The Calling Card Script

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  • The Calling Card Script

    I've heard a lot recently about these scripts that writers break in with that never sell -- aka the calling card script. The one that everyone wants to read. Many now land on the annual black list of most liked scripts never produced. But often those specs don't get made -- but sometimes they do.

    I've heard this term before -- but not sure I understood it as much as I do now that I've been in the business longer.

    The goal is to get your writing in front of the right people. To be invited into the room. To have your script be so good, people pass it around town. They are dying to read good, original material that doesn't bore them to sleep.

    Often, and I do this all the time, try to think of ideas that will sell. Makes sense right? But maybe I should be writing the script no one else can write but me. My Juno. My Orphans (shout out to Ed Fury's book). Add more examples please.

    My point is, if you are worried your idea won't sell. Good news. Neither will mine or most spec ideas.

    Our goal has to be to write something that will get us signed and invited into the rooms. Our goal is to get a career going and create fans. Make more opportunities not just sell one spec. It would be great if we could do both.

    Maybe if you are cautious write both. One for them. One for you. But the one calling card spec may be the one that will actually get your career going vs writing another run of the mill spec.

    I think it should still be something that can be a commercial movie if done right, not just something that shows off your voice. Make it both. However, we all have these crazy original ideas that if we pitched them, no one would buy them. But if we write them, as only we can, they shine on the page.

    Here's 1 article about it -- https://thescriptlab.com/features/sc...d-spec-script/

    Just something to think about when you are debating between ideas.



  • #2
    Wouldn't your first really great script be your calling card script and if not the one after that or the one after that?


    Hey! You might do it in your house, but in this house we don't lick our butts. -- Mother Teresa

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    • #3
      I thought I had some great scripts -- they went out with big reps behind them -- but they weren't calling card scripts because they didn't sell and didn't generate buzz. 0 for 2.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Bono View Post
        I've heard a lot recently about these scripts that writers break in with that never sell -- aka the calling card script. The one that everyone wants to read. Many now land on the annual black list of most liked scripts never produced. But often those specs don't get made -- but sometimes they do.

        I've heard this term before -- but not sure I understood it as much as I do now that I've been in the business longer.

        The goal is to get your writing in front of the right people. To be invited into the room. To have your script be so good, people pass it around town. They are dying to read good, original material that doesn't bore them to sleep.

        Often, and I do this all the time, try to think of ideas that will sell. Makes sense right? But maybe I should be writing the script no one else can write but me. My Juno. My Orphans (shout out to Ed Fury's book). Add more examples please.

        My point is, if you are worried your idea won't sell. Good news. Neither will mine or most spec ideas.

        Our goal has to be to write something that will get us signed and invited into the rooms. Our goal is to get a career going and create fans. Make more opportunities not just sell one spec. It would be great if we could do both.

        Maybe if you are cautious write both. One for them. One for you. But the one calling card spec may be the one that will actually get your career going vs writing another run of the mill spec.

        I think it should still be something that can be a commercial movie if done right, not just something that shows off your voice. Make it both. However, we all have these crazy original ideas that if we pitched them, no one would buy them. But if we write them, as only we can, they shine on the page.

        Here's 1 article about it -- https://thescriptlab.com/features/sc...d-spec-script/

        Just something to think about when you are debating between ideas.

        Orphans came from a producer who told me about the calling card script. Write something that shows your unique creativity and your unique writing voice. Something that doesn’t necessarily need to sell. In my case, he was 100% correct. That script opened doors like crazy. It was optioned 8 times over 18 years by producers, production companies, and one studio…all who didn’t end up making it because of the weird controversial storyline… until the last one, who finally made it under a different title. It’s still opening doors. I got my first writing assignment because of it. My first writing credit because of it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

        So, if you’re asking me? I’m a big fan of the idea. But… it needs to come from the real writer inside you. Not something you calculate. Something written from pure creativity that shows you in your best light.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by EdFury View Post

          Orphans came from a producer who told me about the calling card script. Write something that shows your unique creativity and your unique writing voice. Something that doesn’t necessarily need to sell. In my case, he was 100% correct. That script opened doors like crazy. It was optioned 8 times over 18 years by producers, production companies, and one studio…all who didn’t end up making it because of the weird controversial storyline… until the last one, who finally made it under a different title. It’s still opening doors. I got my first writing assignment because of it. My first writing credit because of it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

          So, if you’re asking me? I’m a big fan of the idea. But… it needs to come from the real writer inside you. Not something you calculate. Something written from pure creativity that shows you in your best light.
          100%. I've had some crazy ideas, that I know won't sell but maybe I should write. The ones that I think readers would go, let me read that to see if he pulled if off. No chance of selling. Or very little chance.

          Is the annual black list specs also calling card scripts would you say as well? Often the new form of calling card scripts often seems to be about real people. Like what if Walt Disney didn't create Disneyland... something like that. Or what happens if JFK was not killed in 1963? Or sometimes it's just a historical event we know well told in a fictional form.

          But that's not really me. And it would be false. However, I was thinking today about an idea which was what if the red sox won the world series in 1986. How would my life change? Not sure that would be a calling card script, but it's interesting.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Bono View Post

            100%. I've had some crazy ideas, that I know won't sell but maybe I should write. The ones that I think readers would go, let me read that to see if he pulled if off. No chance of selling. Or very little chance.

            Is the annual black list specs also calling card scripts would you say as well? Often the new form of calling card scripts often seems to be about real people. Like what if Walt Disney didn't create Disneyland... something like that. Or what happens if JFK was not killed in 1963? Or sometimes it's just a historical event we know well told in a fictional form.

            But that's not really me. And it would be false. However, I was thinking today about an idea which was what if the red sox won the world series in 1986. How would my life change? Not sure that would be a calling card script, but it's interesting.
            If the Red Sox had won in 86 I would have had a different outlook on life and not wasted approximately 8000 hours (I watched 150 games or so a year, at least, times 18 years, times three hours) of my life. But that just feels like the thruline of FEVER PITCH.

            I don't even think a calling card script has to be a wacky idea, but I often think of it as being that way. The Reagan dementia one was so funny and well done. (that idiot conservatives complained was foolish - he was the hero along with the protagonist!) The Barron Trump one was great. The Nic Cage one was brilliant and insanely enough got made. The Bubbles one has to be dead, right? You can't make a Jacko movie at this point. Possum Song was brilliant.

            Zaozirny's wife's Madonna script was not wacky but it was never going to get made but got her work.

            One of the things that we are packaging now feels like it is going to be a calling card script and I kinda don't want it to be because it skews very Coens/almost black comedy and it's just not what I write. The other one is the stuff I'm best at.

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            • #7
              As you listed all those, I just realized, on my god, I haven't read any of those. I didn't even think to go look at a calling card script. What a dumbass I am.

              But yes at 43, I grew up when Boston sports mostly sucked. The patriots were so bad they were not on TV for home games because they never sold out and we lived too close to the stadium. So for 20 years I grew up a loser boston fan. And that was my identity. Now 20 year olds ares spoiled jerks, they are just as bad as Yankee fans.


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              • #8
                Originally posted by Bono View Post
                As you listed all those, I just realized, on my god, I haven't read any of those. I didn't even think to go look at a calling card script. What a dumbass I am.

                But yes at 43, I grew up when Boston sports mostly sucked. The patriots were so bad they were not on TV for home games because they never sold out and we lived too close to the stadium. So for 20 years I grew up a loser boston fan. And that was my identity. Now 20 year olds ares spoiled jerks, they are just as bad as Yankee fans.

                Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent is great. I'd definitely read that one. There's a scene with Tarantino...I won't spoil it, but here:

                https://i.ibb.co/j6vkVTK/uwomt.png

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                • #9
                  "America the Motion Picture" was passed around because it was so hilarious it's finally going to get made as an animation. And the thing is too there was no ones name on the script for years, but it's hilarious.

                  Jeff Lowell's dark comedy about a killer agent? Got him tons of reads and lots of work if I'm not mistaken.
                  "Balls Out" by the Robotard8000 was an attention getter and was even on the original black list as well as being read with the read being posted on the web.

                  I'm guessing it's write something insanely insane?


                  Hey! You might do it in your house, but in this house we don't lick our butts. -- Mother Teresa

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                  • #10
                    https://www.netflix.com/title/80189631

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                    • #11
                      I'm going to write a spec called THE MOST OFFENSIVE SPEC EVER WRITTEN and it would be 90 pages of the most below G-Rated story... and then the last 5 pages would be XXXXX rated and everyone would hate me forever. Game of Thrones style. Every character would be killed off in terrible ways.

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                      • #12
                        I always think a memorable idea where people say "you could never make this, but it would be awesome if you could" is a great way to get attention. I think they get you work, and then finally the right person might say "screw it, let's make this."

                        I mean, if you're reading a thousand query letters, are you going to be more exited to read "a chainsaw-wielding George Washington teams with beer-loving bro Sam Adams to take down the Brits" or "two teenager best friends realize they're right for each other"?

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                        • #13
                          I like that Jeff. The mistake I make is I write a lot of broad comedy they don’t make and try to tone it down so it’s more grounded but it still won’t sell so I should just go full Washington with a chainsaw instead of editing myself.

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                          • #14
                            I think the idea is at least as (if not more) important than the execution. I don't think it's a tone adjustment; I think realistic reactions to a fantastic situation is a good place to start.

                            Way back when, there was a TV spec script for Cheers that was famous among writers trying to break in - "The Pope Goes To Cheers." The Pope is having a parade in Boston, he needs to use the bathroom, so the popemobile stops at Cheers. You never see him - just the pope hat in a crowd of bodyguards going through the bar to the bathroom and back. The urinal he uses becomes a shrine, and everyone crowds the bar to see it.

                            It's a great title, it's an outrageous idea, but it's possible and the interesting thing was seeing the characters react in a real way.

                            I'm a broken record, but it all comes back to the story. If I see one problem in amateur scripts over and over and over and over it's that the core story isn't exciting. It doesn't make you want to read it, and it doesn't make you picture the scenes, and you've seen some variation of it a thousand times.

                            So then the argument begins: "but the execution is so great that if someone reads it they'll love it!" And then the only choice is paying to enter the few meaningful contests, because they *have* read it, and then when that doesn't work, it's paid pitching services, etc.''

                            tl;dr: concept.

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                            • #15
                              I believe it’s the concept too. But for comedy the rules are different for spec land and unsold writer vs if Adam Sandler wants to do it or Netflix what’s to make a broad comedy with David spade. And I assume you Jeff have more leeway as you’ve proven it so maybe they let you write a comedy that is more over the top than apatow movies. Maybe not.

                              I think I write mostly high concept easy to pitch ideas. That gets me read. But often they don’t sell because of things I can’t fully control. Often it’s like this is funny but too much funny.

                              Such a hard needle to thread.

                              Easier for me to write comedy I love for tv. But first have to break in feature land. That’s the catch 22.

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