Screenwriting : Do spec scripts from unknown writers ever sell? by Del George

Do spec scripts from unknown writers ever sell?

Is there any point in me sending my treatment to production companies? Sorry if this has already been covered, i'm new. Thank you in advance, any advice/opinion is appreciated.

Doug Nelson

They do; but it's VERY rare. You write your script with the hope & dream that it will sell but you soon learn that the studios & production companies won't even accept/read your script. Oh my, what to do? You must get your script into the hands of someone that has a working relationship with various studios/production companies - Agents, Managers, name talant (Actors...); people having connections in the industry. Where do you find these folk? They tend to congregate at film festivals, seminars, retreats - that sort of stuff. Keep in mind that Agents/Managers earn their living by promoting and selling writer's scripts; they need you more than you need them. This is the general way of the commercial film world and as always, there are exceptions. The Indie Filmmaker world is more relaxed at this time. Best wishes for your success.

Del George

Thank you for your response. I had been working with a producer but due to Covid he has had to take up some non-industry related work and I now find myself with no contacts trying to break into an impregnable industry. I remain optimistic and live in hope :)

Stefano Pavone

It's like discovering rhodium (which is rarer than gold and platinum combined together).

CJ Walley

I know plenty of unknown writers who've sold specs and broken in off the back of that. There's writers on here in that position with specs going into production right now.

They aren't selling to the big studios though. They're selling to small indie producers and working their way up from there, earning their stripes and building up credits.

Some prodcos/producers will read synopsis and treatments and give the nod to go ahead with them. I literally had a bunch go out on request yesterday. You need to be teamed up with well connected people with good reputations but it's possible.

That all said, in today's market, you need to see specs as a portfolio of writing samples. They are most effective in generating writing assignments.

I don't blame anyone for wanting to go straight into the bigger prodcos and studios but that takes a remarkable level of exceptionalism, networking, and good fortune.

Carl Pepper

Del, to answer your question, I looking from a Point of view from working 40 years in the film industry I realized that today the protocal and thought process for a newbie writer, in the eyes of agents and creative studio executives has changed for the worse. To sell a screenplay as a newbie writer today the screenplay cannot exceed 120 pages. To be real, not more than 100 pages or agents will throw them in the circular file without reading a page!

We all know that for pass decades the first 10 to 15 pages of a screenplay had better grip the agent/studio exec. in content for them to continue reading the script getting more and more into the content or not. That was very fair in judging a screenplay. So, to keep the standard for producing a screenplay has changed, like night and day in my opinion.

I could make this a very long dissertation however, short and to the point is better in my mind. Be descriptive in your characters, most actors are method actors today. Lead in and out of scenes dictated on performance and visual conective tissue and write your passion meaning, think outside of todays writing box.

I hope that my POV gives you some direction. Contect me if you choose....

Del George

Thank you guys. As naive as i may be i remain hopeful. All of these comments have been helpful, encouraging at the same time managing my expectations :)

Dan MaxXx

sure, specs sell but if you're chasing 6-figure paychecks, those deals are rare. I think Scott Myers publishes a yearly list of specs sold to studios; there's always a few unknown writers on list.

Del George

thank you ...... your responses give me hope that it does happen ... and to be fair its not even about money. I just want to get a foot in the door. I am confident my script and its treatment are at an industry standard its just hunting down the right heads to get them in front of. Very steep learning curve!

Craig D Griffiths

Hi Del. Think of the film industry as professional sport.

You start playing soccer for your local pub team. That could be a short film for a friend or yourself.

You get a position on a regional team, they cover your expenses and have good equipment. They even get a crowd to the games. You sell a script to a small indie production company.

You play for a state level team. Bigger budget Indie, known stars and/or production team.

You sell to a studio. You play for Manchester United.

People will put crap on people writing specs because they want the equivalent of playing for Manchester United straight away. People will tell you studios don’t buy specs. True. Manchester United doesn’t get its team from a pub.

Now to keep the football/soccer metaphor going.

Then you have Ryan Giggs joined Manchester and 15, in film Shane Black who sold his spec of Lethal Weapon for 4 million (if I remember).

PS. I have sold some specs. I am the best player in the pub, so to speak.

Doug Nelson

I'm not into soccer, but it's a good metaphor.

Joshua Keller Katz

Del George per your two questions:

1. I do not suggest ever just sending an unsolicited treatment to someone.

2. spec scripts sell every month from unknown writers.

My advice would be to query a production company, manager, or agent who is looking for this type of project.

BS Charan

I think yes, spec scripts sell from first time writers in my opinion. I sent synopsis of my first script 'The Trial of Monty Jefferson' to some 30 managers/ assistants to managers. And I got some script requests, including from two big agencies i.e. Zero Gravity and United Talent Agency. However I decided not to go forward with that script as I needed some more polishing. Plus I wanted to deal with my another script Aristotle's Daughter first. In short, if you have a great idea, people will be interested, final outcome may differ as ideas sound more interesting than reading actual screenplay.

Dan Guardino

There is no point sending your treatment to production companies. You have to have a script and get permission to send it to them or they won’t read it. I don't do it anymore but I used to send out query letters and call producers and agents to see if I could get them to read my screenplays.

Del George

Thanks guys. The first poroject I have done is an ambitious project and for that reason i'm not sure it would meet the requirements of a smaller studio. I am working on another project (which is near completeion - I.e, 7 billionth re-write) and i am thinking that the second project may be the way forward initially to get myself out there knocking on doors.

Del George

Craig D Griffiths absolutely love the football analogy!!

Kiril Maksimoski

What a lovely topic! Carson Reeves put it nicely: Even if your first script get's optioned or sold it will most likely never get made. So you really need to clear out your priorities on each spec you write: Money? Credit? Self-confidence? etc...

Secondly even before writing firstly find out what genre suites you the most, and then follow out trending within that genre. That way you'll have script ready on demand whenever interests rise for let's say coming-of-age, contained drama, biopic you name it. Do your research, you'll see trends are constantly changing....except for horror, that's always in :))))

Dan MaxXx

Come to Hollywood. Dreams come true here. Evan Romansky is living proof.

Barely out of film school at Loyola Marymount, Romansky was admittedly struggling to find assistant work when his spec (a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest prequel, focused on notorious pop-culture tyrant Nurse Ratched) nabbed him a manager at a pitch fest. Within a month, original film producer Michael Douglas was on board, and Romansky had signed with CAA, which brought client Ryan Murphy into the fold. Ratched got a lead in Murphy muse Sarah Paulson, and Netflix (competing with Apple and Hulu) gave it a two-season straight-to-series order. It was enough to give even the most seasoned scribe whiplash. "I still don't think I've fully returned to my body," says Romansky, who turns 27 on Nov. 19. "Everyone knows the most difficult part of trying to make it as a writer in this industry is breaking in … so it's all smooth sailing from here on out, right?"

Morgan Cooper, a filmmaker from Kansas City spent his own money on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air trailer. Will Smith saw it and is on board for a reboot.

Nicholas In Seattle

Del, get a hold of the SGA (Screenwriter's guild of america) and ask then about getting yourself an Agent... IE; where to go to find one. GET AN AGENT FIRST

Kiril Maksimoski

Dan fascinating story, but I have feeling big chunk of troubles is missing between "work" and "when" :)

That's the issue with Hollywood...sells too much dreams with big chunks of reality missing...even Milcho Machevski, a foreigner living and working in NY once said...American dream is true...only takes about 20 yrs to achieve it...

Dan Guardino

Nicholas In Seattle. I never heard of SGA (Screenwriter's guild of America). I don’t think there is such a thing. I am guessing maybe you meant WGA and if so, they won’t help you get an agent and if someone is just finishing up their second screenplay their odds of getting an agent are about zero. Agent want to rep screenwriters who can deliver well-written screenplays on a regular basis. Only have one or two screenplays would not demonstrate that. Someone would need at least four or five just to convince them to look at representing a screenwriter.

Doug Nelson

You'll need to understand that lightning does strike - but how often does it strike you? I repeat myself: It's VERY rare that a spec script floats to the top - but it happens often enough to keep the dream alive.

Nicholas P

Del George They do sell. You can come up with a pitch and pick who you want to tell it to.

Jerry Robbins

Hi Del, I've sold two specs; one is a western that is shooting right now in Wyoming, and the other is a horror that starts in Nashville this Oct. One was found on Inktip, the other on Script Revolution. I haven't had much luck with pitches or query letters - though I wouldn't rule those out. Just keep at it and re-write, re-write, re-write.

Dan Guardino

I agree with Doug when it comes to a good size feature film screenplay for several reasons. Less people make them and they are a lot harder to reach out to if you don’t have a track record or an agent or know someone on the inside who makes those kinds of films. I did option a big budget film once but only after I got an agent and an a well-known director attached. I also wrote two big budget film screenplays on assignment just to watch them die a slow death in development hell. Unfortunately that happens a lot with big budget films.

I agree with those who say start with lower budget film screenplays. A lot more people make them, and they rely on a great story so they are a lot easier to reach out to.

Think of your screenplay as a calling card. If someone reads your screenplay and passes keep their name in your contact list so you can contact them when you finish your next screenplay. The first script I sold was to a production company that pass on two previous screenplays. Good luck and keep writing. If you never give up you can't fail.


William Martell


I used to write the Sales column at Script Magazine and had one or two first sales every issue.

Recently, a guy that I have known online for a while (he lives way outside Los Angeles) sold a screenplay.

And I have friends in the Midwest who just sold a script.

It happens.

Everyone was a new writer before they became a used writer...

CJ Walley

Take in what Jerry Robbins says. He's literally got a spec script in production right now and other things in the works. You need to realise how unusual it is for writers on screenwriting forums to have credits you can look up never mind active projects being made by prodcos.

I spent years listening to people in communities, giving them the benefit of the doubt and taking them on their word. I never really did my due diligence and I took on a lot of bad advice that I thought was valuable. It takes seconds to bang someone's name into IMDb and see where they're at. You have to be ruthless. This is your dream.

In the best part of a decade I've been on various forums, I can count on one hand how many times I've seen a writer post that you can actually go watch a feature/TV show they've written yet it can come across like everyone is in the midst of a Hollywood-esc career. You really have to learn how to cut through the BS and cherish integrity when you find it because it only becomes more important as you progress.

Del George

Thank you everyone. The advice I am getting is really helpful. I felt very lost when I first wrote the post. I feel very inspired and confident again now. I know its not going to be easy or quick, but I will persevere :)

Dan Guardino

Del. If you really want to succeed take in everything I did and say and do the opposite.

Del George

haha Dan Guardino thank you for your advice .. And everybody's its greatly appreciated :)

David Stauffer

If u like the treatment write the script. Then u have a calling card. People want to see execution. Scripts (not treatments) from unknowns to a forum like this can sell but the writer is usually known to somebody who gets them in the door/recommends them, etc. CJ Walley is correct. I've recently marveled at a guy on youtube touting a course on finishing your script for the bargain of $197 and his only credit is a SHORT. And he's not saying he'll improve your writing but just get you to finish one. Finish one yourself and save the money.

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