rewarded with submission.
Submitting your work shows you hold yourself accountable for not just inspiring creativity but also having the courage to put it out into the world.
If you work hard and stay focused on developing your skills, you’ll write something great and have it seen and enjoyed by others! So remember: create something new and take a chance in submitting for recognition! You never know what may happen.
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