The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 2]

The Emergence of the Spec Script Market [1942–1990]

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

Last week in Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900–1942.

Part 2: The Emergence of the Spec Script Market [1942–1990]

The sale in 1942 of the spec script “Woman of the Year” was unusual in that most Hollywood screenwriters worked under contract for the studios. Receiving a regular paycheck, writers had almost no motivation or inclination to spend their time pounding out a screenplay speculating they could sell it on the open market.

However the 50s and 60s marked significant changes in the film business. After the Supreme Court ruled against the monopolistic practice of vertical integration, by 1948 Hollywood studios were forced to sell their ownership of movie theaters. At that same time, television began to grow in popularity with the emergence of four TV networks and sales of TV sets running into the millions. Combined with a drop in movie box office after the post-World War II boom, studios simply did not have the revenue to support the old ‘studio system’ and shed most of their writer contracts. Cut loose from the security of a studio deal, screenwriters discovered the risks and benefits of becoming independent contractors.

One of the first to cash in was William Goldman who in 1967 sold the original screenplay “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to 20th Century Fox for a reported $ 400,000. For all intents and purposes, this sale marks the beginning of the modern spec script era.

William Goldman

Deals of this sort were still few and far between. The next major sale occurred in 1972 when Warner Bros. purchased “The Yakuza,” written by Leonard Schrader and Paul Schrader for between $ 325–350,000. As far as I know, this was the first ‘bidding war,’ where multiple studios made offers for the script which boosted its eventual sales price.

It wasn’t until the 80s the spec script market really took hold. Here is a list of some notable spec sales during that decade:

1984: Lethal Weapon, written by Shane Black. It sold for $ 250,000 to Warner Bros.

1985: The Highlander, written by Gregory Widen. It sold for $ 500,000 to Universal.

1987: K-9, written by Steven Siegel & Scott Myers. It sold for $ 750,000 to Universal.

1989: “Gale Force”, written by David Chappe. It sold for $ 500,000 to Carolco.

1989: Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, written by Blake Snyder. It sold for $ 500,000 to Universal.

But the year that cemented the importance of the spec script in the field of acquisition and development, and indeed in pop culture was 1990. Here are some of the big ticket sales from that year:

Title: Basic Instinct Logline: A police detective is in charge of the investigation of a brutal murder, in which a beautiful and seductive woman could be involved. Writer: Joe Eszterhas Genre: Crime Thriller Agency: CAA Buyer: Carolco Date: June 1990 Note: Purchase price $ 3M

Title: The Cheese Stands Alone Logline: An off-beat romantic comedy about a superstitious Hungarian hunk who blames his loss of sex drive on a hex put on him by a jilted girlfriend. Writer: Kathy McWorter Genre: Romantic Comedy Agency: Preferred Artists Buyer: Paramount Date: October 1990 Note: Purchase price $ 1,000,000

Title: City of Darkness Logline: Two young boys bring a comic-book villain and a comic-book hero into the real world. Writers: Patrick Cirillo and Joe Gayton Genre: Action Comedy Agency: N/A Buyer: Columbia Date: 1990 Note: Purchase price $ 750,000

Title: Cold As Ice Logline: A down-at-the-heels private detective and a young widow team up to solve a diamond robbery. Writer: Mark Allen Smith Genre: Thriller Agency: N/A Buyer: Columbia Note: Purchase price $ 350,000

Title: Flatliners Logline: Medical students bring themselves near death; their experiment begins to go awry. Writer: Peter Filardi Genre: Drama Sci-Fi Agency: N/A Buyer: Columbia Note: Purchase price $ 400,000

Title: Hell Bent… And Back! Logline: WWII action comedy Writers: Doug Richardson and Rick Jaffa Genre: Action Comedy: Agency: N/A Buyer: Disney Date: N/A Note: Purchase price $ 1,000,000

Title: The Last Boy Scout Logline: A down and out cynical detective teams up with a down and out ex-quarterback to try and solve a murder case involving a pro football team and a politician. Writer: Shane Black Genre: Action Agency: N/A Buyer: Geffen Film Company Date: April 1990 Note: Purchase price $ 1.75M

Title: Prince of Thieves Logline: When Robin Hood and his Moorish companion come to England and the tyranny of the Sheriff of Nottingham, he decides to fight back as an outlaw. Writers: Pen Densham and John Watson Genre: Action Adventure Agency: N/A Buyer: Morgan Creek Date: 1990 Note: Purchase price $ 1.2M

Title: Radio Flyer Logline: A father recounts a dark period of his childhood when he and his little brother lived in the suburbs. Writer: David Mickey Evans Genre: Drama Agency: N/A Buyer: Columbia Note: Purchase price $ 1.25M

Title: The Rest of Daniel Logline: A 1939 test pilot asks his best friend to use him as a guinea pig for a cryogenics experiment so he doesn’t have to watch his love lying in a coma. The next thing Daniel knows is that he’s awakened in 1992. Writer: J.J. Abrams Genre: Drama Agency: ICM Buyer: Warner Bros. Note: Purchase price $ 2M

Title: Stay Tuned Logline: A husband and wife are sucked into a hellish TV and have to survive a gauntlet of twisted versions of TV shows they find themselves in. Writers: Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein Genre: Comedy Fantasy Agency: N/A Buyer: Morgan Creek Note: Purchase price $ 750,000

Title: Texas Lead and Gold Logline: Set in the 1880s, the plot follows a Texas Ranger teamed with a black attorney-turned-thief on the trail of a criminal, who in turn is searching for a lost cache of gold. Writers: Michael Beckner and Jim Gorman Genre: Western Agency: Bauer Benedek Buyer: Largo Date: May 1990 Note: Purchase price $ 1,000,000

Title: The Ticking Man Logline: Nuclear-armed robot Writers: Brian Helgeland and Manny Coto Genre: Action Thriller Agency: N/A Buyer: Largo Pictures Date: N/A Note: $ 1,000,000

Title: The Ultimatum Logline: Nuclear terrorist techno-thriller Writers: Laurence Dworet and Robert Roy Pool Genre: Action Thriller Agency: N/A Buyer: Disney Date: N/A Note: Purchase price $ 1,000,000

With multiple seven-figure deals in 1990, spec scripts became sexy and screenwriters hot commodities. During the next two decades, there was a boom, a settling in, a retraction, then a reemergence of the spec script market. That will be the subject of next week’s Business of Screenwriting post.

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

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The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 2] was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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5 Things Screenwriters Need To Know About Filmmaking

Screenwriting and script development are the two basic building blocks of the film industry, and unfortunately, the least considered. Things screenwriters need to know about the film industry range from the basics of film finance and money flow to stories and how they should be presented.

At a recent open forum at the BFI, the leading literary agent Julian Friedman stated publicly that, as far as he could tell, scripts, in general, have not been getting any better over the past 25 years that Raindance has been running.

Can this be true? That scriptwriting and script development are still the least funded in the industry? That script training is woefully inadequate?

Let me try and focus on some basic issues I have determined and see if there can be some sort of debate on this, with the intention of improving the quality of screenplays.

5 Things Screenwriters Need To Know About Filmmaking

1. It’s a collaborative artform

Orson Welles once said: ‘A poet needs a pen, a painter needs a brush, a filmmaker needs an army’.

Rightly so. Remember that your job is to inspire the entire team, from actors and director down to the lowly set dresser or wardrobe seamstress.

2. It’s not easy

The most glamorous route into the film industry is as a director. The quickest route into the industry is with a hot screenplay – a screenplay that everyone wants.

Nothing about the creative industry is easy. There are no shortcuts. Don’t fall into the trap that has snared so many by thinking you can dash of 10,000 – 12,000 words (the average length of a screenplay) and then quit your day job and call yourself a screenwriter.

Study and watch movie after movie.  Read script after script (there is a really decent script library in the Premium Members area) and learn as much as you can about how movies are made.

3. Learn how to make your doorbell ring

Self-promotion is the name of the game and not just for screenwriters. Everyone working in the film industry needs to get good at it.

It really involves 3 different sides: learning how to network, and how to avoid the 3 faux-pas of networking; and creating a body of work that makes you look good, and lastly, learning how to market and sell your script.

4.The more you write, the better you get

This should go without saying – if you want to call yourself a screenwriter you have to write and write and write. They say in the film industry that Joggers jog, Wankers wank, but only Screenwriters write. To call yourself a screenwriter you have to do it every single day, or you will be considered a jogger or wanker (lord know the film industry is full of them).

Canadian philosopher Malcolm Gladwell talks about the ‘10,000 Hour Rule‘ in his contrarian book Outliers. Basically, if you want to get really really good at anything, you need to dedicate at least 10,000 hours to it. Spending 5 minutes reading this page would count!

Don’t get sucked into the myth that you need talent. Talent, Gladwell argues, comes from practice.

5. Knowledge is power

The age-old adage makes a whole lot of sense in the film industry – a production and marketing industry that is filled with loads of complicated technical stuff. It makes common sense that screenwriters should learn as much about how films are made and marketed as possible.

Can you imagine an architect designing a building without understanding engineering and construction principals? Of course not.

Fade Out

Should there be any doubt about the importance of this, remember that the ancient prophets when they wrote the Bible considered the plight of screenwriters by inserting advice to screenwriters in one of the secret Biblical codes? It is: ‘In the Beginning was The Word, and The Word was God.’ Translation: All movies start with words, with scripts.

Screenwriters have this Biblical ordination to write. I wish I had that too!

Now, get writing!


The post 5 Things Screenwriters Need To Know About Filmmaking appeared first on Raindance.


FX says it didn’t know about Louis C.K.’s sexual misconduct


The head of FX said the network wasn’t aware of Louis C.K.’s sexual misconduct while the comedian worked there, and also claimed an internal investigation didn’t turn up any additional incidents of misconduct.

FX CEO John Landgraf told reporters Friday that FX had “no awareness” of C.K.’s sexual misconduct before the initial accusations against him went public in November. C.K., who owned up to the accusations, was producing four different shows on FX before the network cut ties with him.

FX launched its own investigation in November to see if C.K.’s misconduct bled into his time with the network and came up empty-handed. Read more…

More about Hollywood, Fx, Louis Ck, Louis C.K., and Sexual Misconduct

Trends in Filmmaking You Need to Know in 2018

Tis that time of the year to think and reflect on what an eventful time 2017 has been. More importantly, it’s also the time of the year to start thinking about what to build in 2018. We’re close enough to the new year to have an idea of the trends of next year are going to be.

Every year, JWT puts together a list of the 100 trends of the new year across a number of fields: culture, tech, entertainment, business… and a few of them are particularly relevant to filmmakers and creators who want to stay ahead of the curve.

01 – The Female Gaze

The conversation pushing for further and better inclusion of women in film has been ongoing for a few years, thankfully. 2017 took that conversation to a whole other level. We thought that 2017 would be the year of the first female president of the United States -it ended up being the year that attacks on women became even more blatant. It has also been the year of the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement.

Progress comes in swings of a pendulum, and it has swung both ways really fast this year. However, the pandora’s box of questions relating to pushing the inclusion of women at all levels of the filmmaking process has been opened for good. This year, Beach Rats, Lady Bird, Mudbound and Wonder Woman showed up on our silver screens. Next year, Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time is coming. The lenses through which we represent our culture are changing. About time.

02 – Intersectionality

The inclusion of women is certainly a necessary first step. It’s far from enough. In the late 80’s, academic Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to explain the overlaps of gender, race, sexuality and class and their effects on bias and discrimination. In this respect, 2017 has been a major awakening.

The Women’s Marches all over the world were inclusive and conveyed intersectional messages. It was about being stronger together, whoever we are. Twitter hired a vice president of intersectionality, culture, and diversity. Condé Nast has just launched a millennial LGBTQ+ focused publication. The tide is shifting. It’s time for intersectional representation in the movies too.

04 – Religious Resurgence

Why should filmmakers care about religious resurgence today? Because religion speaks of the need to belong to something. These are turbulent times and knowing where we fit is a key component in everyone’s well-being and self-realisation. But the sense of belonging and knowing where we are can come from other phenomena. If religion tells the story of humanity in relation to a divine order, we can also buy into different stories.

It is the job of filmmakers and creators to provide stories. In these troubled times more than ever, we need to be reminded that films can change the world and have a real impact on people. If you doubt it, just see the levels of following and passion that Star Wars has had.

06 – Streaming Wars

Content is king. If House of Cards has taught us anything (other than how to rewrite an entire season in a few weeks in order to not be tainted by a sexual abuse scandal), it’s that consumers want to be in control of the entertainment they binge on. Netflix has certainly been ahead of the curve in that trend. (Netflix will always be a synonym for streaming and home entertainment, and it’s not advisable to ask someone over to “Disney and chill” unless you want to ruin two childhoods.) The Mouse House now wants to compete with them. Netflix is committing $ 15.7 billion in original content, and Disney has bought Fox entertainment for $ 52.4 billion in order to strengthen its assets in the streaming wars.

After having disrupted the music industry, Silicon Valley has disrupted Hollywood for good. Effectively, that also means a sea change for the independent movie business. Audiences yearn for good content and know how to discern it. While this has strengthened the adage saying that great is the enemy of the good, it also means that independent filmmakers now have to explore smaller streaming platforms and self-distribution very thoroughly and be creative in their outreach to audiences in order to make a splash.

07 – Interactive Storytelling

You could see this as another iteration of the idea that consumers want power over the content they watch. It’s not just about how they consume it, it’s also how the story unfolds. In 20th-century thinking, interactive storytelling means gaming. In third-millennium facts, we’re looking at interactive feature films. Actually, the first ever interactive feature film screened at Raindance in 2016.

Gaming and film are blending. They both are narrative forms, and the overlap is increasing. The level of control and immersion that audiences are now looking for means more interactivity in narrative storytelling. This is why “religious resurgence” has to be taken into account as a key trend of next year as well: audiences are looking for a way to make sense of a troubled world. It’s time to build worlds and bring those stories not just before audiences’ eyes, but in their hands as well.

08 – Data Democracies in Entertainment

Big data is changing the way the world presents itself to us. In a not-so-distant, “Minority Report”-like future, the environment you’ll be living in will be tailored to the wants and needs that hadn’t even formed in your conscious mind yet. Google, Facebook and Amazon already tailor their platforms -and the products they’re selling you- to your behaviour. Streaming behemoths do the very same when creating entertainment.

Netflix knows if there is an audience for any pitch they hear based on user analytics. When a traditional network (even HBO) may have had cold feet producing the politically charged Dear White People, they knew there was an audience for it. Analysing social media presence and online behaviour will lead to identifying demographics that haven’t yet been represented are yearning for it.

09 – Creativity Meets AI

Artificial intelligence is on the verge of provoking massive changes in the world as we know it. AIs are now relatively confined to Google Labs, but that will soon change. The AI experiences that have been undertaken so far are all very intriguing: for instance, a robot learned all that humanity has ever learned about chess in four hours.

But what happens to AI when it comes to creativity? Creativity and art, by their very definition, rely on conscience and instinct, both very human traits that (thankfully) can’t be reduced to, and indeed are the very contrary of, algorithms. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t experimenting. MIT researchers have taught AI to get emotional over movies. (Really, it’s down to story patterns.) An AI wrote a sci-fi short film, with inconclusive results -for now.

11- AR reaches mass

This year, augmented reality went from being a confidential gimmick to being the must-have tech device. Apple rolled out its ARkit for developers, arguing that no business will be untouched by the possibilities of augmented reality. Interior designers can make you look at what your living room will look like once they’ve worked their magic. You can try clothes without putting them on.

And for content creators and entertainment? PokemonGo was the first to make the most of the possibilities of AR. Harry Potter is taking a hold of the medium as well, releasing an AR game in 2018 -which makes it as certain as anything that AR is going to go mainstream.

New trends: 2018, bring it on

Audiences are yearning for more. More representation, more practical applications to new mediums, more immersion in new worlds. Audiences want creators to conjure up worlds that can both represent the real world accurately and change it for the better. They want experiences they can immerse themselves in and revel in: art that is fully real and fully poetic at the same time.

Happy creation.


The post Trends in Filmmaking You Need to Know in 2018 appeared first on Raindance.


Reader Question: How do I know which version of my story to write?

If a story can go in myriad directions, how do we know which way to go?

A tweet from a writer based in London, England:


You have a story idea. You see a scene in your mind. You write it. Great!

But wait. You start to think about it further. Now you see the scene in a different light. You write another version.

Ah, this one feels right.

Uh-uh. Yet another iteration of the scene bursts into your consciousness.

This version… that one… ahhh!

“I don’t know which story it belongs to. How do you know?”

In a perfect world, the story unfolds before you and that’s it. It’s your STORY. Clear. Clean. Obvious.


What if there are two ways to go with your story? Or three? Or even MORE?

There is subtext at work in this question.

How do I know if it’s just ME dictating what the story will be… or the story ITSELF letting me know which way to go?

There is a solution to this problem and it’s simply this…

Your characters.

Immerse yourself in the lives of your characters… individually… collectively… lean into THEM.

After all, it’s THEIR story!

Rely on them to lead you into and through the story-crafting process.

You’ve heard of the old saying, “Seeing is believing”?

Invert it: “Believing is seeing.”

Believe your characters exist. Their story universe exists. And go there. Seek out your characters. Use biographies and questionnaires to dig into them. If that seems arbitrary or inauthentic, then use direct engagement exercises:

  • Interview: You’re a psychiatrist, the character is your patient. Engage them in a therapy session where they must answer your questions.
  • Monologue: Do a sit-down in which you get into the head space of a key character, free type what you ‘hear’ them saying.
  • Inner Monologue: Do a sit-down in which you get into the head space of a character and write down every thought they have.

Lean into your characters. Reach out to them. Listen to them.

If you’re worried about what version of the story should be THE story, rely on your characters because it’s THEIR story.

For more Go Into The Story Reader Question posts, go here.

Reader Question: How do I know which version of my story to write? was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story - Medium

Almost Everything You Need to Know about Lighting in Under 30 Minutes

This beginner’s technical breakdown of lighting is perfect for those just starting out.

If you’ve just started your filmmaking journey, lighting may not be on your radar quite yet—but it should be. It’s one of the most important elements of cinema not only because it’s the very thing that makes it possible, but because it’s one of the most powerful tools a filmmaker has to tell a story. If you’re a little intimidated, don’t worry. Yes, lighting can be complicated and yes, it’s going to take you years of practice to be any good at it, but this 30-minute video from Kevin of Basic Filmmaker breaks down almost every basic technical aspect of lighting, from color temperatures to lighting cable quality, to help give you a more sturdy foundation.

(Kevin highlights one mistake in the video: when he refers to CRI as Color Temperature Index. It stands for Color Rendering Index.)

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No Film School

What You Need to Know about Directing Non-Actors

Understanding the benefits and challenges that come with working with non-actors.

As no-budget filmmakers, chances are we’re not going to be working with Hollywood actors at the peak of their stardom. Actually, in each and every of your films your cast might actually be made up entirely of non-actors, or actors who have little to no professional experience, and that’s not a bad thing. People hear terms like “inexperienced” and “untrained” and immediately think “bad performance,” but non-professional actors actually bring something very special to the cinematic table, and because they do, you as a director need to bring a very special set of skills in order to direct them. In this video from Film Riot, director Ricky Staub (The Cage), offers up some great insight on what that skillset entails.

Whether they’re seasoned pros or bright-eyed first-timers, directing actors is a tough undertaking. There’s a lot of emotional and technical work that goes on between the director and actors in order to prepare for a great performance; if your actor is unfamiliar with this process, it could prove to be a little more challenging.

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No Film School

Stunts 101: 3 Things You Should Know about Using Breakaway Glass

Are you itching to throw someone through a window? Here’s how to do it safely.

Though it’s tons of fun watching our favorite action stars take death-defying leaps through plate glass windows, these types of stunts, which utilize breakaway glass, are well-choreographed and executed by professional stunt performers to mitigate any real danger. If you’re interested in including a stunt like this in your own work, awesome, but before you go toss your lead actor through your living room window, check out this video from The Slanted Lens. In it, host Jay P. Morgan shares a few tips on how to pull it off safely and effectively, including 1.) how to prepare your set, 2.) how to install the glass, and 3.) how to toss a human being through it.

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No Film School

Superhero Bits: Silver and Black Rumors, Nebula’s Past Is Much Darker Than We Know & More

Hulk - Brazilian Car Commercial

Which summer comic book movie took home the most Teen Choice Awards? What other Marvel Comics characters might be appearing in Silver and Black? Why don’t The Defenders meet in the premiere of the new series? Why did Geoff Johns leave Marvel Comics for DC Comics? What darkness is left unrevealed about Nebula‘s past in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? All that and more in this edition of Superhero Bits.

The cast of Arrow discusses what fans can expect from the sixth season premiere coming to The CW this fall.

Wonder Woman took home some Teen Choice Awards over the weekend, but so did Supergirl and The Flash.

Here’s some concept art from Ryan Meinerding showing the inside of the Spider-Man: Homecoming suit.

There’s a rumor that Chameleon could appear in Silver and Black, as well as Tarantula and Tombstone.

Here’s a quick teaser clip from The Defenders with Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) holding Stick captive.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming has officially pulled in over $ 700 million at the worldwide box office.

The Incredible Hulk is being used to help sell Renault cars down in Brazil in this action-packed commercial.

Joe Morton, who plays Dr. Silas Stone in Justice League, confirms his son, Cyborg, has resentment for him.

Continue Reading Superhero Bits>>

Due to the amount of graphics and images included in Superhero Bits, we have to split this post over THREE pages. Click the link above to continue to the next page of Superhero Bits.

The post Superhero Bits: Silver and Black Rumors, Nebula’s Past Is Much Darker Than We Know & More appeared first on /Film.


Everything You Need to Know About Building a Drug Lab on the Cheap — For Your Movie

Need a seedy drug lab in your next movie? Build it yourself.

Looking back at when I first started filmmaking, I see that one of the most beneficial qualities I had was to never let myself get deterred by thoughts like “I can’t afford that” or “There is no way I’ll be able to do that with the tools I have access to.”

As an aspiring filmmaker, you have to be unstoppable, resourceful, think outside the box, and take risks. Figuring out new ways to create what you see in your imagination with minimal funding or resources will give you an upper hand when you finally get access to bigger/better resources, and it will challenge your creative mind in the ways you look at everyday objects.

Even the smallest details matter and can make or break an illusion.

One of my fondest memories is creating a beautiful drug lab for a little under $ 250. I was in high school at the time and barely had any money to cover the costs of my projects, but I had an extreme desire to make a fight scene inside of a drug lab for a short film. So my friends and I got together and we did.

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