What Is a Spec Script?

A spec script, or a script written and submitted on the basis of speculation, is an unpublished, original script written to showcase the abilities of a new writer. Thousands of unsolicited spec scripts are sent to agents, producers, studios, and production companies every day from writers all over the world hoping to break into the lucrative business of screenwriting. The number of spec scripts actually produced a major studio in any given year is extremely small, but those with drive, passion, and talent are undeterred.

A spec script is written with no expectation of payment and serves as a resume. In some cases, an aspiring writer may admire a specific director or actor and write a spec script in the hopes of catching their attention. The next step is to get the script to the intended recipient, which for someone without connections will almost certainly mean giving it to an assistant who will serve as a reader. Before passing them on or returning them to the senders, readers scan scripts to see if they have any value. Getting a script to an assistant is also no easy task, and writers without an agent are often overlooked entirely.

Successful agents are inundated with spec scripts from unknown authors. The agent’s readers will be in charge of reading through the “slush pile” of unsolicited scripts. Before the script reaches an agent, there may be a hierarchy of readers, depending on the size of the agency. This obstacle course is required to weed out the thousands of poorly written submissions that arrive daily.

A writer can do a few things to improve his or her chances of getting a spec script past the readers and onto agents, producers, directors, or talent. Connections are always beneficial, but a new writer does not always have that luxury.

A spec script should be formatted properly to appear professional. Fancy fonts and covers will give the impression that the author is inexperienced and hasn’t done his or her homework. There are a number of books and websites dedicated to screenplay formatting.

To that end, the software script formatting programs of choice are Final DraftTM and Movie Magic ScreenwriterTM, with Final Draft being the original and, some might argue, more widely used. There are a slew of other scriptwriting programs that will properly format a script, but if you’re lucky enough to pique someone’s interest, you might be asked to submit the screenplay as a Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter file. Scriptwriting software not only formats your script correctly, but it also makes it easier to write a script eliminating the need for macros. Manual formatting is possible, but it becomes tedious quickly.

The script should be printed on 20 pound, three-hole white paper. Alternatively, you can print on regular paper and punch holes in the left margin with a three-hole punch.

The title, author’s name, and agent’s name and contact information, if applicable, should all be included on the cover page. If not, the author’s contact information is displayed. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) can register a spec script, and the registration number will appear here if it is. There should be no other information on the cover page, and the script should begin on the next page. Avoid including a cast of characters in the script, as well as scene numbers.

Two or three brass brads should be used to bind a spec script. Do not enclose it in a binder, folder, or other container. The brads allow the reader or agent to easily remove them, allowing the script to be disassembled if necessary. Tape, paper clips, and folding clamps should not be used.

The spec script should be accompanied a cover letter. There are numerous books and online resources available for learning how to write a proper cover letter. It should be brief, with a brief introduction and an intriguing one- or two-line script synopsis.

If you want your spec script returned, send it with a return address and stamped envelope. Some argue that including a return envelope sends the message that the writer expects the script to be rejected, and that it is preferable to state in the accompanying cover letter that the script can be recycled instead (placed in a paper recycle bin). Because sending a crumpled script that has already been read and rejected to another agency isn’t professional, it’s probably best to let the agency recycle it and print new copies for new mailings.

Despite the hundreds of thousands of rejected scripts each year, an old Hollywood adage holds true: a good script will find an audience. If you format properly, act professionally, and write a killer script, your chances of success will be greatly increased.