What’s a Spec Script? I’ll tell you what I think it is.
It isn’t what's going to be shot, that’s for sure.
A friend of mine who is an exec at a big production company was telling me the other day how hard it was lately to even get through a lot of scripts to find the story.
And I’ve been hearing a lot of bad advice lately about what should or shouldn’t be in a spec script when only one thing should be in it.
A story a reader can see. I didn’t say audience. I said reader. If you write specs you hope will eventually get made this is very important. The first people you need to get through to option a script are even called “READERS”. That’s why you need a slick fast reading script that’s not bogged down with all the crap you’ve been told by some people you need.
You don’t need overly long physical descriptions of your characters. Blonde hair? Blue eyes? Brown eyes? Red nail polish? I’ve seen it all. Waste of space. No one cares. Unless it has to do with the story, it doesn’t matter. In fact, these days the less you say is better. Why is this? Because as the READER is getting into the story, they get to picture the character the way they want to and that helps with the ease of the read. If there is a physical characteristic that is a story point, then by all means get it in there. Otherwise, let the words spoken and the actions, the story, define who the character is.
I just read a script where every female character was described with some flourish to be as sexy or beautiful as she could be. It took me right out of the story. Why? First, I hate it. Lots of people who read scripts hate it because it’s unrealistic and cheap (and sexist) and if you look around you wherever you are, you aren’t going to see a lot of supermodels, so why populate your script with them. You want to write a story that resonates with real people? Write about real people. Real women. Real men. You can put them in unique and other worldly situations, but they still need to be real. Let the reader decide who your characters are inside and out by the dialogue and action and what they feel and see in their heads as they read.
You don’t need descriptions of what everyone is wearing unless it’s part of the plot. I just wrote a scene where a woman had a wedding dress on. Why? She was getting married as part of the plot. In every other scene she’s in? Not a word about her wardrobe. Why? It has nothing to do with story. It takes up valuable story space and it takes the reader... you guessed it... out of the story.
Capitalizing sounds? BAM. BOOM. Capitalizing props? CAR. BEER BOTTLE. SANDWICH.
I had one writer tell me those things need to be there for the Sound and Prop departments so they know what they are in the film. I hate to tell you this... but there are no Sound or Prop departments in a spec script. There are no departments at all. You only have those if the script sells and they go to a shooting script.
That goes to my next point... Spec scripts never ever ever never ever ever never get made the way you wrote it anyway. Never. Ever. By the time a Sound or Prop department sees the script it’s been rewritten so many times it often doesn’t resemble what you wrote in the first place. So ALL those WORDS capitalized in YOUR script JUST look RIDICULOUS and... yes... take the reader out of the story.
Don’t use character names that are unpronounceable. Don’t use words that the average reader will have to look up. I see these all the time. It’s not about impressing someone with clever names or vocabulary. They don’t care. Honest.
The purpose of a Spec script is for the reader to see and experience your story through your words. To see it in their head as a film or TV show. That’s it. It’s not anything more difficult to understand than that. It’s not easy to do, but that’s what gets you noticed and your script noticed. Lean and clean. Uncluttered.
You want a script they don’t put down. One that they want and need to keep reading. You clutter it up and make the read difficult and it’s too easy for them to put it down. Maybe to never pick up again. When they can read your script in an hour because it READS well, you stand a much better chance of moving it to a different level.
Leaving all this crap out is liberating. It actually sets you free to just concentrate on what’s important.
That's what they option. That's what they buy. That's what they want to see from a screenwriter.
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