Sunday, May 29, 2016

Spec Etiquette

I’ve had several people ask me what NOT to do when trying to get someone to read their spec. It’s a case by case basis of course but I’ll just share some of my own personal experiences or things I have witnessed.

I’ve had people give me spec scripts at high school reunions. Not a good idea unless it’s from the person you always had a crush on and they haven’t gained 300 pounds.

A well known comedy director was in temple during High Holiday services one year when a fellow congregant reached inside his tallis and pulled out a spec script. Not kosher.

When I was announcing for the Orioles I once got thrown out of Bobby Valentine’s office for asking tough questions. He was then the manager of the Texas Rangers. Fifteen minutes later I was summoned back, obviously to receive an apology. No. He had heard I was a writer and pitched me a movie. Try not to be an asshole first.

And then there was the time I was in a funeral home with my father making final arrangements for my grandmother who had just passed away. At one point the mortician asked what I did. When my father said I was a writer the ghoul launched into a twenty minute movie pitch. If my dad wasn’t there no one would believe that story. But it’s true. Pick your spots.

What you need to do is first introduce yourself and try to establish a relationship. How intimate is up to you. But here’s my favorite story. Years ago I and another writer, Larry, were asked to speak at a UCLA extension class. I was a story editor on MASH at the time and he was story editor of RHODA. As we stood in front of the class lecturing, a friend overhead one young woman saying to another: “I think I’ll fuck Larry. I’d rather do a RHODA”.


sean said...

At least it wasn't 'I think I'll do a RHODA...I'd rather fuck Larry.'

Mike said...

"Bless me father, for I have sinned. It's been six months since my last confession -"
"Yes, I know, I've been waiting. I've written this script..."

Joseph Scarbrough said...

When I wrote a spec, it was on a whim. The producer/director (and I'm assuming showrunner) of the show occasionally interacts with fans online, so I got in touch with him, asking him about the procedure of submitting an unsolicited spec for the show; however, since this show is a co-production, he only handled the production side of the show in terms of storyboarding, voice recording, and animation, while the writing is done through network. With that said, after communicating back and forth, he helped me get through to the show's production assistant at the network, and after I read, filled out, and signed a release form and submitted my spec, the P.A. told me he was going to forward my spec to the show's head writer at their next story meeting and let me know if anything becomes of it.

That was a year ago, and I haven't heard anything from anybody, but I know the show was renewed for two more seasons since then, so I'm assuming they're not using the spec, which I really wasn't expecting them to anyway, as I said, it was all on a whim anyway. The producer/director did tell me that often times if they get an idea or suggestion that sounds like it has potential, they hold onto it in a "suggestions bag" for the writers to draw inspiration from for B-story or something. He admitted to me, though, that he was surprised that I got as far as I did in actually getting me spec submitted, because they don't tend to accept unsolicited submissions.

Steven said...

So Bobby Valentine has always been a smarmy jerk, not just when he was an analyst on ESPN and didn't know when to stop talking during a game.

Snoopy said...

I love a good rhubarb!

Breadbaker said...

Steven, while I can't say that his smarminess as an ESPN announcer was a bug and not a feature, there are many, many incidents. Try this one.

Johnny Walker said...

There was a meme I saw recently on this subject, it went something like this:


7. Hang out
6. Listen to your problems
5. Take you to the airport
4. Lie for you
3. Help conceal a crime
2. Kill to protect you
1. Read your script

I can only imagine how often someone with your connections and experience must get bombarded, Ken. Is it still awkward when you have to say "no", or do you have it down where you say no without feeling uncomfortable?

Johnny Walker said...

Also: Yay, an MTM story (even if it was a repost)! More! :)

Cap'n Bob said...

How about a guest blog from Larry following up on that story?

Steve Bailey said...

Ken: Have you seen Netflix's latest sitcom "The Ranch"? It is a thing of glory -- full of sharply written characters and heartfelt acting (even by Ashton Kutcher!). It should be right up your alley!

cadavra said...

About 30 years ago, I got a call from someone in Dick Wolf's office. (I knew it was legit because I recognized the Universal exchange.) They'd heard about me--possibly from my former agent--and wanted to see a script right away. And they meant right away: they were sending a messenger for it! (I was on the MGM lot in Culver City at the time--a pretty good schlep.) I quickly xeroxed a copy and had it ready for pick-up. After a couple of days and not having heard anything, I called. They said they had indeed received it and would let me know. This little charade went on for several weeks. Finally, the last time I called, I said, "Look, if they don't like it, that's okay, but at least have the common decency to tell me." I was assured that someone would get back to me promptly. I'm still waiting.

Rock Golf said...

These days kids see a TV show called RHODA and ask "is that Real Housewives of Dallas-Austin??"

VP81955 said...

IIRC, didn'the a former MLB pitcher (I believe it was Shane Rawley) write film scripts in his spare time? Harry Kalas and Rich Ashburn used to mention that on Phillies broadcasts. Wonder if he sold anything?

michael said...

I have a collection of rejection slips back from my days as an unsuccessful writer - some with your autograph, Ken. Back in the 70s-90s there was the frustration with getting your work of genius even read. Few would read a script unless it came through an agent and few agents would look at a script until you had sold one.

My job paying rent was security guard. Universal Studio was hiring. They asked if I was interested in writing. I said yes and immediately shown the door. Some idiot guard had shoved his script on Stephen Spielberg. Spielberg was not pleased. To me you don't want people like Spielberg to remember you as a security guard, especially if you are the one who has to tell him he can't park where he wants.

I had an agent submitted a NEWHART script and then never checked on it. That agent impressed me when he told me he was telling all his writers to write for the new (at the time) George Burns comedy anthology. But it was obvious (at least to me at the time) the series was doomed and was among earlier cancellations. When you know more than the agent and he can't get your script read then its time to move on.

My biggest success came at Michael Gleason's REMINGTON STEELE. Each year I would do a writers guide that contained a complete episode index and endless amount of trivia about the characters and their background. This helped them enough that they agreed to read my scripts. And I even got a script meeting with one of TV and radios greatest writer-producer-voice actor Elliott Lewis.

My advice is do something where it benefits them and maybe you can guilt them to read your masterpieces.

Mike said...

@michael: My advice is do something where it benefits them and maybe you can guilt them to read your masterpieces.
Stalk a producer during their daily routine, arranging situations which place them in mortal danger, in order to rescue them. Example: crossing the street walking the dog, you save them from your colleage driving the speeding van, but there's a miscalculation and the dog is run over. Rinse & repeat.

michael said...

Mike, if I had thought of that maybe REMINGTON STEELE would have bought a script from me. I was just too nice to make it in Hollywood.

Johnny Walker said...

@Mike Sounds like a spec idea!