The Spec Slayer

A question about writing TV spec samples…

Why can’t I write a TV spec sample using my favorite TV show that’s been canceled? I just don’t see why it has to be a current show.

Marcie Ross, Sunnydale, CA





Dear Marcie,

Some might think it’s just a big network conspiracy to make sure aspiring TV writers watch every episode of as many current shows as possible while also investing in DVD collections of those same shows. But there’s actually a method to the madness. It’s a means of letting execs see a little variety in the specs that pile up on their desk week-after-week… year-after-year.

Especially after they’ve read a gazillion variations of this spec script…

                   BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

                     "Halloween, Her Way"




  Steam slightly clouds the scene as we just make out Buffy's
  nude silhouette in the shower as she finishes rinsing her

                      BUFFY (SINGING)
            It's a dead man's party.  Who could
            ask for more?  Everybody's comin',
            leave your body at the door Leave your
            body and soul at the--


  Buffy shuts off the water and slides open the shower curtain
  listening intently.


  Buffy, with a towel wrapped around her body, finishes tucking
  her wet hair into another towel as she walks across the room
  and picks up the phone.

            Hello?  Giles?

                      GILES (PHONE)
            Yes, I know you're supposed to have
            the night off, but there have been
            reports of a strange demon sighted in
            the cemetery.

  Buffy sits down on the edge of her bed where there's a nice
  dress and shoes spread out ready for her to change into.

            But, it's Halloween.  Nothing--

                      GILES (PHONE)
            Yes, quite right.  Nothing ever happens
            on Halloween, but we've been proven
            wrong before.




  She pulls the dress up off the bed and hangs it back up in
  the closet.

            All right, I'll go make a quick check.

  She tosses a pair of jeans and a long-sleeve comfortable
  shirt onto the bed.  She tosses her patrol bag onto the bed
  and fills it with her tools... crucifix, wooden stakes, flask
  of holy water, and a small axe.


  Buffy wanders through the cemetery, stake in hand, looking
  out for any sign of trouble.  She hears a sound and turns in
  that direction.

  She spots something out of place on a tombstone.

  She approaches and sees it's a rose.  She looks around but
  doesn't see any sign of anyone... or anything.

  As she grabs the rose, a monstrous demonic figure in
  silhouette rises up behind her.  She smells the rose and
  then her eyes go wide as a hand grabs her shoulder.

                                          BLACK OUT.

                          END OF TEASER

                 ACT TWO


  Buffy spins around with a wooden
  stake in her hand, but the
  demonic figure swats her arm
  aside.  He pulls off the mask to


  They look deep into each
  other's eyes for an eternity
  before giving in to their desire
  and kissing passionately.  In
  the midst of their passionate
  exchange, Angel lifts her up and
  seats her on top of the tombstone
  as she wraps her legs around his waist.

            Angel... we can't... we can't do this.
            You'll turn... bad... again.

  Angel stops kissing and rests his forehead against hers.  He
  takes a step back letting his hand slide gently across her
  cheek and then run through her hair.

            You're right.  But... but maybe there's
            a way.  Maybe we can find a way to
            make it work this time.  I--

  He turns his back to her.

                      ANGEL (cont'd)
            I need you, Buffy.  I--

                      SPIKE (O.C.)
            Can you believe this bloody loser?

  Angel and Buffy look up to see SPIKE scratching his nails
  across the tops of tombstones as he strolls toward them.

                      SPIKE (cont'd)
             Wants to endanger the whole world again
             for a little piece of...  happiness?

  Spike brushes past Angel and sits on the edge of the tombstone
  right next to Buffy.

                      SPIKE (cont'd)
             Tell you what, luv.  I'll take care of
             the physical happiness while you and
             Angelus enjoy the finer points of ooey-
             gooey mushiness.




             That's enough, Spike.

  Spike puts his arm around Buffy.  She looks dazed and confused
  like a lost, little girl.

             Enough?  I think the lady and I were
             just getting warmed up.

  Angel grabs Spike and lifts him up off the ground.


  Angel switches to his vampire face.  Spike puts on his vampire
  face in return.

             Well then, let's go... Angelus.

  Angel tosses Spike through the air smashing him into a
  tombstone, which cracks in half on impact.

  Buffy watches on as Angel and Spike fight.  They tear into
  each other with claws that shred away their shirts revealing
  rippling muscles and perfect bodies glistening with sweat.  

  Buffy bites her lip as she plays voyeur to the two vampire's
  violent dance.


  A pair of combat boots jogs over the ground of the cemetery.
  The soldier's feet come to a stop within sight of the two
  vampires fighting.  Buffy still breathes heavily as she
  watches them.

  A military A3 bag drops beside the boots.

            Hey, you vampire freaks!

  Angel and Spike continue fighting.

                      XANDER (cont'd)
            Listen to me, dammit!

  Angel and Spike turn their heads toward Xander who keeps
  most of his appearance hidden in the shadows.




                      XANDER (cont'd)
            I'm tired of you two running around
            with your chiseled jaws and fancy
            accents making it impossible for us
            normal guys to get a second look from
            a woman like Buffy.  I could have had
            a shot at her if it weren't for you
            tainting her with your vampire charms.

            I don't think you have us to blame for

            And...  I gotta deal with your ever-so-
            smugger-than-thou attitudes belittling
            me in the process.  Trying to make me
            less of a man.  Well, I've had enough!

  Xander reaches into the A3 bag
  and pulls out a vest, which he
  puts on.  He goes through the
  Commando/Predator military
  soldier suit up sequence as he
  gets ready for battle.

  He steps into the light
  looking like Rambo as he snaps
  a clip into his M16.

             XANDER (cont'd)
       And I mean it this time.

  Buffy gasps as Xander opens fire on Spike and Angel riddling
  them with bullets.

  Spike and Angel look at each other, unfazed by the bullets.
  Then they look at Xander.

                      XANDER (cont'd)
            Crap.  I should've known that <i>From
            Dusk Til Dawn</i> cross on the bullets
            trick wouldn't work.

  Xander pulls out his combat knife as he, Spike, and Angel
  prepare to throw down.


  Stands up to go save Xander's butt when a female hand covers
  her mouth. 


  Xander, Spike, and Angel circle each other, exhausted but
  determined.  Their clothes are shredded leaving the men
  practically half-naked under the moonlight.




                       WILLOW (O.C.)
             Oh, boys!

  The three men turn to see Willow holding Buffy close.  She
  has a wicked grin on her face as her hand slides across
  Buffy's stomach along the waistline of her jeans.

  Buffy looks like she's in a hypnotic trance.

                       WILLOW (cont'd)
             I was just thinking...

  She stops to nibble lightly on Buffy's ear as another female
  steps out of the shadows.

                       EVIL WILLOW
             We... we were just thinking.

  Evil Willow slides up alongside Buffy and pulls Buffy's head
  back by her hair to plant a deep, passionate kiss on her
  while regular Willow fumbles around with the button to Buffy's

             Right, we were thinking...


  As her jeans drop to the ground.  Looking past the jeans,
  Xander, Spike, and Angel look on in eager anticipation. 

                       WILLOW (cont'd)
             Why can't we all just share her?

  As the boys continue to stare, more clothes land beside the
  jeans on the ground... Buffy's shirt, Willow's shirt, Buffy's
  bra, Evil Willow's shirt.

             Do you think this is one of those
             strange Halloween enchant--

 Xander, Angel and Spike go wide-
eyed as they see something off
screen that makes Buffy MOAN
with pleasure.

            XANDER (cont'd)
       Was that... I mean... did they
       just... do what I think they
       just did to her? 

  Spike starts running toward the moans
  tearing off what little remains of his shirt.  Angel and
  Xander follow him doing the same.


… and well, you can probably tell where it goes from there for the next 36 minutes. Those fans of Buffy (especially the aspiring TV writers) were extremely passionate about their show, and it showed. In a lot of ways.



The Editorial Approach

The question on many writers’ minds at the San Diego Comicon…

Well, it’s that time of year again, so let’s take a look at the question often asked by thousands of writers storming San Diego this weekend.

How do I approach editors at cons?



The following are The Creative Adviser’s foolproof strategies for getting an editor’s attention amidst San Diego distractions like thunderous sounds, flashy lights, pushy pedicab operators and booth babes.

Quantity over quality. First and foremost, you need to show that you can write and write a lot. At least 12 full issues of scripting should work. Doesn’t matter what you write or if it’s that great or not as long as you can show volume. Quantity wins out in the assembly line of modern comics. Be sure to print all of those out with your name in big, bold letters across the top of each page to haul around with you at the convention to prove to the editor you’re serious.

Know it all. Editors admire people with the balls to stand up to them and let them know when they’re wrong, so go through the books they edit and make sure you can point out at least three major problems with their projects. Continuity errors are best and after that, spelling and grammar mistakes, missed deadlines, and substandard artwork will work in a pinch. Do not back down no matter what they say–they like to work with writers that know the editor’s job as well as or better than they do because it makes their jobs easier.

Be memorable. When you approach editors at a convention, you want to create a moment to associate with later when they’re going through your hundreds of pages of scripts. To do that, you need to get their attention in a big, flattering way, and showing up in costume as one of the characters that person edits is just the trick. It shows your passion for their work and the characters they invest so much time and effort into day-after-day. What editor wouldn’t want to read a script straight from the mind of Spidey, Batman, or Faye Valentine?

Strength in numbers. Sure, it’s still easy for an editor to ignore someone if it’s just one person. But what if it was 4 people? Or 6? Join forces with other aspiring writers, and you can easily surround an editor guaranteeing all of you will get more attention than you could ever imagine at the show.

The ol’ bait-and-switch. Notice how they give artists the time of day, but not writers? Familiar with the Trojan Horse? If you can’t directly approach an editor, sneak in through the back door. Buy an artist portfolio case and use that to get into the portfolio review lines. Make sure it’s completely filled with scripts, and the editor will have no choice but to make sure you get the attention you deserve.

Perfect timing. Knowing when to strike makes all the difference. You want to approach an editor when you’ll have their undivided attention. Imagine how much of an editor’s attention you’ll get if you catch them waiting in line to get a drink, using the restroom, shopping for original art, or best yet… in the elevator at their hotel.

Voodoo. That’s right, good ol’ fashioned voodoo magic. The big problem with editors at conventions is they’re always busy. Tons of people to talk to and not enough time in the day, but there’s a way you can help that editor out. Nothing clears a crowd quicker than ritualistic live animal sacrifices, and if the editor has no one else to talk to, he or she will have ample time to read your scripts and listen to your pitches.

With these strategies, you’ll be the talk of the convention. Your transformation from aspiring writer to comic book superstar will be almost instantaneous… screaming fans, media attention and personal escorts to lead you to a car waiting out front.




A question about giving up on similar ideas…

I had the most original, never-before-seen idea ever, but someone else sold a project almost exactly like mine. Should I still pursue this idea or should I abandon it?

Jeremiah R., Clone, NM


Dear Jeremiah,

Each year, thousands of ideas find themselves abandoned or neglected by overzealous creators unprepared to handle the responsibility of caring for and cultivating them. It could be that the idea was too much work for them. Or the idea lost its luster after the creator saw others parading so many similar ideas around at the local idea park. No matter what the reason, these ideas were soon left out in the cold with no options and no chance for a creative livelihood.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The Society for the Prevention of Carelessness with Ideas (SPCI) deals with hundreds of cases of abandoned ideas each year to help them develop into strong, healthy sources of entertainment. But the SPCI can’t do it alone. Your help is needed to ensure these ideas stay alive and find a good home. Look at what the SPCI and people just like you have accomplished together over the years:

In 1958, an idea cared for and loved by a man name Kurosawa in a faraway land spawned new ideas in the heads of creators around the globe. Most of these ideas went neglected and died off, but in the 1970s, an offspring was taken in by a thoughtful creator. He fed the idea a budget and some special effects, and soon, Star Wars grew up to be a strong and healthy breed of idea known as a franchise.

Also in the 1970s, an idea known as Jaws grew up to capture the fear and terror of America. But it came from an idea with no clear self-restraint, and in 1981, another apparent sibling of this idea was nurtured by a filmmaker in Italy. Even though L’Ultimo Squalo (Great White) was legally prevented from release within the U.S., its development wasn’t completely wasted. It would be years later, but the movie would receive eventual notoriety as part of the documentary, The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made.

And we can also look to the comic book community… one of our most active supporters. In comic books, ideas are cultivated over-and-over again to make sure no idea gets left stranded. Dark Knights become Moon Knights. Crime fighters skilled in the ways of archery roam the streets colored in both green and purple. New ideas come forward as an ultimate revitalization of a comic book company’s existing line of superhero concepts. Even the ideas portrayed by the art itself doesn’t get abandoned as some of the more dedicated supporters make sure even a single line of work doesn’t get neglected.

Support doesn’t just stop with ideas spawned within specific media. The SPCI knows even unfortunate ideas cross-bred between different media can bring joy to someone when properly cared for. These mutts (often referred to as “adaptations”) draw a lot of attention to themselves due to the nature of their parents. Highly successful ideas will spawn popular adaptations, but sadly, many of these adaptations fall short of the nobility and magic of their heritage. But to neglect even these mutated offspring can deny someone the possible joy of seeing the General Lee fly across the big screen, smashing things up as the Hulk on their video game console or flipping through the printed schematics of the Starship Enterprise.

See what can become of these ideas when we, as a community, work to keep them alive? Sure, the responsibility might be too much for some people, but others will care too much for an idea to let it be abandoned… to let it die. They’ll see it through the accusations, critics, death threats, lawsuits and even bankruptcy knowing they’ve fought the good fight for an idea’s survival.

But what can you do to help? With a donation of as little as 100 words a day, you can sponsor an idea and give it a fighting chance to stay alive long enough to eventually see its dreams become reality. Just this small amount will provide ideas with the nourishment they need to carry on. Please, help keep an idea alive.

This has been a public service announcement paid for in part by the Society for the Prevention of Carelessness with Ideas, the National Idea Registry, and the Foundation for the Betterment of Hollywood Lawyers’ Bank Accounts. Samples cited have no foundation in reality and were presented to provide subliminally assumed associations with big names and franchises. In some cases, this service has been known to cause headaches, nausea, deterioration of social status, and sudden loss of financial assets.


This Time, It’s Personal

A question about impersonal rejection letters…

Why did the rejection letter I got back from my submission to a major comic publisher feel so impersonal?  I took the time to add personal touches to my submission… why can’t they do the same?

Jay G., Central City, NE




Dear Jay,

We’ve all run into this scenario at some time, but I just so happen to have a friend (distant friend, in fact) who actually received a personal response from an editor at Marvel Entertainment.  It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.  You just have to strike the right chord with an editor and give them a reason to respond.  Let’s take a look at his letter…


Dear Marvel Fan (yes, your name’s in your cover letter just like my name’s in all the books I edit, which you obviously couldn’t be bothered with looking up either):

Today is your lucky day.  You don’t get the form letter… no, you get a personal letter from me giving you feedback on your script and proposal for, Wolverine: The Clone Saga.  But first, I want to let you know what led to this rare opportunity for you.

As you probably aren’t aware of because you can’t be bothered with minutiae like reading mastheads, title credits, or most likely, even purchasing any of my books, I edit ten books here at Marvel… a dozen of which are now running late as of this week.

Just this morning, our bestseller, Ultimate Spider-Ham, by Robin Williams and Mike Krahulik just moved to the delayed list.  The artist had to have his arm surgically reattached after volunteering to test out a friend’s garage-built Night Thrasher skateboard (whoever came up with the idea of a jet-powered skateboard with a spring-loaded blade needs to be throttled).  We’re looking for an appropriate fill-in artist, but Scott Kurtz is DC exclusive now working on Bat-Mite: The Wonder (Woman) Years, and I’m still pissed at DJ Coffman for spoiling Harry Potter.  Plus, Jim Davis wouldn’t return my calls.

I also have a writer MIA after spearheading our new “Fists of Marvel” Hong Kong cinecomics imprint line.  He was doing a lot of research for the new Iron Fist and Shroud books, and one day, his email started sending out of office replies saying he’s on a spiritual journey of discovery to find K’un L’un and the Cult of Kali.  The last anyone’s seen of him was an impromptu comic signing event in Nepal.

Last week, I received a mandate from the big boss that I have to scrap the upcoming story arcs for most of  my books to participate in this year’s new crossover event geared toward capturing a larger female readership, Cupid’s Legacy–a god of love accidentally dies on Earth releasing his love powers around the globe and affecting every man and woman on the planet.  Our upcoming story arcs were already researched and fully scripted by our writers, and now, I have to tell them to rework everything on short notice in a romance novel style with lots of love triangles, jealous rages, betrayals, and the subtleties of true romance.  Sometimes, I wish I could be editing Joss Whedon’s books.

That’s just some of the crap I have to deal with week-in and week-out, and I don’t even get the same treatment as the other editors.  My desk is in the office supplies storage room.  The company won’t send me to conventions to meet with creators and fans.  They always make me do all the menial chores–run out to get the sandwiches, hand out mints in the executive washroom during important meetings, and take care of submissions.  And just before I sat down to read your script, I found out I didn’t even get an invite to the company retreat.  That’s why you get the honor of getting my personal response, so let’s get to your script.


Wolverine: The Clone Saga

PAGE ONE (sixteen panels)

Panel 1: The nite sky streched out over NYC skyline that spread out to the lenghts of our vision all across the horizon like a blanket of extreme darkness with starry silvery glitter sprinkled all across it.



Congratulations!  Aside from the typos, grammatical issues, verbosity, and lack of knowledge of how much artwork and dialogue can actually fit onto a real comic page, you’re off to a great start in your comics-writing career.  But let me make a slight editorial suggestion:


Panel 1: New York City skyline.  Night.


Unfortunately, I encountered a brain hemorrhage while reading the rest of the page, but you should be able to mimic minor edits like that in the rest of your panel descriptions (and maybe cut down on the number of panels per page) on all 37 pages of your first issue script.  This will cut to the core of your story and really bring out the essence of your script, which looks like a lot of Wolverine doing what he does best (and not much else).  Remember the old editorial standby, “Less is more.” In your case, much less from you would mean much, much more to me.

Best regards,


The Masked Editor of Supply Closet #3



Film School Rock Classics

A question about crappy movies…


If they can spend money making crap movies with worlds flooded over, Spice Girls and Bat-nipples, why aren’t they all over my script that’s better than half the junk out there?

Tuddle Middleson – Attila, IL


Dear Tuddle,

Better than half?  You’re aiming way too low there.  Your script needs to be the pinnacle of writing achievement throughout the universe before hitting Hollywood.  It should reach another plane of existence where miracles happen… babies stop crying, fast food restaurants get every order right, and vehicles run on piss instead of gasoline.  And that’s just to make sure it gets through the Hollywood system as just mediocre crap.

But I think it’s best you see for yourself.  Let’s pull out that Film School Rock classic, “I’m Just a Spec” to see how a script is really made into a film…


I’m Just a Spec

Aspiring Screenwriter: You sure gotta go through a lot of strip searches to get to these studios here in Hollywood.  I wonder who that sad little wad of paper is?

I’m just a spec.
Yes, I’m only a spec.
And I’m being covered for a studio exec.
Well, it’s a long, long journey
To the big screen premiere.
It’s a long, long wait
Until I make it to Development Heck,
But I know I’ll be a there someday
At least I hope and pray for a check,
But today I am still just a spec.

Aspiring Screenwriter: Gee, Spec, you certainly have a lot of patience and courage.

Spec: Well I got this far.  When I started, I wasn’t even a spec, I was just an idea.  Someone back home decided a movie needed to be made, so he called and harassed a studio exec and the exec said, “If you keep calling me, I’m filing a restraining order.” After a few therapy sessions, the man sat down and wrote me out and introduced me to Hollywood.  And I became a spec, and I’ll remain a spec until they decide to make me a film.

I’m just a spec.
Yes I’m only a spec,
But I made it past the studio exec.
Well, now I’m stuck in Development Heck,
And I’ll sit here and wait
While a few key producers discuss and debate
What kind of film they really want me to be.
How I hope and pray I’m not DVD direct,
But today I am still just a spec.
Aspiring Screenwriter: Listen to those Hollywood people arguing! Is all that fighting and cussing about you?

Spec: Yeah, I’m one of the lucky ones.  Most specs never even get this far.  I hope they decide to leave me be, otherwise I may suck.

Aspiring Screenwriter: Suck?

Spec: Yeah, suck under a barrage of notes and cryptic ideas and studio pet writers and shooting me up with the latest Hollywood buzz steroids until I no longer resemble the movie they bought.  Oooh, but it looks like I’m gonna shoot!  Now they have a director and his favorite writers to screw me up some more.

Aspiring Screenwriter: But what if the studio doesn’t like the director’s changes, then what happens?

Spec: Then I get more studio notes and the whole thing starts all over again.

Aspiring Screenwriter: Oh no!

Spec: Oh yes!

I’m just a spec
Yes, I’m only a spec
And if they ever greenlight this wreck
Well, then I’m off to production
Where I could be ripped into shreds
By all the actors’ demands
While getting ready to shoot.
And if they shoot me, then I’ll be a film.
How I hope and pray I’ll get that respect,
But today I am still just a spec.
Aspiring Screenwriter: You mean even if you survive development, the actors can still interfere?

Spec: Yes, that’s what I call a Prima Donna hose job.  If the actors hose me, I have to go back to the studio for them to work me over again, and by that time you’re so messed up…

Aspiring Screenwriter: By that time, it’s very likely you’ll suck.  It’s not easy to become a good film, is it?

Spec: No.

But how I hope and I pray I’ll get that respect,
But today I am still just a spec.
Producer: We did it, Spec! Now you’re a film!

Film: Oh yes!!!

Critic:  But you suck!

Film: That’s it.

Critic: Is that a shotgu–


Don’t forget young filmmakers… when movies suck, people die.




Sure, it’s just a critic, but he has a family.  Okay, so he just has a puppy.




But now it’s a cute, homeless puppy.  So… when movies suck, puppies lose their homes.



Unless they’re a cat owner, and then–