So much is changing and evolving in the world of spec screenplays that it’s hard to keep up with what to do and what not to do. However, throughout my research and monitoring of the industry I’ve found there are basically three types of screenplays you should have in your arsenal, polished and ready to go. With these three screenplays it’s likely that you’ll have something “in the ballpark” of what a producer, studio or director is looking for.
No guarantees. But as they say, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”
Commercial Screenplay (aka Studio screenplay or marketable/saleable screenplay) – the headline and logline for this screenplay should read like a news article in Deadline.com, a listing in the Hollywood Reporter or Variety Magazine. Leading roles should be characters any of the top ten actors in Hollywood would want to play (adjusting for age, of course). There should also be a role for a strong up-and-coming twentysomething actress and/or a strong character actress. This screenplay can be in any genre but arthouse. Write without any budgetary constraints. If you think the finished film requires $1M a day, write it!
Arthouse Screenplay – this should be a screenplay with strong dramatic elements that an unknown actor or actress can truly sink his/her teeth into. Ideally, this screenplay should showcase your ability to capture and invent fresh dialog while reaffirming your flair for the melodramatic. Study up on budgets because the budgetary constraints for this projects do not exceed $500k, and typically come in under $250k. Think minimal characters, lots of talking, and 100% character driven (the character’s choices lead the story). This is the purpose-driven, well-crafted screenplay that is ideal for screenwriting contests or as festival fodder in its feature film incarnation.
The YOU Screenplay – this screenplay should showcase your unique voice, unique flair for dialog, and your unique storytelling ability. Throw the three- or five-act structure out the window if you must. Does it require a nonlinear or POV format? How about an experimental format? Go for it. Writing this screenplay is not about conforming to industry standards at all. The YOU Screenplay is that story that you must tell because it’s been burning a hole in your brain for decades.