I got this question recently:
“I have had an idea for a movie sequel for some time, and I know there is some trepidation in the business to write a sequel when you are not authorized by the owner of the material. What are your recommendations about writing a screenplay sequel? Should I not even think about it or would it be useful, even if the only thing it is used for is to show writing and creative diversity?”
Conventional wisdom is clear: you shouldn’t “even think about it.” There are some good reasons for this, too. The only person in the entire World who can buy your script is the person who owns the material, which is literally one person or at most a committee of a few people within one organization. That’s a very small market and there are just too many unforeseen variables for it to work out; the person could hate your screenplay, the person could already be working on a sequel, you might not understand some of the subtle nuances that exist in a property, etc.
Since all agents and producers know how hard it would be to sell such a property, I can’t see many of them even being willing to read such a script, so it’s hard to imagine that it would even work as a writing sample either.
With that said, I’m a big believer in going against conventional wisdom and if you have a real passion for a project and you know you can write a fantastic script than go for it. Realize that it’s probably not going to sell and in fact it’s probably not going to be a useful writing sample either, but then again I have a dozen original scripts that are sitting on my shelf and will never sell and will never act as a writing sample either. If you’re serious about screenwriting you’re going to be writing dozens of screenplays over the course of your career so maybe look at this one as just simply practice.
There was a script on the Black List last year called The Muppet Man which was a sort of semi-fictitious account of Jim Henson’s life. It eventually sold to the company that owns the Muppets and it served as a great writing sample for the writer, too. I can guarantee that if the writer had pitched that project to any agent or producer before it was written they would have told him basically what I’m telling you now; you shouldn’t even think about it. It’s the entertainment industry so you just never know.
One point of clarification: If you want to write for television you should write a spec episode for a well known successful television show. It’s very difficult (if not impossible) for a new writer to be the creator of a new television show so writing a “pilot” and a few episodes for your original series doesn’t serve a lot of purpose. If you want to write for television you must demonstrate that you can write for an existing show and writing a spec for an existing show is exactly how you would do this.
Check out this post as it covers some of the same ground: Writing a spec script based on an existing franchise.