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

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

by Thom Taylor

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

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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.

Editorial Reviews

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

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.84(d)

What People are saying about this

Jeremy Kagan
If you want to know how that million-dollar fantasy comes true, read this book and laugh, weep, and wonder.
Paul N. Lazarus
Next to talent, The Big Deal is the best ammunition for a new screenwriter entering the Hollywood wars.
Tom Holland
Reading The Big Deal is like overhearing a spec script power lunch at Morton's. To be successful in the spec market, read this book.
Peter J. Dekom
This entertaining, anecdotal, and personalized book takes an amusing look at the business side of selling screenplays in the glitter capital of the world.... Thom Taylor has accurately captured the flavor and serendipity of this bizarre marketplace of literary madness.
Douglas Rushkoff
From the Author of Media Virus and Ecstacy Club

This entertaining insider's look at the real, painful, pathetic, and ultimately random process by which Hollywood's power elite attempts to predict 'the next big thing' makes stock picking look logical by comparison.

Allen B. Ury
Author Thom Taylor mixes keen observations with telling insider testimonials and in-depth case studies to vivdly illustrate just how damned difficult it is to not only make a spec sale, but to then actually see your work reach the silver screen. The result is an intelligent, take-no-prisoners assault on the Hollywood Dream Factory that serves more as a cautionary tale than a blue-print for launching and maintaining a screenwriting career.
Tim Appelo
A collection of funny, horrible, and/or inspiring stories of Hollywood break-ins by former Oliver Stone employee Thom Taylor....'If Hollywood scoured the earth looking for the world's top furniture designers,' Taylor writes, the studios 'would bring them all to Los Angeles to design $6 plastic chairs to sell at the local Wal-Mart.' But it's the only Hollywood we've got, and Taylor has got its number.
Bruce McKenna
The title grabbed my attention. The book held it. An excellent portrait of not just the US script market, but the whole business of writing, THE BIG DEAL is thoroughly researched, well-organized and crisply written.... Besides describing quick auctions at inflated prices, the book chronicles sales that took years.... LAST ACTION HERO gets the longest chapter, and is a harrowing portrait of development hell being driven by the worst of the Hollywood blockbuster mentality.... It's not the only perversion on show.

The book describes an industry where "the decisions are pushed down to the very youngest people in the process [the trackers]." Trackers are the junior story people hired to track writers and their spec scripts. Trackers can kill a good script. The book quotes an anonymous studio producer saying that because trackers "talk to each other all day long they make decisions largely based on whether or not their friends are in so you end up with insecure young children with no real guts protecting their jobs."

At the same time the book totally endorses the spec market as an empowering development for screenwriters. It stresses that a script can be crushed at the bottom of the system if the person placing it isn't connected. If you want to crack the L.A. market, this book is indespensible. If you'd rather avoid the whole mess and stick to the Canadian scene, the THE BIG DEAL is a fun read, except for all those big numbers.

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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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