Speculative vs. Shooting Scripts: What Purpose Does Each Serve in the Filmmaking Process? | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

Speculative vs. Shooting Scripts: What Purpose Does Each Serve in the Filmmaking Process?

In case it hasn’t been said enough before, writers are the unsung heroes of the entertainment industry. They are responsible for breathing life into stories, and characters, and building captivating fictional worlds that we can experience and get lost in. The screenplays that writers produce become the blueprint of any motion picture or TV series. Without it, it would be difficult for extraordinary films that make an impact on our lives to exist.

Getting the script right is imperative for an aspiring writer to successfully break into the industry. But if you’re self-taught and have limited knowledge of the craft, it’s easy to drown and get lost in the sea of information. To save you the trouble, we’re going to walk you through the various kinds of screenplays and what form you need to focus on to get your foot in the door.

Writing with Purpose

Most produced scripts that are available to the public are final versions of the shooting script that were used during production. A shooting script can simply be defined as a version of a screenplay that has been locked, approved, and ready to use in principal photography. This version is merely not the work of the writer, but also has the input of the director, cinematographer, producer, and other crew members and departments on how things will be shot, designed, and unfold on set.

An amateur mistake that some emerging writers would make is emulating the same style of writing of these shooting scripts, which not only breaks an important rule in screenwriting but also shows their lack of knowledge about the craft and how the industry’s system works. What writers need to learn and focus on is writing speculative or spec screenplays.

A shooting script can simply be defined as a version of a screenplay that has been locked, approved, and ready to use in principal photography

A spec script is a writer’s weapon in the world of entertainment. When we talk about screenwriting, a spec script is what comes to everyone’s mind. In simple terms, it is a completed material that is used either as a writing sample or is written in hopes of being sold or produced by a production company or studio. If you’re seeking representation, agents, and managers will definitely look at the spec scripts you have in your portfolio to gauge your strength and talent as a writer. It can also be used to enter screenwriting competitions so you can gain recognition and get your work into the hands of industry executives.

Furthermore, it is an avenue for emerging writers to showcase their voice, creativity, perspectives, and unique experiences that separate them from others. This is your chance to tell your story, to be seen, heard, and hopefully make a difference if it ever sees the light of day. Circling back to my previous point about making amateur mistakes, the most common one is using camera directions and transitions to set the scene. Once a reader comes across this, they might have an immediate impression of the kind of writer and the level that you’re in.

When we talk about screenwriting, a spec script is what comes to everyone’s mind

While some veteran writers have the liberty to break this rule, it’s best to be on the safe side and earn your stripes to be given that privilege. This may sound snobbish and superficial, but it’s actually an important aspect that plays to the writer’s advantage because it allows their voice to shine through more than anything. Filmmaking is a collaborative process and your primary job as a writer is to build the world of the story and develop dynamic characters, conflict, plot, and other elements that would make an unforgettable story. Let others use their expertise to bring your vision to life in the best way possible.

It is worth noting that writing spec scripts in the early stages of your writing career mean you’re putting yourself into a situation that requires you to give up a big chunk of your time and energy – without getting paid. But you already know that being a writer is a calling and you don’t go into this profession because of the paycheck. You must develop a thick skin because you’ll face a ton of rejection in the beginning, but the ones that make it are the ones who showed up every day and persevered despite the setbacks that came their way. Once you put in the work, get better at your craft, and build a strong reputation, you will eventually get paid writing assignments and bigger projects in Hollywood.

Writing the Spec

To increase your chances of writing a spec that will get the attention of the industry, learning about the basic elements of screenwriting, three-act structure, and the format should be your top priority. Once you’ve learned the basics and fleshed out your idea, whether, through note cards, an outline, or a treatment, you can begin writing the script. It’s important to keep in mind that screenwriting is a completely different art form that heavily uses action and visual descriptions to get emotions across. Great writers will be able to show these through character movements, expressions, or dialogue in five action lines or less.

A good ballpark number of how long a feature spec script should be is between 90 to 120 pages. In the industry, a page of script is equivalent to a minute on the screen, and scripts beyond this number would likely be expensive and dragging, especially if your story doesn’t have many layers and you end up going around in circles. Once you’ve polished your first draft, it is essential to seek feedback whether through a professional screenwriting service, creative collaborators, or family and friends in order to get a fresh perspective and understanding of your story and vision. It’s up to you whether to incorporate their notes or not, but just hearing what they think about your story is a valuable piece of information that can help guide your creative choices.

At the end of the day, pursuing a career as a writer means conquering your fear of the blank page, rejections, and writing day in and out without expecting anything in return. Remember that the only way you can get better at your craft is to keep practicing and doing it despite the challenges and setbacks that you encounter along the way. Your voice, identity, and personality are uniquely yours, and putting this into every page will definitely make you stand out from the crowd.

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