I dream for a living.
       - Steven Spielberg

Spec vs. Commissioned Screenplays

 

If you want to make money in the film industry as a screenwriter, there are two main ways to accomplish that. Understanding the difference between both is essential for writers to better tackle the market while also avoiding major blunders.

Spec Scripts

The word “spec” is short for speculative, which means “involving a high risk of loss.” Spec scripts are composed by writers who are not getting paid to do so. The “high risk” involves mainly time because feature screenplays, for instance, could take months or years to be finished. And the writer has no guarantee that he or she will sell it.

Although these screenplays are often original stories, sometimes spec writers can secure rights to a previously published work they like and adapt a screenplay based on it. Example of spec scripts with original stories:

If the screenwriter is a seasoned filmmaker, he might be able to pull some strings and produce the film himself. Some examples are:

Commissioned Scripts

The other way to make money as a screenwriter is with commissioned screenplays, which is a coveted business for professional writers only. It works like this: a producer gets ahold of the rights to a novel, play, TV show, anime, comic book, or video game. Since writing is not his trade, said producer hires a scriptwriter to indite the screenplay. Some examples:

Notice how “big” these three titles are or were at the time of release.

Filmmaker’s InsightSpider Man 1

Commissioned screenwriting is the reason why you cannot write the next Spider Man sequel and expect to sell it. All of these franchises are owned by corporations and companies that have their own plans for the future of the franchise as well as their own team of writers.

If your dream is to write for a famous superhero franchise, first you have to prove yourself as an established, talented writer. Pen a few screenplays, get your name out there, lengthen your resume…

Writes are also hired for projects that are award-worthy, often adapting existing works. Examples:

 

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