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Hollywood Speak
Words and Terms You Need To Know
You need to know these words that Hollywood uses. If you call a script a "play," fugetaboutit. You don't stand a chance.


Such as: "100 thousand against 300 thousand which looks like this: 100k/300k. This is the option price against the total purchase price. So in this instance it means that the writer was paid 100 thousand upfront and will be paid 200 thousand upon completion of principal photography or whenever the contract calls for the last payment.


They are the folks who sell your material and get you an assignment. They take 10% of your paycheck which gets sent to them first before you see it. You want to sign with a Writers Guild Signatory and one located in the Los Angeles area. Make sure they are listed in the Hollywood Representation Directory. Agents rep more clients than managers and many don't have the same amount of time to work with a writer on rewriting material. Their day is spent on the phone selling specs and getting assignments. They'll read a script only after their assistant reads it and loves it. Stay away from the big agencies, like CAA, William Morris and UTA. You're better off with a smaller agency that deals with new writers. Who are they? That's for you to research.


This is when a writer is paid upfront for writing services whether or not the screenplay is produced.


This is when an actor, producer or director agrees to do a movie. When a star comes aboard, the chances of the movie getting made goes up tremendously. That's because usually a star guarantees a big opening at the box office, the first two weekends of a movie's release which is when the studio makes most of its money.

Beat Sheet

List of the major story changes or beats in a screenplay.

Bidding War

This is when two or more companies are bidding on one spec script. This is usually done when the agent has a high concept script from a produced writer although non-produced writers have sold this way in the past. With the right material, it's a great way to drive up the price of a script.


Written synopsis and evaluation of any literary material such as a script, book or play provided by a reader or "story analyst" so that agents and producers have an idea of what the material is about before they decide to read it. Most material that gets submitted in Hollywood is usually given coverage first before it moves up the ladder.

Creative Exec

After the reader or story analyst reads a script and writes up coverage, the next person up the ladder is usually the creative exec. They will make a recommendation to the company or studio whether to option/buy the material or not. If the material is bought or optioned, they most likely will be in charge (possibly along with others) in developing the material.

Deal Memo

Summary of the major points of a contract. This is used so that the writer can begin working while the much larger contract is being written.


This is when a story, idea, script, is rewritten many times based on notes and meetings between the story execs, producers, directors, actors and the writer. Each company works differently so it's possible at a small company that only the writer and story exec will be involved with a screenplay's development. The studio or production company's goal is to get a better script but sometimes the script ends up in the dreaded "development hell," which means that each draft makes the screenplay worse and the movie is never made.

Development Hell

This is when a script gets rewritten so many times (usually by many writers) based upon studio or production company notes, that it faintly resembles what the studio saw in the original script in the first place. William Goldman said that nobody knows anything when it comes to picking a winning script and maybe he was right. If they did, most of the movies we see would be hits. "Hell" for writers is almost a given these days in Hollywood. Hey, the story execs have to give notes to justify their paychecks. Even if a script is great and ready to shoot someone will probably have notes for it. If you want to avoid this, write novels or plays. This is a tough, crazy biz not for the faint at heart.


Star, producer or director that when attached to a project, adds credibility to it and a better chance of it getting produced.

Entertainment Attorney

An attorney who represents any party that is involved with a deal concerning the acquisition of literary material. They can work in tandem with an agent and usually earn $150-$400 an hour or a percentage of what the writer will earn. Some attorneys not only negotiate contracts but also submit material on behalf of their clients.


Another name for a full length movie that usually runs from 85 to 130 minutes.

First Look Deal

This is usually when a company or individual producer finds a project and must first allow the studio to have the first right of refusal on that project. If the studio passes, then the first company or individual can take the project elsewhere.

Four Audience Quadrant

An audience that consists of men, women, young, old. Huge tentpole movies are designed to appeal to the four quadrants. This type of movie is what drives the studio machine.

Green Light

It's when a script gets the nod to go into production by the studio. No guarantee it will ever see the theaters though. When you see your movie in the theater that's when you know it has happened.

Gross Profits

Only the major writer like Shane Black get this kind of deal. It means that he/she will get a cut of the gross profits, not the net like most mortals do.

High Concept

1-3 line logline (see logline definition below) that gets a response from a producer or exec such as: "Hey, now that's a movie! I can see a movie star in the lead role and the movie poster. Send me that script yesterday!" Studios like high concept very much because they can sell it to a large audience much easier than non high concept stories. Here's an example: Romantic Comedy. Title: "Blind Date" - A couple on a blind date from hell witness a murder and are whisked away by the FBI into the Federal Witness Protection Program and have to live together as husband and wife." High concept can be any genre. New writers stand a much better chance of selling if they have a high concept script.

Hip Pocket Deal

It's when an agency signs someone only to sell a spec script and not to get the writer any other work. It's better than nothing but you want an agent that believes in you as a whole and not just one of your scripts. The bigger agencies tend to offer this to newer writers.


Short for independent. Can refer to a certain type of movie or the company that produce them. Usually the movies are lower budget, and character driven. For many years, it usually referred to companies that worked outside the studio system but today many studios have their own indie or specialty division such as Fox Searchlight.


Short 1-3 line description of any literary material. (See high concept).


A type of rep similar to an agent but will work for a larger piece of the pie (usually 15-20%)and work with fewer writers. They are usually more about career guidance and an agent is about getting the deal. According to California law, managers can't legally solicit for work but most do anyway. Unlike an agent, they are allowed to attach themselves to a project as producer. Many in town work alone out of their homes. As long as they have a desk and phone, why not? Their info can be found in the Hollywood Representation Directory. You might have a better shot getting a manager than an agent. Some writers even have both. Hey, 75% of something is better than 100% of nothing. Can't get either? Consider an entertainment attorney.


Can be a script, book, play, article etc.


Movie of the Week for television. Written in screenplay form and feature length but usually have 7 acts instead of 3.

Non-WGA Company

A company that has not signed the minimum basic Writers Guild Agreement or hasn't become a signatory to the Guild.


Written feedback and suggestions on a script that's in development. Can be offered by agent, manager, producer, creative exec etc.


Agreement by which the optioning party pays the writer to keep the work off the market, while the optioning party seeks financing to actually purchase the work. The time of the option can be any length and for any amount. The legal minimum price is $1. If possible, get a short option for a lot of money. This is because most movies don't get made. There are plenty of writers in Hollywood just living on option money without ever seeing one of their movies made.


Summary of the major scenes in a script.


This is usually when an agency company adds elements to your project such as a star, producer and/or director before presenting it to a production company or studio.

Page One Rewrite

This is when the writer has to completely rewrite the script, usually because of plot or structural problems.

Production Bonus

A cash reward given to a writer of a screenplay who ends up getting sold or shared "screenplay by" or "written by" credit on the movie.


This word has several meanings. With coverage, getting a pass means that the compnay is rejecting the material. You don't want the dreaded pass. In terms of writing, it has a better connotation. It means that a writer will work on a project. They'll take a pass at it.

Purchase Price

The amount paid for literary material. This price is negotiable and is based on current market conditions. If five studios want your script, you'll get more than if one indie company wants it. Spec scripts have sold for 50k up to a few million. Like anything as you make a name for yourself, your price will go up.


It's when you give a short summary of your script to a producer or someone else in the industry with the goal of having them write a script based on the script or read the script if it has already been written. The goal here, like with your script is, "less is more."Give them just enough to arouse their curiosity but not too much to turn them off. If you are pitching to a company that has a deal with a studio, a high concept pitch is best.


Anyone that has access to the industry and some money to be able to option your material. Many producers with money still won't give you much on an option, especially if you're a newbie. That's because most movies don't get made and there's a rule in town "Spend as little as possible and never spend your own money." Your job along with your rep's job is to get as MUCH as possible for your material but the main thing is to get it made.
     Some producers are called line producers. They work on the production of the film and not on finding new material.

Production Company

A company that is in business of creating entertainment products such as movies or TV shows. Some production companies are owned by a writer, actor, producer, director or a combination of the four. The Hollywood Creative Directory lists the production companies along with the studio deals that they have. Generally a production company is funded by a studio or financing company. A production company can have a studio deal but still be located off the studio lot. Deals can last one or more years, depending on how successful the TV shows or movies are that the production company produces.


Another name for literary material that is in development. "Tom Cruise is working on the British Magician project."


Any type of literary material such as a book, play, short story etc.

Query or Query Letter

Letter (usually snail mailed) to see if an agent, manager, production company, studio etc. would look at literary material that is available for sale. Addressed to a specific person and includes a brief description of material and a short bio of the writer. Wait a few weeks before calling to see your material was received. Then wait about a month before calling again. If you become a pest, they will trash the script. At this stage, you need them more than they need you.


A person who reads literary material for an entertainment company and provides an analysis of the material aka "coverage." Most companies in Hollywood employee non-union readers but the studios use union readers. The old adage of "no one reads in Hollywood" is somewhat true. Material that is submitted in town is first read by the reader. The reader writes up a coverage report and passes it along to their superior who decides to read the script based on the coverage. With this system, it is possible for a producer to produce a movie even though the producer read nothing more than the coverage report.

Release Form

A document signed by a writer that frees the creator of the document from any kind of liability. Most production companies, studios and agencies will ask for a release form to be signed before they consider reading material from a writer.


Short for romantic comedy. We know how it's going to end but it "how" is the operative word. Many times they are female-driven and can be made on a budget. If you write one of these, make sure it is unique! What are you bringing new to the genre?

Scale (as in work for "scale")

Writing for the minimum that has been set by the Writers Guild of America under its Minimum Basic Agreement. Usually it is scale plus 10% to include the fee that writer's agent will receive.


Any company such as a studio or production company that is bound to the Writers Guild of America by a signed agreement, agreeing to the Guild's rules and procedures. Most companies that deal with the production of major TV shows and features are signatories.


Short for sneak preview. It's when a studio opens a movie in a few theaters in order to gage an audiences reaction to the movie before its big release. Often a studio will sneak a movie in a small city so they can get a good idea on how the film will fare throughout the country.

Spec Script or Spec Screenplay

A script written on speculation without any deal in place. The writer is hoping to sell it upon completion. This is just the opposite of a writer writing a script based on an assignment. The advantage of writing on spec is that the writer is writing an original story and not having to answer to anyone. Also, if the spec sells, the writer can make a lot more money than they would if they wrote this on assignment but there's no guarantee that it will sell. Writing on an assignment still doesn't guarantee that the script will be produced but it is a guaranteed paycheck.

Screenplay Polish

Minor rewrite but what is a minor rewrite to one is a major rewrite to another. Usually includes changes to dialogue, and action but nothing that will affect the structure. Producers will try and take advantage of you here and you either walk or do the work.

Story Analyst

See "reader."


Short summary of a literary property written in prose form. Usually one-two pages that include the major plot points.

Tentpole Movie

This is a term used to describe big, event movies that drive the rest of the studios' slate and generates a frnachise. They appeal to the largest audience (men, women, young, old) known as the four quadrants. An example of a tentpole would be the Batman series.


This is the ultimate meaning behind any story. On the surface "Wizard of Oz" was about a teenager trying to get back home but it was more than that. It was also about the how love of family and friends can enable us to overcome all adversity. A theme is a universal thing we can all indentify with.


Told in prose form and similar to a synopsis, the treatment goes in depth in terms of what happens in the story. Can be many pages and include some dialogue. Most professionals first write a treatment before they write their screenplay.


Process of following what projects companies have in development and what material might be available for sale. All the major studios have personnel who are responsible for tracking.


This is when a company offers the rights to a literary property to another company after the first company has developed the property but has not turned it into a movie. This can be very expensive for the second company acquiring the rights since they must not only pay for the script but all development costs that have incurred. Usually a company buys something in turnaround when they are very sure they will produce the movie. They are sure when they have a star and a director. Even then the star or director can back out but that's a chance they usually are willing to take.


This is when a company receives material that it did not request. Many companies will simply return it unread and unopened due to legal hassles. Waste of time and money to send material out like this. Mail a query letter first.


Writers Guild of America. Union for movie and TV writers. Established in the early 1930's. They try and make sure that writers don't get screwed by the industry but it's not so easy. Work is hard to come by and some producers take advantage of the situation by expecting to get more from the writers than they should according the agreement the producers signed with the Guild. What else is new, right?


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