Quentin Tarantino on Hollywood's Desire for Spec Scripts

by Ken Miyamoto on January 29, 2021

Hey Screenwriters! Do you need a little inspiration to keep writing great spec scripts? How about some from multi-Oscar winner auteur Quentin Tarantino?

On January 21st, 2020, Quentin Tarantino received the Final Draft's Hall of Fame Award for his prolific contribution to the art of screenwriting.

Read ScreenCraft's Top Ten Quentin Tarantino Interviews About Screenwriting!

During his acceptance speech, he revealed some insight that may be very surprising — and uplifting — for screenwriters still looking to break through the seemingly impenetrable walls of Hollywood. We take his best words from his acceptance speech and elaborate on his amazing advice and wisdom.

Tarantino on the Screenwriter's Journey

"You go into your room. You close the door. And you write some spec scripts. You pour your heart and soul into some spec scripts, you put it out there, and you hope for the best. And if that one's not the right, well, you learn from that one and try it a second time. And if it's not that one, you try it a third time. And then eventually, if you got what it takes, it'll come together."

That's the way Tarantino started. And that's the way it is now.

The spec script is more than just the chase for big money and major studio production — it’s about discovering new and original talent. Hollywood gets bored. Trends come and go. Once-hot franchises cool down. Spec scripts and the screenwriters that write them have always pushed the industry forward into the near future.

It’s not easy to sell one. It’s not easy to get discovered as a result of one. It’s not easy to see one ever get made. It never has been. But that doesn’t mean the spec script is dead, as many have said.

But then Tarantino brought up an interesting conversation he had with some major Hollywood executives recently.

Today's Screenwriters Look for Jobs Instead of Writing More Specs

"They were saying that [screenwriters writing spec scripts] is not the way it really is anymore. That a lot of writers, their whole thing is to try to get in the writers' room of a TV show. That's like the big thing to do."

This is some perfect truth about today's Hollywood. It's all about the writing assignment or getting into the writers' room of a TV show.

Screenwriters, agents, and managers are obsessed with getting the writing jobs — as opposed to developing, writing, and pitching more spec scripts. He points out that going for writing assignments and getting into a writers' room is not a problem. There's nothing wrong with that. But so much focus is put on assignments and getting those jobs that screenwriters aren't writing as many spec scripts.

Yes, it's true that most of a working screenwriter's earnings come from writing assignments and writers' room positions. But that's for working writers. When you're a newcomer trying to break through, your focus should also be on writing spec scripts that garner the attention of those industry power players that Tarantino was talking with.

But, wait, here's a revelation that he shares from his conversation.

Hollywood Wants Your Spec Scripts

"I'm talking to huge executives. They're looking for that spec script. And people aren't writing them. People are trying to get jobs. But before we got jobs by pouring our hearts and souls into our cockamamie masterpieces, and maybe this will never get made but at least you can see I can write. But because they were ours completely, you got a sense of our voices. You got a sense of what we have to offer. And it was undiluted. It was you. And people may try to change it and turn it into this or into that and water it down and bring somebody else to do some writing on it. But, what made them gravitate to it was your voice. I'm just telling you. If you want to go into your bedroom and lock your door, and three months later come out with a screenplay, I heard from big people that they're waiting to read those."

Cynics will be quick to dismiss such a notion that Hollywood — purveyor of sequels, remakes, reboots, relaunches, and franchises — is trying to discover new and original talent, but it’s true. And the spec script is the key way to do that.

Agents, managers, producers, and development executives are actively seeking new spec scripts each and every waking moment of their professional lives. Sure, the studio-mandated assignments and tentpole projects pay the bills and keep the money flowing — but it’s the search for the next big thing that keeps them relevant. And without spec scripts and those that write them, there’s never anything new and exciting.

Without spec scripts, new writers aren’t discovered.

Yes, major studios themselves are making fewer original movies overall, but you have to take into account what HBO, Netflix, and Amazon (and many others) are doing. Not to mention the dozens upon dozens of major production companies that are producing amazing films outside of the major studio system — most of which often eventually buy them up for the distribution rights.

And because so many more movies are being made, the industry needs more writers to write them. Spec scripts that are discovered through the creative marketing of unknown screenwriters through queries, networking, contests, and fellowships introduce agents, managers, producers, and development executives to new talent. If the spec scripts aren’t bought and produced (most are not), the screenwriters that wrote them are being assigned to write projects already in open development. That is where and when you should be pursuing writing jobs.

The spec market is like a groundhog on Groundhog’s Day. Every year it’s brought out and displayed for all to see. And it then forecasts a possible future. Only in this case, instead of fewer or more days of winter, we’re shown the amounts of deals that are going to be made. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more.

But they matter. And you should be writing more of them. The more of them you write, the more chances you have of impressing industry insiders with your screenwriting voice.

The jobs will come. They will. But your main focus shouldn't be on assignments and writers' rooms. It should be on building a stack of amazing spec scripts that will increase your odds of getting those offers. Those jobs will come because of the spec scripts you write.

So to all of you screenwriters out there — don’t fret. Keep writing. Keep the dream alive.

Read ScreenCraft's Quentin Tarantino’s Top 10 Rules For Screenwriting Success!

Watch the clip from Tarantino's acceptance speech below!

Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner, and the feature thriller Hunter’s Creed starring Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, Wesley Truman Daniel, Mickey O’Sullivan, John Victor Allen, and James Errico. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies

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