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Spec Spotlight: Peter Gaffney Sells Sci-Fi Spec 'Don't Go in the Water' to Universal Pictures

June 27, 2019
2 min read time

After setting up sci-fi specs at both LeVision Entertainment and Lionsgate, New York-based screenwriter Peter Gaffney went on to reportedly sell his spec script Don’t Go in the Water to Universal Pictures in the mid-to-high six figure range. 

The spec sale is a big milestone for Gaffney, who says he wrote close to eight spec scripts prior to one finally being sold.

“When I first started out, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know,” Gaffney says.  “I didn’t know anyone in the business personally to have any kind of model on how to build a career.  I definitely thought you just needed to get into the WGA, get repped, and then everything would just sort of fall into place somehow. He quickly found out that wasn’t the whole truth. “That’s just the beginning,” Gaffney recalls. 

Don’t Go in the Water, which is dubbed a suspenseful monster movie, took Gaffney roughly six months to write. “But with a lot of time doing other stuff,” he says. “I put it down for about a month and came back to it.”

Gaffney says he had been thinking about the idea for a couple of months before he finally started writing it. Regarding the spec writing process, he admits that “the real challenge is to just get started. I think like a lot of people, once I've started something, I want to finish it. So eventually it gets finished—once I get going. Motivating yourself to start is really the hard part of the process.”

Unlike other writers who might struggle through multiple drafts of their spec, Gaffney says there was no major rewrite of the script.

“It was all one big draft that I just endlessly tinkered with.” The writer also received input from Adam Rodin, who’s now a producer on the film. “His help was invaluable,” Gaffney says. “The final result that sold was pretty true to my original idea. It ended up being much bigger then I originally envisioned, but that’s where the story went.”

As for why this script sold over his previous ones, Gaffney admits that while luck probably played a big part, he was confident with the world he had created in this one. “I was pretty sure that it was a great idea and a good script, but you can never know if others will agree. I wasn't really conscious of this while writing it, but it turns out a lot of people were looking for a ‘there's something in the water’ type movie at this moment in time. This happens to be a cool twist on that genre. It’s old and new at the same time.” 

When it comes to managing this new phase—that of a produced screenwriter—Gaffney says it’s still new, and a little unreal to him. “We will see! It’s still very early in the process. But everyone involved is on the same page on what we want this movie to be, so I’m very excited.”

His advice for other writers who are trying to sell their specs without getting much headway is practical, even if it hurts the writer’s soul a bit.

“Yeah, I’d probably move on. That can be really, really hard—I know from experience—because that's your baby. You've been spending six months or a year of your life on it,” he says. “But I would add that no script is ever really dead. Tastes change. You never know, it might click with someone a few years down the road. But for now, start working on something else.”

When asked why writers suffer through the arduous, often thankless, process of writing specs, Gaffney’s response best sums up the dreamers in all writers: “[Shrug].”

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