I’ve been thinking a lot about Spec Scripts lately.
I’m writing one in an attempt to enter the WB Writers Workshop, but I feel like I should explain what a spec is first. Obviously spec is short for speculative, but in this context I am specifically referring to a script that is an episode of an already established TV series. They exist as an indicator of whether a writer can write to an established tone with established characters.
I feel the need to clarify since often even an original script can be considered speculative. If nobody has hired you to write something, then it is automatically speculative. Everything I write is speculative. On the other hand, If you are hired to write an idea, then that is an assignment script.
Still, when most people say the words “spec script” they mean a script of an established TV series. Up until recently these were how writers would get writing jobs. They would prove they can write for the show and then get hired for it. Steven S Deknight, who was the showrunner on Daredevil in season one got his first writing job on Buffy the Vampire Slayer after writing a spec for the series. But it seems that recently these ideas have changed.
As I ask others who work in the industry about what kind of spec I should write, the first thing they say is to not write for the series you want to work on. They say to write for something similar, but not the same. Even more than that, they say producers and writers would rather read original scripts now instead of specs.
There’s a good reason for that first part. It turns out that if a writer on a series reads your spec and then an idea from that spec appears in the show they become liable. They’ve stolen your idea, whether they know it or not, and you can take them down for it. So to protect themselves, they won’t read anything that is written as their show.
I think the other half, why they want to read originals, can be easily explained as well. Reading what somebody writes in the framework of another series isn’t showing everything they can do. It isn’t their voice as a writer. In fact, it’s the voice of whatever show that writer is writing. Nobody is looking for a chameleon to join their writing staff, and they want to know what kind of writer you are. What stories you like to tell. What makes you tick. There’s no better place to get that than from an original spec.
Like I said. It’s something I’ve been thinking about.
Which brings me back to this Writers Workshop I will be applying to in May. This will be the second fellowship I’ve applied to and, while the last one wanted five pages of an original pilot, this one is asking for one or two spec scripts of existing shows.
Why? After everything I’ve just talked about I don’t understand why this program would be asking for existing specs and not originals. Now I am currently writing a spec script for the MTV series Teen Wolf. It is incredibly surreal. You have to indicate where in the season your story takes place, but Teen Wolf is such a heavily serialized show that that becomes difficult. Even a spec of an existing show should be you writing the only story you would ever want to tell with these characters, but if I did that I would veer them dramatically from the season’s plot.
This would have been easier in the days when all series were episodic. When there wasn’t any overarching story and all you had to write was a case-of-the-week type plot. But those shows are mostly gone now, and the ones that remain are not really in my wheel house.
It’s an interesting challenge and one that has gotten me thinking, but I also feel like my creativity is being restrained a bit when I play with other people’s toys instead of my own.
PS, this post may have been born from procrastination