OR: Why There’s NOT ‘Loads’ Of Great Spec Scripts Waiting To Be Made
If you want to get your scripts made, you’re not alone. It seems everyone is working on a spec screenplay! I love to see it too … Nothing makes me happier than hearing about the stories Bang2writers are working on.
Whenever people talk about screenwriting though, it doesn’t take long before someone drops this claim …
‘There’s LOADS of great spec scripts just waiting to be made.’
They usually say this when a new movie reboot is announced, or a favourite TV series has jumped the shark.
The writers believe – not unreasonably – that BECAUSE so many people are writing spec scripts? There MUST be good material waiting in the wings.
I wish this was the case. There’s very good reasons why not … Ready? Let’s go!
FACT #1: Most spec scripts are NOT well-written
Bladerunner‘s Hampton Fancher told B2W that ‘99% of scripts are intolerable’. He’s probably right, because screenplays are by their very nature blueprints for the finished article. They are not literature.
But even if you believe spec screenplays ARE literature, it’s still difficult for the average spec screenwriter to get noticed.
This is because the average spec screenplay …
- Rehashes concepts we’ve already seen in produced stuff
- Has a ‘muddy’ or unclear concept so we’re not sure what’s going on
- Has generic characters we’ve seen a billion times
- Is all over the place plot-wise
- The structure feels ‘lumpy’
- Has chains and chains of dialogue
- Is not visual enough
The above just scratches the surface. Script readers see spec screenplays that fall into one or more of the above pitfalls every single day.
Sure, PART of the script might be good … but time is of the essence. Script readers’ bosses don’t want POTENTIAL from spec scripts, they want to be BLOWN AWAY by brilliant craft.
FACT #2: When spec scripts ARE good? They’re irrelevant
Screenwriter and writing advice legend Bob Saenz echoed Fancher’s point … though he dropped a percentage and said 98% of spec scripts were bad!
He estimated that of the 2% that are good ‘only 0.5% are useable’. This really resonated with me, because I have discovered this again and again as a script reader too.
Unfortunately often a GOOD script frequently cannot be used because of stupid little things.
These stupid little things may include (but are not limited to) …
- It’s the wrong genre
- There’s too many characters
- Or too many locations
- It is not a ‘star vehicle’
- It’s too similar to the company’s last project
- The wrong person has it
- The right person left
But there’s one HUGE thing that stops spec scripts from being ‘useable’. More next after the jump.
FACT #3: Writers tend to write sample scripts that are TOO EXPENSIVE **as standard**
It’s a fact that script readers are asked to look for spec scripts that are ‘produceable’ … So when I open a script that has a flood, explosion, sandstorm, crowd scenes, children or animals or other expensive stuff?
It’s gotta go in the NO pile, however good it is.
No ifs … No buts. It’s just the way it is.
Yet when I tell writers they need to understand what is possible for what money, most just shrug.
‘That’s the producer’s job’ they might say.
Sure it is … IF you get that far.
But if you want to get off the starter blocks with your spec script? You need to understand how budgets work as a matter of urgency.
FACT #4: Writers are unrealistic
Look, we all need to believe we are special snowflakes so the ‘rules’ don’t apply us … otherwise we’d never begin the scriptwriting journey at all.
Yes, the odds of getting scripts made at all are THAT terrible.
But the fact remains that too many writers are unrealistic.
They don’t realise they are at the bottom of the ladder. They need to climb that ladder, hustle for work and gain experience.
But rather than do any of that, too many want to join mid-ladder or even at the top. They turn their noses up at writing short films, doing freelance script reading, or even helping their peers.
Instead, these writers believe they can get jobs on primetime shows, get their own movies and series greenlit with zero credits, or sign with top agents straight out the gates.
When this inevitably doesn’t happen, two things may occur …
- They get SUPER angry and bitter (so everyone avoids them)
- They become super-despondent (and give up)
Two different responses, but a shared destination. They end up alone and unsuccessful and wondering where it all went wrong.
Yet these situations can be avoided with a healthy dose of realism. There’s nothing wrong with aiming for the moon … but staying grounded means being able to recognise the opportunities that may come your way. Priceless!
FACT #5: Directors are having to write their own stuff, even when they don’t want to!
Director Kelly Holmes dropped this epic truth bomb for Bang2writers …
‘I end up writing a lot of my own stuff, when I’d much rather be working with another writer to conceive something together. ALL I want to do is find writers I want to work with FROM CONCEPTION.’
As a script reader who has worked A LOT with writer-directors, I can confirm I’ve heard this lament endlessly over the years. So often a director will want to make a short film, yet be unable to find a script.
YES THAT’S RIGHT.
It’s not because they’re not looking either … Directors are usually autonomous workers who’ve networked their asses off. They may have started as runners or assistants and frequently have loads of contacts.
You’d think screenwriters would bite these people’s hand off!
Instead, if they submit at all, they’ll send a script that’s either bad (#1) or CAN’T be made for reasons 2-4 on this list. Supersadface.
FACT #6: Writers actively REPEL industry pros
I see so many writers slagging off produced stuff and people online. Whilst it may seem like a harmless water-cooler moment, it CAN actively harm a writer’s chance of getting hired.
Here’s just a few facepalms I have either seen or heard about in my twenty years as a script editor …
- A writer who got to the final two of a script call … and when it was between them and another writer, the producer looked at their socials. The one who was angry and complaining all the time? Did NOT get hired.
- The unwitting writer who slagged off a producer’s show TO THEIR FACE in a Facebook thread (Yes, the writer did not know who they were talking to! Doh).
- The writer who wanted a particular industry pro’s help so love-bombed them constantly. When the industry pro did not respond (because they don’t go on social media), that writer went rogue and wrote a billion shitty posts about them. Needless to say, screenshots eventually got back to the industry pro.
- A writer who got onto a shortlist but got himself disinvited from a scheme when he bizarrely decided to troll them across all his platforms because he believed they should have got back to him quicker.
- The writer who found themselves in the green room of a real-life event with the director of a TV series that writer had slagged off relentlessly on Twitter for MONTHS (oh to be a fly on the wall of that one!).
So, if you want YOUR scripts made?
There’s no doubt about it, it’s a minefield out there. So if you want your scripts made, you need to ensure your spec screenplays are …
- Well-written (ie. INCREDIBLE craft, not just potential)
- Relevant (know who-is-who and making what)
- ‘Produceable’ (understand how budgets work!)
And ensure YOU are …
- Realistic (so you can spot opportunities in front of your dang face!)
- Ready to collaborate (that’s how you make great contacts and climb the ladder)
- Not be a dick (what it says on the tin)
Want even MORE script reading secrets?
My sell-out course, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is back!
If you’re interested in becoming a script reader, or finding out more how script readers may assess YOUR own writing – or both! – then this is the course for you.
Tickets are on sale now. GET THEM HERE, or click the pic on the left. See you there!
Very practical and reel (excuse the bad pun!) as always. Thanks Lucy.