Selling a spec script in the UK

Discussion in 'Screenwriting' started by Bacchus, Jan 15, 2013.

  1. Bacchus

    Bacchus Silver Member


    I've been catching up on some of the UK scriptwriters podcasts - I'm sure most here listen to them regularly. A couple of observations/conclusions that I've made from their discussions which are actually quite entertaining and full of useful advice.

    The chances of selling a spec script in the UK are ultra slim. The chances of an unknown selling a spec script of the fantasy, western, science fiction, historical, big budget adventure or blockbuster are zero. That's nada, ziltch, zip, nil and squat. :) That's probably a slight exaggeration - Moon for example was sci-fi but it was made for 5mil and as it was co-written by Duncan Jones had a bit of a "leg-up" to start with. Basically spec scripts are writing examples and that's about it.

    The point was made that if everyone stopped writing new scripts today - production people wouldn't care because there are 3-5 years of "good" stuff just waiting for someone to do something with. The place is awash with good to excellent scripts.

    The one possible exception to this are those scripts written for the ultra low budget. There might be mileage in making an "ultra-low" sale there. But that is the sort of area where writer/directors and writer/producers seem to excel - equipment is relatively cheap to borrow now so if it's ultra low budget- just make it the whole thing yourself - no selling or buying needed.

    I'm curious if this chimes with other peoples experiences or expectations?
  2. spinningdoc

    spinningdoc Bronze Member

    More or less. There are various funds and coproduction arrangements around that there's a slim chance an unknown could benefit from if they team up with a small but proven producer and maybe sell TV rights.

    Production costs are cheap though - it's perfectly do-able to shoot a good looking feature for £50k as long as you cut your cloth suitably, and there are tons of talented, creative people around. And getting it out there is easier than ever with the various online and pay per view options. But as for making money from movies - same as it's ever been, almost no chance.

    Apart from the very, very few (Fellows, Curtis, Harwood) you can't make a living writing movies in the UK (and both Fellows and Curtis do TV as well). You have to do TV, or get into foreign markets. Hollywood, certainly but I know people working for European, Chinese, and Indian companies too.
  3. youdothatvoodoo

    youdothatvoodoo Bronze Member

    What's worth bearing in mind is that many in the UK industry favour the careers of directors first. That's where the development money is focused, and typically on people who think they can write and direct. So a lot of attention goes in that direction. Which limits the amount of attention available to writers.

    One solution is to team up with a director savvy enough to acknowledge that writing is not their forte. Some UK writers have done very well by doing so: many of Michael Winterbottom's films are written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Ken Loach works frequently with Paul Laverty, and Danny Boyle's partnership with John Hodge is long-established.

    This system is open to newcomers. Creative England's annual commissioning scheme is very open to writer/director teams, and the likes of Warp Film similarly welcome such approaches.

  4. Bacchus

    Bacchus Silver Member

    Thanks for the responses.

    Yes - I gather that if you're not part of a package (writer/director/producer - in however many actual people that is) TV work is more where it's at - perhaps even scripting for radio or other media is a good option. I never really hear of radio work in the US - perhaps that's a more British thing.

    I'm not a huge fan of Ken Loach's work - probably too left field for my tastes, but I do like Julian fellows stuff - because I identify with the "upstairs" characters so well ;)

    They seemed to think competitions were fine - just don't put your house on winning one actually getting you somewhere. But things like that were all additional strings to your bow.
  5. spinningdoc

    spinningdoc Bronze Member

    The UK's in a unique position for radio writing - BBC Radio is the biggest single commissioner of drama, ever, in terms of the number of works commissioned. It's also fairly cheap to produce so they'll take more risks on unproven writers, and they're geared to finding new talent, and BBC TV see it as a proving ground. And from my forays into it, they're generally lovely people and it's seen as a writers' medium so it's more like working in theatre than for the screen.

    The only downsides are that it's still not *that* easy to get a commission, and it doesn't pay much.
  6. craktactor

    craktactor Moderator

    Our very own Phil Gladwin has done tons of radio plays. He would definitely be the one to ask about this.
  7. Bacchus

    Bacchus Silver Member

    Yes - thanks - I haven't noticed him around for a good while - I think he must be busy. He did review a script of mine a few years ago and the feedback was great.
  8. Youngy

    Youngy Bronze Member

    Hi, could you point me in the direction of some scriptwriting podcasts please?

    I've never actually listened to any but would love to start!

  9. Bacchus

    Bacchus Silver Member


    If you search on itunes for UKscriptwriters that's the UK one. Onthepage is another one that's quite good though it's US focused. Most of the back episodes should be available.
  10. Youngy

    Youngy Bronze Member

    Thanks for the tip! :)

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