Home » Archives » February 2006 » Shooting at a Moving Target. Don't Lead It!
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02/06/2006: Shooting at a Moving Target. Don't Lead It!
Have you seen these new plastic plates and bowls? Theyíre the sort you might find on a picnic or a patio party. They look completely normal except the edges are sort of extra bumpy. Turns out, they lock together! One plate or bowl locks, upside-down, onto another one, creating a very solid little storage chamber. Itís genius! Is this the kind of thing I no longer know about now that I tivo through the commercials? Itís harder and harder to keep up.
Wow, that brings us effortlessly to the question of how one writes a spec script for a show that keeps changing. What if your spec relies on a character who is killed off in the very episode that is airing as you lick the stamp on the envelope to send it off to an agent? What if the story turn that youíd cleverly anticipated and incorporated into your spec never happens?
Well, in the case of the character that died, you actually might still be able to use the spec. Itís the other example thatís a bigger problem. Anticipating, projecting ahead so your script will seem current even into the future, is more dangerous than simply picking a moment in the current season and saying ďHere. Iím making a script that will fit in right here.Ē If you pick a moment, the worst thing that happens is that eventually itís obvious when the script was written Ė and thatís not a terrible thing. Every script has to be written some time. But if you project into the future and do it incorrectly, the script will seem to have been set in some alternate universe version of the show. Interesting, certainly, but probably confusing.
The fact is, spec scripts can have a surprisingly long shelf-life, especially if the show stays on the air. I once wrote a Roseanne spec that I used for years and years. When I wrote it, Darlene was in high school. In fact, the spec was about Roseanneís reaction to Darlene announcing that she wanted to join the navy after she graduated, so itís not like her age was inconsequential in the story. And yet, it was still getting me work three seasons later.
Writers who are already working have to write specs too. And most of the time, they will have no more idea than you do of whatís going to happen on the show theyíre specing. Your script will not appear amateurish simply because it occupies a specific place in the time-space continuum.
When a showrunner is reading through a pile of spec scripts, looking for a good, cheap staff writer to round out their staff, they arenít looking to find one who is clairvoyant. Theyíre looking for story, structure, voice, and some specifics like joke-writing or action-writing. They just donít care that much if the episode would make time-line sense if it suddenly, magically, were on the air tonight.
So relax. This is one case where it's easier than it looks.