Do Scripts Really Still Sell? A Case Study

A Case Study, BURIED, commercial script, Final Draft, spec script, THE BEAST -

Do Scripts Really Still Sell? A Case Study

Do screenplays still sell? Is it actually possible to simply write a script, turn around, and sell it at a high level? With the decline in the feature spec market from its high point in the 1990s, it can sometimes feel like nothing sells, and specs exist primarily as a writing sample. To illustrate how this isn’t the case, we’re going to look at Aaron W. Sala’s script THE BEAST as an example.

Per Deadline, in a preemptive mid-six figure deal, The H. Collective acquired Aaron W. Sala’s horror thriller spec THE BEAST. That’s a high-level sale. It’s also the first sale for Sala. How did this happen?

In an interview with Final Draft, Aaron explained he submitted the script to the Launch Pad Screenwriting Competition, where it performed well enough to gain him representation, Aaron’s script got into the hands of producer Sherryl Clark (CLOVERFIELD) and then sold.

What this means, in simple terms, is that the script was good. But it’s more complicated than that. Again, per Deadline, the script’s concept is, “After a passenger plane goes down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a woman finds herself washed ashore and the sole survivor on a mysterious island where she faces her worst fears.”

Consider this in practical terms. This is a contained thriller. That means it’s relatively inexpensive to produce (relatively-speaking) and in a commercial genre. Can it really be that simple?

The answer is yes. Screenwriting history is littered with stories like this, of writers who simply nailed the execution of contained thrillers. Chris Sparling (BURIED) has a similar backstory, after writing the contained thriller BURIED (which takes place entirely in a coffin), that went on to star Ryan Reynolds.

And here’s the other wrinkle – writing this was not some decade-long odyssey. Per Final Draft, Aaron, “wrote the first draft in about a month. I gave it to a couple of friends who I really trust, got their notes on it, and then submitted it,” – that’s it.

What’s the takeaway here? If you have an idea for a great contained thriller, just sit down and write it. Spec sales do still happen, and when they do, especially for newer writers, it’s often a story like this.

And especially for a contained thriller, if the concept is strong, and the writer has already found an organic way to milk a full feature out of that contained premise, that’s often half the battle from a producer’s perspective.

Are you writing contained thrillers? If so, what has been your experience in marketing them to producers? Let us know in the comments below!

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