Wrote TV Spec Script, Now What?
September 20, 2013 10:07 AM   Subscribe

So, I finished the first draft of a TV spec script this week. I checked to see if the show even looks at spec scripts (it does) and I got a bunch of scripts off the show to study the style and length, etc. Now what?* The only writing gigs I've gotten before have either been people coming to me, self-publishing, or people with their own agents bringing me in as part of a package deal. My only experience with the slush pile is cartoon selling (and I've done well there in so far as you can). I don't have representation of my own. After the writing part of writing is done, how does the selling part go - at least for US TV?

* aside from, of course, getting feedback and re-writing and so on.
posted by The Whelk to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
You never send someone a spec of their own show.

Mainly because you don't understand their characters, their stories, or in fact their unrevealed future plans, as well as they do. Even if you are the world's second greatest expert on this show, the person you're sending it to knows it better than you do.

You want to send show x a spec for another show, y, which is current, and in the same broad genre as theirs. You want them thinking, okay, he does that show pretty well, we can probably get him up to speed on our show. NOT oh, no, Elaine would never do that.
posted by Naberius at 10:19 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't have any spcific advice, but if you haven't already you might listen to some of the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast which is all talking to TV writers about how they got in the business, selling scripts, pitching, spec scripts, etc.., etc... I enjoy it just because I, uh, really like TV, but tit seems like there's a ton of good advice for people actually trying to work in the business.
posted by grapesaresour at 10:33 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Comedy or Drama?

...now what?

Start on another.

Move to LA.

Are there reputable TV script contests? Write a feature and enter it in a *reputable* script contest.

Attend a pitch event (in LA)

If comedy attend the http://www.sitcomroom.com/

Call your brother-inlaw who happens to be a network executive and wrangle an invitation to a really cool showrunners cocktail party.
posted by sammyo at 10:40 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am nowhere near an expert on this but I went to a talk given by someone who wrote for Sex and the City and then got her own series and her advice was:

1) Don't send a spec script for the show you want to write for to that show, send one for a different show, like Naberius said.

2) Write 2 spec scripts before you even think of doing anything else.
posted by sweetkid at 10:49 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Move to LA.

There is definite truth to this. Although I notice you're an NYC resident, so it's not as if you're in nowheres-ville.

The folks I know who have genuinely "made it" as writers in the Biz have relocated (assuming they weren't living there in the first place) to one of a small handful of centers where the decisions actually get made. It's not where a show gets shot per say, it's where the producers etc live.

good luck
posted by philip-random at 11:01 AM on September 20, 2013

The thing to remember is that, when you write a spec script, you're not writing with the idea that your script is going to get produced by the show in question. It's a writing sample to show that you can write a TV teleplay, specifically that you can write in the voice/style of a show you didn't create.

There are a couple things you can do with your spec script:

- If you have representation, you show this to your agent/manager as a part of your portfolio to submit for TV writing assignments. TV staffing season is in late spring and early summer, after pilot season, as shows gear up for the fall season. So you'd give this script to your agent with other relevant materials, and they could shop you around as a writer. Probably on shows that are similar to the show you specced, and almost certainly NOT the actual show you wrote an episode of. This is how the sausage is made in terms of getting a job as a TV writer, though in my understanding spec scripts are emphasized less than they used to be. Still, it's a writing sample, and it does show off your ability to nail someone else's style and write in the voice of characters you didn't create.

- If you do not have representation, you may want to use it to submit for various network "young writers" programs, fellowships, diversity programs if applicable, and the like. Most of those programs require the submission of a spec script rather than original material, so it's in your interest to apply for this sort of thing. You also may want to look into screenwriting competitions that want TV spec scripts.

It also may help you to get representation, though I'm a touch hazy on how that works.

At this point, the spec script is a cool thing to have in your back pocket, but it's not going to get made, and it's not going to get you a job on its own. If you're really interested in writing for TV, you should also have some original stuff in your portfolio, because in my understanding more showrunners want to see originals these days when making staffing choices.
posted by Sara C. at 11:06 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

"people with their own agents bringing me in as part of a package deal."
So contact those people and see if their agents will take you on. Or call the agents directly. Usually a spec script exists to get you an agent. Here's a WGA panel from 2007 about specs.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:08 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also I would not move to Los Angeles just because you wrote a spec script.

There are like twenty zillion steps between "finished my spec script!" and "staffed on a television show", and plane tickets are going to still exist when you've completed a few more of the requisite steps.

That said, when seeking representation, you may want to either have an LA based agent or someone who is well-versed with TV staffing despite being based in New York.

Also, if you submit to any of the network writers' programs, you might want to do so with an eye to the fact that, if you are accepted, you will be moving to Los Angeles.
posted by Sara C. at 11:14 AM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

Call your brother-inlaw who happens to be a network executive and wrangle an invitation to a really cool showrunners cocktail party.

Don't do this.
posted by Sara C. at 11:14 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I checked to see if the show even looks at spec scripts (it does)

They look at spec scripts for their own show? That's freakish (shows consider it a legal liability as a submitter might accuse them of stealing a story) though not impossible.

The way is mostly works these days is you use your spec to get an agent*. Your agent will likely not show your spec for that show to that show but will show your spec to other shows to show the show that you know how to write for a pre-existing tone/pace/formula/story/genre.

Very few shows hire freelance writers anymore, so the likelihood of producing the actual spec you wrote is very low, but even lower without an agent.

*Which is not, of course, as easy as holding up your spec at the side of the road until an agent stops for you. Writers' programs are, as Sara C. said, the primary in for unrepresented writers. Jane Espenson's blog, while some years old and no longer really updated, is still probably one of the best general resources for "what next?"

The other way to do it is to write something short and original, produce it for the web, and go viral. Or, even if you don't go viral, it's there as a resume piece and that doesn't hurt if it's good. But you'll probably need to keep doing it until it does go viral. If you *did* live in LA, you could do the usual rounds of improv -> sketch -> make things with people -> show it to other people -> ?? -> Profit! That works in New York to a certain extent, but eventually you'll have to leave.

I assume you're already listening to Nerdist Writer's Panel. That is actually the freshest and most informative body of work on how amateur TV writers become professional TV writers, and of course there is no One True Way, but the pattern emerges over time. Some people are crazy fucking lucky, though, and you can't win if you don't play.

My first (only) spec lives a quiet life on a website where nobody sees it. I just don't have the hustle for TV.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:36 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's a weird time of year for spec scripts. Shows still have approximately 22 episodes to make your script outdated, it's not hiring season, and the fellowship deadlines are far away. Ultimately, this spec's usefulness is probably going to be measured by how much writing practice it gave you, and in how strong it is as a piece of the larger writing sample you'll show prospective employers up and down the food chain (that writing sample will likely also include a pilot and another spec).

If I were you, right now I would:
-- "Network" (ie, be social, go on [informational] interviews, talk to writers/agents you know, etc);
-- Intern/Work (whichever is appropriate for your level of connections);
-- and, Write a pilot.

If you're eligible for the fellowships: if you're a comedy writer, enter the Nick fellowship this winter...if not, then write another spec after you finish your pilot, and enter the other network fellowship competitions in the spring (ie, NBC, ABC/Disney, WB).
posted by rue72 at 11:43 AM on September 20, 2013

That works in New York to a certain extent, but eventually you'll have to leave.

Not sure if I am drifting outside the scope of the question with this, but as someone who did the NY to LA move and is sort of in the process of all this "write lots, meet people, make your own stuff, pray that it's good" path to screenwriting glory, I think that, at least at first and at this point, you could probably do it from New York. I'm here making my own webseries now, but to be honest I kick myself every day that I didn't do this before I moved out here. It's really difficult to move across the country, start completely from scratch, AND somehow come up with the resources required to produce your own material.

But, yeah, making your own stuff and getting it seen is definitely part of the process. My current web project is heavily based on ideas that came out of a spec script for Girls that ultimately got destroyed by plot developments in the new season. So it's definitely all part of the same beast.
posted by Sara C. at 11:48 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh definitely, I didn't mean to imply you had to move to make stuff. Make stuff anywhere and everywhere!

But there is something to be said for doing it in LA. My husband stumbled into a series of production gigs on web shows just because he did one and talked to somebody who then needed someone, and then someone asked the second guy if he knew anyone, and then people in his improv classes needed someone, etc etc. That definitely can happen anywhere, but in LA the project volume is just really huge. But I'd guess New York comes in second.

And like rue72 said, "write a pilot" is what I'm hearing. You might get in the door with a spec, but agents will then ask to see your pilot. I imagine 2-3 years from now, they'll be asking to see your produced pilot on video.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:50 PM on September 20, 2013

Yep, I've seen a lot of the submission guidelines at NYTVF asking for produced pilots these days.
posted by cazoo at 1:34 PM on September 20, 2013

Nthing that the next thing you should write is an original pilot, not a spec script. While this is not UNtrue --

The way is mostly works these days is you use your spec to get an agent*. Your agent will likely not show your spec for that show to that show but will show your spec to other shows to show the show that you know how to write for a pre-existing tone/pace/formula/story/genre.

--as I see it, the trend is toward judging writers based on original writing and not on specs of preexisting shows.

(Though I hope to heck the trend doesn't go so far as to see a produced pilot. That takes real money to create, even if the exact number figure for that is trending down. Just horrible, if that's where things end up.)
posted by lewedswiver at 8:30 PM on September 20, 2013

Just my .02, never say never - a show I produced once staffed a writer off of a pretty spectacular spec of that show. But everyone above is right - it (almost) never happens like that. That was the first and last time I saw it.

You need to write original material, pilots, short stories, one act plays even. Think about the kinds of shows you'd like to write on and then craft an original pilot that you think could get you a job on that show. Don't tell me you want to write on Mad Men but only have a spec of Two Broke Girls and a light procedural to show me. It's amazing how many writers don't get this.

Ultimately you will need to get represented. Keep writing, keep networking, enter contests and writer programs and workshops. I'm about to take out a series from a guy in a different part of the country and a totally different career. He wrote a lot, networked, someone got his stuff to an agent who signed him and now we're off.

It happens a lot of different ways, more so these days with the help of technology, so keep writing and good luck!
posted by buzzkillington at 10:48 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

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