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View Full Version : To Chase or to Spec? (Scriptnotes)


Eric Boellner
06-13-2014, 11:15 AM
I don't listen to Scriptnotes often (I know, my loss), but I decided to peruse the site recently, and this one (http://johnaugust.com/2014/to-chase-or-to-spec) caught my eye.

I don't consider myself a spec writer. I write my specs, of course, but I do so mostly as writing samples. The dream, for me, is to work within the studio system, doing OWA's and rewrites. To win the big jobs. Sure, spec sales sound great, but not only do they seem like a bit of a pipe dream, I find myself more intrigued by the idea of working as a writer-for-hire.

Anyway, it had been my understanding that OWA's were where it was at in Hollywood. That spec sales were the BIG bucks, but OWA's were the long game. From what I heard in the podcast, though, both August and Mazin suggested the writer in question (a guy named Jason) take some time off to work on a spec, rather than keep chasing assignments. They gave really thorough, sensible reasons why that was a good decision: namely that he needed to have something to keep it fresh, and he wouldn't regret the time spent on a spec (which he could use as a new writing sample), and that if he kept just taking the generals, he'd become a pitch guy instead of a writer. Makes sense.

But what worries me is this discussion of OWA's not being what I'd thought they were: a difficult as hell, but attainable, sustainable career. While I see headlines left and right about different people brought in to write film X, or Y, John and Craig seemed to agree that assignments aren't what they used to be. That essentially, you'll spend months in meetings, pitching and developing for numerous different projects, all of which will eventually fall through. They certainly didn't put it this bleakly, but it cast a couple shadows on what I had thought was me being grounded and logical in going for the OWA's rather than naively chasing after spec sales until you go broke.

I know that OWA's were never going to be easy. But am I reading into this too much, or are assignments actually a waste of time?

ducky1288
06-13-2014, 01:17 PM
I don't listen to Scriptnotes often (I know, my loss), but I decided to peruse the site recently, and this one (http://johnaugust.com/2014/to-chase-or-to-spec) caught my eye.

I don't consider myself a spec writer. I write my specs, of course, but I do so mostly as writing samples. The dream, for me, is to work within the studio system, doing OWA's and rewrites. To win the big jobs. Sure, spec sales sound great, but not only do they seem like a bit of a pipe dream, I find myself more intrigued by the idea of working as a writer-for-hire.

Anyway, it had been my understanding that OWA's were where it was at in Hollywood. That spec sales were the BIG bucks, but OWA's were the long game. From what I heard in the podcast, though, both August and Mazin suggested the writer in question (a guy named Jason) take some time off to work on a spec, rather than keep chasing assignments. They gave really thorough, sensible reasons why that was a good decision: namely that he needed to have something to keep it fresh, and he wouldn't regret the time spent on a spec (which he could use as a new writing sample), and that if he kept just taking the generals, he'd become a pitch guy instead of a writer. Makes sense.

But what worries me is this discussion of OWA's not being what I'd thought they were: a difficult as hell, but attainable, sustainable career. While I see headlines left and right about different people brought in to write film X, or Y, John and Craig seemed to agree that assignments aren't what they used to be. That essentially, you'll spend months in meetings, pitching and developing for numerous different projects, all of which will eventually fall through. They certainly didn't put it this bleakly, but it cast a couple shadows on what I had thought was me being grounded and logical in going for the OWA's rather than naively chasing after spec sales until you go broke.

I know that OWA's were never going to be easy. But am I reading into this too much, or are assignments actually a waste of time?

Not as many companies are developing projects from the ground up like they used to. And usually just to get into the writer mix you have to have a hot spec (whether it sold or not) or something that people have loved or talked about or just something very very solid to get your name in the hat.

Then you get thrusted into a bake off with maybe 10 other writers (depending on the project) and you have to duke it out with pitching, treatments, takes, meetings, etc just to win that one assignment but it can take months to do that.

If you're a name or a pro, you're probably getting the calls to come meet or rewrite, but even sometimes those writers are up against other writers.

Unless you're really great at pitching or just perfect for the specific project, it could end up a waste of time. I have friends who pitch endlessly for months doing free treatments, researching takes, etc and then don't get the job and are left with nothing.

At least with writing a spec you know at the end of those few months you have something you can potentially sell or use to get you another job in some capacity.

I would say chase assignments that are reasonable -- meaning you are a good fit and that they will actually go somewhere. Some places do the bake off process then decide not to move the project forward for whatever reason. But if you spend months prepping and pitching be sure to find time to get your own material in so that your time is not wasted.

jsay
06-13-2014, 01:46 PM
great, balanced advice...

BossOfYou
06-13-2014, 01:53 PM
There's really no such thing as a spec writing career. The main point of a spec is to get you to a place where you can legitimately compete for assignments. Assignments are the career.

I think that John and Craig's advice was in answer to a question from a writer at a very specific point in his career where he is far enough along to even be pitching on OWAs -- probably because of a great unsold spec :-) And I could be wrong but I don't think they were saying that selling a spec is easier than booking an assignment. Just that at this particular point in his career, this writer may be better served turning out new product for his agents to sling.

kpowers
06-13-2014, 03:18 PM
I didn't hear Mssrs August and Mazin saying OWAs are a waste of time, but that this guy had been on some crazy number of meetings (50? 100?) and hadn't gotten anything. At this point, he's met/made an impression on all the relevant players, and he's had a taste of the OWA process, so they thought taking a couple months off to focus on his own thing was a good gamble.

But giving up on OWAs completely was never discussed as an option, and from the way August and Mazin talked about their own recent pitching experiences, they're clearly still going out on them, even at this point in their respective careers.

wcmartell
06-13-2014, 06:43 PM
It's all connected. You need fresh specs to get the meetings for OWAs... and kind of reinvent yourself in the process. The spec is what makes you the hot writer they have to meet with.

Bill

ducky1288
06-13-2014, 11:08 PM
It's all connected. You need fresh specs to get the meetings for OWAs... and kind of reinvent yourself in the process. The spec is what makes you the hot writer they have to meet with.

Bill

This.

Eric Boellner
06-14-2014, 03:22 PM
Great stuff, guys. Thanks so much!

I would say chase assignments that are reasonable -- meaning you are a good fit and that they will actually go somewhere. Some places do the bake off process then decide not to move the project forward for whatever reason. But if you spend months prepping and pitching be sure to find time to get your own material in so that your time is not wasted.

Great advice, thank you! :)