Screenwriting survival tip: Never allow your screenplay to be read before it’s ready…

January 4, 2020 § Leave a comment

karloff scriptI’m guilty. I used to do this too before I learned how damaging it can be to a screenwriter’s mind, image, and the screenplay. You finish your screenplay and you’re surging with a natural creative high that you want to share with the world.  This is the time to step back and take a pause. Allow your script to sit for a few days and do no read it. You’ll be tempted to give it to any of your friends bugging  you to read your script when it’s done. Do not let anyone read it.  Fight the temptation to share it at this point. It’s your first draft and it will definitely need more work—but this is delicate process and one a screenwriter must do alone and without anyone’s input at this point in the journey. It’s now just you and your screenplay—creator and project—alone together again.

During this vulnerable period, it can take just one person’s unfavorable of offhanded comment to drown you in an ocean of self-doubt. Your creative high fuels your feelings of triumph and you definitely do not want anyone to rain on your parade before you start on your next draft. You don’t need anyone’s criticism at this point until you work out the bugs and craft another solid draft.

reading guyI hope this goes without saying, but I’ll say it—never give the script to anyone in the film business after your first draft—even if they ask you to read it—even if they beg you to read it.  I wouldn’t even mention on your screenplay’s cover what draft the screenplay is as to avoid the reader’s possible bias against the draft number. If you list that it’s a fifth draft the reader may think, “Why did it take five drafts to get it right?” Remember, you will never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. If a producer, director or executive reads a substandard draft, no amount of excuses from you will sway their first impression. It will hurt your project and more importantly their view of your writing abilities. If you need to be reminded—write on the cover of your screenplay “FOR MY EYES ONLY.”

When the time comes for a read, everyone will have an opinion about your screenplay. You know that five different people will have five different opinions. You don’t need that varied of criticism ranging from good or bad at this early stage. When you are ready, only give the script to your inner circle to read when you really feel that it’s the best draft you can do up to this point or you feel that you’re written out—you feel that you have nothing more to offer and you are happy with what you’ve done.

If you find yourself needing a professional set of eyes on your new screenplay or draft and want constructive notes, consider my screenplay consultation services. I offer feature and TV pilot packages, mentor packages, outline consultation, and short scripts. I’m offering $20 off for January 2020 until January 31st on my feature and TV pilot consultation packages. If you find the need, I’ve love to work with you and get your screenplay in the best shape possible before you unleash it upon Hollywood.

I’d add this nugget of advice from experience—while you’re screenwriting, keep the intimate details of your work to yourself. Do not continually talk about the status of your projects, your “writing process,” or how each project is moving forward.  Hollywood’s bizarre time warp works on its own schedule. Every project will take much longer than you ever expected and you don’t need people thinking that you’re blowing smoke when you talk about the status of your material.  It can also distract you from the work.  The truth is that it takes an incredible amount of time for any script to find a home and eventually get produced—if ever.  Sometimes the less you say about your progress the better. We all have our own inner voice of self-doubt, but why give fodder to your critics and skeptics who will use it to squash your dreams? They’ll even taint any good news you share and use it to belittle your success because they didn’t have the guts to risk everything to pursue their own dreams.  They enjoy raining on your parade instead.  Protect your dreams and cut the naysayers out of your life. Keep your work close to the vest until it’s finished.

alfred-hitchcockreading-script-for-the-movie-rebeccaYou will not escape criticism and notes because they are part of the business of screenwriting. Be open to the entire process of writing—the notes, rewrites, the critiques and all.  There will always be creative highs and lows.  Do your best not to perceive your disappointments as a failures and then sink into the morass of fear and insecurity in your creative soul.  Always be writing— something.  No disappointments only triumphs when you complete a screenplay or other work.

 

Keep the faith and always keep filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.

Click on the icon below for the link to my website and more information.

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Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches in this New Year? Consider my book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. Click on the book for the link to Amazon and more information.

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It’s a long haul journey to reach any level of screenwriting success. If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a  screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s  trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism and  ability to endure criticism, rejection, and failure over the long haul.  The odds may be stacked against you, but the way to standout in this  very competitive business is to create a solid body of work and build a  reputation as a team player and collaborator. The rest is just luck — a  prepared screenwriter who meets with an opportunity and delivers the  goods. “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for  your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve  developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry.  It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

Never disrespect the value of your first draft…

January 1, 2020 § Leave a comment

fade in

I remember writing my first feature-length screenplay back in film school. I had a vague idea of the structure and got lost somewhere in the barren wasteland of ACT 2 and felt like I would never reach the end. Now, after writing a huge stack of screenplays, I have a better grasp on the process, but it’s always a new and different experience every time you type FADE IN. I respect the process more now as a working screenwriter and the romantic notions of “waiting for inspiration” have given way to the reality that screenwriting is a job with many of the same responsibilities that any job requires.   Early on, I thought screenwriting would be an easy experience, just sit down and write, and I was humbled every time by the enormity of the craft. I’m still learning, even after having sixteen films produced, writing thirty-nine feature length screenplays, and nine TV pilots.

Do not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit. It’s just the opposite—your first draft is extremely important because the DNA of your story and characters lives in this precious first pass. I love this quote from six time Academy Award nominee screenwriter Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?):

“Good screenwriting is about carpentry. It’s a juggling of beginnings, middles and endings so they all inevitably seem to be moving correctly together. Your first draft is dangerously important. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, ‘It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.’  Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve gone in another direction.”—Ernest Lehman.

It’s true. I know from experience that it’s difficult to totally rewrite a first draft from page one into something new. Sadly, too many times it ends up becoming a jumbled mess as the foundation of the story is being altered after it’s been built. My advice is to make your first draft your best possible work at the time you write it. Act as if you’ll never get another chance to touch the screenplay. That’s not to put extra pressure on you, but to train yourself now to turn out a superb first draft—not something you just vomit out. This will prepare you for the day when you’re hired professionally on assignment and have to deliver the goods with every draft. This pays off in many ways, most importantly when you’re working for a producer, and your solid first draft secures your job and makes for a smooth development process—not development hell.  A solid draft also moves the project forward by attracting the interest of investors, a director, and actors.

praise or blameMake sure your screenplay suffers the fewest amount of changes during the development process. Trust me, you don’t want your script to get bogged down in endless rewrites that could change your script into something completely different.  It’s hard to climb out of that pit and too many times projects die a tragic death from too many drafts over a long period.

I’m not suggesting that you agonize over every word, but treat your first draft with the seriousness and respect it deserves. A solid first draft will help with faster rewrites because you’re not reinventing story lines but doing more of a “clean up” job. You want to avoid situations where your first draft is shit, and you have to do a page one rewrite and throw out seventy-five percent of the work. This will throw off your writing schedule for sure. When you start working on paid screenwriting assignments, you will not have the luxury of turning in a crappy first draft. The producer or executive will expect the best possible draft that matches the accepted story outline. Anything less will endanger your chances of getting a chance at writing the second draft and staying on the project through production.

As I mentioned, avoid writing a “vomit” draft because you can use that precious time to actually work on a solid outline and write a faster and more effective first draft. Most of your vomiting stream of consciousness won’t probably keep and you’ll have a massive rewrite anyway. So, why not spend that important time on a solid outline before you start any pages? A sold first draft also helps lessen massive rewrites on the successive drafts. Good luck and keep screenwriting.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2019 by Mark Sanderson on My Blank Page blog at http://www.scriptcat.wordress.com

And speaking of first drafts… before you go… if you just completed a new screenplay and need in-depth consultation, check out my screenplay consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. Take $20 off for 2020 until January 31st. Check out my new mentor packages.

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It’s a long haul journey to reach any level of screenwriting success. If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a  screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s  trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism and  ability to endure criticism, rejection, and failure over the long haul.  The odds may be stacked against you, but the way to standout in this  very competitive business is to create a solid body of work and build a  reputation as a team player and collaborator. The rest is just luck — a  prepared screenwriter who meets with an opportunity and delivers the  goods. “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for  your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve  developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry.  It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

EDITORIAL REVIEWS: 

“I have known Mark my entire life, and he is  absolute living proof of the grit and tenacity it takes to make it as a  writer in this business. Take your first steps toward your own career by  reading the words of this true fighter.”  Matt Reeves, writer/director
(Dawn Of The Planet of the Apes, War For The Planet of the Apes, The Batman)

“A  great book for anyone who ever aspired to become anything; Sanderson  reminds us how important it is to have a life passion, how important it  is to work hard at it, and how that, in itself, is a victory.”  J. J. Abrams, writer/producer/director
(Lost, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

“Mark’s work as a screenwriting guru is as thorough, as painstaking, and as insightful as his actual screenwriting was on Tides Of War,  our submarine drama. As aspiring writers soon learn it’s a complex,  changeable, lonely field of endeavor, so Mark provides not only valid  professional advice but also meaningful emotional support for all those  who stare into the abyss of an empty page. Read Mark, and your  keystrokes will accelerate.”
Brian Trenchard-Smith, producer/director
(Dead End Drive In, BMX Bandits, Drive Hard, The Man From Hong Kong, and 40 others)

“Not  only have I collaborated with Mark as a writer, more importantly I have  found him to be a true artist who walks his talk. Whenever the chips  are down, whenever I’ve needed some creative or inspirational, perhaps  technical help — even if it’s at 3:00 in the morning — Mark has been  there invariably. Infallibly. As a screenwriter, director, or producer,  this book is the very next best thing to having Mark in your corner at 3  A.M.”
George Mendeluk, writer/producer/director
(70 credits, over 300 hours of television, and 9 features including the epic Bitter Harvest)

“Mark  is a journeyman screenwriter, my good friend and collaborator on  several projects. This is a must have book of reference for those not  only about to embark in a career in the entertainment industry, but also  for those who want to learn from someone who’s been there and done  that. Mark is extremely candid about what it takes and how hard it is to  ‘make it’ in this business. This should be on everyone’s desk right  next to their computer.”
Greg Grunberg, actor and writer/producer
(actor Alias, Heroes, Big Ass Spider, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

“Mark’s book starts off as an adventurous tale of a boy’s passion and love for the world of storytelling and this world effortlessly morphs into his accomplished career as a screenwriter. He shows how passion, perseverance, and hard work not only make an amazing screenwriter, but it also strengthens one’s character. Mark cleverly creates a great story out of his journey through the world of telling stories.”

Rawle D. Lewis, writer/actor/stand-up comic (actor Cool Runnings, Spy Hard, K-Pax, The Hybrids Family)

 

Check out my two hour seminar, “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood” now free on Youtube. Click on the icon below.

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The two requirements needed to prove if they are really interested in your screenplay…

December 18, 2019 § Leave a comment

handshake cartoon

As we stand on the threshold of a new year and decade, I think about the real world survival tools for all screenwriters and “protection” immediately comes to mind. I’ve experienced this early when I was taking my lumps in Hollywood’s trenches, allowing myself to be taken advantage of because a producer or company showed “interest” in my project. You have to be careful not to allow yourself to end up in a situation doing free work on the promises of production or good intentions. It will lead you down a long road to nowhere and it usually ends up with you having wasted your precious time.

If a producer, executive, or production company shows real interest in your project, they will act accordingly like professionals and offer you either an option agreement or a contract to purchase your screenplay. Remember this mantra, “No free work for producers. Make them put some skin in the game by paying you something for your material.” If you don’t draw a line, you’ll find yourself working without payment and hoping your project someday gets made so you can get paid.

If you decide to accept their requests of making changes to your screenplay for the chance they “might” move forward, you have to weigh the risks and benefits from your decision. Each situation is different, but make sure you protect yourself from being taken advantage of by someone who baits you into endless rewrites by showing “interest.” You will discover talk and “interest come free and cheap in Hollywood.

scan4What I do see as acceptable spec work (besides you writing your own specs) is collaboration with a producer on a concept where you create a “one sheet” synopsis — exactly as it sounds, a one sheet of paper that pitches your idea for a proposed screenplay. It’s a pitch document and doesn’t take anywhere near the time it would take to actually write the screenplay. I’ve done this and I’m doing this now with producers and as they go out and pitch the concept to networks and studios. If they receive real interest and we move forward—then I’m the one who landed the assignment because it’s my idea. I couldn’t pitch at the levels my producers have access to, so it’s a terrific benefit to me and worth the risk of my time to spec. This spec work is what you do as you are pitching ideas with the hopes of selling them, but it’s much different than a producer asking you to write or re-write a screenplay and only getting paid when it’s made. That is a huge risk on your part and will tie up the material with only one producer. It may also leave you feeling like crap when it doesn’t reach production stage and they discard the project completely.

reading guyAfter signing twenty-six contracts, I have learned a screenwriter needs a good entertainment lawyer with all professional business interactions in Hollywood. This when you must have someone in your corner to fight for the best deal. Producers will respect you more and see you as a professional if you have a lawyer taking care of the negotiations instead of you. Any professional screenwriter who cares about being protected has a lawyer. Every deal is negotiable, and that’s where both sides give and take. You hear about the writer getting screwed? It only happens if you allow it.

You as the writer should always be the “good cop.” Every producer wants to know that his or her writer is a team player. So allow your lawyer to play “bad cop” and negotiate for your benefit every step of the way looking out for your best interests. In addition, your lawyer knows about the mysterious and unintelligible clauses in a contract that could end up hurting you down the line. Contracts are filled with requirements about what needs to happen on both sides, but also provisions if things go badly too.

Your lawyer can offer new deal points not originally offered in the original contract and these new changes can protect your overall deal. Maybe you never imagined the other side would agree to your terms? You’ll never know unless your lawyer asks and then it becomes how badly you want to push — and what you believe is deal breaker for you.

I signed with an entertainment law firm about ten years ago, so everything I do in my screenwriting career goes through my lawyer. Some entertainment lawyers charge by the hour and others charge a flat 5% of your income from your screenplay sale or writing assignment job. It’s worth the money, even at an hourly rate, to have someone looking out for your best interests. One missing clause in a contract or particular legal language might cost you a tremendous loss of money during the life of the project—or an added clause may hold you responsible for work you never expected to do. My lawyer recently negotiated provisions for me not offered in the original contract that would protect me if the film went on to do huge business at the box office. That’s worth any price to be legally protected.

new opportunityDuring this New Year, I hope you find tremendous opportunities with your screenplays, but also find stand up to being asked to do free spec work from producers. If that happens, hold strong to your convictions and trust that saying “no” is a powerful tool to show them you are a professional who won’t be taken advantage of to do free work. If they want to move forward with a contract, you will need to find a good entertainment lawyer. You will thank yourself for allowing someone else to negotiate the deal because you may wake up one day and find that little film you wrote for peanuts just became a certified blockbuster.  And—if you’re paying someone to protect you, that means you’re making money as a paid professional screenwriter! Isn’t that your dream anyway?

Keep the faith and keep filling your blank pages on your road to success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright ©2019 by Mark Sanderson on My Blank Page blog.

Did you just finish a new screenplay or draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website and more information. And until December 31 – take $35 off for the holidays. I have a few opening left before Christmas so schedule yours now. Makes a great gift for that screenwriter in your life. You never get a second change at making a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right before you unleash it upon Hollywood.

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Check out my book now available on Amazon with 23 FIVE STAR REVIEWS. Click on the book photo for the link to Amazon.

book-illustrationIt’s a long haul journey to reach any level of screenwriting success. If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a  screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s  trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism and  ability to endure criticism, rejection, and failure over the long haul.  The odds may be stacked against you, but the way to standout in this  very competitive business is to create a solid body of work and build a  reputation as a team player and collaborator. The rest is just luck — a  prepared screenwriter who meets with an opportunity and delivers the  goods. “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for  your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve  developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry.  It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

 

Catch my Christmas chestnuts on OVATION NETWORK

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“Deck the Halls” – Dec. 23 at 4 pm PT/ 7 pm ET and Dec. 24 at 11:30 am PT/ 2:30 pm ET

 

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Let every eye negotiate for itself
And trust no agent; for beauty is a witch
Against whose charms faith melteth in blood.”—Shakespeare

“Hollywood is a showman’s paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made. The publisher and the play producer are showmen too; but they exploit what is already made. The showmen of Hollywood control the making — and thereby degrade it. For the basic art of motion pictures is the screenplay; it is fundamental, without it there is nothing. Everything derives from the screenplay, and most of that which derives is an applied skill which, however adept, is artistically not in the same class with the creation of a screenplay.” — Raymond Chandler

Happy ninth anniversary to my blog!

December 6, 2019 § Leave a comment

blog 9 yearsI can’t believe it’s December again and my nine-year anniversary for my blog. Time sure flies as we’re busy filling our blank pages, right? Yes, it’s my 9th ANNIVERSARY here and it’s been another solid year of readership of the blog. I want to thank you all my loyal readers for a fantastic eight years on the net. I hope my over 250 articles helped with your survival in the trenches of Hollywood as a working screenwriter. As you know, screenwriting is a long haul journey to reach any level of success, but when you know other writers are out here slugging away, fighting the good fight, and being successful, it can give you hope and strength to fill yet another blank page as you follow your dreams.

As a bonus extra, I’m going to give you my list of TOP 10 DISCIPLINES TO BUILD A PROFESSIONAL REPUTATION.

It’s a given that you must have talent as a screenwriter, but if you also have a bad reputation it will harm your ability to land a job. Your reputation as a professional screenwriter will always precede you and can only be built over time as you work on various projects with producers or executives.

You must understand that everyone’s opinion about working with you matters. If you garner a reputation as being “difficult,” producers and others will choose not work with you again. Hollywood is all about working relationships and time is too precious and a lot of money is at stake on a project to deal with hassles. There are just too many other capable writers out there who are not divas and can get the job done. This is one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned on my nearly twenty year professional journey as a screenwriter—a solid reputation is vital to establishing a professional career.

Hollywood is a business of relationships and networking. People generally like to work with those people they’ve had a positive experience with in the past and who they can trust to deliver the work.  So, how do you build a solid reputation as a screenwriter?

My TOP 10 Disciplines to Build a Professional Reputation:

  1. Always deliver your best work, every time, regardless of your salary.
  2. Do you best not to be late for meetings.
  3. Always meet your contracted screenplay deadlines.
  4. Never get testy or upset about script notes or show anger about the changes.
  5. Be the ultimate team player and collaborator.
  6. Go the extra mile on every screenplay and clearly show the producers how invaluable you are to the project.
  7. If you don’t already have the natural ability—pay close attention to all details. Nobody will know the screenplay better than you will as the writer.
  8. Help the producers craft a script they can actually produce and do everything in your power to help push it through the development process.
  9. Don’t be a pain in the ass or a precious screenwriter.
  10. Be generous with your collaborators and make working with you a positive and fun experience.

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Initially, you may not receive the praise you feel that you deserve for all of your hard work.  If this happens, practice patience, as it will eventually pay off for you over the long haul. Your praise will come in the form of a payment for your writing, a produced film, and a vital part of your screenwriting career—a credit. This will lead to more jobs as you now have experience and someone who took a chance on hiring you.

You’ll always find opportunities to build your integrity as a professional screenwriter.  Every new project is a chance to build new relationships and show the producers and executives they can trust you by being a person of your word.  If you promise to do something—do it.  It’s that easy.  Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you and that your word means something.  It’s part of being a professional in all aspects of your career.

During pre-production of one of my films, I remember the director was on the location scouting and we’d keep in touch every day.  When he needed changes to the script, he’d call or E-mail me, and I would have the revisions back to him the next morning.  He knew he could trust me to deliver the changes that he needed to produce the film. Directors and producers remember these positive working relationships and it’s all part of the process to build your professional reputation. It was very gratifying for me recently hearing this director say that he ran into another director whom I worked with and they both told each other what a pleasure it was to work with me. I’ve worked hard to build my reputation over the years and it continually pays off.

handshake cartoonA bad first impression is hard to erase, so never turn in your script late and never be late for a meeting, especially if it’s your first meeting. Make sure you are always ten to fifteen minutes early and ready to go. Somehow it’s become industry standard protocol that producers or executives will always make you wait. It’s like the doctor’s office, where your appointment is for 11:00 and you’re called into the office at 11:30. As frustrating as it is, it’s their prerogative and not yours. Be known as the writer who shows up early and is always ready to go. If you’re habitually late, you’ll lose their trust and they will think, “if this writer can’t even show up on time, why would he turn in his script on schedule?” It’s a reasonable assumption.

I was recently at a very important pitch meeting at a very high-profile Hollywood production company where the executives ran thirty minutes late. The assistant came down twice from upstairs to apologize—and I was very understanding of course. There was nothing I could do but tough it out. This meeting took a month to schedule and I wasn’t about to re-schedule, as I was ready to pitch today. When they finally called me into the meeting, the executives were so apologetic and went the extra mile to accommodate me.  It adds a different dynamic to the meeting when they feel badly about making you wait.  It’s their prerogative being late, not yours.

What you can control is your own conduct as you follow the code of a professional screenwriter. Your integrity is like a muscle and you need to work on it daily. Eventually your professionalism will come naturally (if it doesn’t already) and building your reputation with integrity will become effortless. Always remember, your reputation is as important as your talent and work ethic. It’s a vital ingredient for any level of success in your overall screenwriting career, so build a reputation that will make producers want to work with you again and again.

salvador-dali-by-willy-rizzo-1As the year ends, take some time to reflect on your experiences — celebrate your successes, analyze your mistakes and failures, and adapt to find new strategies that can move you and your projects forward down the paying field. Always set realistic goals and do whatever you need to go after them with passion. Remember, it’s later than you think, and life passes quickly while you attempt great things with your screenwriting career.

My sincere thanks for your support of this blog. Remember to always respect the craft, keep the faith, work from a solid outline with a passion for the work and not seeking fame and fortune, and remember—if you stop writing, you’re guaranteed to never have a shot at any success.

See you on Twitter/Periscope and the big and small screen.

All my best screenwriting wishes for the new decade and 2020!

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Need in-depth consultation on your screenplay or TV pilot? Consider my consultation services and take $35 off for the holidays until Dec. 31. Click the icon below for the link to my website and schedule your consultation today.

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Check out my book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success, now available on Amazon with 23 five-star reviews. The book has been a long haul journey to write and shares my twenty years of experiences in Hollywood’s trenches with advice about forging your own career with my tips, tricks and tactics to say in the game. Makes a great holiday gift too, so put in your order early!

 

 

 

And for the screenwriter in your life — consider my screenwriting merch at my online store. Discover my COFFEE RING CARTOONS merch hand drawn by me! Click on the photo below for the link to my store. Order early to make sure to receive it for Christmas.

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

“Being an artist means not having to avert one’s eyes.”—Akira Kurosawa

“Hollywood is Hollywood. There’s nothing you can say about it that isn’t true, good or bad. And if you get into it, you have no right to be bitter—you’re the one who sat down, and joined the game.” —Orson Welles

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

“Don’t think of it as art, think of it as work.”—Paddy Chayefsky

Hemingway said it best, I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.

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

“I never feel the need to discuss my work with anyone. No, I am too busy writing it. It has got to please me and if it does I don’t need to talk about it. If it doesn’t please me, talking about it won’t improve it, since the only thing to improve it is to work on it some more. I am not a literary man but only a writer. I don’t get any pleasure from talking shop.”—William Faulkner

Scriptcat’s end of the year checklist for screenwriters…

December 3, 2019 § Leave a comment

new opportunityWho can believe the year is almost over? It will be 2020 in a blink of an eye. It’s always a powerful tool to look back over the previous year and critically analyze the good, the bad, and the ugly choices you’ve made. Hopefully, you’ve learned from your failures and enjoyed your successes. Excuses abound, but what really matters is how productive have you been? Room for improvement? Have you become a better screenwriter and have you been able to move yourself and your projects down the field? Have you opened doors and gained new “fans” of your writing? Have you been able to gain and hold new ground? Established new relationships and contacts? Created a solid body of material in a genre to show your unique voice?

The responsibility for a screenwriter’s career begins and ends with the screenwriter. The hard fact:  Your screenwriting career is probably the most important struggle to you and not to anyone else. Only you know the hard work and sacrifices you’ve endured to go after your dream, so you need to protect your career path by taking responsibility for chartering the course of your career. Your time is precious and you need to constantly be moving forward and avoid the pitfalls of poor choices and negative experiences.

Too many times, I’ve heard screenwriters blame others for their own missteps or lack of success in Hollywood. Some writers look for the quick and easy way to success, but end up frustrated when their one script doesn’t sell, they have no other plans and they are not working on new material. Sure, it’s easier to soften the blow to blame the agent, manager, producer, or Hollywood itself for not getting your film made, but screenwriters need to step up and take more control over their choices.

Every time you write a new project on spec, you must consider how it fits into the bigger picture of your screenwriting goals. It’s a risk when you write a spec and you are rolling the dice with your precious time. Did you just have a “fun idea” for a movie and thought it would sell, so you decided to spend months writing it? This is not an effective use of your time. If it’s your passion project and you must write it—do it and hopefully you’ve executed it properly and your passion will be there on the page.

Boulder FlatAlways have a purpose in choosing your material. REMEMBER: What you write about is as important as how you execute it — and just because you write it doesn’t mean they have to buy it or will “love it.” You’ll only figure this out after you meander through four or five scripts that don’t achieve the plateaus you had expected or do not sell. You’ll be forced to take a step back and examine your reasoning for embarking on the journey with each project. If you’ve been successfully making noise with a particular genre, continue to establish yourself as an expert in that genre. When you secure a writing gig, you’ll have steady work because you’ll be known for a genre. There is nothing wrong with being pigeonholed as a screenwriter. It means you’ll work and build up your résumé in a genre that you hopefully enjoy writing.

script oddsTrust me, bouncing around for years with different scripts in different genres hoping that something sticks is a fool’s endeavor. I’ve been there.  When something eventually hits and is a success, the producers will want more of the same from you in the way of screenwriting assignments—the bread and butter or working screenwriters. There is no shame in steady work in a particular genre. I find sometimes aspirants believe they’ll hold out and will only go with a script that is “their vision” and somehow it’s “selling out” to take a job offered writing something that maybe isn’t their favorite choice of material—but it’s a foot in the door. A writer with zero credits is still a writer without any produced films.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the odds are already stacked against you and time marches on so quickly. Only 6,057 WGA members reported any income last year and of those, 4,830 were in Television (annual report ending in June 2019) out of nearly 13,000 members. Check out the 2019 ANNUAL REPORT FROM THE WGA. Think about those odds for a moment and then get back to work. And if you add the non-union screenwriters working… it can boggle the mind with more stats and there are no stats for non-union screenwriters working or not working. The main issue is that you must stay busy creating projects, networking, building your unique voice, and casting your best scripts wide to the right players.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2This year was very busy for me with three paid assignments and two of the films go into production in the next few months. Screenwriters are also discovering and enjoying my book, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” with 23 FIVE STAR REVIEWS on Amazon. I also offered my master class seminar “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood,” and continued to expand my screenwriting consulting business. In fact, I’m offering a holiday special with $35 off any feature screenplay or TV pilot consultation package until Dec. 31st. Now is a perfect time to get your project ready for 2020.

 

IMG_2016So, it’s never too late, even though the year is nearly over, to grab a piece of paper and if you haven’t yet, set up a game plan for 2020.  Hit the ground running and achieve your goals every day of the week. Treat your screenwriting like a business—because it’s YOU, INC. and every decision you make affects your pathway to success. Ask yourself the hard questions: “Why are you writing this particular spec and will it serve you in the best way possible to create opportunities and open doors?”

Here are seven steps in my checklist to prepare for the new year:

1)  SCREENPLAYS! Make a list of all viable projects. Completed scripts and what condition they are in: ready to be read, needs a rewrite, needs a polish, only a first draft, etc. Add to the list any fleshed out pitches, log lines, one sheets, beat sheets or treatments. This is important if you cross paths with an agent or manager. They want to see you busy and prolific on your own. What do you have to offer? Do you have script only and nothing as a follow-up? You’ll need a solid body of work to standout and it will take time to craft these projects. It’s dangerous to be impatient and go out with a screenplay without having another solid project to back it up.

2)  ACHIEVEMENTS!  Make a list of your achievements in 2019. Scrutinize the successes and failures so you can see where you need to pick up the slack in areas where you need to focus in the new year. List any accolades—did you win or place in a significant screenwriting competition? Did you option or sell a screenplay? Did you graduate from film school?  Did you make any films, short movies, or a webseries on your own?  Did you work on a production or take an internship? List anything that shows you are working toward to your goals.

3)  SOLID CONTACTS! Make a list of any new contacts that you met by networking during the year. In January, make sure to send them a “First of the year—hope this finds you well—this is what I’m doing” e-mail. It will put you back on their radar and if you list a few interesting projects, they might bite and ask for a read. Also, instead of always asking for help, BE a good contact too. It’s not all one-sided.

4)  DEADLINES!  Make a list of potential deadlines for any rewrites or new ideas. Keep true to these self-imposed deadline as if they were real screenwriting jobs. Do not deviate from the commitment for anyone or any external forces. Trust me, either on purpose or by mistake, people will try to derail your schedule and will think it’s not that important because you’re writing on spec. It is that important. It’s vital training for the time when you finally do get a job on assignment and you’ll know how to keep a deadline under any conditions. Find respected screenwriting contests that you may want to enter and use their entry dates as a goal and deadlines to finish your new material.

5)  NETWORKING! If you haven’t yet, start attending networking events in the new year. Become a member of the International Screenwriter’s Association ( ISA ) for workshops, webinars and in person events in your area. Join Scriptwriter’s Network and they have seminars and meetups every month in Los Angeles. Network on Stage32.com and also Final Draft hosts meetups every month with known screenwriters and offers tips and many free networking events during the year. Get out of your writing cave and meet other screenwriters and network.  Help others and you will find they will help you.

6)  READ, READ, READ! If you don’t already, read scripts on a regular basis. Good scripts, bad scripts, classics—read! You’ll be surprised how much you learn from reading screenplays. Be careful of the screenplays that are posted during award season. Do not try to emulate their style as most were written in a protected bubble of development and were not specs, so they can get away with many things regarding format that you cannot with a spec from an unknown writer.  “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” —Stephen King.

7)  HOMEWORK! If you don’t already, read screenwriting blogs, books, articles and film websites with news about the film industry. You must do your homework on a daily basis and not expect your representation (if you’re lucky to have an agent or manager) to do it for you. A lot of vital information slips through the cracks and information is priceless currency in Hollywood. It can mean the difference between getting in a door with a meeting that could land you the next job that launches your career.

A game plan helps you allocate your precious time wisely. It shows that you’re your serious about your career and treating your screenwriting as a professional—not just willy-nilly writing a script and hoping it will sell on its own merits. It’s rare that one script makes a career. It’s always one script that opens the door, but you’ll probably have to write five or six to get to that “ONE.” The overnight success is usually a series of little successes along the way that lead up to continued success.  You have to consider how everything you do regarding your career fits into your bigger overall goals.

Your career aspirations can’t live or die by one project and you can’t focus on “the one” and hope it unlocks the gates of Hollywood. It’s always going to be a numbers game with horrible odds of success. Even if you sell a screenplay, there are no guarantees and still so many hurdles to jump. The good news is—the more quality material you create, the better chance you have of garnering interest and that may lead to a sale or assignment work. It’s always about the right project to the right producer at the right time. That’s why you stay in the game by continuing to write and get better. Keep your eye on the big picture.  It’s like what Bruce Lee said in Enter the Dragon, “It’s like a finger pointing a way to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!”

All my best wishes for a glorious and successful new year that is a blank slate for you to fill as you wish.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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“It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.” — JJ Abrams

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

“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then.”—William Falukner

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”—William Falukner

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” —Lao Tzu

“Your screenwriting career is not a Dali-esque delusion, but the result of work, talent, focus, sacrifice, patience and luck. And we know that luck is a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity.”—Scriptcat

Tips to survive the crushing blow of feedback and criticism…

October 26, 2019 § Leave a comment

First rule of pursuing a screenwriting career and dealing with criticism: Do not end up like Joe Gillis. We don’t want to find you face down in a swimming pool of a Beverly Hills mansion. Failure is part of a screenwriter’s journey, but make sure it doesn’t lead you to act out in desperation. It’s not worth it. Sure, Joe constantly received less than positive feedback on his scripts, and one project was about the Okies in the Dust Bowl, but when it reached the screen, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat. Yes, he ended up broke and working for a nutty actress in her giant mansion — “A place that seemed to have been stricken with a kind of creeping paralysis — out of beat with the rest of the world, crumbling apart in slow motion.”  Be careful when you have expectations and open yourself up to feedback and criticism, you could turn down a dangerous path and end up in the papers for the wrong reason.

We all have expectations after we complete a script. You know the creative high that you felt during writing, and now you might be coming off that high as you turn in your draft to a reader, a contest, or a producer and await feedback. Weeks or months later, did you get the feedback and it’s not exactly what you expected? Were you disappointed they didn’t appreciate the work enough — or maybe didn’t understand it enough? Maybe they felt your execution of the treatment was off? Maybe you aren’t writing at the level you thought and suffer a harsh reality check. Perhaps you become down on yourself as the insecure voices scream in your head about your lack of ability? You may even question what you thought was some of your best work only a week ago. You are not alone my fellow writers.

handshake cartoonWe all need a pat on the back or just a “job well done” once in a while. Especially when we finish a new script. Writing the script is one thing, turning it into someone and waiting for feedback is another. It’s easy to take notes personally because your script is your baby, and your writing exposes yourself and your talents to criticism. If you can’t handle criticism, start to work on acceptance as it will make your journey as a working writer a lot less bumpy. Notes and changes are a given with a screenplay. Perhaps it will make the process easier to always remember that writing is rewriting.  Detach from the material and expectation from any outcome.  “Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu. Do not hang on every word or sentence.  I know, it’s the hardest thing to do in the process. You’re not alone. A writer’s journey is a tough one at best.

changeNow, as writers we have to stay open to constructive criticism. We will always receive notes as a script is a changing blueprint for a movie. When you start working professionally, producers, a director and actors get involved and there will be many changes. You should welcome the creative input from your co-creators on a project. These fellow artisans will bring the work into to an entirely new level. But if the process gets dragged down by so many changes, you can become frustrated and feel like throwing in the towel. Stay positive, focused and persistent at executing the notes and turning in a better script. Find the passion you had for the first draft, and put that energy into shaping a new draft that will please not only yourself, but the talent it will eventually attract.

pitchAlong with the successes, I’ve had to deal with disappointments and frustration throughout my writing career, but I continue to love the craft of writing. I’ve been able to view the entire process from a larger perspective and focus on the task at hand — to get the script into better shape. If you are lucky enough to be paid to write, it becomes your job. You go to work, write all day, go home, come back tomorrow and wash, rinse and repeat. Writers have pages to write and without filling those blank pages there would be no script. Take your feedback seriously, but don’t take it to heart. Trust in your writing abilities and if you allow the disappointments to take you into a bad place, address your feelings but then focus on the task of executing your notes. Stay out-of-the-way of the story and put your ego aside.  Everyone is here to serve the story to the best of their creative ability. Production is all about compromises, and many times you’ll have to make changes you don’t entirely agree with, but you do them and move on to write another day. If you want to play with the big boys and girls, at some point you’re going to be bruised and beat up. It’s just the rites of passage necessary for the growth of a writer.

Part of the deal is that you want people to read your material, right? If producers or executives agree to a read, give them ample time to get back to you. A gentle nudge in a few weeks is completely acceptable, but if you contact them before, you’ll seem desperate and no one likes to be hounded. I remember a producer warned me, “Stay on me about your project, because I tend to get busy.” That’s fine. But use common sense and put yourself in their situation for a second. Your script is the most important thing in the world to you after you finish, but you have to understand that it’s not on their front burner at the moment. One E-mail or text is fine to check up — four are not.

Be open to the entire process of writing — the notes, rewrites and all. Always be writing. No disappointments only triumphs when you complete a project. There will always be creative highs and lows. Do your best not to allow your disappointment to be perceived as a failure and then sink into the morass of fear and insecurity in your creative soul. This will lead to the horrible act of chasing screenplay notes.  Avoid this at all costs.

Be patient. A career does not happen overnight and part of your journey is becoming a better writer and finding your unique voice — one that producers will grow to love, trust and hopefully employ!

@Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

“The poor dope — he always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool.”

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There is only one way to avoid criticism: say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”—Aristotle

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” —Alexander Pope

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

“If good, you learn from it. If bad, you learn even more. Work done and behind you is a lesson to be studied. There is no failure unless one stops.”—Ray Bradbury

I am never indifferent, and never pretend to be, to what people say or think of my books. They are my children, and I like to have them liked.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Don’t mind criticism. If it’s untrue, disregard it. If it’s unfair, keep from irritation. If it’s ignorant, smile.  If it’s justified, learn from it.” — Old Chinese Saying

The less you share about your progress the better and only celebrate when the check clears…

October 7, 2019 § Leave a comment

never believe them untl the check clearsI know writers can get excited about anyone’s interest in their work. This also goes for a meeting, or a request to read their screenplay. Sure, on the surface it’s all positive forward movement, but many times you’ll learn that the final results don’t always live up to your high expectations. That’s why you have to always do what Lao Tzu recommends, “Act without expectation,” so you don’t suffer the ups and downs of the screenwriting journey and its emotional roller coaster.

What can you do as you’re navigating the trenches on your screenwriting journey? Keep the intimate details of your work to yourself. Do not continually post on social media or talk about the status of your projects, about an upcoming meeting, how many pages you wrote today, or how each project is moving forward or not. It’s only to seek validation from people you don’t know and that’s the hardest quest of all. It’s similar to when you’re playing poker. You keep your cards close to your vest and only play your hand when you really have something. I’ve seen too many writers get excited and post on social media about their upcoming meetings, or how a production company wants to read their script, only to learn a week later the meeting was just a general meeting, and the production company passed on the script. Why share that private information only to have it end with rejection?

I know we work so hard and seek validation from others, but look for that validation inside when you complete a new project. It’s tempting to share the intimate details with friends and family or even strangers, but keep your business to yourself. Your stock reply should be, “I’m busy working on a handful of interesting projects.”  Hemingway said it best, “I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.”

time warp in HollywoodThe main reason to keep your business to yourself is because you will find Hollywood has a bizarre time warp that works on its own schedule. Every project will take longer than you ever expected and you don’t need people thinking that you’re blowing smoke when you talk about the status of your material. I’ve experienced the head of a production company tell me in person that my script was going into production within three months. Of course the deal fell through as it does most of the time, but what if I told everyone that I knew about my good fortune only to have the rug pulled out from beneath me? When the supposed production date neared, those people would certainly be asking me about the status of the project. I’d have to waste precious energy telling them the bad news or trying to string them along as I kept the news alive not wanting to explain what happened out of fear.

quote of the dayMaybe after a series of events that failed to materialize into anything, people might believe that you were exaggerating for effect or just blowing smoke. Maybe they would think you weren’t talented enough if the project fell apart? The reality is that financing does fall through, schedules change, companies pass on your scripts, and there is a myriad of things that can and do happen completely out of the writer’s control. When these unforeseen issues happen the naysayers will respond to you with, “Man, I don’t know how you do it. That’s such a hard business.” As if you didn’t already know this fact, right? And as if anything worth achieving in life was easy? And then you’re judged based upon events out of your control. You might even have others look at you like your dreams are a fool’s folly. It’s not the first time someone has heard about a friend writing a screenplay with hopes to sell it and launch a career. Forget that you not only secured the paid gig to write a script on assignment and it made it through development… but that’s not impressive to those who don’t know just how hard that was to achieve. You’ll have to fight against believing their criticisms and advice because it comes from their own fears projected upon you.

hang onThe truth is that it takes an incredible amount of time for any aspiring screenwriter to gain and hold new ground and for any script to find a home and eventually get produced—if ever. Sometimes the less you say about your progress the better. Focus on the work and if anyone asks you what is going on, politely explain that you’re constantly “working on a lot of projects and they’re moving forward.”  I recently ran into an old friend who asked how things were going, and when I mentioned a project and its recent upswing in progress he replied, “Haven’t you been trying to get that made for a few years now?” Why, yes I have… and thank you for reminding me of that fact. It’s not as easy as you’d believe to get someone to just give you a few million dollars to make a film. This is a perfect example of how every project is a new adventure and has its own ups and downs that are out of your control. You’ll survive the journey by having as many solid projects out there working as possible for your benefit.  Sometimes they all hit, one hits, and other times nothing hits. It’s the nature of the business, but you keep soldiering on.

rejectionWe all have our own inner voice of self-doubt as artists, but why give fodder to your critics and skeptics who will use it to squash your dreams? They’ll even taint any good news you share and use it to belittle your success because they didn’t have the guts to risk everything to pursue their own dreams. I have a friend who just landed a gig on an indie movie and the pay isn’t great, but it’s a fantastic opportunity and might open up a whole avenue that never existed before for him. He mentioned that he told another friend about this good fortune, and his friend questioned his decision to take the job and even pointed out that he’ll “barely break even financially—so what’s the point?”  The friend couldn’t see the bigger picture and how in the film business, many times you take a job because you can see past the immediate opportunity and look to what other doors it can open.

Again, beware of opening yourself up to negative criticism by sharing all of your private business especially on social media. Sure, you will find those who support your achievements, but the dark side of social media is where the trolls reside. It only takes one or two trolls to crush your spirit even when so many others are supportive of your screenwriting journey. It’s like fake currency because it’s as easy for people to just click a heart as it is to respond with a jealous or nasty comment. Tread lightly and don’t expect everyone to support your journey. The trolls lash out with jealousy and try to demean you so they can feel better about their shortcomings. You don’t need the added distractions.

Protect your dreams from the naysayers who enjoy raining on your parade. They’re unable or unwilling to take that leap off the cliff and that’s okay—it’s what us dreamers do every day. Keep your work close to the vest and don’t post it on social media until there is something real to talk about. A meeting can just be a meeting. And it’s great that a production company requested to read your script, but that a long way from them wanting to option or buy it. It’s baby steps at first before anything major happens, and it takes years of writing and networking. It was six years after film school for me when I landed my first professional writing job. Even when projects move forward, they can still die in development, during production, and even after they’re produced. Projects can also languish after you’ve been paid to write them as they sit on a shelf never to be produced. It’s happened to me at least five times. What do you do? You move on.

The less you share about your progress the better. No one ever truly knows the fate of any screenplay or film and it’s mostly out of your control, so stick to what is within your control—keeping your private business to yourself until there is something concrete to share. And only get excited when the check clears!

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE

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 “Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu

“Seeking support from friends and family is like having your people gathered around at your deathbed.  It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye.  Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work.  In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“‘I never feel the need to discuss my work with anyone. No, I am too busy writing it. It has got to please me and if it does I don’t need to talk about it. If it doesn’t please me, talking about it won’t improve it, since the only thing to improve it is to work on it some more. I am not a literary man but only a writer. I don’t get any pleasure from talking shop.”—William Faulkner

“The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.”—Ernest 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

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