For a while now, the trades, blogs, and industry commentaries have been awash with indicators about how weak the spec market is. The basic notion is that this is an awful time to try and break in as a new writer with a spec. Unless that script is pure gold and your reps can get A-List talent and directors attached, you're basically s.o.l. (Tomorrow, we'll relay some interesting data Scott Myers collected over at Go Into The Story about the market trends in the past few years.)
Granted, the above shouldn't stop any of you from writing. It's just the reality of the market right now, and as an aspiring or emerging writer, you'll do yourself a major service to know what kind of situation you're getting yourself into. Times are tough now, but there are still fresh writers making high-six or seven figure deals, and there's absolutely no reason that you can't be counted among them some day (hopefully soon).
Last week, I had a call with my manager, which shed more light upon the spec climate. The context of the discussion: a big-time producer and his business partner are interested in my post-Apocalyptic spec. Right now, their lawyers and my independent producers who brought the spec to them are trying to negotiate a handshake deal. If all terms are agreed upon - the terms are basically to determine what kind of credits and rights the two independent producers and the big-time producer will have before any sale is made, so that everyone knows what to expect and what their role will be - the big producer will essentially steer the ship; his business partner will spearhead getting the script out there (using the producer's name and their company's reputation), and when need be, the producer will take calls or meetings.
The ideal outcome is that the big-time producer and his business partner get the script out to talent and directors, who then come on board. With those elements attached, the producer brings the package (i.e. the script, leading actor, and director - a project ready to go) to a studio. Hopefully, they go to more than one studio, and garner interest from a handful of buyers. This is what we really want, because, as my manager explained to me, the alternative is less exciting.
Assuming we can't get the stars attached or receive interest from only one studio, what we might be looking at is an option, rather than a sale. While still cool to have a script optioned by a major studio, the result (rather than, say, a $500,000 sale) would potentially be a $10,000 option for 6 or 12 or 18 or even 24 months. To me, the money isn't so much a concern (who wouldn't want $10K?), as the idea that the material is locked away - possibly undergoing major development - for up to two years. I trust everyone behind me and my script would be in the studio system at that point, so there's no cause for major complaint. It's just a sign of the times. Whereas something might have sold outright before so that a studio could remove it from the market, now it might be optioned, worked, locked away, and then possibly produced.
But that's a long way off. For now, I just have to sit back and wait to hear if the two producing parties agree on terms. If they do, my script - and, therefore, I - will gain exposure within the industry, and that's what we're going for.