Read Screenplays, Read Everything

Audrey reading everything

I love to read scripts. I’ve had the privilege and blessing to have read a multitude of screenplays. I’ve read professionally produced scripts, of course, but those aren’t my favorite. What I truly love is reading other people’s unproduced works. Films that don’t exist. Speculative screenplays that a writer “shops” around, asking for feedback or producing options. An array of benefits comes from consuming spec scripts, to include a major skillset that inexperienced writers often overlook. Reading other scripts allows you to realize when your screenplay sucks.

Observation is a powerful learning tool. So observe what’s already out there: read scripts!

What to read?

With a litany of options to feast your eyes on, how do you know which works to busy yourself with? I suppose that depends on your goals of reading a script in the first place. If you’re just starting out, read everything you can get your hands on. If you are looking for a focused education in screenwriting, I would strongly suggest the core literary works on the matter first.

But you want to read screenplays, right?

The Speculative Screenplay

Not a screenplay read you should seek
Not sure if I’d read this.

Only the “spec” scripts (as in speculative) are what you should seek. Production scripts are interesting, but as far as learning the craft of screenplay storytelling, they are almost useless. If you want to read screenplays, read specs.

The difference between the two is simple. A true spec exists as a movie pitch, essentially. A production script comes from the spec. Think pre-production vs. production.

That’s it, really. Any other definition is academic and nitpicky. Best practices and worst traits exist for both, sure, but the divide is simple: a spec is meant to be read as potential. A production script evolves from the spec after the decision to make the movie happens.

There are two categories of specs: produced and unproduced.

Produced spec scripts

Blade Runner cover
Because I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this.

These scripts are from films that have already been made. If you can find so-called spec scripts of produced Hollywood films, more power to you. Some of the old Internet archives of specs are long gone. Thus, it seems harder every day to find true Hollywood specs on the Internet.

For example, there’s an awesome website with tons of screenplays here. I encourage you to browse through their archives. But the site, and others like it, all suffer from the same issues. Many of the works you find floating around the Net are:

  1. Not formatted correctly (because they are plain-text transcripts)
  2. Not specs (because they are production scripts)
  3. Not real

Quite the serious strikes against any potential study material. How to avoid these pitfalls?

Frankly, you can’t. The studio owns the script. Yes, writers negotiate with studios as to who owns rights and such. However, like it or not, a screenplay is a product. A product that is copyrightable. And the list of rights holders does not include you or websites like Daily Script.

Why does this happen?

Quite simple, actually. In the studio system, a work is often commissioned on an existing property – meaning the film is already financed and will be made. In other words, it isn’t speculative, and the writer (often an established professional) can do whatever they want as long as the studio is happy.

Before a screenplay goes into production, it is often revised multiple times. This iterative process continues all the way through the end of the production. Combined with all of the above, this makes locating an early draft of a screenplay difficult, if not impossible. Add into the mix that every young writer wants to read their favorite films in script form, and boom – instant ecosystem for forgeries, transcripts, and the like. So a writer that wants to read really needs to develop a discerning eye when searching the Internet.

Hollywood script study may not be the best practice if trying to land an agent or sell a screenplay.

Unproduced spec scripts

Screenplay reader office
Dramatization of a reader’s office.

On the other hand you find a colossal pile of unproduced spec scripts. Anything that calls itself a screenplay can also be called an unproduced spec. Of course this means the potential of finding the worst of the worst is highest in this category. But, that’s kind of the point.

Think of it this way: why do people watch terrible movies on purpose? As a filmmaker, I can tell you a huge reason to identify what not to do and why. Same with screenwriting. Reading bad scripts can give you mountains of knowledge on what to avoid in your own works.

The best way to get your hands on spec works is to just read everything. Solicit offers to read and give feedback on everybody’s work until you can’t stomach it any more. Trust me, it won’t be long. Five or ten scripts in is all you’ll need before common problems begin to pop up. Personally I read everything to keep me sharp, even if only the first five pages of a 150 page juggernaut.

If you’re enterprising enough, try signing up for websites like the ISA and posting a call for spec scripts. Hell, try asking on whatever favorite social media platform, more than enough hungry writers out there. Get ready to close the posting fast though, you’ll likely receive more material than you can handle.

Do it this way and you’ll learn what makes a script drag, what makes a script crash and burn…and what makes a script sing, because it will jump out that much more when it does.

Read screenplays to get better at writing!

What are you waiting for? Get reading! And as a thanks for following the blog, shoot me an email and I’ll read your material for some free casual feedback.

Author: Karland Paez

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