Monday, July 25, 2011

Summer Of Spec

I finished the first draft of a screenplay last night and sent it to the producer/director. To tell the truth, I don’t even know if I am getting paid for this job. It’s like that sometimes.

By the end of this summer, I will have written and/doctored thirty screenplays -- give or take. Of those thirty screenplays, two feature length scripts and few short films are based on original ideas of mine, something that popped into my head and developed into a story. In the case of all of the other projects, someone has said “can you write a screenplay about x,y,z where a,b,c happens?” or “can you take this screenplay and make it work?”

I don’t know why exactly but I rarely say “no” when someone asks me to write a screenplay and, sadly, this answer often extends to deferred pay or “spec” projects --- jobs where I only get paid if the film gets made or if, once it does get made, it makes a profit.

While it might seem as if I just say indiscriminately “yes” to everything that comes my way, I actually do have things that I look for when I am approached with a project:

Does it pay and, if so, does it pay well, is there any money upfront?

Who else is involved with the project, either in front of or behind the camera? Am I working for seasoned professionals or wide-eyed amateurs?

Does the project have the potential to advance my career, will it be seen by anyone who might want to hire me in the future?

Is the subject matter, the setting, the genre, milieu, story at all inspiring to me, something that I can work with and craft into something interesting?

If the answer is “yes” to one, if not more, of these questions, I will consider the project.
Honestly, I’m usually flattered that someone might want me to write a screenplay for them and will often agree to do it just for the ego boost, on “spec.”

A “spec” (short for speculative) screenplay is one that is written without any guarantee of getting paid, of it getting produced, of it ever going anywhere. It’s rolling the dice, taking a chance and, it is the way many screenwriters break into the business --- though having industry connections, an award-winning film or book or play etc. doesn’t hurt.

Some people sell the first spec script that they write. Some people sell the thirtieth spec script that they write. Most people never sell anything.

So, I finished a screenplay last night and today, it’s back to work:

I committed to doctoring a screenplay for an L.A. producer. It doesn’t pay but, if I do a good job -- and I am doing a good job --- they will remember me next time.

Last year, a director I know asked me to write a short comedy. The script came out so well that he asked me to expand it into a feature and I am working a second draft. I might get paid on this one and I might not get paid but it was a story that I had to write, something that struck me creatively and gave me the opportunity to sink my teeth into characters and situations that I am close to.

A director friend in Texas, for whom I wrote an artsy anti-horror horror screenplay last year asked me if I could write something else for him, again something I just had to write, a time, place and genre that I just couldn’t ignore.

Last week, I finished a teenage vampire screenplay that someone asked me to write.

I’m still not sure why I wrote that one.

It’s like that sometimes.