The general consensus is that there are two roads laid before the aspiring screenwriter. These are not wholly divergent and may overlap or intertwine on occasion, but it’s important to know what you’ll be in for should you choose one over the other.
Unfortunately, a wealth of contradicting information and differing opinions abound when it comes to the topic of which is best – spec or indie scripts. And depending on who you ask, you may hear things like:
• Just write what you want to write
• Focus on writing marketable ideas
• Write what fits the Hollywood formula
• Spec scripts never get made anyway
To make sense of things in your own mind, start by asking yourself which way you’re naturally inclined. For example, I myself have chosen to work with the independent film community instead of trying to tackle the beast that is Hollywood. Not because of my geographically challenged situation or lack of access to top-end industry contacts, but because I want to help the undiscovered filmmaker tell the stories they want.
My own mindset practically precludes me from pursuing Hollywood and so I don’t. Simple as that. But I realise the appeal of writing for the established studio system. Let’s take a more in-depth look at that.
For the Screenwriter with a Studio Mentality
Hollywood is where the film industry and money is most concentrated. It’s where many screenwriters go to get their start and where many eventually break through. But in taking a closer look at the system, it appears as though the market may be oversaturated.
According to a recently republished article from Hollywood Scriptwriting, 132 scripts were bought by studios and other buyers in 2012 across a wide array of genres. When compared to the 11 screenplays that have sold as of April 2016 — one third of the total number of scripts expected to be sold this year — it paints a grim picture for what some may argue to be an easier or ‘safer’ route.
To make matters worse, a big film, even if it isn’t being made by a major studio, is likely being financed or distributed by one so Hollywood really does hold all the cards. That said, a key factor in determining which spec scripts get read and which therefore have the best chance of selling is representation.
Representation: Improving Your Odds of Success
Once you’ve got your foot in the door with a manager or agent, they can help you get the meetings you’re after as many studios tend to have No Unsolicited Material policies in place to guard against a tide of incoming scripts from newcomers to Hollywood.
Ken Miyamoto has written extensively on the topic of acquiring an agent over at ScreenCraft and his advice is invaluable if you’re looking to make the move to L.A. But I digress. There will still be a lot of unknowns, even at that stage.
In fact, the script you wrote on spec is likely to be treated as more of a calling card, ensuring that it has even less chance of ever getting made. Studios will want to see evidence of a proven track record and will send you ‘assignments’ to cut your teeth on. These can range from first drafts that others will then rewrite to feature adaptations and everything in between.
This is not meant to discourage anyone from pursing Hollywood as a means to carving out a life as a spec screenwriter, but to point out that compromise almost always comes into play, often sooner than later. You could say it’s a universal truth in the lives of all screenwriters with a studio system mindset.
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