Spec scripts are feature film or television show scripts written on speculation of sale, without the commission of a film studio, production company or TV network. The content is usually invented solely by the screenwriter, though spec screenplays can also be based on established works or real people and events. The spec script is a Hollywood sales tool. The vast majority of scripts written each year are spec scripts, but only a small percentage make it to the screen. A spec script is usually a wholly original work, but can also be an adaptation.
In television writing, a spec script is a sample teleplay written to demonstrate the writer’s knowledge of a show and ability to imitate its style and conventions. It is submitted to the show’s producers in hopes of being hired to write future episodes of the show. Budding screenwriters attempting to break into the business generally begin by writing one or more spec scripts.
Although writing spec scripts is part of any writer’s career, the Writers Guild of America forbids members to write “on speculation”. The distinction is that a “spec script” is written as a sample by the writer on his or her own; what is forbidden is writing a script for a specific producer without a contract. In addition to writing a script on speculation, it is generally not advised to write camera angles or other directional terminology, as these are likely to be ignored. A director may write up a shooting script himself or herself, a script that guides the team in what to do in order to carry out the director’s vision of how the script should look. The director may ask the original writer to co-write it with him or her, or to rewrite a script that satisfies both the director and producer of the film/TV show.
Spec writing is also unique in that the writer must pitch the idea to producers. In order to sell the script, it must have a killer title, good writing, and a great logline. A logline is one sentence that lays out what the movie is about. A well written logline will convey the tone of the film, introduce the main character, and touch on the primary conflict. Usually the logline and title work in tandem to draw people in, and it is highly suggested to incorporate irony into them when possible. These things, along with nice, clean writing will hugely impact whether or not a producer picks up the spec script.