Big Deal: Hollywood's Million-Dollar Spec Script Market


The Big Deal takes you right inside the Hollywood movie machine with behind-the-scene stories from hundreds of players—writers, agents, directors, producers, and studio execs who share their secrets of success and cautionary tales of woe. Whether you're a genuine scribe or diehard fan who craves the real dish, The Big Deal will put you in the picture.

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1999 Trade paperback New in new dust jacket. Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. 336 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. Film & Video; General; Motion picture ... authorship; Non-Fiction; Performing Arts; Reference; Screenwriting Read more Show Less

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1999 Trade paperback Illustrated. New. No dust jacket as issued. Glued binding. 336 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade.

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The Big Deal takes you right inside the Hollywood movie machine with behind-the-scene stories from hundreds of players—writers, agents, directors, producers, and studio execs who share their secrets of success and cautionary tales of woe. Whether you're a genuine scribe or diehard fan who craves the real dish, The Big Deal will put you in the picture.

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Editorial Reviews

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Robert Masello's Letter from Hollywood -- September

In yesterday's mail, I got another one of those envelopes I have come to dread ever since moving out to Los Angeles.

It was from one of my friends back in New York, an accomplished writer of novels and short stories, an intellectual of the old school, who was sick and tired of writing books that the critics loved but nobody bought. Now, what he wanted to do was make some easy money. What he wanted to do was tap into that mighty river of cash that he believed, like so many writers do, flows unimpeded through the streets of Hollywood. All you have to do is take out your bucket and scoop up as much of it as you want!

The envelope contained a five-page treatment for a movie. Since it's my friend's idea and not mine, I won't give anything away here, but suffice it to say the idea was okay: a romantic comedy set against a promising backdrop that hasn't to my knowledge been seen before.

But a treatment was all it was.

At best.

The characters were just sketched in, the plot was only marginally laid out, and there wasn't even any firm conclusion. Still, my friend concluded his missive with an eager, "Who do you know out there who'll buy it?"

To be honest? Nobody. The Hollywood community may not be the brightest lot in the world, but they're not that dumb, either. They know what they want -- a sure thing -- and a five-page treatment from an unproven screenwriter isn't it.

Trying to figure out what the Hollywood studios and producers are looking for has been the single most popular pastime in L.A. since D. W. Griffith shouted "Action!" Everybody wants in, and that's why a new book -- The Big Deal: Hollywood's Million-Dollar Spec Script Market -- will probably fly off the shelves. Written by Thom Taylor, a former journalist who now works at a local literary agency, the book is a useful antidote to the commonplace notion that selling a spec (or "speculative") script is a piece of cake. Taylor makes it very clear what the odds are -- at the same time that its title alone stokes the fever. A million bucks? For a movie script? Sign me up!

"In today's studio environment," Taylor writes, " original spec screenplay remains the easiest path into Hollywood's game, and can lead to gratifying bidding wars and huge paydays."

The operative word in that passage, as I will have to point out to my friend in New York, is "screenplay" -- not treatment. Not pitch. Not high concept. If you're William Goldman or David Koepp or Ron Bass, you can probably sell your laundry list to someone out here, but if you're not, your chances of selling a treatment, much less a verbal pitch, are very slim indeed. And even if you do, there's a much greater likelihood that you'll be removed from your own project sooner than you would have been if you'd come in with an actual, completed script in hand.

The Writers Guild can offer you a lot more protection, and guarantee you a lot more money, if what you've sold is a 120-page script rather than an airy notion, as easy to steal as it is to say. In a town where talk is cheap, but real writers -- you know, the ones who can actually sit down and write an original script from scratch -- are as rare as snowflakes in July, the smartest thing you can do is invest in yourself. Take the time to write the whole story, the whole script, the way you believe it should be told. That way, at least you'll have some record of what you wrote, and what you intended, before the producers hire the next seven writers to improve upon your vision.

—Robert Masello

Mark T.R. Donohue
Thom Taylor tells of a Hollywood so desperate for new material that ideas -- in the form of independently written "spec scripts" -- become million-dollar plus propositions. Unlike scripts written by writers under contract with a major studio, specs can be bought and developed by anybody. With a clever agent and a few interested stars or directors, a spec can quickly become a hot property, with dozens of studios bidding for the rights to put it into production.

Taylor... tells the stories of several scripts, all of which sold for big bucks. After sale, however, a spec's path is in no way guaranteed -- some become hits, some flops, and many more never get made at all, becoming mired in what is plainly referred to as "development hell." Although ostensibly a guide for writers themselves, thanks to the depth of its research, The Big Deal becomes a revealing look at the whole Hollywood filmmaking process.
The Daily Californian

Using a mix of both winners and losers as case studies, Taylor presents a gritty and sardonic picture of the process. Rather than a how-to, The Big Deal is a how-it-really-is for screenwriters and other creative types in today's Hollywood. Would-be screenwriters, movie fans, and anyone interested in the screen trade will want this unique is sometimes disconcerting perspective.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a book that serves both as an expos of Hollywood business practices and a how-to manual for aspiring screenwriters, Taylor, a writer for such magazines as Movieline and Locations, explores the practice, surprisingly common at Hollywood studios, of purchasing and developing unsolicited scripts. The timing is right: the spec market is still booming after 20-somethings Matt Damon and Ben Affleck sold Good Will Hunting for seven figures. This meticulously researched, occasionally overwrought book (one exec uses his phone "as if it were an implement in the war of deal making before one's enemy gets the chance to bear arms") chronicles the interactions (and clashes) among writers, studios, agents and directors, while detailing the homogenization of Tinseltown--from the job-security fears that prompt executives to imitate rather than create new ideas to the growing importance of boiled-down pitches. Taylor argues that by aggressively pursuing box-office receipts, studios can undermine not only the potential artistic merits of a film but its profits, too, as audiences tire of being fed pabulum. Despite some Panglossian tics (he persistently touts Seven's originality), Taylor's insider look is an enjoyable read, especially in the detailed accounts of struggling writers making their first big sales. Come to think of it, there just might be a script in here somewhere. (Apr.)
Library Journal
The art of dealmaking is quickly replacing the art of moviemaking in Hollywood. As a result of a 1988 Writer's Guild strike, the floodgates have been opened on the number of freelance scripts submitted "on spec," leading to lucrative bidding wars for lucky scriptwriters and their agents. The films made from these scripts are often superficial, sophomoric, formulaic, and overly dependent on the same (mostly male) action stars whose participation can "green light" a script and guarantee a hefty opening weekend at the box office. Journalist Taylor, who has been a story analyst for directors Tim Burton and Oliver Stone, takes the reader down the rabbit hole of Hollywood. Five examples of hits and misses are examined: While You Were Sleeping, Waterworld, In the Line of Fire, Brad Pitt's Seven, and The Last Action Hero. While it sometimes reads like an extended article from Premiere, this is important, provocative reading for anyone who cares about the state of American film. Recommended for large film collections.--Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA
Takes readers inside the Hollywood movie machine with behind-the- scenes stories from writers, agents, producers, and studio execs who share their secrets of success and cautionary tales of woe. Details the journeys of specific screenplays, which were sold and developed in different ways, including , , and . Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688161712
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 319
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Thom Taylor has written on the film and television business for Millimeter, Movieline, and other industry magazines. He currently mines the spec market at an L.A. talent and literary agency. He lives in Studio City, California.

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Table of Contents

1 The Lure of the Million-Dollar Script: Where is the wizard in today's Hollywood? And how does he create the wonderful illusions that he does? 1
2 Feeding on Frenzy: How the spec buying process emerged, and why the bottom-line focus of today's Hollywood dominates its decisions 6
3 The Sleeper Surprise: A birthday package awaited the sale of While You Were Sleeping 20
4 Maintaining the Vision: Keeping an eye on the big picture when the big deal entices 50
5 Hollywood's Fear Factor: Selling is a passion, but buying is a fear. And the greater pressure is always on the buyer 72
6 Sin, Sacrifice, and Success: The pathological path of Seven 92
7 Lightning Bolts and Train Wrecks: In a world where material drives everything, the gods of film ultimately determine disaster or success for an entertainment form that can change the contemporary zeitgeist 116
8 Shooting for the Stars: The scattershot origins of in the Line of Fire 141
9 Slick Tricks Studios Play: Or, how executives learn to stop worrying and love the other studio's bomb. The Player is alive and well in Los Angeles 164
10 When Big Guns Conspire: The polemical passage of Extremely Violent, the caboose that drove Last Action Hero 190
11 Filmmaking's Feeder Ponds: How novel ideas piqued Hollywood's latest frenzies. TV or not TV, that is an executive's first question 227
12 Humble Beginnings: The independent world - a common way for a filmmaker to start a career - searches for the new visionaries who know what it takes to think small and big at the same time 243
13 From Titan to Titanic: The beached whale that surfaced as Waterworld 264
14 Awakening from the Dream Machine: The Hollywood game spins like a wheel, and the business changes daily. An insightful look by its players into what the future holds 282
App: Some of the Book's Players 295
Index 303
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