If you are a writer looking to break into television, you are absolutely going to need a spec script. A “spec script” is a script written on “speculation.” There are no studios/deals attached to it, and its purpose is primarily to garner attention for its writer. There are two types of spec scripts:
ORIGINAL SPEC: This is an episode of television (presumably, a pilot – the first episode of a series) based on your original concept
EXISTING SPEC: This is a spec script based on an episode of an existing series. A lot of writer’s training programs offered by major studios require you to submit a spec episode of a current series in order to be considered.
If you’re a new writer, I highly recommend having both. An existing spec is a a way to show that you know how to match the tone, voices, and character of an existing show – a quality that is extremely important in the collaborative environment that is a writer’s room. In this article, I chatted broke down the benefits of having an existing spec: why you should write one and what to consider when you do.
Today, I want to help get you started on your original spec. This is a script based on your original premise. It’s your chance to get messy and creative – but more importantly, it’s a chance to give readers an insight into who you are and what you can bring to a writer’s room. Let me explain.
A writer’s room is about more than each individual’s ability to write – it’s about the unique backgrounds and perspectives each writer brings with them. If the goal is always to tell the most authentic and grounded version of each story, then of utmost importance is cultivating a writer’s room of writer’s whose experiences will lend themselves to the story you’re trying to tell.
This is NOT to say that the quality of your writing doesn’t matter – it’s to suggest that the specificity matters just as much.
Hundreds of scripts are read every day. In my humble opinion (and take this for what it’s worth), the biggest mistake you can make is to try and imitate another writer. It doesn’t work. Why? Because that space has already been occupied. The key to an interesting spec is to carve out a space that’s unique to you.
Before writing your original spec script, I highly recommend considering these things:
What genre are you most drawn to? Is it sci-fi? Comedy? Character dramas? Your sample should reflect your desired niche. A comedy sample will do you very little good if you hope to be staffed on a character drama. It is so important to tell a story in the genre for which you hope to write. It doesn’t mean you can’t broaden your horizons later, but remain focused and targeted at the outset. Your script is your genre calling card.
your unique worldview
What makes you weird? What are your hobbies? To which ethnic community do you belong? The single most important thing you can do for yourself is identify your brand. In my experience, a writer’s brand should be tied to the things that make them unique – that is what makes you stand out.
My first spec script was about an Arab-American family. Was it a great script? No. Was it unique and authentic to me, my voice, and my life experience? Yes. Totally. I was completely fine branding myself as an Arab-American female writer because I knew that I was offering a perspective that not everyone else had. And you know what? That spec script landed me my agent.
structure and formatting
The first part of writing an original spec script is understanding yourself as a writer – who you are, what you want to write, and what unique contributions you can make to an existing artistic landscape. The second part is, of course, execution. Scripts are written on a software called Final Draft. You’ll need to purchase a final draft license in order to properly write and format your script (stay tuned for more, I have exciting news to share here!).
It’s important to make sure that your script has an identifiable arc – each episode of television follows a distinct arc, the shape of which is dependent on the length of the program (half hour, hour, etc). I’ll be chatting more about this in the coming weeks, but the best way to truly understand the shape of an episode of television is to read as many scripts as you can get your hands on. This is NOT to copy the content – this is to help you understand how an episode of television generally flows. The more you read, the more innate it will become.