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Posts Tagged ‘The Spec Market is Dead’

“Re the spec script market. Yes, it sucks right now. We’re on track for perhaps 50-60 sales this year, maybe even less.”
Scott Myers
Go Into The Story
April 30, 2010

“Being one of the 33 (spec scripts) that was purchased this year is probably akin to winning Powerball.”
Amy Butler
I Write with Pictures

A question being asked a lot these days in screenwriting circles is, “Is the spec market dead?” That is writing a screenplay on the speculation that someone will buy it in hopes that it will get produced. Depending on your source, there are estimated to be between 50,000-100,000 screenplays written every year. And over 99% of those are written on spec.

If you include all the studio and independent feature films made every year in the United States you come up in the 500 film range. Most of those don’t make it to a theater near you nor would you recognize the titles if you heard them. And if Scott Myers’ estimate is correct, in the year 2010 there will only be 50 or 60 spec script sales. Not very good odds for those 50,000-100,000 scripts being written every year.

So if all your hopes are on selling a spec script the only real question is—Is it wiser to write a spec script or play the lottery? Of course, you can always do both. Spread the odds around a little. But if you factor in the work involved in writing a screenplay, the long road the script must still take to get produced, and the low odds that anyone will see it if it is produced you may just want to go crawl into a hole. (Or move to the Midwest— which some would say is the same thing.)

Amy Butler on her blog mentioned that she went to hear Daniel Pipski speak and one of the points she came away with is, in fact, “The Spec Market is Dead.”  And she wisely writes, “At this point, I was had to ask–if the spec market is dead and art movies are vanishing, how do you make a career as a writer.”

The answer is get creative. Throughout history most artists have just plied their trade and just eked out a living. Sure a few rock stars popped up here and there and made some serious coin, but the norm is pretty modest. (There is a reason the words “starving” and “artists” are often seen together.)   Even in Hollywood it has been said that, “screenwriters drive Camerys.”

But believe it or not I’m here to give a little hope. If you are going to write screenplays from Iowa or some other unlikely place, the chances are good that you already have an unorthodox view of things. If you’ve followed this blog at all over the years you know that on the road to writing the great script you may have to write two or three bad and mediocre scripts and then two or three good and very good scripts before you write that great scripts. (Not uncommon for Oscar-winning screenwriters to say it took 10-12 scripts before they sold one.)

It’s a process and it’s hard work. In the meantime, you pay the bills by doing what creative people have always done—you get a job. And if you’re fortunate it’s a job somewhat related to what you want to do. One of the most successful artists I know started by painting vans. (And if it’s not related, think of it as research as if you were wriitng the next Office Space or The Office.) Everywhere in this country there are creative people who are producing and directing local commercials, industrial and corporate videos, documentaries, web videos and short films. Connect with those people because many of them would also love to make feature films. The odds are much better in those circles than in the spec world.

Screenwriter John August recently wrote a post on his blog titled Advice for Canadian criminals; “Remember that specs are not a screenwriter’s bread-and-butter. Landing assignments and setting up pitches requires meetings. It would be hard to develop an ongoing screenwriting career without being able to meet face-to-face. Screenwriters are ultimately part of a larger filmmaking community, and if you can’t live in Los Angeles, you would be well-served getting involved with the French-Canadian productions shooting near you.

Filmmaker Philip Bloom recently echoed that sentiment on his blog basically saying not worrying about going to film school (or about never having been), “I say to kids who email me asking about film school “have you considered getting together with a couple of mates, buying a T2i and a lens or two and shooting a movie every weekend?’. Best way to learn in my opinion.” (The camera he is talking about the Canon  55oD/T2i costs less than $1,000.)

So pull your lottery money together and invest in yourself. Start a film club—whatever it takes. Why not hit a few singles, before swinging for the fences?

But most importantly—keep writing. The cameras and editing gear keep getting better and more affordable. Good stories are what is needed to complete the digital revolution.

P.S. Tomorrow I’ll write about an emerging market for screenwriters and filmmakers.

Scott W. Smith

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