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 so you can get hired as a writer on a paid writing assignment or land a representation deal.
In this article, we will look at 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!
After you read this article, you’ll be able to write a successful spec script that will show off your creativity and talent. Keep reading to learn more about writing spec scripts!
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 produce your work.
In short, a film or TV show 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. As an independent filmmaker, I know how hard it can be to get a movie made without connections! Hint: sometimes you have to just make it yourself.
That said, 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 appeal to various audiences worldwide, opportunities for aspiring screenwriters have expanded beyond traditional film studios and existing television systems. This is great news for anyone who is an unknown writer!
Spec Script Basics
Let’s look at some general information about most spec scripts.
The 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.
Television 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
To write a spec script that can grab the attention of studios and filmmakers, you need to have a good understanding of the basics and conventions of film scripting. You’ll also need knowledge about the type or genre of movie you are writing.
In this section, we will go through the essential steps to help you create a compelling spec script.
1. Develop Your Spec Script Idea
Writing on spec means that you alone are responsible for selecting the movie’s genre and then developing a unique story concept based on an original 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.
2. Create Relatable Characters
A successful screenplay relies heavily on its characters. Spend time developing complex protagonists with clear goals and motivations and interesting antagonists who challenge them throughout their journey.
3. Write Engaging Dialogue
Your script’s dialogue should be natural yet engaging. It must convey 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. This is often easier said than done, so spend some time on this step!
4. 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.
- 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.
You may want to use a screenwriting beat sheet (such as the Save the Cat format) to outline each of the beats in your story.
5. Ensure Proper Screenplay Formatting
To ensure your spec script is taken seriously by industry professionals, it must adhere to proper formatting standards.
Most screenwriting software programs will automatically format 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.
What to Do With Your Completed Spec Script
Now that you’ve written your successful spec script, you’ll need to understand the current film market and tailor your script to the conditions of the day.
You’ll want to research current trends and themes in film and television and the types of content that are popular with audiences. By doing so, you can ensure that your script showcases your unique voice and perspective in a fresh story idea and has the potential to be commercially successful.
Don’t shy away from getting feedback from others in the industry, either. Ask other talented writers, trusted friends, and colleagues to read your script and provide constructive criticism.
Submit 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 challenging, as I know well!
In this section, we will discuss finding the right industry professionals for your work and provide tips on submitting your script effectively.
Note: How to Find 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.
Create Your Submission Materials
To make a strong impression when submitting your film and TV show 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. However, don’t give 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 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 like 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: 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 On Spec
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 does occasionally buy spec scripts, yes. 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?
Yes! Writing a spec script is absolutely worth the effort and should be part of your writing portfolio! Having a script ready to go 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 scriptwriting programs are designed to help writers generate ideas, structure their scripts, and even help with dialogue.
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.
Interested in writing screenplays? Check out these other helpful articles!