There are a lot of different ways a script or idea for a movie or TV show can be sold. Here's what these terms mean and how to use them correctly:

"I sold a pilot" usually means that you sold the pilot for a TV show that you wrote on “spec” or speculatively — meaning that you wrote the script hoping to sell it, but without a guarantee that you would. If you sold a pilot, it means you wrote a pilot and someone bought it in anticipation of producing a television show.

By contrast, "I sold a show" likely means you sold a pitch or idea for a show to be recorded as the pilot episode of a TV series. The script probably hasn't been developed at this point, but the network, streamer, studio or production company bought the idea and said, "Let's make this show."

  • A show can be sold with or without a script, depending on the writer's track record. Writers who have already sold a script are able to sell just the pitch; new writers need to write the script.

  • The script refers to the script for the pilot episode, not the script for the entire season or series.

Similarly, "I sold a screenplay" means that you sold a script for a movie that you wrote on spec, whereas "I sold a movie" could mean you sold a pitch for a movie without having the script yet, which some established writers are able to do.

  • You wouldn’t use this interchangeably with “I sold a show.” "Screenplay" applies to features, i.e., movies or films. "Teleplay" is the television equivalent of "screenplay," but it's a fairly old term that's not commonly used anymore.

  • Writing the spec pilot script first does allow for more creative control, even for established writers.

  • If you sell the pitch, the company that buys it would pay to develop the script and will have a lot of input into the process. This is not a bad thing. Development executives are generally very bright people with good taste and a wealth of experience making successful films and shows. They also are well-acquainted with the needs of the network or studio that they work for, as well as the preferences of those who will make the ultimate decision: greenlighting your script to production or killing it forever.

  • When you’re just breaking in, you’ll need something for people to read, so you’ll need to actually write the screenplay first.

"I sold a script" could apply to TV or movies. If you say you sold a script, that means that you wrote an original script, and a network, studio, streamer or production company bought it to record and turn into a movie or the pilot episode of a TV show.

  • If you don’t know whether the person writes screenplays or for TV, it would be reasonable to ask if the script was for a TV show or a movie. “Sold a script” is ambiguous and doesn’t indicate whether it’s a movie or a pilot.

"Sold a spec" can refer to one of two distinct situations, neither of which you are likely to encounter.

  • The first situation is one in which a writer wrote an episode of an existing series on spec, hoping to sell it to the producers of the series. This was a common practice in television thirty years ago, but it rarely happens now. Specs of existing series are still written, but mostly as a sample to showcase the writer’s ability to write for an existing series and in another writer’s voice.

  • The other situation in which “sold a spec” might apply is one in which a writer sold a pilot that was written on spec, but the writer would much more likely say, “I sold a pilot.”