Via the Oxford Dictionaries:
spec – noun (in phrase on spec) informal
In the hope of success but without any specific plan or instructions: he built the factory on spec and hoped someone would buy it
* * *
Replace the word “factory” with “script” and now you understand the place of specs in Hollywood.
Because in Hollywood, a “spec” can mean not only a script you want to sell, but – paradoxically – also a script you have no intention of selling. A script for an episode of TV that you use simply to showcase your skills: a writing sample set in a world Hollyfolks are already familiar with, since (smart) Writers generally choose popular shows to spec. And yes, here in LaLaLand, “spec” is actually a noun AND a verb. (Sorry, OED.)
Before they’ve even met you, Suits and Executive Producers can gauge through your spec how interesting your ideas are, how well you break a story, and how you can adapt to writing in someone else’s voice, since it’s likely they’ve seen the show you’re “speccing.”
Of course, what’s popular changes from year to year. Arrested Development specs used to land on desks by the thousands, and before that, Grey’s Anatomy, and before that, The Shield, and before that, Six Feet Under, and before that, The Sopranos, and before that, The X-Files, and Ozias begat Joatham and Joatham begat Achaz and Achaz begat Ezekias…
So at any given time there’s always a “hot spec” – a show that Hollywood is watching en masse at that particular moment – and if you can hit the sweet spot – that is, if you can write a spec of that show at the exact time it becomes “hot” – well, then you’re already a few steps ahead of the rest of the slavering pack of Writers nipping at your heels for jobs. Because much as its denizens would love for you to believe in their jaded seen-it-allness, Hollywood has its own (albeit more affectedly subdued) fandoms, and a good spec is like good fanfic. No true fan can resist more story, OMNOMNOMNOM.
Me, I’ve been using a Sopranos spec.
For ten years.
So you can see how “hot” I am.
My problem was, after writing the Sopranos, I never found another show I wanted to spec. That might sound crazy, given how much TV I watch (and love), but there were always reasons why I couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t spec any of my favorites.
The West Wing? What I loved about this show were the characters. The intricacies of political policy never held enough interest to compel me to do the research, and without the research, I would’ve come off like a bloviating twat. (However, I might have written some Josh and Donna scenes for my own private collection. Might.)
House? See above, only with medical stuff. (But no Josh and Donna.)
Six Feet Under? Okay, this one I did want to write, except I was employed the entire time the show was on the air, and by the time I needed a job, the show was gone. Writing a new spec of a show that’s already been cancelled is like sending a thank you note to a dead person.
NOW IS THE TIME, MY FRIENDS.
I am finally (or as my manager might put it, “finally, finally, finally, finally, finally, fucking finally Jesus fucking Christ finally”) writing a new spec. But of what, you may ask?
If I can pull it off, I have what I am 99% sure is a fantastic idea for a spec script (you have to leave open that 1% possibility that it sucks – otherwise you catch God’s attention, and She just loves to fuck up what you think you know for certain) — but this idea, too, will require a bit of research, and staffing season starts… well, around now-ly.
Believe me, I would’ve loved to have started this whole process earlier, but the idea only came to me this past weekend as I lay in bed at 4 a.m., unable to sleep. By 5 a.m., I had the entire story worked out (or rather, the story felt like it had worked itself out, and those are the best kinds), including characters, progression, twists, emotional resonance, etc. – but I knew if I wanted to strike while the iron was “hot” (ugh, I am so sorry, you guys), I’d need some help.
Now, it’s no secret around these parts that I am half in-worship with Amanda Palmer. Not only do I think she kicks massive ass as a rockstar and artist, but also as a human being, and I believe her personal connection to her listeners-slash-friends is a big part of that. (After all, we’re talking about a woman who raised over a million bucks for her album and tour on Kickstarter. Kickstarter, y’all.) She’s not afraid to trust and rely on other people, to collaborate, to allow room for others’ ideas and others’ art, allowing it to add to and enhance her own – all without losing her original vision.
That sense of openness – of inclusion – was the spark for what follows:
As I said, I’m going to need some research – specifically, knowledge of authors and literature – to make this spec work. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a problem (considering this’d be research I’d actually be interested in, unlike the wonkified minutiae required for a West Wing) – except for the time crunch I find myself in.
And so it is, dear friends, that I turn to you.
I have seen the power of the hivemind,
and it is awesome.
But asking people to help you for free is a tad on the tacky side.
So I decided to structure this process as a challenge to both of us, to see if together, you and I can make it work. The main goal:
For those of you who aren’t familiar with script lengths, that’s about 54 pages. Totally doable if you’re writing a show you’re employed by – but that’s because you’ve already been in a Writers’ room for two weeks discussing every detail of the outline with a group of other Writers.
Trying to break it, outline it, research it, and write it alone, by myself, in 10 days? You might as well ask me to eat quinoa. Never gonna happen.
But with your help?
To be perfectly honest, I am scared fucknoodle shitless of trying this, y’all. I’m terrified of falling on my face, of missing the deadline, of writing a suckass script – and if that weren’t enough, to do all of these things in public.
But having already declared 2013 my Year Of Glorious Mistakes:
I am going to take Mr. Gaiman’s advice:
Whatever it is you are scared of doing, DO IT.
Just because this might not work is a total crap reason for not trying at all.
So here are the rules I’ve set for myself:
- I will be throwing out research questions over Twitter (@EvilGalProds) for the next three days (Feb. 13-15), while at the same time doing my own research and breaking out the script (that is, figuring out the architecture of exactly what goes where, why, and when). I’ll probably also ask a few questions while I’m actually writing the script, ‘cause shit always changes, no matter how well you’ve planned. Scripts are kinda like life that way.
If you have/find/know anything you’d like to share, I’ve set up an email account – firstname.lastname@example.org – for you to send responses to (all email addresses will be held strictly confidential), since A) conveying even a small nugget of information 140 characters at a time is crazymaking, and B) trying to scroll through Twitter will take me forever, and efficiency will be key to this experiment. (This way I can also keep a permanent record of who’s contributed, and what their particular contribution is.) Seriously, if you answer over Twitter, I will not see it, and then I will be bummed, and the script will be the poorer for not having had your input.
- I will finish a complete outline of the script by end of day Friday, Feb. 15.
- I will then be off-grid for 7 days, writing from Feb. 16-22, except for the aforementioned possible distress calls on Twitter.
- I will try to sneak an update blog in, but then again, I may be too busy going fetal on the floor and sobbing. Still, I’ll do my damnedest.
- I will finish the first draft by the end of February 22. This means midnight, and I have no doubt I’ll be writing right up until Cinderella turns back into a broke-ass white girl.
And if I wind up with a script on the day we’re aiming for?
Here are the rewards (hopefully y’all won’t be like, “She calls these motherfucking rewards? Cheapo bitch.”):
- After doing a second draft (sorry, but not even my mother sees my first drafts, and she used to wipe poop off me), I will post the entire script on this site. It will be in .pdf format that you are welcome to download, share, email, print, or set on fire for warmth.
- I’ll highlight any and all contributions made by each of you, and thank you all individually and embarrassingly profusely.
- I’ll write a “journey” blog about this experience and how you influenced the script (it may take me a couple days to recover from writing the script first, but I’ll get off the floor eventually. I’m pretty sure. Okay, I’m relatively sure.), a blog which will include…
…the big “reward”:
You’re coming with me to the tattoo parlor.
That’s right. I’ve been wanting to get two specific tattoos on my wrists for AGES, tattoos that hold a special significance regarding what we’re trying here, and I think I’ve finally found the artist I want to do it. If we make our goal, I’ll get a videographer (probably not The Finance, as he loathes needles like I loathe vegetables) to accompany me to the shop, and you can watch someone dig sharp things into my delicate flesh while I pretend it doesn’t hurt at all. Even though it totally will. A lot. But out of pain (for instance, the pain of writing a spec in 7 days after only 3 days of research – ah! see what I did there?) can arise beautiful art, and as the Tat Man scars me for life, I will think of each of you, and maybe even mutter your name and, “This is all your fucking fault.”
- PLEASE NOTE: I DO NOT OWN “Elementary”’s interpretation of the Sherlock and Watson characters, and I DO NOT WANT any financial transactions, including charity auctions, attached to this spec. I support many causes, but making money off another artist’s original ideas is not one of them. No selling, no buying, no bidding, and – much as I love you all – I will never sign any copies of this script. Ever. Of course, people can (and usually do) do what they want – but I DO NOT encourage nor condone these actions. This spec is meant as a writing sample only, and if you try to make money off it – IN ANY WAY – I will be deeply unhappy (to say the least; and I can’t imagine CBS or Timberman/Beverly would be elated, either: fair warning), and unlikely to try anything like this again.
This whole process is a huge risk, I’m well aware. The chance that I will fail in some way or another – well, hell, “chance” may be the understatement of the year; it’s pretty much guaranteed I’ll fuck up somehow – but I’m going to try it anyway, because you are what makes me think this insane idea could even be possible.
Over the last 18 months or so, ever since my re-acclimation to the grid, I’ve been amazed (and delighted) to find such a vast number of smart, creative people populating the same tiny corner I hang in.
And now I want to push us – both you and me – and really see what we’re capable of together.
So what do you say?