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An Epic Rant On Why Your Spec Script Is Doomed (Unless You Avoid This)

So, You Want Your Spec Script To Get Noticed?

Writing a spec script is hard, but getting a sale for that spec script is even harder. No screenwriter’s journey is the same, plus this crazy industry is not transparent AT ALL.

That’s one of the reasons I began this blog in the first place. I wanted to help writers AVOID their scripts being doomed before they even got off the starter blocks!!

So what’s the number 1 problem standing in too many new writers’ way?

Themselves. They doom their OWN scripts from the get-go.

Yup, you read that right. Supersadface. The reason?

They Argue The Toss With Script Readers & Other Industry Pros

New screenwriters complain endlessly about script readers being ‘gatekeepers’ … yet it seems that, even when you throw that gate wide open, they may still say you’re ‘wrong’. Gnash.

Again, it’s not difficult to see why. When our assumptions and expectations do not match the reality of something, it can feel very uncomfortable, even threatening.

When you add to the mix stuff like writers’ dreams and the fact they may have spent thousands on classes or advice that may be incorrect or at least irrelevant … well, you get the drift.

Of course, this is still self-sabotaging behaviour 101. If we want to get ahead and NOT doom our specs, then we need to avoid self-sabotaging. It’s as simple as that.

But how does this self-sabotage show up? Here’s the top 5 arguments that will sabotage your progress and doom your spec script from the offset … Ready? Let’s go!

Argument 1: ‘This is just your OPINION!’ 

This is always my favourite one … and I’d wager the #1 reason why most industry pros don’t bother talking to new writers online. (I’d win that bet easily too, since so many have told me as such).

Why? Because these types of new writers don’t really want advice at all. They want smoke blown up their asses and to be told their assumptions about writing craft and how the industry works *aren’t* totally whack.

These writers will refuse to process even the most basic or non-controversial of writing points. Some will even parrot back how they ‘think’ it should work — using examples of things you just said to them! You can post links with more info and they either refuse to read them or simply skim, then argue the toss some more. Madness.

It doesn’t even matter how many years you’ve worked in the industry … or how many projects you’ve read or done coverage on … or even how many other script readers or even professional writers pop up on your thread literally agreeing with you.

Hell, it doesn’t even matter how much you break it down, using simpler and simpler language. Those new writers are not hearing you. This is because what you are saying and what they THINK you are saying are two completely separate things.

This means the new writer will double down and insist it’s all just your ‘opinion’. They may also quote that famous William Goldman line, ‘No one knows anything’ as some kind of imagined ‘Gotcha!’ Dearie me.

B2W TAKEAWAY: Check your ego at the door if you want to get ahead and not doom your script.

Argument 2: ‘Here’s an award-winning movie or writer that didn’t do XYZ like you say’

Aaaah exceptions. How new writers LOVE to pull this argument out of the bag! It doesn’t matter if they literally asked for the information you give either … They will still push back indignantly: “B-B-But [RENOWNED SCRIPT] didn’t do this!”

Okay then, let’s follow this one through … is said renowned script:

  • A spec that was sold to a company? (Or was it commissioned/ developed in-house? ‘Cuz that’s different)
  • Did it come up the chain via a script reader? (And how would you know this without being a script reader on that specific project???)
  • Or was it made by the filmmakers themselves? (DIY filmmaking is a thing, with fewer creative constraints at page level)

That’s BEFORE we get on to other considerations, such as (but not limited to) how OLD this supposed classic script was, whether a star was attached from the beginning, or if the script was entered for stuff like lottery or state funding, private investment schemes or tax credits.

Y’know, all the things we need to consider in the process. Because it’s the PROCESS, not the end product, that proves whether or not this argument has any truth to it.

B2W TAKEAWAY: Since most people making the argument often have zero clue about the process of the example they’re holding up, this argument is too often moot anyway. So make sure you know how the industry ACTUALLY works.

Argument 3: ‘This industry is so large, loads of people MUST do it differently!’ 

On the contrary, this industry is WAAAAAAY smaller than you think. What’s more, everyone tends to talk about the same things, just using different language. It’s exceptionally rare for ANY creative in this biz to truly break new ground, so this covers industry pros as well.

What’s even more compelling is the fact people who work with writers – like development execs, producers, agents, directors, sales agents, script editors and script readers – tend to have the same kind of complaints about the work they’re reading.

Here are the main ones I’ve collected over the years:

So, YES – individual industry pros might indeed have their own pet peeves or preferences. But this notion that everyone has WILDLY different issues with the spec pile just isn’t true.

This is why you can Google search terms like ‘screenwriting tips from the pros’ and get such bland, regurgitated advice … like this (pic below). Even allowing for Google ’rounding up’ advice, these results are a big fat yawn — with many of them not that illuminating anyway.

Digging deeper frequently doesn’t yield that much specificity either. This is because even pro writers LOVE to romanticise this crazy job! (‘Just write with passion!’ they’ll say — oh really?? IS THAT ALL??).

This is why B2W has gone on a mission for the last 20 years to get specific about the spec pile and share with you Bangers!

B2W TAKEAWAY: The industry is a much smaller pond than you think. Seriously. Remember this at all costs.

Argument 4: ‘Yeah this advice is not true because I studied under [renowned screenwriting teacher] at XYZ university or film school and they never said this’

You bet your ass they didn’t … The keywords there are ‘screenwriting teacher’. It’s no secret that going to university or film school is NOT a golden ticket to screenwriting success in this industry. There’s a chasm between what is TAUGHT craft-wise and what *script readers* are told to look for.

No shade on screenwriting teachers, film schools, screenwriting MAs or MFAs, by the way. Some are genuinely excellent. I’ve learned some great things from some of them.

But a screenwriting teacher is NOT the same as the industry!! (Yes, even screenwriting teachers who wrote [INSERT FANTASTIC MOVIE OR TV SHOW] way back when).

The industry moves VERY fast. No teacher or course can keep up, which means what’s true one semester may not be the next. This is why most courses concentrate wholly on the craft, rather than the context of the industry at the time.

It’s worth remembering the industry is constantly in flux, with things changing on a sixpence every five minutes. In addition to craft, various constraints like budgets, casting, funding, locations and even stuff like politics and what’s going on in the world all have their part to play. (How anything gets made at all becomes more staggering the more you know about all this!).

B2W TAKEAWAY: An industry pro – yes, even a lowly script reader – ALWAYS trumps a screenwriting teacher when it comes to what’s working/not working in the industry **right this minute**.

Argument 5: ‘These are just RULES though! It’s formulaic! I’m an ARTISTE! [Delete as appropriate]’ 

With the above in mind, I created The B2W Script Reader’s Checklist (below, at the bottom of this blog post).

After all, screenwriters complain endlessly that script readers are ‘gatekeepers’. These writers will say they just want to know how to get past them. It’s not fair they’re supposed to guess, they will argue.

I totally agree. No one should be expected to jump through hoops they don’t even know are there. Again, it’s one of the main reasons I started this blog. I wanted to de-mystify the submissions process and help as many new writers as possible.

Now, the vast majority of writers I share this information with have found it enlightening. But as with point number 1 on this list, there are always writers who push back. They will complain that any perimeters I share are ‘rules’ or ‘formulaic’.

Yet The B2W Script Reader’s Checklist can be applied to ANY type of story, genre, character arc, you name it. That’s the very opposite of ‘rules’ or  ‘formulaic’.

B2W TAKEAWAY: The checklist is a framework. After all, everyone wants a ‘good story, well told’ … but what does that MEAN? The checklist (below) helps illuminate this, drawing attention to how your script may be judged.

BONUS ARGUMENT: “Page 1 isn’t long enough to know whether someone can write!!!’

New writers never believe that stories can make themselves known in a single page, but professional writers do. This is why your very first page needs to DELIVER … because pro writers make sure they deliver, right from page one.
Whenever I post this list below, other pros will chime in, agreeing with the list while new writers argue the toss. I get it, it can be hard to swallow that we only get one page to impress these days. But you can do something about that, up next. 

Look at the checklist below …

In the bad old days, spec scripts just had to LOOK like scripts. Before the internet – especially blogs like B2W, books, podcasts and social media generally – most spec scripts did not look like scripts. A tiny hurdle like script format kept new, unconnected writers out as standard. It was very effective.

But of course, those days are long gone now. Most new writers know screenplays need to LOOK like screenplays. This means what is expected of spec screenplays – in terms of them selling/getting optioned – has gone through the ROOF.

That’s why I created the checklist. Not to say, ‘Aha! I know better than you! Deal with it!’ Instead, it offers a list of perimeters of what is expected of YOUR spec screenplay. You can apply them to your own. Nothing more, nothing less.

By the way …

If you think script readers are not given briefs or remits of what to look for in the spec pile, you’re dreaming. Sometimes these briefs can be light touch and open to interpretation – “We’re looking for strong voices”.

Other times they can be specific as hell – “We’re looking for a thriller, with a female lead, who goes into space with a mechanical dolphin sidekick, plus she meets aliens who want to destroy Earth”. (Okay, I exaggerate, but you’d be surprised by how hella specific some producers etc can get when they’re looking in the spec pile).

Most remits or briefs are somewhere in the middle. But facts are facts: script reader briefs and remits EXIST.

What is expected of spec scripts in the 2020s is complicated – probably more complicated than it’s ever been.

You can fight this and lose, or accept there are new hoops you need to jump through if you want your spec script to SELL or at least get noticed.

Want even MORE script reading secrets?

How do IMy sell-out course, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is back in June 2024!

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!

(Click on the pic below to grab your free checklist. If for any reason it doesn’t download for you, send me and email or a message on social media. Enjoy!)

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1 thought on “An Epic Rant On Why Your Spec Script Is Doomed (Unless You Avoid This)”

  1. I’m not sure, but this is one of the only classes I’ve seen on Script Reading. Script reading is the first step in moving off the bench and onto the playing field. Be a player- read scripts.

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