Scriptcat’s fabulous fall screenwriting tips for your journey…

October 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

write onIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, first of all—THANK YOU!  I truly hope you’re busy creating and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey and you’ve been able to take away a few nuggets of advice that helped. As you may know, I’ve been adding short posts (nothing is EVER short on this blog!) and sharing various survival tips. I do speak about these in the various articles on this blog, but this feature will be a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate your screenwriting journey. Download my new free all SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp—includes tips from my upcoming book with a November publishing date. So, in addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), I’ll be posting new ones here from time to time.  Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting!

I can’t believe 2014 is quickly ending very soon. Have you been reaching your screenwriting goals for 2015? Okay, here are a few fall screenwriting survival tips…

TIP #1        NO ONE CARES!

The longer you slug it out in Hollywood’s trenches, you’ll learn that it’s important not to expect anything from the film business. Never expect anyone to love your screenplay as much as you do—that goes for your agent, manager or producer. And don’t expect anyone to care about your career as much a you do. It’s your responsibility to steer your career in a direction that you want. If you go into this business with eyes wide and your head in the clouds believing that success will be easy, you’ll soon be crushed by the reality of feedback.  As Lao Tzu wrote: “Act without expectation.” It’s a good philosophy to follow on the long haul journey to any level of screenwriting success.

TIP #2       YOUR TIME IS PRECIOUS & WORTH MONEY!

And what about time?  It’s your greatest asset or your worst enemy. It depends on how you use your precious time to create a solid body of work and continue to become a better screenwriter. That’s why I ask if you have an artist’s mentality — or the insanity to believe that even as you stare into the dark void of the unknown, your burning passion will guide you across yet another hurdle.   You’ll need to withstand continued rejection, criticism, failure, and even sometimes ridicule — and if you can remain strong and shout with confidence, “I am a screenwriter” and truly believe it, because you are doing the work. Sacrificing the time to create a solid body of work and not just talking about what you’d like to be doing.

TIP #3       DEADLINES, DEADLINES, DEADLINES… 

If you want to eventually work professionally, as I’m sure is your goal, you will need to work efficiently under a deadline, and at the best of your ability. It’s basically working quickly at the best of your creativity on a schedule and under a deadline. The only way to get to this place is to always set your own deadlines and meet them every time with your spec screenplays. If you’re not practicing this writing schedule now, I’d suggest starting it on your next project.

BONUS TIP!    

You may write a half-dozen specs that don’t sell before one of them secures you an assignment job from a producer or studio.  Keep writing and finding your unique voice, keep mastering your craft, and really think about why you are writing your spec. What you write about is as important as how you write it.   You never know the perils that await you on your pathway to success, but the road is definitely paved with your spec screenplays—it just might take a half-dozen or more.

Keep the faith and filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

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Did you just complete your new screenplay? Time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information.

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“We all have the tendency to want to take the quickest, easiest path to our goals, but we generally manage to control our impatience; we understand the superior value of getting what we want through hard work. For some people, however, this inveterate lazy streak is far too powerful.”—Robert Greene, “Mastery”

“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling

This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.”—Rod Serling

Most writers can’t tell at the premise stage whether they’ve got a good story because they don’t have the training to see the deep structural problems in the idea before writing it as a script.”—John Truby

“Luck is a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity and delivers the goods.”—Scriptcat

 

 

Just because you write it doesn’t mean anyone will “love” it…

October 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

written bySpeculation screenplays (specs) are a strange breed of project. As a screenwriter you should always work on your specs, but the reality is that most will not sell. But if one lands you an assignment job it will have served its purpose well. Specs are also necessary for you to find your unique ‘voice’ as a screenwriter and to make mistakes and write badly so you can get to a better place with your ability. If you’re lucky you will sell a spec and it will jump-start your professional screenwriting career.

script oddsAs I’ve mentioned in my earlier posts, I’ve only sold one spec in my career—the other twelve jobs have been screenplay assignment work with seven of the scripts being produced. Assignment work is the ‘bread and butter’ of a working screenwriter as the spec market has changed so much since I started screenwriting. This spring I completed my twenty-seventh feature screenplay and it was my twelfth paid screenwriting assignment. Nearly half of the scripts, thirteen of those twenty-seven, were paid jobs (includes one spec sale). I burned through writing only specs early in my pursuit of a screenwriting career. I don’t write many specs anymore as the main source of my work and time spent comes from paid assignment screenwriting jobs. I have to really love an idea of mine to write it as a spec because it will take me away from my paid jobs—and it’s more of a risk of precious time for me.

Regarding assignment work, many aspirants ask if I have a problem with the fact that I didn’t come up with the idea or story treatment. My answer is “no” because I love to work and make my living from screenwriting. It also takes the pressure off from me to “sell a script” with the hopes that someone will buy it. A spec can bounce around town for years and never get produced. An assignment job usually is an idea or a story the producer wants to produce and more likely has a deal in place for distribution. It’s a pleasure going into the job knowing the script will most likely be produced and distributed. The idea also becomes mine once I start writing the script and I must embrace every element of the story because it is my job to craft the idea into a fully realized screenplay. If your idea is to work in the film industry as a screenwriter you will need to create your income from somewhere—either your “day job” which usually involves doing something other than screenwriting to pay the bills—or being a professional writer who producers pay to sit down and write. I prefer the latter.

I have to admit, I too was guilty of this when I first started writing my early specs—I always thought just because I wrote a screenplay that producers or executives should immediately take notice and care. The reality is that NO ONE CARES. Write this down and post it near your computer. You have to make them care and even if they do care, it may not lead to a produced film as a result. Hollywood has upwards to 50,000 screenplays bouncing around in any given year all trying to get noticed and produced. Sure, the majority of these screenplays are not well-written or projects that any smart producer would take a chance on, but the top percent are good and eventually find a home or get the screenwriter an assignment job.

Patience as a writerAny spec script takes time to find its home. My script for my fifth spec I’ll Remember April” took seven years to finally find a producer who decided that it was the script and movie he wanted to make. I had a lot of false starts, some bites with small options, but never a full-blown decision to buy the script until the it found its way to a producer who “got it.”  I knew that I had “something” early on that was of value because the script almost won the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship (a top 20 screenplay) and that alone validated my project. The placement allowed me to get agents, managers and producers to read the script.

It can take a long time for your spec to find a home and you must look at it from the producer’s side or point of view — is the project commercial enough to put into the movie theaters (now mainly huge blockbusters that play well globally — superhero, sci-fi, huge action)?  The smaller films are not being produced as much for the “art house”— or they make the films for TV.

beating the odds as a screenwriterThe #1 concern for a producer? Will the movie be successful and make money—and will the investors will make their money back, lose money or break even? Sure, producing a film is always a risk, but they lessen that risk with well-known stars or big ideas that translate globally. Not every story you write will be produced just because you love your screenplay. If you have this point of view—get over yourself.  Sure, you must love your spec first and hopefully your passion will show through in the screenwriting. But filmmaking is a business first and it will always be a long journey to find a producer or executive who loves your script the same way you do. That’s the trick to selling specs.

And if you repeatedly hit a wall, it could be because of the writing — not the story — maybe the actual screenwriting is not compelling enough or is a tough read as many issues can make a script fail in the marketplace: concept, structure, story, weak characters, over writing, poor screenwriting ability, etc. Or it’s the marketplace? Maybe Hollywood isn’t making your type of genre at the moment? It only takes ONE of these to make a producer decide “NO” and the hardest part is finding that perfect marriage between your script and a producer who wants to produce it.

If you’re stubborn you can say that “the producers didn’t get it” — meaning they don’t understand what you were trying to do… but if three or four producers don’t get it… the problem might be the script itself and it probably needs more work. But you won’t know if it’s the concept that failed, or if it was your screenwriting style, or a weak structure and characters. It could be a combination of many issues. Your script lives or dies by a thousand tiny details that add up to a rejection.  It could make them feel the script is a long way from being in the shape to purchase and develop. When your spec script comes through the door to be considered, they look at your ability to craft a successful project in the fewest drafts possible. But if your spec needs a lot of work, maybe several more drafts, they will pass because they will have to hire another writer with more experience or ability to get the script into shape. This might not be part of their production schedule as they might need a production ready script now and not six months from now.

The longer you slug it out in Hollywood’s trenches, you’ll learn that it’s important not to expect anything from the film business. Never expect anyone to love your screenplay as much as you do—that goes for your agent, manager or producer. If you go into this business with eyes wide and your head in the clouds believing that success will be easy, you’ll soon be crushed by the reality of feedback.  As Lao Tzu writes: “Act without expectation.” It’s a good philosophy to follow on the long haul journey to any level of screenwriting success.

Keep the faith and keep filling your blank pages.

@scriptcat out!

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Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression. Make the time to get your screenplay in the best shape ever.

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“… a basic “must” for every writer: A simple solitude—physical & mental.”— Rod Serling

Stephen King with advice from his old newspaper editor John Gould: “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”— Pablo Picasso

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”— Ray Bradbury

“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”— William Goldman

It’s a long haul journey, so prepare for the ride of a lifetime…

September 1, 2014 § 1 Comment

BoulderFlatI remember my first screenplay. It was fun and I thought it was the greatest piece of writing ever created—until I received feedback and that knocked me back into reality. I had much to learn and the humbling experience was enough for me to realize that screenwriting is an ongoing journey of learning and writing, failing, and getting rejected. As I soldiered on, I could see legitimate progress as each new screenplay moved me farther down the field of play. Now, twenty-seven screenplays later, my twelfth paid screenwriting assignment just got a green light and starts production next week in Vancouver. It will be my seventh produced film of my career. Nothing has come for free or handed to me on my journey. My family was not in the film business. I had to learn, climb and claw for everything that I’ve achieved with the invaluable support team of my family and dear friends. We make our own breaks and set up opportunities with every new screenplay that we create.

One can’t do it alone, but you are alone when you face that blank page and realize that no one forced you to choose this endeavor. If you haven’t learned it yet, you will realize it’s not for the thin-skinned or for those who can’t handle failure and rejection. All of this comes with the territory and there are no guarantees. That is what makes it exciting and terrifying at the same time. Every time out, we stand on the side of the cliff and stare into the dark, unknown void below. What makes us take the leap of faith? Our passion and dreams burn as red-hot fuel for our courage to step forward and soar.

This is not an easy journey to reach any level of success for a sustained period.  You really have to dig deep and ask yourself if you are willing to slog through the trenches for years, possibly writing material that will never sell only to maybe strike gold and sell something or be hired to write a script for a producer. If you’re in this for the fame and fortune, or you think it’s easy because you’ve read a few screenwriting books and read some scripts, you are very mistaken. The craft and the film business will humble you. It’s not enough to just put the words on paper and call yourself a “screenwriter.” That’s like saying you jumped out of a plane once and now you’re a skydiver. You have to possess the tenacity to weather the ups and downs, to constantly become a better screenwriter, to learn and grow with your craft, to master executing notes, to be the ultimate team player and collaborator, and to write material that reveals honestly and authenticity. If you’re in it because you think it’s a quick way to make some money, again—you will be humbled.

script oddsAgain, it’s not glamorous, but you’d be lucky to become a “working screenwriter” — someone who makes their living by writing.  I’m not talking about an A-list superstar (as if many screenwriters ever to get to be superstars compared to actors). Not everyone can achieve A-list status no matter how good they write or how badly they want it.  Everyone has their own journey and not everyone will achieve the level of success they anticipated. But that’s okay. You have to decide what your idea of “making it” is and trust me, it changes over the years. Out of the gate from film school graduation, I was going to set the world on fire and sell scripts for a million dollars each. Funny how time and the pursuit has a way of tempering dreams and shaping a more realistic goal.

It hasn’t been easy and there were many times when fear and despair nearly extinguished the bright light I always see ahead of me.  Somehow, I manage to hang on and take a few steps forward for every step back. They told me it would not be easy. When given the insurmountable odds, it could potentially be impossible—but not for us dreamers. I’d rather work at making my dreams a reality, than never to attempt them and always wonder if I could have made it.

I think it’s an important question to pose to beginning writers—do you have the burning desire to be a writer and the all-encompassing drive it takes to achieve any type of success as a screenwriter? There will be times you ask yourself, “why the hell am I doing this?” and if your answer is, “because I don’t want to do anything else and it’s my life’s calling” — my friend you just might be a real screenwriter.

hang onAnd what about time?  It’s your greatest asset or your worst enemy. It depends on how you use your precious time to create a solid body of work and continue to become a better screenwriter. That’s why I ask if you have an artist’s mentality — or the insanity to believe that even as you stare into the dark void of the unknown, your burning passion will guide you across yet another hurdle.   You’ll need to withstand continued rejection, criticism, failure, and even sometimes ridicule — and if you can remain strong and shout with confidence, “I am a screenwriter” and truly believe it, because you are doing the work. Sacrificing the time to create a solid body of work and not just talking about what you’d like to be doing.

I knew a lot of “actors” who loved the actor’s lifestyle, but really didn’t do much work at acting. They thought they would get by on their charm and good looks. Well, in Hollywood those qualities are a dime a dozen. The same goes for a “screenwriter.” Ideas are everywhere and it’s the execution that counts. It’s what separates those people who look at writing a screenplay as a way to become famous or to make money. That’s a fool’s endeavor. It takes a real love of the craft of writing that will keep your aim true and focused. You’ll have a body of work to show just how serious you are about being a “screenwriter” because you’re acting like a professional—even if you haven’t been paid.  Every time you write you are living out your dream. Everything else on your journey is just an extra treat.

script pageI’ve never found a way around the hard work, only through it. Success is not guaranteed or deserved to any of us.  The “overnight success” can take ten years or even longer, so you’ll need the ability to hunker down for the long haul of a screenwriter’s journey in Hollywood.  You may write scripts for years that no one ever buys or might languish in development hell where you get paid, but no projects make it to the screen.  Every script you complete makes you a better writer, even if it doesn’t sell.  Your goal is a constant mastering of your craft.   Even when you finally score a writing job, a simple contract can take months going back and forth between lawyers and agents.  Time burns quickly and if patience isn’t in your DNA, then I suggest you learn it because you will endure difficult circumstances and never-ending test of your will.

If you love the craft regardless of the outcome, you already possess the ability to weather the long slog it may take to becoming a working screenwriter.  You are not insane in your thinking, you’re hammering away in a rarefied world among writers with an esprit de corps—fellow dreamers who refuse to give up and settle for less than living out their dreams.

No one can extinguish your creative flames but you.  Keep the hungry creative fires burning, keep believing, follow the professional’s code, and always keep writing and creating new projects.

Scriptcat out!

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Did you just complete your new screenplay and find it’s time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

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“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

“… the payoff of playing-the-game-for-money is not the money (which you may never see anyway, even after you turn pro).  The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude.  It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind that shows up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“Work every day.  No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.” – Hemingway

You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”—Ray Bradbury

“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman

 

Scriptcat’s survival tips for your screenwriting journey…

August 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

script pageIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, first of all—THANK YOU!  I truly hope you’re busy creating and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey and you’ve been able to take away a few nuggets of advice that helped. As you may know, I’ve been adding short posts (nothing is EVER short on this blog!) and sharing various survival tips. I do speak about these in the various articles on this blog, but this new feature will be a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate your screenwriting journey.

So, in addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), I’ll be posting new tips here from time to time.  Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting!

Okay, three more survival tips that will help you on your screenwriting adventure…

TIP #1

Do yourself a favor early on your screenwriting journey: Always work from a solid step outline or story treatment before you start pages. Trust me, you will be training yourself for the future. Treatments, beat sheets and step outlines are an important process that prepare you to write the script.  If you’re getting paid as a professional writer for a script assignment, it’s standard practice the producer or executive will require you in the contract to create one of these structured documents before they’ll allow you to start the script.  Only a fool leaves on a journey without the proper road map, supplies and a clear vision of the destination. The same goes for your screenplay. I’ve read so many scripts that run of steam in that barren wasteland of ACT TWO and the writer has no clue how to get the characters across those fifty or so pages. Writing an extensive treatment is similar to doing a pre-draft of your script.  It gives you the chance to explore your story and get to know your characters before you set out on a journey of a hundred pages with them.  If you embrace the treatment process and craft a solid framework for your story, it will help serve as your road map to a successful first draft.

TIP #2

Be willing to make the time necessary to create a viable body of work.  Practice patience, Grasshopper. We all want overnight success with the least amount of effort, right?  You read or hear about a first time writer selling a script for a million dollars? You think a screenwriting career is as easy as falling out of bed in the morning into a three-picture deal? Wrong. It usually takes years of rejection and learning while you toil away writing at a half-dozen screenplays to achieve any level of success as a working screenwriter—or maybe never. You’ll need time to fail, be rejected and write bad screenplays so you can get on to doing your best work. You need to think of your career as your life’s journey and continually learn, study, and work at becoming a better screenwriter. You want to become a master of your craft at the top of your game.  When you consider that only 4,510 Writers Guild Members reported any income last year and half of the guild did not work, you’ll need to be screenwriting at the highest levels necessary to compete in a very competitive and crowded marketplace.

TIP #3

You need to get over yourself and realize that if you haven’t seriously mastered your craft you probably aren’t as good as you think you are.  That’s not to say you’re not a decent writer —but if you haven’t put in the hours, days and years of mastering your craft, you can’t compete.  Writers make lucky breaks by finding an opportunity and knocking it out of the park because they prepare by mastering their craft. The formula is:  Luck = opportunity meets prepared screenwriter. That’s what is known as a “professional” in attitude and action. The reality is that no one really gives a shit about your precious screenplay. You do because you wrote it, but you can’t expect the world to care. I find many aspiring screenwriters believe that just because they completed a screenplay that Hollywood is somehow obligated to read it, buy it and make it into a movie. Bullshit. Your spec (unless it’s a paid assignment job) should never be thought of as anything but another tool in your arsenal to move you forward on the playing field. It either allows you to grow as a writer, makes some noise and gets you noticed, sells as is (very rare), or is a fantastic writing sample of your talent that lands you a writing job. When you consider that conservative estimates figure about 50,000 projects are registered with the Writers Guild every year, your script has tremendous odds to overcome—even when it’s fantastic. You just may be a terrific writer, but know that tens of thousands of other terrific writers are out there working harder than you are and want it more than you do. That’s okay, just focus on your journey and compete with yourself, working toward being the best writer you can be at any given time.

Keep screenwriting and filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just finish your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation/proofing/analysis? Check out my consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. I look forward to helping you push your script closer to the best possible release draft.

Screenplay consultation services

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?”― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”—Ray Bradbury

“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman

“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling

“Everyone holds his fortune in his own hands, like a sculptor the raw material he will fashion into a figure. But it’s the same with that type of artistic activity as with all others: We are merely born with the capacity to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated.”—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

pray

Ah, the romanticized life of a working screenwriter…

August 4, 2014 § 2 Comments

Completing your screenplaySure, it can be torture at times—a hellish rewrite on a screenplay can make you question your decision to become a screenwriter when you curse the day you typed “FADE IN.”  Other times it’s easy breezy and brings you great creative satisfaction, a credit and the bonus of getting paid as a professional screenwriter. As with life, you deal with the good and the bad, and learn how to survive and weather the storms to stay in the game. I just wrapped up my twelfth paid screenwriting assignment of my career and it’s been a fantastic six months working on this gig. I’m blessed to have worked with a talented producer and production executives who were spot on during the development process.

This was my first time working with them and I didn’t know how the experience would turn out. They didn’t know me before either so we both took a bit of a risk on each other. The best part was—I was on a short list of writers and beat them out to secure the job. Sometimes you get lucky and the alchemy just works and you produce a great script and build new working relationships.

hollywood boulevardI joke about the cliché of the ideal “romanticized life” of a working Hollywood screenwriter, but many times I find aspirants who work with total freedom on their specs, believe it will be the same experience when they get hired to write a screenplay assignment. It’s not—it becomes your job with the same expectations, responsibilities, pressures and deadlines of many jobs—all while working with a contract. If you’re blessed enough to secure the gig, you must be the ultimate team player and collaborator. Sure, you scored the job, but never fool yourself into believing you’re the only screenwriter who could do the job. There is always someone out there equally or more talented and hundreds of eager aspirants who would even write it for free just for the break. The important thing is that you landed the job. It’s yours to screw up or succeed. Show them why you were the right pick on that short list of other writers.

I completed my contracted first draft in twenty-five days and turned it in five days early. What followed was a first set of notes and then my second draft. This was followed by a second set of notes and turning in the second draft. The production executives went over my second draft and contacted the producer with only polish notes (always a good sign rather than another rewrite).  The producer contacted me on a Thursday and asked if I could complete my polish by the following Monday per the production company’s request. I replied, “Of course!” I worked the next three days executing the polish and wrapped it up at 3:30 A.M. in the wee small hours of Sunday morning. I wanted to give the producer a full day to review the script before he sent it along to the production company as my official third draft.

CUT TO:

Monday morning. I received an e-mail from the producer with a short list of tweaks issues to be fixed: a line of dialogue changed, a slight action added to a scene, a few lines of dialogue added… nothing that wouldn’t take me but an hour of work. It’s always good to take another look before you send in the final draft as even down to the last minute—it can always be made better. The dozens of tiny changes were all to push the script closer to a production ready draft, to attract a director, name actors—and GET IT PRODUCED.

DISSOLVE TO:

Moments ago—I just received the confirmation e-mail this evening from the producer saying that my third draft script was officially submitted to the production company tonight. We were successful in meeting our deadline and delivered a production ready script as promised. Always remember, meeting your deadlines is vital to your reputation and your career. During this entire six-month process on this assignment, I always followed through with my promises, turned in my drafts early, and was building my working relationship with the producer and the production company. As I pushed myself to always do my best writing to date, I also kept my eye on the bigger picture and not just this one job with them. Doing my best work to date on this script could set the wheels in motion for them to hire me for another project.

script page and keyboardSo, what’s all this I continually hear about the romanticized and exciting image of working screenwriters? It’s a false image and not reality. Most of the time it’s not fun or exciting, it’s the hard work of pleasing your producers and executives, filled with rewrites, polishes, and the pressure of deadlines. It will always be about the work. If you’re a true screenwriter, you thrive on process and getting the job done no matter what it takes. You’ll go above and beyond every time to show your producers and executives that you are the right person for the job. Screenwriters are craftsmen and craftswomen, the ones up at 3:30 A.M. chipping away, fixing the scenes, working on the structure, building the characters and their arcs, and executing the notes to meet a deadline.

Sure, you might come up short on praise and validation, but even when you do receive praise, it might be a let down from what you’d expect. The longer you’re in the screenwriting game, you’ll learn that screenwriting can be a thankless and lonely job as you slog away sometimes in the wee small hours of the morning. But don’t lose heart, realize that it’s a job and it’s hard work at all levels of the business.

It was your choice to pursue the journey of a master craftsperson, working away in your workshop, crafting a new story to unleash upon the world. It’s a lonely process with no parties, no champagne, no red carpets, no fame and rarely fortune, but your praise and validation comes from the satisfaction knowing that you’re working at the top of your game. How do you know? You’ve just moved your last draft from the development process into the important pre-production stage—that’s a major step to success.

nightThe end of my story? During those wee small hours of the morning before the dawn, I closed the script, hit “send” and finally closed my eyes to sleep. I was at peace knowing that I did my best work to date and successfully wrote a genre that was not in my usual wheelhouse. No fame, no fortune, no glory… just a master craftsman in his workshop, finishing up his twenty-seventh screenplay, blowing out the candle to return another day on another project. I never take any of it for granted and know the long slog and decades of experience that it’s taken me to get here.

It’s work—hard work and I’m happy and humbled to have had another chance up to the plate and made sure to knock it out of the park.

Scriptcat out!

P.S. with an update:  The movie went into production the second week of September of this year in Vancouver and it’s now in post production. My 7th produced feature and I just signed for my next assignment.

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“… the payoff of playing-the-game-for-money is not the money (which you may never see anyway, even after you turn pro).  The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude.  It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind that shows up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“Work every day.  No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.” – Hemingway

Everyone holds his fortune in his own hands, like a sculptor the raw material he will fashion into a figure. But it’s the same with that type of artistic activity as with all others: We are merely born with the capacity to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated.”—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

“When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb outside with a pencil and a ten cent notebook and start the whole thing over again.” — Preston Sturges

“You have to be very productive in order to become excellent.  You have to go through a poor period and a mediocre period, and then you move into your excellent period.  It may be very well be that some of you have done quite a bit of writing already. You maybe ready to move into your good period and your excellent period.  But you shouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a very long process.”—Ray Bradbury

“This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.” —Rod Serling

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The treatment debate: To write the story or not and how little is too little?

June 30, 2014 § 6 Comments

treatmentI can’t believe that I still find myself going through this discussion with screenwriting aspirants who have not written long enough to realize how important structure and story are to the success of a first draft. They also don’t respect the fact that execution trumps any idea in a screenplay’s potential for success. There is no shortage of “good ideas” circulating Hollywood, but what’s usually lacking is the proper execution of the screenplay. Respect how important your script’s bigger story is and it will serve you well. You need the strongest foundation going into your script pages, otherwise you’ll be crafting a house of cards that is ready to collapse.

Rarely will a producer buy your poorly written screenplay because of the idea alone. You’ll need the full package to even get a shot at any level of success with your project. On a scale of one to ten, with one being the worst, is your first draft a 5?  A 7?  How much work might it take to get it to an 9? That being said, I was lucky that my early screenwriting mentors drilled into my mind how vital is it to work on the story treatment as part of the process. This before I ever started to type one page of script. They were working screenwriters themselves at the time and knew the real world disciplines that lead them to their success.

I’m working on the second draft of my new screenwriting assignment and executing notes from the producer and the executives from the production company. My contract stated that I needed to write a story treatment first and submit that to the producer, follow the notes and changes, and work on a handful of drafts to get it right. We all had to know exactly what story I was writing and everyone had to be on the same page. Once approved they allowed me to start the screenplay.  Trust me, they don’t want to be surprised when you turn in your first draft. Time is money and it will put everyone behind if the first draft needs months of work—especially with a production slate of films coming up this year and this script being one that will go into the pipeline sooner if it’s in great shape.

I completed the first draft script in 25 days and turned in my 105 page script early. It wasn’t impossible because I was working from my solid ten page story treatment. When you’re working on assignment jobs, producers will not allow you to start the script until the story treatment or step outline is completely fleshed out. This way, your screenwriting adventure will be a breeze as you have a solid road map to follow.

An original draft treatment is the roadmap to a successful first draft as it’s the blueprint for the script.  The treatment will serve as lifeline when you’re deep in the trenches trying to finish your script to meet a deadline. It’s varies in length and detail, sometimes with dialogue and can range from one to fifty pages in length.  I once crafted a step outline that was my most extensive to date at thirty pages long.  Everything in that document was in full detail and left nothing for anyone reading to wonder: “I don’t understand.”  It was clearly planned out and solid. I’ve also written scripts from treatments as little as two pages in length and some up to fifteen pages.

I’ve worked on beat sheets, a less detailed outline that presents the major dramatic beats of the story and step outlines, a slightly more detailed version that focuses less on the details and more on the story.  It’s basically a list of the scenes in order and gives an overview of the movie. A treatment is a tremendous guide to writing the script and filling the blank pages.  It’s your road map to speed the process of writing because you’ve already worked out the aspects of story and character before you start pages.

As I’ve mentioned with my latest assignment adventure, the treatment itself usually goes through many rewrites before the producers lock it down.  In a perfect world, everyone will be on the same page with regards to the story and tone of the script. You also need to work out if the motivations track and the deep enriching character stuff before you begin any pages.

IMG_1767A fellow screenwriter friend always tells me he doesn’t like to work from a detailed treatment because he feels it stifles his spontaneity as he writes pages.  His method is using a loosely structured beat sheet and he fills in the blanks as he writes. Usually he gets into trouble when he enters that barren wasteland called “ACT TWO” and has no idea how to get through those pages that will lead him into ACT THREE… good luck, my friend!

Different writers use different methods, but I’ve never gone astray writing the script from my detailed treatment.  I always find plenty of creative breathing room and spontaneity even when working from a detailed treatment.  I still have to write the scene and let the characters interact, but I’ve already figured out the reason for the scene so it allows me to play within the story’s parameters and create ideas not listed in the treatment.  I’ve always found so many good ideas spring from a solid foundation because it’s a creative framework and suddenly one idea begets another, and so on. Much easier to plan the script before you get into the middle and realize that you have missed so much.

Treatments, beat sheets and step outlines are an important process that prepare you to write the script.  If you’re getting paid as a professional writer for a script assignment, it’s standard practice the producer or executive will require you in the contract to create one of these structured documents before they’ll allow you to start the script.  Writing an extensive treatment is similar to doing a pre-draft of your script.  It gives you the chance to explore your story and get to know your characters before you set out on a journey of a hundred pages with them.  If you embrace the treatment process and craft a solid framework for your story, it will help serve as your roadmap to a successful first draft.

Keep writing and keep the faith!

Scriptcat out!

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This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.”—Rod Serling

“Most writers can’t tell at the premise stage whether they’ve got a good story because they don’t have the training to see the deep structural problems in the idea before writing it as a script.”—John Truby

Most directors do not want to rewrite the script. They have more pressing commitments on the sound stage. The writer’s best insurance against a rewrite is to have an understanding of the directorial problems. Write a scene that can’t be played, no matter how beautiful the words or thoughts, is begging for a revamp.”—Jerry Lewis

“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. I had a great, great editor, Hiram Haydn, who had many children and was a novelist. Toward the last years of his career, the only time he could write was Sunday morning. He would write four hours every Sunday morning. And he would get books done. It would take him years, but I think it’s crucial that we have some kind of rhythm. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman

First drafts—how long should they take?

June 23, 2014 § 1 Comment

write onI get asked this question from many beginning screenwriters: “How long should a first draft take?”  If you’ve been screenwriting for a while, you’ll be able to estimate how fast you can write a first draft of a screenplay. That’s important because when you start working professionally, you will need to work under a contracted deadline and deliver the goods on time at the top of your game. This is why I recommend that beginning screenwriters to always set their own realistic writing schedules when writing their specs so they’ll be training for the day when a professional opportunity arrives.

You may labor over your spec for six months or longer because there is no deadline and your life keeps getting in the way.  Once screenwriting becomes your job, and it is a job, you’ll need to have the stamina and focus to write six or more hours per day to meet a deadline. If you haven’t already, you need to set up a regular, uninterrupted writing schedule and protect it at all costs. If the forces of interruption get in the way, you’re productivity and success will be severely hampered.  An important element in writing is consistency and if you skip one day, and then two, you’ll find yourself losing the vital focus to keep your script on track. As you’ve probably found out already, there is always something else to do then write. It’s important to finish out a day writing, no matter the page count, and get right back to it the next day while it’s fresh in your mind. This builds consistency and a regular schedule.

If you’re working under a WGA union contract, the minimum time for a first draft is usually twelve weeks. You can guarantee the producer or executive will start calling your agent or manager in about four weeks, sniffing around to see how you are progressing. In my contract for my recent screenwriting assignment that I completed a few weeks ago, I agreed to a four week schedule to turn in my first draft. I completed the script in 25 days and turned in my 105 page script early. It wasn’t impossible because I was working from a solid story treatment that I crafted and it was authorized by the producer and production company. I’ve also worked under a contract that allowed eight weeks for a first draft. When you’re working on assignment jobs, producers will not allow you to start the script until the story treatment or step outline is completely fleshed out. This way your screenwriting will be a breeze as you have a solid road map to follow. It’s such a creative high when you complete a solid day of writing and leave it where you can’t wait to get up the next morning and start again.

My fastest time for writing a first draft was twenty days. That was five pages a day, every day to get the job done. When I finish early, I go over the script again by myself for a polish before I turn it in to the producer. I believe too much time can harm the process because every project has a deadline, otherwise nothing would get into development or be produced. You should work on your spec story treatment for a longer time, because about seventy-five percent of the work should go into the story development of the script. The script itself?  I think two months would be a huge amount of time. If you’re working six to eight hours a day, you should be able to write five or more pages on a normal day. You also have to remain fluid because you never know how the experience will develop and every time out it’s different. I once had to write 26 pages in 24 hours because the German investors were coming into town!

If you want to eventually work professionally, as I’m sure is your goal, you will need to work efficiently under a deadline, and at the best of your ability. It’s basically working quickly at the best of your creativity on a schedule and under a deadline. The only way to get to this place is to always set your own deadlines and meet them every time with your spec screenplays. If you’re not practicing this writing schedule now, I’d suggest starting it on your next project.

Keep filling your blank pages and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for more information and the link to my website.

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“Mark Sanderson gives fantastic advice on surviving Hollywood as a working writer.” —Script Magazine                                                                                                                  
Free excerpt from my webinar:

“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman

“… a basic “must” for every writer: A simple solitude—physical & mental.”—Rod Serling

“Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard. When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.”—Florida State University’s Anders Ericsson

This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.”—Rod Serling

More Quotes for screenwrites

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