Screenplays can be written either on "spec" (speculative) or as assignment ("Commissioned"). The Variety language dictionary defines "spec script" as "a script shopped or sold on the open market, as opposed to one commissioned by a studio or production company".
Writing on assignment
Assignments are commissioned by production companies or studios on the basis of pitches from producers or writers, or literary properties they already own. Most established writers do most of their work on assignment and will only "spec" scripts which they think no-one will pay them to write, or if they cannot find assignment work.
There are exceptions: some very famous writers only write on spec because they know that they can get a better price for their work this way. Other writers spec scripts that they care deeply about so that they do not have to bend to the whims of executives and producers.
An assignment may be for an original screenplay, or for an adapted screenplay based on another work such as a novel, film, short story, comic book, magazine article or, increasingly, video game. It may also, however, be for a rewrite of an existing script, and in fact this is how a large proportion of writers in the modern studio system make their living. Rewriting scripts is an art in itself and an extremely lucrative one at that: it is not unknown for trusted writers in the higher echelons of the industry to receive $200,000 a week (2004 numbers) for their efforts. $50,000 per week is not uncommon.
Rewriting is difficult because executives often have very clear ideas about what is wrong with a script; however, they are usually unable to provide detailed prescriptions for ways it can be fixed. This is not surprising, because screenwriting is not the expertise of the executive, but of the screenwriter. The writer is therefore usually expected to come up with a detailed prescription for how the script can be improved, and then execute this in a timely fashion. During the process of choosing a writer to rewrite a script the executives may ask several writers for their 'take' and choose the one who appears to have the greatest likelihood of moving the script forward to the point where it may be greenlit for production.
Before 'going to script' a writer may be asked to write a treatment, an outline, or a step outline describing the script in various granularities of detail. Some writers resist this process and will do anything to avoid it and get down the writing the script itself; others embrace the process and even deliver fairly elaborate treatments, the so-called scriptments. It is fair to say that producers tend to be wary of the former and pleasantly surprised by the latter.
Helene Goldnadel is a screenplay and song writer, recording artist and a musician. She served as a representative to countless models and actors registered through the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), finding numerous television and film roles for her clients. As a results-oriented agent, Helene helped them secure a wide range of work in commercials, TV programs, and major motion pictures and brought fresh talent to Paramount, Universal, MTV, VH1, The WB, and elsewhere.
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