I’ve been a television writer for about 20 years now. In that time, I haven’t written many scripts on spec. Bill Rabkin and I wrote a spec episode of "Spenser: For Hire" as a writing sample to get our first TV job (on "Spenser For Hire," oddly enough). Since then, we’ve written a spec pilot and a couple of spec features, all of which went nowhere… so we never had much incentive to do more non-paying work.
But a few years back, I wrote a spec script on my own based on my then-unpublished novel THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE. I did it more out of frustration with the book biz than anything else. The script didn’t sell (at least not yet) but it led to a very lucrative gig writing the so-far-unproduced Dame Edna movie, so it paid off for me. Even so, the big payday didn’t motivate me to spec something else. I’ve stayed away from writing spec scripts, using whatever free time I have to write my books…maybe because it’s paying contract work as opposed to speculation.
But lately I’ve begun to rethink that strategy, especially since scripts are potentially a lot more lucrative than books (so is working at Burger King, but that’s another topic). Bill and I have a spec pilot we’re going to start writing after the holidays and I’ve begun re-reading some of my novels with an eye towards reworking them as spec features.
I recently adapted my book MY GUN HAS BULLETS into a script. I had a lot of fun doing it and was surprised how easily it lent itself to the screenplay format. Of course I had to change a lot of things and streamline the plot, but I think it worked. Well, at least I hope it did. I’ve e-mailed the script to a couple of trusted friends in the biz who haven’t read the book to get their opinions. Meanwhile, I’ve started adapting THE WALK into a screenplay. This one isn’t going as smoothly as MY GUN HAS BULLETS did, but I figure the exercise can’t hurt.
I don’t know why I’ve always been more comfortable writing books on spec than scripts. I guess I feel like scripts are something somebody should be paying me to write (as opposed to books, which you hardly get paid for even when you sell them). That makes no sense, of course. I blame that twisted thinking on all my years working in episodic television, where you get paid for every script you write and there’s very little spec work that ever sells. But the attitude towards specs in TV is changing now in the wake of the success Marc Cherry had with his spec DESEPERATE HOUSEWIVES pilot. NBC recently went public asking for spec pilots, though I don’t know if they actually picked up any of them.
I guess I just need to get into the spec frame of mind. I’m not quite there yet, because I’m sort of cheating by adapting my books instead of coming up with original film ideas. But I suppose baby steps still count as steps…