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Monday, June 8, 2009

Spec Market Round Up

While generally The Rouge Wave is more ruminative, reflective, instructive and wrist-slappy rather than industry-newsy, today I am blatantly cutting and pasting from a blog that you should absolutely be reading, Wavers, called Life On The Bubble. Jason is a friend of a friend (how Hollywood is that?) and hereby receives my "I'm not worthy" genuflection.

This is information that applies directly to you, Wavers. The spec market is where you want to be, right? Well, read this carefully because doing so will disabuse you of any pie-in-the-sky fantasies that selling a script is a cake walk. And I just have to take a moment to high-five myself for mixing my pastry metaphors. Wow. Monday morning, too. Ahhh-booyah!

Sorry. Back to Serious Things. I know this is a bit of a depressing read but you need to be aware of this stuff. While it may feel like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic to even bother sending a script to rep in hopes of hitting the spec market, you have to remember that the market will not always be this flat and that he who was busy building more, newer, better deck chairs is the one who'll be on top when the market does open up. And it will. At some point. Who knows, is it possible that there will be a gold rush of crazy spec sales in a year or two? Will you be ready for that possibility?

Anyway, many thanks to Jason Scoggins for such a terrific, informative blog. It's the sour to go with the sweet of The Rouge Wave. It's the salt to the pepper. It's the cinnamon on top of the...all right, anyway, you get my point. It's not pretty but you need to have an awareness of the realities of the market:


Spec Market Roundup: May 2009
by Jason Scoggins
June 1, 2009

Thanks to the feedback we received from last month's Spec Market Roundup, we refined our methodology in a couple of ways this month:

* We're now differentiating between sales of specs that went out widely and those that did not appear in the marketplace prior to selling. Not only does this provide another lens through which to view the state of the marketplace, it keeps those hand-sold projects from skewing the data for the scripts that go out wide (since we're not in a position to know about every script that gets slipped to just a couple of buyers).
* We've broken Buyers into two categories: "Studios" (for lack of a better term), which we think of as the Majors, Mini-Majors and their various studio labels; and "Other," for everyone else.
* We've also broken Sellers into two categories as well: "Agents," and "Managers" (for obvious reasons).

Together, we think these refinements help provide a clearer picture of the spec marketplace as a whole.

At first glance, May's spec script sales numbers seem to be yet another month-over-month improvement: 10 out of 39 specs sold in May, compared to 9 in April and 8 each in February and March, for a sales percentage of 26%. That's the highest number of monthly sales so far this year, and easily the highest percentage.

However, 9 out of May's 10 sales were scripts that went directly to buyers, as opposed to going out wide to producers in the usual spec fashion. In other words, just 1 of the 30 spec scripts that went out wide in May sold ("The Gunslinger," out from UTA & Benderspink, which sold to Warner Bros. for Andrew Lazar's Mad Chance). That's a shockingly low sales rate of 3%. In this month's Spec Market Scorecard we'll be breaking out the numbers for previous months and rolling them up for the year-to-date figures. Suffice it to say here, though, that the state of the marketplace is not pretty: Just 6% of specs that have gone out wide this year have sold. We wish we had access to the total number of scripts that went out narrowly last month for comparison.

Here are May's raw numbers:

* 30 specs went out wide;
* 1 of those sold; and
* 9 additional spec sales were reported

Weekly Breakdown:
Week of May 4:

* 8 specs went wide, 1 of which sold
* 3 additional sales were reported

Week of May 11:

* 10 specs went wide, none sold
* 1 additional sale was reported

Week of May 18:

* 9 specs went wide, none sold
* 2 additional sales were reported

Week of May 25:

* 3 specs went wide, none sold
* 3 additional sales were reported

May 25 was Memorial Day, which helped make the last week in May the slowest of 2009 since Sundance. We'd bet the impending completion of the William Morris/Endeavor merger was a factor as well (see below). In any case, since that last week of May was such an outlier, the weekly average number of new scripts (7.5) is meaningless.

Genre Breakdown, Attachments, Etc.

Collectively, the Buyers seem to have bought their fill of Comedies over the past several months, since not one sold in May. Instead, they switched to Dramas, a genre in which not a single spec had sold in the first four months of the year. Here's the breakdown:
1 - Action
4 - Drama
2 - Sci-Fi/Fantasy (including one animation project)
3 - Thriller

On the attachment front, four of the 10 sales had significant filmmaker or actor elements attached. Two of those four had Hugh Jackman on board as producer and/or star, one had Jim Carrey as producer and star, and the fourth had John Lee Hancock writing and directing (plus Overbrook producing). None of this month's sales reported multiple bidders, and only one was a reported preemptive purchase (Intrepid's purchase of "Childhood Heroes" from Abstract Entertainment).

Buyers and Sellers

Warner Bros. was the big spender of the Studios in May, purchasing 3 of the month's 10 scripts. The other two studio buyers were Fox and Sony, with one each. Among the Other buyers, each of the following companies bought one script each: Beloved, Intrepid, Relativity, Reliance and Starz Media Animation.

Of the agencies, CAA had the best month, with 3 sales; the firm also took 2 scripts out wide, neither of which had sold as of this writing. UTA was in second position in May with two sales, one of which was the sole sale in May that went out wide, out of 3 wide attempts last month. Endeavor, Gersh and William Morris each sold a spec script as well, none of which went out wide.

Eight management companies were involved in the ten spec sales in May: Abstract Entertainment, Anonymous Content, Benderspink, Category 5, The Gotham Group, Kaplan/Perrone, The Radmin Co. and Marty Shapiro Management. Of those, two sold their projects without agency involvement: Abstract Entertainment ("Childhood Heroes," to Intrepid); and Marty Shapiro Management ("Umbra," to Relativity).

On a side note, neither WMA nor Endeavor sold a spec in May after the 5th, just as the rumors of WMA's layoffs began to mount in earnest. In fact, all of WMA's and Endeavor's sales from mid-April to the end of May fall into the "direct to buyers" category, where the scripts did not appear widely in the marketplace prior to the announcement of their sale. It's a safe bet that those sales got started well before the merger was confirmed and the writing was on the wall about which agents would be joining WME and which would not. Regardless, there's no doubt that the merger has been a distraction for both companies and an opportunity for their competitors. We wonder how badly the situation affected WMA's and Endeavor's TV Lit staffing efforts over the past few weeks as well.

About The Spec Market Roundup:
The Spec Market Roundup is a terribly unscientific analysis of the feature film spec script market based on information culled from a variety of public and non-public sources. It does not include pitch sales nor the film rights to underlying material. These are by no means official numbers, merely a fairly complete summary.

About Jason Scoggins:
Jason Scoggins is a manager and partner at Protocol, a Beverly Hills-adjacent literary management and production company. He represents writers, directors and producers of film and TV alongside Protocol's founding partners Brian Inerfeld and John Ufland. After getting his start in the entertainment business as an assistant at ICM, Scoggins became a TV Literary Agent at The Gersh Agency, followed by a stint at Writers & Artists Agency and then several years in the wilderness. He returned to the business in 2007, just in time to be impacted by the run-up to the WGA strike.

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Christian M. Howell said...

A key thing about this post, thanks by the way, is that SPEC only refers to scripts that go out from agents and managers, so this IS NOT a number determined by how many total scripts were sold or optioned.

It's still probably very bleak but then who said it was easy right?

I keep saying people should just bash themselves in the head BEFORE deciding to try screenwriting as a career.

The best way to help yourself is to find your "niche." I blog. It's been paying off in visibility - at least by other writers.

My next move is probably a "net-soap" I'm fleshing out.

Anyway, to all the wirters who decided not to bash themselves in the head, remember that you probably WON'T sell a script without an agent but you may get an assignment.

So all of your work should be done with the understanding that you need to "get in" (read:represented) before your ideas will mean ANYTHING TO ANYONE.

Julie Gray said...

Good point, (re the definition of "spec") Christian, but that said, as far as crunching these realities for aspiring writers, the next level up, that is not a spec but rather a relationship hand-off is a level that a writer would have to be repped to get to anyway. All writers reading TRW (I'll wager) are writing SPECS. So yes, there are open assignments and other rewrite-related sales but spec sales are the way in. And spec sales are DOWN.

Eric C said...

This website was a great find. It just flat out gives information about the market, without the gossip or hype that usually accompany other sites.

It is depressing though...

BobSound said...

Could it be that the reason so few spec scripts are sold is because there just isn't very much GOOD material out there? When I see some of the current movie offerings I have to ask myself, "Are these the best scripts they can come up with?" Seems to me there is quite a bit of opportunity for really good scripts.

joeverkill said...

No, that's not why.
You're right, there's a lot of garbage out there. But there are plenty of good scripts that don't get bought. I've certainly read more than a few.
Less than 300 films get made in the U.S. every year. Of those, maybe 100-150 are released theatrically. Of those, how many are adaptations? I'd guess maybe 80%, right? These projects are written on assignment, by writers who are already pros. They're not specs.
Of the 20-30 films that are released theatrically that aren't adapted from anything, how many of those are pet projects of directors, or actors, or a producers who have a little power and really want to make a specific movie? Most of them.
Find a theatrically-released movie from 2008 that was the result of a spec sale. There are maybe five or six.
Studios and production companies buy a lot of scripts that aren't produced, but this is decreasing. Put yourself in their shoes -- why waste money on scripts you're not going to produce?
Granted, there are straight-to-video movies, and a smaller portion of these are adaptations. But the fact remains: there is a tiny, tiny market for original scripts. Blame Hollywood, or blame the film-viewing audience. Either choice is apt.