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What Is a Spec Script?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 17, 2024
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A spec script, or script written and submitted on speculation, is an original, unpublished script intended to showcase the talents of a new writer. Every day agents, producers, studios and production companies collectively receive thousands of unsolicited spec scripts from writers around the world hoping to break into the lucrative business of screenwriting. The number of spec scripts actually produced by a major studio in any given year is extremely small, however, the overwhelming odds do not dissuade those with drive, passion and talent.

A spec script is written without expectation of pay, acting as a calling card. In some cases an aspiring writer might admire a particular director or actor, writing a spec script that will hopefully appeal to this person. The next step is getting the script to the target, but for someone without connections, this will probably mean getting it to an assistant who acts as a reader. Readers scan scripts to see if they have any worth before passing them along or returning them to the senders. Getting a script to an assistant is also no small task, and in many cases writers without an agent won’t be considered at all.

Successful agents receive a constant stream of spec scripts from unknown writers. Readers employed by the agent will perform the task of reading through the “slush pile” of unsolicited scripts. Depending on the size of the agency, there might be a hierarchy of readers before the script makes it to an agent. This gauntlet is necessary to weed out the thousands of poorly written submissions that arrive every day.

There are a few things a writer can do to improve his or her chances of getting a spec script through the readers and on to agents, producers, directors or talent. Connections are always helpful, but often a new writer does not have the luxury of connections.

A spec script should be properly formatted so that it looks professional. Fancy fonts and covers will mark the writer as a novice who hasn’t done his or her homework. There are several books and online sites dedicated to proper screenplay format.

To this end, Final Draft™ and Movie Magic Screenwriter™ are the software script formatting programs of choice, with Final Draft being the original, and some might argue more widespread choice. There are also many other scriptwriting programs that will format a script properly, but if lucky enough to get interest, a request might come to submit the screenplay as a Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter file. Scriptwriting software not only formats properly, but also makes it easier to write a script as it avoids having to use macros for formatting needs. Manual formatting is possible but quickly becomes tiresome.

The script should be printed on three-hole, 20 pound, white paper. Alternately you can print on standard paper and use a three-hole punch to place holes in the left margin.

The cover page should have the title, author and agent’s name and contact information, if applicable. Otherwise the author’s contact information appears. A spec script can be registered with the Writers Guild of America (WGA), and if so, the registration number also appears here. No other information should appear on the cover page, and the following page should be page one of the script. Avoid listing a cast of characters, and do not place scene numbers within the script.

A spec script should be bound with two or three brass brads. Do not place it in a binder, folder, or any other form of enclosure. The brads make it easy for the reader or agent to remove so that the script can be disassembled if necessary. Do not use tape, paper clips or folding clamps.

A cover letter should accompany the spec script. Again, there are many books and online sources for learning how to compose a proper cover letter. It should be short with a brief introduction and an intriguing one or two line synopsis of the script.

A spec script should be mailed with a return addressed stamped envelope if you want the script returned. Some people feel that enclosing a return envelope sends a message that the writer expects the script to be refused, and that it’s better to instead to indicate in the accompanying cover letter that the script can be recycled (placed in a paper recycle bin). As it isn’t professional to send a crumpled script that has been previously read and rejected to another agency, it is probably wiser to let the agency recycle it and print out new copies for new mailings.

An old adage in Hollywood is that in spite of the hundreds of thousands of rejected scripts every year, a good script will find an audience. Format properly, be professional, and write a killer script, and your chances are maximized for success.

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Discussion Comments

By anon972431 — On Oct 03, 2014

I've seen a lot of movies about Hollywood and how the film industry really works. They almost always have a scene where a waiter or some other average Joe tries to slip a spec script to an actor or director. Sometimes they'll slide it under a bathroom stall, or leave it along with the meal check. I have to assume that this sort of thing happens all the time in real life.

By anon262479 — On Apr 19, 2012

This is yet another example of how over-population hurts everybody. The more people there are, the more competition there is, the lower the chance anyone has anymore to get a job or accomplish anything.

And no, don't think that with more humans, there is more variety. Quite the contrary. Now that there are so many more people than during the "Golden Age of Hollywood", they have effectively closed the doors to outsiders and rarely ever accept novel works anymore and instead just use the same, tired, old people to spew out the same old junk.

By anon161343 — On Mar 19, 2011

To anon 30568: When they ask for it!

By anon30960 — On Apr 27, 2009

I assume you are referring to a book manuscript, versus a spec script or screenplay. Book editors work for publishing companies, and depending on the publisher, there may be writer's guidelines you need to follow to make a proper submission. I would suggest going to the website of the publishing company and looking for a link to writer's guidelines. Good luck.

By anon30568 — On Apr 21, 2009

When is it appropriate to send spec to an editor?

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