The Future of the Spec
“It is a curious thing that the more the world shrinks because of electronic communications, the more limitless becomes the province of the storytelling entertainer.” – Walt Disney
I’ve had a number of cries for assistance on a macro level lately regarding the viability of the “spec” screenplay. Are specs selling? And if not, why sit down and write one?
Having just got back from Austin and the South X Southwest Festival, literally just off the plane, I realize once again how much our business is changing. I am so glad to be back in my hometown of Hollywood, and see the explosion of 300 (produced by my buddy Bernie Goldman) and the return of big b.o. bucks thanks to it and Wild Hogs which did so great last week! (As predicted btw). Also the IMAX theaters were sold out where 300 was playing — no surprise. Every time Hollywood has new blood (sorry) like this we see how important the movie going experience still is. But with the new technologies, where Netflix will be sending you downloads for your HD living room screen, is the in-home world premiere far behind? And if that’s true, why target Hollywood — regardless of this latest b.o. surge?
To me, this just shows how many new opportunities there are for selling our stuff. When my TV producer dad, Ken Snyder, was out there hustling business, he had three places to go, count ’em three –ABC, CBS, and NBC — and if he pissed off Fred Silverman, as he did now and then, well, that meant 1/3 of his opportunities were gone. Not so anymore. We have hundreds, literally, of places to sell our material. And when you add the online component, and the Netflix factor, maybe the people we sell to eventurally will be you the public? Push a button if you want to buy the movie I just made, $1.99 for a phone download, or an in-home viewing.
And still our job remains the same.
While in the UK last year I saw a BBC website where you can click on and listen to 100 unsigned rock bands. What an opportunity if you are one of those bands to be listed there and offered to the public for a demo. Great! But as I click on and listen one by one, what am I listening for?
I’m listening for a hook.
I’m listening for a reason to continue listening.
And that’s what our job is too.
Get me interested with a good hook to your movie idea. Execute a well-structured, primal, smartly targeted story. Present one that can be made for a price e.g. Little Miss Sunshine.
The silver bullet for you starting out, who have not gotten on the boards with a sale yet, is: high concept/low budget. Give me a movie I can make easily, cast easily, and target to a market I know will be receptive.
And if your script does not appeal to the highest bidders at the studio level, so what? There are many, many other ways to go with it to sell it — more than there’ve ever been.
So is the “spec” as we know it viable?
Yes. More than ever. I am still seeing big spec sales in the trades. Smart comedies like Tour de Frank that just sold to Tom Shadyac’s company, great thrillers, horror, and rom-coms — genre pictures continue to, and always will, sell! So please don’t tell me this avenue is dead or dying — it isn’t! It’s in fact a GREAT time to be storming those gates! Hollywood is making money again, there is a feeling in the air that there is life in this old thing yet. They got a lot of people to go to 300 didn’t they? And now, trust me, everyone in town has got the scent, they want a big hit movie too! There will always be a Hollywood, if there wasn’t one we’d have to create it, because we will always need that spectacular, big group experience. And now we compliment that will hundreds of other ways to get your vision made and sold.
So what are you doing reading this blog?
Get going. Be smart. Write that script. And get in the game. The future of the spec is brighter than ever.
- Jamie Nash
I think the old fashioned ‘spec market’ is a long shot. It’s pretty close to a no win scenario.
So pull a Kobyashi Maru!
First off, we’re dealing with a 1 in a million game even in the best of worlds. The odds aren’t good. So you have to figure out a way you can continue working that ensures your success at the end of the day.
The only way to do it, is change the rules of the game…change the victory conditions…make your own rules.
Don’t do it the way everybody else says to do it…that’s the 1 in a million…do it your own way.
The coming digital entertainment tsunami is offering us the opportunity to rewrite the rules. The old game may be dead, but we might just be ‘the Beatles’ of the new game.
Change the rules. Be creative. Rig the game.
- Doug Miller
I’m with you, Blake! Sure, a spec sale of a big movie is remote, but why aim low, for God’s sake? Why not shoot for the stars? Why not focus on the big prize rather than the consolation prize? (OK, people who write for interactive and such are certainly not layabouts and ne’er-do-wells. If that’s what they like doing, more power to ’em!) I’m still after the big spec sale. Hope springs eternal, ya know!
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This is music to my ears, Blake!
And hopefully the spec market will be even hotter in a couple months when I’m ready to throw my hat into the ring.
Here’s the hook I’m currently working on:
THE BREAK-UP ARTISTS
Hooking up is a science. Making a clean break is an art.
Two hotshot womanizers run into trouble when they hook up with their female counterparts, and one of them commits the cardinal sin of falling in love.