Spec script

A spec script, also known as a speculative screenplay, is a non-commissioned and unsolicited screenplay. It is usually written by a screenwriter who hopes to have the script optioned and eventually purchased by a producer, production company, or studio.

Spec scripts which have gone on to win Academy Awards include Thelma & Louise (sold by Callie Khouri to MGM for US$500,000 in 1990), Good Will Hunting (sold by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to Miramax Films for US$675,000 in 1994) and American Beauty (sold by Alan Ball to DreamWorks SKG for US$250,000 in 1998).[1]

A spec script reads different from a shooting script or a production script in that there is more focus on the story itself while focus on camera movements and other directing aspects should be rarely, if ever, used. Camera directions and technical directions are often added in the later drafts. The sole purpose of a spec script, also known as the selling script, is to showcase a screenwriter's talent at telling a story through action and dialogue.[2]

Spec scripts are often written by unknown screenwriters looking to prove their storytelling ability and make a name for themselves in the film industry.


In 1933, Preston Sturges is believed to have sold the first spec script in Hollywood history. Fox bought The Power and the Glory for US$17,500 plus back-end revenue. The movie did poorly at the box office.[1] However, in 2014 the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Spec scripts have not always held as much cachet in the business as they do now. Ernest Lehman describes how his original script for North by Northwest was unusual at that point in his career:

Originals were not smiled upon in those days, believe it or not. There was very little interest in originals in those days. [...] Studios, distributors wanted the assurance of someone else having thought a property worth publishing [...] In those days, if you went to a party in the Hollywood community and somebody would ask, "What are you working on, Ernie?" and you replied, "I'm doing an original now," the response would be "Oh." [...] Like they were a little embarrassed [...] If you were working on something that you were going to create all by yourself, they'd secretly think, "He's in bad shape. Working on an original." That definitely was the climate at one time in this town.[3]

In the late 1960s, William Goldman sold his spec script Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to Warner Bros. for US$400,000 in a studio bidding war. The script went on to win the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. This event precipitated a rise in screenwriters writing on spec.[1]

Attracting producers

If the writer of a spec script has an agent, the agent will identify a number of prospective buyers who may range from small independent producers to executives working in the major studios, and attempt to build up "heat" under the script. The script may be sent out simultaneously to all the prospective buyers in the hope of attracting a bidding war.[2]

If the script sells, the writer may receive a payment of anything from a few tens of thousands of dollars to several million. The script may then be developed even further until it is "greenlit" - meaning it goes into production. If not, the script is sometimes dead in the water because it is now in the databases of the studios and development executives, and has been marked as having been "passed" on. There is the chance, however, a film that has not been greenlit could make The Black List - "a list of the ten best unproduced specs."[2]

If a spec script is not picked up, but the writing is good, the screenwriter may be offered a writing assignment.[2] This could be a "development deal" – where a studio or producer asks a screenwriter to write another original script or adapt an idea or book into a screenplay.[4]

Outside of the traditional route of finding an agent, there are a number of competitions that a screenwriter can enter, such as the Nicholl Fellowship or Final Draft's Big Break Contest, among others. Another way a screenwriter could attract a producer is by paying a small fee and posting their screenplay on an "online posting." When using this service, a screenwriter posts their screenplay and after receiving feedback, if the screenplay is good, it will be posted to the service's main web site.[4]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Heidenry, Margaret (March 2013). "When The Spec Script Was King". Vanity Fair.
  2. ^ a b c d Trottier, David R. (2014). The screenwriter's bible : a complete guide to writing, formatting, and selling your script (6th ed.). Silman-James Press. ISBN 9781935247104.
  3. ^ Brady, John (1981). The Craft of the Screenwriter. p. 204.
  4. ^ a b Field, Syd (2005). Screenplay : the foundations of screenwriting (Rev. ed.). Delta Trade Paperbacks. pp. 297–304. ISBN 9780385339032.
Aaron and Jordan Kandell

Aaron and Jordan Kandell (both born June 16, 1982) are identical twin American screenwriters and journalists. They were born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii and studied film and creative writing at the University of Southern California. They have written numerous original feature film and television projects for Fox Animation, Disney Animation, Warner Brothers Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Legendary and Paramount Pictures. The Kandell brothers were on the 2013 Young and Hungry List and their screenplay The Golden Record was on the 2013 Black List. They also served as screenwriters on Disney Animation's Moana.The Kandells wrote the spec script that was turned into the film Adrift (2018), directed by Baltasar Kormákur and starring Shailene Woodley.

Abraham Higginbotham

Abraham Higginbotham is a writer, producer, and occasional actor for popular comedy series such as Arrested Development, Will & Grace, Back to You and Do Not Disturb.Higginbotham got his big break after submitting a spec script for Will & Grace. He served as executive producer of Fox's Do Not Disturb and is currently a consulting producer for Fox's Family Guy. He has also written for and produced Ugly Betty, and is currently working on the ABC comedy Modern Family.

He is openly gay.

Bart's New Friend

"Bart's New Friend" is the eleventh episode of the 26th season of the American animated sitcom The Simpsons, and the 563rd episode of the series. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 11, 2015. The episode focuses on Bart's new friendship with his father Homer, who has been hypnotized in order to think he is a young boy.

Bill Marsilii

Bill Marsilii (born 1962) is an American screenwriter.

Marsilii was born in Wilmington, Delaware. After graduating with a degree in drama from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where he attended Circle in the Square Theatre School, he founded a theater company called Bad Neighbor and performed solo comedy in Manhattan.His spec script for Déjà Vu, written with Terry Rossio, sold for $3 million against $5 million, setting a record at the time for the highest price ever paid for a screenplay. Since then, he has been credited as a screenwriter on such projects as the upcoming adaptation of The Wind in the Willows and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo.

Final Destination

Final Destination is an American horror franchise composed of five films, comic books and novels. It is based on an unproduced spec script by Jeffrey Reddick, originally written for The X-Files television series, and was distributed by New Line Cinema. All five films center around a small group of people who escape impending death when one individual (the protagonist of each film) has a sudden premonition and warns them that they will all die in a terrible mass-casualty accident. After avoiding their foretold deaths, the survivors are killed one by one in bizarre accidents caused by an unseen force creating complicated chains of cause and effect, resembling Rube Goldberg machines in their complexity, and then read omens sent by another unseen entity in order to again avert their deaths.

The series is noteworthy among other films in the horror genre in that the antagonist is not a stereotypical slasher or other physical being, but Death personified, subtly manipulating circumstances in the environment with a design on claiming anyone who escapes their fated demise.

In addition to the films, a novel series, which includes the novelizations of the first three films, was published throughout 2005 and 2006 by Black Flame. A one-shot comic book titled Final Destination: Sacrifice was released alongside select DVDs of Final Destination 3 in 2006, and a comic series titled Final Destination: Spring Break was published by Zenescope Entertainment in 2007.

Jose Molina (writer)

Jose Molina, born in 1971 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is a screenwriter. He wrote the episodes "Trash" and "Ariel" for the American cult TV show Firefly, and multiple episodes for Dark Angel. Molina attended Yale University (Pierson College, class of 1993), where he successfully applied for a student internship with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences by submitting a spec script for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Molina has also worked on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, earning the 2006 American Latino Media Arts Award for "Outstanding Script for a Television Drama or Comedy" for the episode "Alien". More recently, he has written the episodes "Famous Last Words" and "Suicide Squeeze" for the television series Castle, on which he served as Co-Executive Producer, a title Molina carried into the first season of the Syfy original series Haven.

Molina followed his stint in genre cable with a return to in-network genre, becoming one of the head writers on the Steven Spielberg-produced series Terra Nova, which aired for 13 episodes in the fall at Fox. After the cancellation of Terra Nova, Molina moved briefly to NBC's rookie fairy-tale drama Grimm before landing on his current series, the flagship of The CW Network, The Vampire Diaries.

The Official Firefly Visual Companion #3, "Still Flying," released in May 2010, features a short story written by Molina.

Milk Money (film)

Milk Money is a 1994 American romantic comedy film directed by Richard Benjamin and starring Melanie Griffith and Ed Harris. The film is about three suburban 11-year-old boys who find themselves behind in "the battle of the sexes," believing they would regain the upper hand if they could just see a real, live naked lady.

Shot in various locations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Cincinnati and Lebanon, Ohio, the story is set in an Ohio suburb named "Middleton", outside of an unnamed city (for which Pittsburgh was used). The screenplay was sold to Paramount Pictures by John Mattson in 1992 for $1.1 million, then a record for a romantic comedy spec script. The film was originally set up with Joe Dante to direct and his frequent partner, Michael Finnell, to produce, but they left the project over disputes regarding the budget and their fees.


"Sanguinarium" is the sixth episode of the fourth season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files. "Sanguinarium" was written by newcomers Vivian and Valerie Mayhew and directed by Kim Manners, and is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, a stand-alone plot which is unconnected to the series' wider mythology. It first aired in the United States on November 10, 1996 on the Fox network, earning a Nielsen rating of 11.1 and being seen by 19.85 million viewers upon its initial broadcast.

The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. In "Sanguinarium", bizarre murders in a hospital's plastic surgery unit lead Mulder and Scully to suspect a supernatural force may be responsible. As the uncontrolled killings continue, Mulder discovers a link between the victims' dates of birth and key dates on the witchcraft calendar.

The episode started as a spec script written by two fans of the series. It features several references to real life witchcraft sources. "Sanguinarium" received mixed reviews from critics; negative criticism was given to the number of inconsistencies in the plot. The episode's use of gore also drew a mixed reaction; some critics felt that the gore helped, while others felt that "Sanguinarium" relied too heavily on it to cover up weaknesses in its storyline.


A screenplay, or script, is a written work by screenwriters for a film, television program or video game. These screenplays can be original works or adaptations from existing pieces of writing. In them, the movement, actions, expression and dialogues of the characters are also narrated. A screenplay written for television is also known as a teleplay.


A screenplay writer (also called screenwriter for short), scriptwriter or scenarist is a writer who practices the craft of screenwriting, writing screenplays on which mass media, such as films, television programs and video games, are based.


Screenwriting, also called scriptwriting, is the art and craft of writing scripts for mass media such as feature films, television productions or video games. It is often a freelance profession.

Screenwriters are responsible for researching the story, developing the narrative, writing the script, screenplay, dialogues and delivering it, in the required format, to development executives. Screenwriters therefore have great influence over the creative direction and emotional impact of the screenplay and, arguably, of the finished film. Screenwriters either pitch original ideas to producers, in the hope that they will be optioned or sold; or are commissioned by a producer to create a screenplay from a concept, true story, existing screen work or literary work, such as a novel, poem, play, comic book, or short story.

Script market

A script market is the system in which a screenwriter and producer engage in the buying and selling of a script for the film and television industries. The process of selling a script may begin with the pitch, however since the end of the 1980s the ability to pitch a film to producers has greatly depended on the notoriety of the screenwriter. One reason attributed to this effect is that studios are looking for the next big hit, but scared to take a chance on a script that doesn’t meet a pre-established formula guaranteed to make money since no one knows what will work. The majority of scripts are read by studio interns and others, who give the scripts a “consider”, “pass”, or “recommend” status, with most scripts receiving a “pass” rating. However, an agent who's signed the Artists-Managers Agreement drawn up by the Writers Guild of America can submit scripts to producers directly. Agents try to create buzz in the script market using spec script. With everyone in the entertainment industry trying to pursue the million-dollar dream, and Hollywood so desperate for new material ideas, the script market functions and business practices have been pursued in the spec script manner.

Studio executives, producers, and agents don't have time to read every script, so readers or script analysts prepare script coverage for them. Spec scripts are written in hopes of being purchased by a producer or studio. A spec script can be passed around by an agent, which can create a bidding war. The spec script process is considered by some to be problematic, because the bidding process can attract inflated prices from the boosting of mediocre scripts.

Step outline

A step outline (more commonly called a beat sheet) is a detailed telling of a story with the intention of turning the story into a screenplay for a motion picture.

The step outline briefly details every scene of the screenplay's story, and often has indications for dialog and character interactions. The scenes are often numbered for convenience.

It can also be an extremely useful tool for a writer working on a spec script.

The Cloverfield Paradox

The Cloverfield Paradox is a 2018 American science fiction horror film directed by Julius Onah and written by Oren Uziel, from a story by Uziel and Doug Jung, and produced by J. J. Abrams's Bad Robot Productions. It is the third installment in the Cloverfield franchise, following Cloverfield (2008) and 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). The film stars Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O'Dowd, John Ortiz, David Oyelowo and Zhang Ziyi, and follows an international group of astronauts aboard a space station who, after using a particle accelerator to try to solve Earth's energy crisis, must find a way home after accidentally traveling to an alternate dimension.

The film was based on God Particle, a spec script from Oren Uziel which had the main plot of the space station crew, but was unconnected to Cloverfield. The script was acquired by Paramount Pictures and Bad Robot in 2012. It had been initially planned as part of Paramount's low-budget InSurge distribution label, but following the folding of that label, its production was expanded as a Paramount-distributed film. Only during production did Abrams decide to link the film to Cloverfield, adapting Uziel's screenplay and adding scenes to establish the connection, after the same approach was used to alter 10 Cloverfield Lane from its original script, The Cellar. Abrams saw the particle accelerator accident as a cinematic means for future events to cause changes in the past, narratively linking the Cloverfield franchise together.

Once announced as a yet-to-be-named Cloverfield film in late 2016, the film's release was delayed several times. A surprise trailer aired during Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, advertising the film's final title and its release on Netflix, which had purchased rights for the film from Paramount. The release occurred immediately after the game.While the unique marketing tactics were praised, the film itself received generally negative reviews from critics, who disliked the narrative, writing and editing, with many considering it the weakest of the Cloverfield films, although Mbatha-Raw's performance did receive some praise.


Vulcan! (1978) is a Star Trek tie-in novel by Kathleen Sky. The book is an adaptaion of an unproduced spec script by Sky.

Weird Loners

Weird Loners is an American comedy television series created by Michael J. Weithorn. The 6-episode first season was ordered straight-to-series by the Fox network in 2014. The series is executive produced by Weithorn and Jake Kasdan. The series premiered on March 31, 2015.On May 11, 2015, Fox canceled Weird Loners after one season. Kevin Reilly, the network President who had ordered the series from Weithorn's spec script in 2013, was fired a few months later leaving the series without a champion at the network.


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.