Margaret Heidenry recounts the history of the spec script in Hollywood:
Monday mornings in Hollywood used to mean something. Back in the 1990s—before the weekend box office was entirely dominated by sequels, prequels, movies based on board games, and other pre-sold “franchises”—Monday mornings were when original screenplays hit the auction block, and here’s how it used to happen: A lit (literary) agent called a series of studio executives and barked, “We’re going out with a hot spec.” Within the hour, a phalanx of messengers descended on the agency’s front desk, took copies of the script, and dashed off to the major studios—Columbia, Paramount, MGM, Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Fox—and to mini-majors such as Miramax and New Line Cinema.
Some hundred hours later, by sunset on Friday, the efforts of a year or three of a writer’s life might be deemed worthless by a tsunami of “passes” from studio mouthpieces. Just as often, though, during the spec boom years, which lasted roughly from 1990 to 2008 with various peaks and valleys, came the six magic words: “We’d like to make an offer.” Not only were spec sales the industry’s own version of a Hollywood ending, they also broke in a passel of Oscar winners: Alan Ball, who sold American Beauty to DreamWorks for $250,000 in 1998; Callie Khouri, who sold Thelma & Louise to Ridley Scott’s production company for $500,000 in 1990; Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who were movie extras before they sold Good Will Hunting to Castle Rock Entertainment for $675,000 in 1994.
“When I came into the business, in 1996, the spec market was this mythical thing,” recalls writer-director John Hamburg (Meet the Parents; I Love You, Man). “Everybody had a shot at becoming a millionaire overnight.” Indeed, competition for material grew so fervent that Harvey Weinstein, Miramax’s hard-charging co-founder, offered to buy screenwriter Troy Duffy his favorite bar in exchange for Duffy’s 1997 spec, The Boondock Saints—on top of a six-figure purchase price.
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Via Go Into The Story who has an interesting take on the article.