My friend, the talented screenwriter and director Glenn Gers, whose work includes Fracture and Mad Money has my all time favorite “Little Engine That Could” story. Glenn wrote his first spec script in 1984. First scripts never go anywhere, right? Glenn’s got him an agent right off the bat. “People liked it. No one would make it, but they liked it,” says Glenn. “They offered me jobs writing other scripts.” Five years later, it was optioned by a major producer. Five years after that, it was optioned by a studio for A-list stars. Glenn was promptly fired off his own project. Three years later, he got the rights back. “More stars and directors have wanted to do it since; one got a company to finance it but then the company went out of business.” Last year, a producer and director were working to put it together as an indie production. And, as of today, a producer has just reached out to Glenn in hopes of making the project happen with a major star…
Thirty years and still going. Here’s Glenn’s story of the Energizer Bunny of Spec Scripts:
In “the business,” getting a script made into a movie is the holy grail, the big brass ring, the kingdom of heaven. But the truth is, most scripts don’t get made. Most don’t even get sold. How, then, do we estimate the worth of a script?
I personally vote for reader response. Not in a professional sense, from paid estimators of the current enthusiasms of corporate entities and marketing departments, measurers of adjustment to formula. I mean the response of a human being, whatever their job description, to the story and the way it is told. It’s often hard to sort through the morass of professional opinionizing, but after a while you can tell if a script works by — simply — whether people “get it”.
If you wanted them to laugh or cry or get angry — and they do, then you win.
If a script “works,” it doesn’t always have to sell to be successful. I wrote my first feature screenplay on impulse. I was not aware of any “rules,” I just tried to make stuff happen like it did in movies I liked. Alas, many of those movies were made in the 1970s, so I get a lot of, “But you can’t do that.”
But I did it, and it kind of worked. It was a mix of comedy and thriller and romance. People liked it. No one would make it, but they liked it. They offered me jobs writing other scripts.
They also offered me advice on what didn’t work in my script, and sometimes that would show me something I could fix. So I’d rewrite it. It got better. I liked it more. So did other people. It was optioned. It came out of option. More people liked it. They mentioned things they didn’t “get” – and sometimes I rewrote it to fix those things.
This script has been around for almost 30 years now. It is vastly different than when I first wrote it. Characters use cell phones, for example. It’s also a lot better. (Rewrite something for 25 years…it’s pretty solid.) People still try to get it made. People still hire me to write other scripts, because they read it.
It is, according to the standard estimate…kind of a failure. I still haven’t sold that spec script.
But it sure does keep selling me.