Cal Barnes

For the screenwriter, a hot spec script featuring a killer premise or an innovative writing style can be a great calling card into the industry.

But what does a great spec really look like?

Below are five professional specs that have reached notoriety within the writing community, launching the careers for many of their scribes. So, if you have down time during the Holidays & want to read some amazing specs, look no further:

"A Killing on Carnival Row" by Travis Beacham

If you’re looking for a poster child example of what innovative and marketable spec script looks like, look no further, for "A Killing on Carnival Row" is a master class in spec writing. In a dark and otherworldly city, this neo-noir fantasy crime thriller follows a police inspector that’s tracking a serial killer who’s targeting fairies – that’s right, fairies. It’s a fantastical, dark adventure; full of suspense and imagination. Written in his early 20s, Mr. Beacham’s first screenplay sold to New Line in 2005, but has since been tied up in “development hell."  However, if you look at Mr. Beacham’s career, he’s been working steadily ever since on very, very big projects.

"The Brigands of Rattleborg" by S. Craig Zahler

The number one script on the 2006 Blacklist, Mr. Zahler’s 137 page western is driven by a single unrelenting force – revenge. The irony in the script is unreal, as we're thrown into a world with bad guys doing terrible things, and all you want to do is keep reading to see which hero will rise up and take these bad guys down.

This script is not for the faint of heart. The graphic nature of the content sticks with you for a long time, but in its darkness lies its brilliance. Zahler is also just a great writer in general. He has a great grasp on the English language and his writing style reads like water. He breaks a lot of “modern rules” with his elegant prose, thick action block & high page count. But if you can construct a revenge plot as powerful a “Brigands,” there’s not much else to worry about. A must read for anyone looking to write a Western.

"Passengers" by Jon Spaihts

Finishing high on the 2007 Blacklist, “Passengers” is finally getting its release this year with Jennifer Lawrence & Chris Pratt. Almost ten years from when it originally hit the market, this proves a couple of things: One, it can take a long time to make a movie; and two, a good spec script is never forgotten.

The story of “Passengers” begins in the middle of space on a giant intergalactic spaceship when a passenger wakes up from his cryogenic sleep. But here’s the catch: He wakes up 100 years before everyone else! He’s going to live out his life alone and in isolation in the dead of space unless he wakes another passenger up. And therein lies the drama; The choice of whether to accept his circumstance as a man destined to be alone, or to wake a female passenger up to forgo his loneliness and share his fate. It’s a deeply human choice that will inevitably makes us question what we'd do in the same situation, and a choice that makes the story impossible to forget.

"Rocky" by Sylvester Stallone

Written by none other then Sly Stallone himself, this classic boxing tale is not only a fantastic story about the triumphant human spirit, but a great example of how important it is to write what you’re passionate about. Sylvester Stallone reportedly wrote the screenplay in just over three days after watching the championship match between Muhammed Ali & Chuck Wepner. United Artists liked the script and thought it could be a great vehicle for an established star. Stallone – an unknown at the time – fought to star in the film as well, later saying he’d never forgive himself if he let someone else play the part. Made on a budget of just over $1M, the film brought in $225M worldwide, was the highest grossing film of 1976, and went on to win three Oscars, including Best Picture. 

"A Country of Strangers" by Sean Armstrong

Written by my friend Sean Armstrong, “A Country of Strangers” won the 2011 Tracking B competition and went on to place number two on the 2012 Blacklist, making it one of the hottest scripts in town for its year. Based on true events, the story follows Inspector Geoff Harper as he conducts a 40-year search for the missing Beaumont Children - three siblings that were taken from an Australian Beach in January, 1966. Cramming a true story spanning 40 years into a 120 page screenplay is no easy task, but “A Country of Strangers” serves to prove again that readers and the public are fascinated by and relish true stories. 


About The Author

Cal Barnes has been writing professionally since 2012, when his stage play  "Rise" won "Best World Premiere" at the 2012 Hollywood Fringe Festival. 

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