Margaret Heidenry charts the rise and fall of the “spec” script:
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. … The bull market for specs continued into the 2000s, and then—pick your metaphor—the bank closed, the railway was routed to another town, the well dried up. In 1995, 173 specs were sold. In 2010 the number was 55, roughly where it had stood for at least half a decade.
But the Internet may be giving spec scripts a boost:
New media, while whittling away audiences, have also unearthed fresh voices. The Academy Award–winning screenwriter Diablo Cody was discovered via her blog. Kelly Oxford, a housewife from Alberta, Canada, who amassed hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, recently sold her first screenplay, a spec. Another spec, The Disciple Program, was snapped up after a series of teasing tweets hyped it, reminding Hollywood of pre-tracking-board days.