November 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
If you haven’t experienced it yet, being with an audience and watching a produced movie that you’ve written on the big or small screen is something to behold. It truly makes up for all the tenacity, hard work, and sacrifices that we make as screenwriters on our long haul journey to success. We know first hand the years of writing it took to secure the job, doing the rewrites, possibly doing on set rewrites, and now we get to experience the successful collaboration of hard work and creativity. Does it guarantee the result is always perfect? Nothing is ever perfect. It’s surprising movies get made with all the moving parts that have to work at the same time. If you’re in the film business long enough, you’ll learn to let go of any regrets you may have about the finished movie and just enjoy the fruits of your labor—a produced film distributed to a global audience.
When you write a screenplay on assignment you must please the producer first. He or she is your boss, but also has a boss to please—the studio, the network or the overseas buyers. You’re blessed if you get hired to write a movie and it’s produced and distributed. If you repeat the process it’s called a career. If the film is financially successful in the theaters or it garners terrific ratings on television, you might get another chance to work for the producers. These are the precious moments we screenwriters aspire to live—to be paid, credited and have a global audience see the finished product. I know how difficult it was to get to this moment in my career and I’ve never taken my journey for granted.
When I had my first movie produced, I thought the world was going to stop and everyone would care about my huge accomplishment and the next day life would dramatically change. Sadly, it was disappointing to find out the world kept spinning and I had to get back to work to achieve the same accomplishment—again. When I woke up the next morning after the big première… food tasted the same, bills still had to be paid, and I had to get busy and find my next screenwriting gig.
Ah, the romanticized image of the working screenwriter is shattered by the reality of staying in the game.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome experience to have a film that you write get produced and distributed to a global audience, but don’t expect everyone to consider it as important as you do—or expect anyone to care about your career as much as you do. They don’t really know what it takes to get the job done—years studying the craft of screenwriting and dealing with rejection, criticism and failure while creating screenplays that may never sell until one day you unlock the combination to Hollywood’s gates and they allow you to enter. They didn’t sacrifice and do the massive amount of work necessary to gain experience, follow strict disciplines, and live a writer’s life while never knowing if your next project will sell—and that’s okay. We chose this life, right? It’s OUR DREAM not anyone else’s.
Our validation comes from our credit that we see on the big or small screen and knowing that we’ve beat the incredible odds where most fail to even get one film produced. After the well-deserved celebrations, it’s time to get busy as the life of a working screenwriter is not glamorous—it’s the reality of an artisan’s journey crafting new projects over and over until you secure another job.
I’ve had eight films produced and fourteen screenplay assignment jobs. Of my produced films, one film was my original spec and the other seven were assignments. I’m blessed, two of those films have been produced in the last ten months and one film premiered in September Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) in the United States.
It’s a thriller called “MOTHER OF ALL LIES” starring Francesca Eastwood and Jennifer Copping that I wrote on assignment last year. It had its big Canadian première and after its U.S. television premiere in September, it repeats again on Saturday, November 28 at 8 PM P/T and Sunday, November 29 at 12 AM P/T on LMN (Lifetime Movie Network).
“Adopted teenager Sara goes in search of her birth mother Abby, only to find the woman in prison for bank robbery and manslaughter. In an upcoming parole hearing, Sara helps Abby win release, and decides to spend the summer with her before leaving for college. But Sara soon finds herself in danger as her mother returns to her former partner in crime, Carl and when he ends up dead, both Abby and Sara will be wanted for murder—hunted by the police and Carl’s cohorts.”
In addition my old holiday chestnuts re-air again as they always do this time of year on LIFETIME and the holidays come early!
“Deck the Halls” (buy it here on Amazon) airs on Wed. November 25th at 10 AM P/T and “An Accidental Christmas” airs on Tuesday, November 17th at 4 PM P/T and Sunday, November 29th at 11 AM P/T. Check your cable provider’s listings for the exact times and time zone changes.
Keep screenwriting and keep the faith because if you stop writing you’re guaranteed to never have any shot a success.
Follow me on Twitter/Periscope/Vine: @scriptcat
Download my free mobile app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp. It sends out bi-weekly script tips from my new upcoming book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success available soon on Amazon.
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Did you just finish your latest screenplay and need consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website and more information.
Check out my new interview on Stylamerican with Thitia and we discuss my new movies and upcoming book release.
Click on the photo below for the link to the interview.
Makes a great gift! Check out my on-demand webinar “A Screenwriter’s Checklist: 10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game” now available as a streaming rental on Pivotshare. Click on the icon below for the link to Pivotshare’s site and rental information.
“It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.”—JJ Abrams
“Just do the best you can every time. And if you’re going to stay in the movies, and you like movies—and I love them—you’d better love them a lot, because it’s going to take all of your time. If you want to be in the movies, it’s going to break your heart.”—Richard Brooks
“When you start a movie script, it’s like entering a dark room: You may find your way around all right, but you also may fall over a piece of furniture and break your neck. Some of us can see a little better than others in the dark, but there is no guaranteeing the audience’s reaction.”—Billy Wilder
October 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
When I started out on this crazy screenwriting journey, I made the same mistake many beginning screenwriters make when they complete their first specs—believing that everything they write will sell—and sell for a million dollars. When you consider that on the average about one hundred specs a year sell at the studio level and only half of the Writers Guild members report income in any given year, your specs should really be considered the necessary training ground for you to become a better screenwriter—not chances to win Hollywood’s lottery. The recent Scoggins Report listed only 46 specs that have sold in Hollywood as of August 2015 and that’s down 30% from the norm and the second worst sales in seven years.
Trust me, I know it’s hard to accept the spec you are writing probably will not sell and may end up being only a writing sample, but you need to put your specs into perspective. If you don’t put in the necessary work with solid rewrites from constructive feedback and create professionally competitive material—your specs could end up in a drawer collecting dust or worse a dumpster and have a negative effect on your career aspirations.
Specs are a necessary part of every screenwriter’s journey because they are the scripts you “cut your teeth on” to prepare you for when you do get hired for assignment jobs. My fifth spec is the one that opened the door to a career for me. Back in the day, a new production company optioned my screenplay and made it as their first released film. My professional relationship with the producers on the rewrites and my attitude during production helped build my reputation with them and they hired me for a series of screenwriting assignment jobs. This opened the door and launched my career. Since then I’ve been hired fourteen times for paid assignments, some of them sadly went into “development hell,” but I’ve had eight of the scripts produced into films and distributed globally.
No spec ever wastes your time because you hopefully gain precious knowledge and experience with every new screenplay. I’ve completed 28 feature-length scripts since I started screenwriting and have been paid for fifteen of them (one spec sale, twelve feature assignments and two TV pilot assignments). My early specs were not great and I look back at them as learning experiences and I realized that I needed time to get better and learn how to compete on a professional level. The truth is that I’m still learning because we never stop mastering our craft. This is why it’s vital to respect the process and journey otherwise the craft and the film business will humble you fast. Trust me, years of rejection and criticism just might make you decided to pick another career to pursue. I’ve had many friends who wanted to be actors and writers and very few achieved any success in the film business today.
Also consider the genre that you’re writing. What genre drives your passion? Many of Hollywood biggest films now are multi-genre movies so they can appeal to a global audience. If you’re writing in every genre and an agent or manager asks, “What genre do you write?” What is your answer? If you replay, “Well… I write everything… horror, drama, comedy, and action.” No writer is a master at every genre and you will appear scattered without a mastery of one genre. Agents want to get you on studio rewrite lists and those are genre specific. Also your first screenplay sale will probably determine the genre that you’ll be working in as you establish your career. If you sell a comedy out of the gate, your agent won’t be sending you out for horror or action assignment jobs.
Moving forward on your spec journey, realize that Hollywood doesn’t owe you or me a read, a job or a career just because we’ve put words on paper in the form of a screenplay. Everyone has a screenplay or has tried to write one, but not everyone respects the craft or the mountain they need to climb for any shot at success. Specs are vital to your journey, but detach from their outcome and protect yourself from the reality of rejection so it doesn’t destroy your creative soul. Also remember what you write about is as important as the execution of the screenplay. My fifth spec was a difficult commercial sell because it was a historical movie about WWII and life on the home front of the United States with four ten-year olds as the protagonists. When I shopped the script, Hollywood was not making historical films and I kept coming up short with my submissions. Yes, it was a top 20 script in the Nicholl Fellowship and I received positive feedback about the story and writing, but alas no sale. It took three years until it found a home with a producer and new company that wanted to make quality independent films. And it was a total of seven years from the day I typed FADE OUT of the first draft to the first day of photography. A long haul journey for sure, but I never gave up and it paid off.
Be smart about your career. Don’t waste time making the same mistakes over and over again. Always remember that it’s your responsibility to chart the course and keep your eye of the big picture. Before you start your next spec and burn precious time, consider how it figures into your overall screenwriting goals—not just the mantra that I hear from so many aspirants, “I have a good idea for a script.” Many times it’s not a good idea and if your goal is to be a horror genre screenwriter, why are you writing a romantic comedy especially when Hollywood isn’t producing that genre now? Think, plan, create a checklist, hit your goals, create a solid story treatment before you start pages, and then put your ass in a seat and fill those blank pages.
Also realize even if you do sell a script there are no guarantees. I’ve been paid to write five production ready screenplays that are in development hell and they will probably never be made due to situations out of my control. What’s the alternative to not writing? You’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success. At least with a solid body of material you create opportunities and the rest is timing and the right project getting to the right producer.
Follow me on Twitter / Periscope: @scriptcat
Did you just complete your latest screenplay or finish a new draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website.
Are you having problems meeting your screenwriting goals this year? Check out my on-demand webinar “A Screenwriter’s Checklist” available for streaming rental. Click on the icon below for the link to the website.
Download my free mobile app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp. It sends out my bi-weekly script tips taken from my upcoming book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success coming soon on Amazon.
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“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”—Ray Bradbury
“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
“The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
“The key word in art—it’s an ugly word but it’s a necessary word—is power, your own power. Power to say, “I’m going to bend you to my will.” However you disguise it, you’re gripping someone’s throat. You’re saying, “My dear, this is the way it’s going to be.”—Elia Kazan
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.”
October 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
“THE DELICATE BALANCE OF WRITING AND SELLING YOUR SCREENPLAY…”
No meaningless 9-5 job to pay the bills. No spending hours stuck in traffic. No fighting exhaustion. No kids running riot since they’re almost grown up.
The joy and curiosity of the empty page.
Except good writing isn’t what initially gets the attention of an agent, producer or manager.
This year I wrote two screenplays. A comedy and a thriller.
The comedy is a better screenplay that had two professional Hollywood script editors and a well-known Hollywood writer congratulate me on — the problems is that it’s not commercial and comedies are not “in” at the moment, so nobody wanted to read it.
The thriller is commercial female thriller. Personally, I don’t think it’s as well written as the comedy, however, it’s getting requested from producers, agent and even Tri Star Studios.
You have to practice your 5 minute pitch, create a one page synopsis, decide who you are going to pitch, research them, practice, practice, practice that pitch.
Then if an agent, manager or producer requests your work, you need to spending time politely follow-up again and again and again.
And let’s not forget about craft. Every job, creative or non-creative, requires you to be consistently learning.
So after spending Saturday morning re-reading notes from Michael Hauge’s seminal book Writing Screenplays That Sell, studying The Social Network screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, I then prepared a meeting with a major agency. They didn’t give me a time slot so I spent 8 hours by my computer.
After preparing all questions they could have asked, researching the agency and their writers, talking about future screenplays I planned to write, reading good luck emails from writing friends and “you’re going to be a millionaire” from non-writing friends who don’t have a clue what the writing business is like, the agency was a no show. No apology. No explanation. Welcome to Hollywood.
To quote Dorothy Parker, “Hollywood is the only place in the world you can die of encouragement”.
And not a single word was written.
Then I receive an email from Stage 32 Happy Writers about list of possible people to pitch online. Researched the companies, the people, booked a pitch with a producer for next week, researched them even further, practiced my pitch and what I wanted to say.
Now it’s 4pm and not a word is written… and family demands kick in.
Finally, at 10pm, I get an hour to write.
It’s not enough and I know I have to put in more work in my craft.
The best way to get your work read in Hollywood is through recommendation — although that’s tough, especially if you live outside Los Angeles and 90% of screenwriters I have met live outside Los Angeles.
Pitching at events like Story Expo, Great American Pitchfest, Fade In, or online through Virtual Pitchfest and Stage 32 Happy Writers, is still the best way to get the attention of the people you want to do business with.
The first thing most producers, agents and managers will see if how to present yourself and sell yourself.
Just don’t forget about your craft in the process.
Niraj Kapur spent years working as a writer-for-hire at the BBC and Channel 5 in England on kids TV shows. After having several screenplays optioned, his first movie Naachle London, was released in cinemas in the U.K. in 2012. His female thriller Forsaken, is currently being shopped around town.
October 8, 2015 § Leave a comment
You’ve probably written a few spec screenplays and enjoyed the process of having everything on the page be your vision, words and creative ideas. Once your script receives coverage or makes it past a producer’s readers, prepare yourself because it’s open season for notes and changes. But when they option or buy your screenplay, this is when the real work begins. Your experience and attitude can determine you staying on the project or being fired. Have you learned how to take constructive criticism and mastered the ability to execute producer’s notes—and not gripe and grimace during the experience? Do you turn in your work on schedule or early? This is the delicate art of being a team player. It’s a necessary discipline for any real chance to play in the big sandbox with the big toys in Hollywood.
You’ll stay on your projects as the screenwriter if you’re a team player and not a temperamental diva. The constant barrage of notes and changes can make screenwriters frustrated and angry. They can feel totally out of control and like they’re just around to do the “grunt” work of writing. Avoid the temptation to go down a destructive pathway with these valid emotions. Don’t become “difficult” or branded a pain in the ass to work around. Producers will hire a talented team player over a pain in the ass that has no regard for professionalism. Hollywood is a business of relationships and networking. People in Hollywood generally like to work with those people they’ve had a positive experience with in the past. So, always deliver your best work, every time, regardless of your salary and don’t ever gripe about the changes. Unfortunately, most producers have their radar up to detect if a screenwriter will be easy or difficult when it comes time for the rewrites. The minute you’re viewed as problem, you’ll be branded as “difficult” and it’s a hard to shake that reputation.
Hollywood is a small town when it comes to people knowing each other and if word gets out that a producer or director had a difficult working relationship with you it can mean the death of your next job. Help dispel that old stereotype that “writers are difficult and precious” and prove them all wrong. You’re the writer who wants to work and make it all happen. Make a point to clearly show the producers how invaluable you are to the project and why they need to keep you around. As you’re the screenwriter, be the repository of knowledge about the script for the director, producer and actors. Do everything you can to help the producers craft the script they need and lend all of your support to get the movie competed. That’s the end game—getting your movie produced and receiving your credit.
I heard the greatest comment any writer could receive recently when two directors whom I’ve worked with separately on films that I’ve written, ran into each other at a post production facility working on their latest projects. Both mentioned my name and what a pleasure it was to work with me on their separate films that I had written. That made me happy knowing that my reputation as a collaborator and team player was out there representing me.
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. Produced film credits will determine your payment quote for your next project and secure you as a working professional.
You’ll always find opportunities to display that you’re a team player and you will 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. This is the mantra of a team player. It’s that easy. Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you, that your word means something and you are a team player. Also go above and beyond the call every time out regardless of your pay. The producers, executives and directors will remember and it’s practically the least you can do these days to stay on a project.Your talent is as important as your professional work ethic and your attitude. These are the characteristics of a professional screenwriter and your reputation of being a team player will help you work again.
Keep filling your blank pages because if you stop writing, you’ll never have a shot at any success.
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“When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost—and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.”— T.S. Eliot
“The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them.” —Steven Pressfield
“Collaborative effort requires sharing that tiny little space which we reserve for ourselves. We’ve got to bring it out and share it for a while, even if we put it back afterward.”—Stanley Kramer
Don’t limit yourself to one storytelling medium. Write them all and diversify to have any shot at success…
October 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
The story of my own personal screenwriting journey? I started screenwriting back in the days when the lines were clearly defined for the mediums—either you wrote features or you wrote television. The feature agents during that period would always say, “I don’t know many people in television.” It was also a time when the networks and studios didn’t blur the lines either between the mediums or talent. A feature film actor would not be caught dead on a TV series as it would be looked as a demotion. If you wrote for both mediums, a rep would make you choose which one you wanted to pursue—but never both at the same time.
After I graduated film school, I solely focused on writing feature screenplays on spec and my agent (s) at the time only went out to those producers and companies in the feature film world. That was fantastic, but only if you eventually did sell your specs. Otherwise it was like banging your head against a wall each time—taking a few steps forward and then falling on your face, only to go back and do it again and again only to experience the same results. I believe they call that “insanity.”
And only focusing on one medium is extremely limiting to a screenwriter. The odds are astronomical to sell any spec especially from an unknown, uncredited screenwriter. It’s like stepping up to the plate and hoping for a grand slam home run every time out. Difficult at best and impossible most of the time. And the odds become worse to secure any work if a writer cuts out the entire business of television. Back in the day, those working in features looked down on television as lowbrow and all of us eager film school grads focused on selling our million-dollar spec like we read about in Variety every week. I went to UCLA Film School and our alum writer/director Shane Black (Ironman 3) had sold a little script he wrote called Lethal Weapon for huge money and then he went on to a $4 million sale with The Long Kiss Goodnight. Looking back, I should have gotten into television, as I had close friends who were running shows, but alas I focused on features and time marched on.
Thankfully, the business has changed and now writers are free to work in television, features and the web without being pigeonholed into just one medium. Many agree that television is going through a new golden age where the most interesting ideas and series are causing the big talent in the feature world to take notice and many enjoy doing both features and television.
Many of the biggest Hollywood directors like JJ Abrams, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Josh Whedon are now working in television and producing shows. And many of them actually go their start in television, transitioned into features and now are back working in TV. It’s no longer considered a demotion. This is why as a screenwriter trying to break into Hollywood you need to diversify your talents. Don’t just focus on writing features alone. The Scoggins Report Spec Market Scorecard for 2015 listed only 46 feature scripts selling as of August and seven of those scripts had gone out in the marketplace before 2015. Those horrible numbers are down from last year’s ninety spec sales and it’s the second lowest spec sale tally of the past seven years, a full thirty percent lower than average through the end of August. Horrible odds, right? So why keep banging your head against the wall in only one medium where your projects are not selling—for a myriad of reasons?
You must diversify as a screenwriter if you want to stay in the game over the long haul. Write a web series, write a half hour and hour pilot for television, or write short comedy sketches. I’ve been blessed during my career to get paid to write for all mediums: Indie feature films, TV movies, a web series, a game show, sketch comedy for a live show, and both a half hour and hour pilots for television. This has allowed me to work on a regular basis because I have my material out into these worlds—not limiting myself to only the world of feature scripts where the business has changed dramatically. It’s more difficult than ever to sell an original spec given there are fewer films being made and Hollywood’s obsession is producing big-budget tent-poles that are remakes or properties they already own. It’s a huge gamble for a studio to buy a spec from an unproven writer and the idea does not have built-in global audience recognition.
So if you’ve stalled and crapped out with your feature specs, trying to get agents, managers and producers interested and finding yourself with the same results every time out, maybe you should consider changing your writing medium? It’s important to have writing experience in different mediums because if you happen to go up for a job, you’ll need the experience and a solid sample to represent you. It also opens up more possible places to work. Don’t cut yourself out of the television world or the web. I had never written a web series before until I met a director and producer who had a fantastic idea and we formed a company to create this new project. I wrote nine episodes of the first season and the project is out to investors. It was an invaluable experience for me as a screenwriter to now have this experience and it’s a solid project that opens up even more opportunities for writing. I also just finished writing a TV sitcom pilot on assignment for a producer and luckily I had done my spec work over the years and had solid samples in that medium to represent me. My samples got me the gig because of the similar humor and tone the producer wanted and my specs showed that I could deliver.
As you probably have experienced, it’s a long slog journey to reach any level of success in this business as a screenwriter. Don’t limit your writing to only one medium because you hamper your chances to secure any writing job in this very competitive marketplace. Yes, you can excel in different mediums because you are a writer and that’s what writers do—write. Of course it will take time to prepare solid samples in the different mediums, but it will be worth the effort when you secure a job in one that leads to another. Eventually it becomes necessary to become a multi-hyphenate so you can have more creative control over your material and not just be a “hired gun” every time out. But baby steps at first—study your craft, become a solid writer, and keep writing solid material in different mediums to expand your chances for any success.
Keep writing and keep the faith because if you stop you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.
Did you just complete your latest screenplay or maybe finish your third draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website.
Download my free mobile app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp. It sends out bi-weekly script tips from my upcoming book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” coming soon to Amazon.
Subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting video advice.
Have you lost focus on your screenwriting goals this year? Maybe my on-demand webinar can help, “A SCREENWRITER’S CHECKLIST” available for streaming rental. Click the icon below for the link to the website.
“So the only environment the artist needs is whatever peace, whatever solitude, and whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost. All the wrong environment will do is run his blood pressure up; he will spend more time being frustrated or outraged. My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”—William Faulkner
“There is no point in having sharp images when you’ve fuzzy ideas.” – Jean-Luc Godard
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
“It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.” — JJ Abrams
“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 Faulkner
“You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it. But the best writing is certainly when you are in love. If it is all the same to you I would rather not expound on that.”—Ernest Hemingway
September 26, 2015 § Leave a comment
Every screenwriter goes through the “waiting game” after you submit your script to someone for a read. It’s that horrible period when the lack of any reply can fester inside a screenwriter’s head and the fear of rejection and failure can fuel negative thoughts. We get enough rejection on our journey, so why create more anxiety for ourselves during the period when someone reads our script as we wait for them to get back to us, right? We have no control over when they will respond or even their response. Hopefully, we’ve done our best work in the script and what is on the page now it represents us without any excuses. It’s a process you will repeat over your entire career.
Many times I’ve learned that no news is just that—no news. I’ve conjured us horrible scenarios only to be proven wrong when the good news comes. As creative people, we screenwriters can imagine all kinds of unknown situations in our head, writing, filming and editing the outcome before it happens. That’s destructive thinking and wasted energy. The way to get through this period after you submit your script to an agent, manager, production company, executive or contest is to stay busy. It’s vital to your mental state over the long haul. Even when you do forge a career, you will submit projects to your producers or executives so it never ends. It’s how you treat the waiting period that counts and staying in control is vital to your mental survival.
You have to treat your screenplay as another opportunity for you to showcase your ability and creative voice to those who might hire you. Hollywood is a business of assignments where the bread and butter of working screenwriters comes from getting paid to write ideas for producers—not spec sales. A spec can open the door for you, but don’t look at every spec you write as a million dollar sale. It was my fifth spec that placed in the top 1% of the Nicholl Fellowship entries the year that I submitted it. It placed number twenty out of thousands of screenplays from around the world, but they picked the top eight to receive the fellowship.
That was okay, my high placement was enough to get agents, managers and producers to read my script and it eventually found a home with a new production company that wanted to produce the movie as their first film. That opened the door with them for assignment work and launched my career. I just finished my fourteenth assignment gig this week and my seventh produced film just premiered on LMN in mid September of this year. My eighth produced film will première on TV in November and it’s been a good run with two films produced in the last ten months.
It helps to always stay busy. While your script is out and you wait for a response, you need to create other projects, new loglines, pitches, treatments and work on a new screenplay. When you are busy, you won’t be obsessed with waiting for a response for those projects out in the marketplace. When the good or bad news trickles in, you won’t be destroyed by the comments or rejection because you will be too busy on your new screenplay. You open up new opportunities with every screenplay that you create. It’s vital to your creative soul to keep pressing forward and filling new blank pages.
And it helps to remember that Hollywood works on its own timetable. It’s a time warp where nothing happens as fast as you’d like and sometimes it feels like even a few steps forward takes too long. Time can burn so quickly as you pursue your screenwriting career in Hollywood. You spend so much time and energy finishing your script, once you finish how can you temper your excitement? This is what we live for as screenwriters—the excitement of completing a new project. It’s playing the game, living as a wide-eyed dreamer with hope for another chance up to the plate. It’s empowering to work on your own schedule and steer your own ship seemingly in control of your destiny. Now your script is the most important thing in the world to you—but you quickly discover it’s not to everyone else. This is when a time warp happens and your reality quickly shows down to Hollywood’s schedule. It’s a strange world of fear, unknowns, half-truths, promises, good intentions and a very long slog. Again, it helps to stay busy and working on your next great screenplay.
Even if you do land a screenplay assignment, the business side of negotiation takes time. One time my contract for a script assignment went back and forth between my lawyer and the production company’s lawyer for three months. As negotiations continue on every deal point, the back and forth seemingly takes forever—and this is before you can start any work on the script. Unfortunately a holiday comes up, so it means another four or five days until a reply and new draft of the contract. It seems like torture, feeling as if you’re in the starting blocks waiting for the starter gun to go off—but it never does until you and the producer sign the contract’s final draft. This is when it helps to have patience my fellow screenwriters—learn patience. It’s a big part of the life of a screenwriter and will help on your long haul journey.
The key to get through the “waiting game” is to empower yourself by staying busy writing. As you create a new project, the energy comes from your mind as you drive your dreams forward with your passion for storytelling. Don’t give into fear during the waiting game because that’s what it wants you to do. If you don’t hear back within your artificially created deadline, fear might creep into your creative soul and you will easily believe that you are a horrible writer if you don’t receive feedback. Avoid this destructive habit by staying busy during this period. You’re onto your next project and too busy to worry about what happens with the last. That’s empowering and puts you back in control.
Keep the faith and keep writing because if you stop, you’re guaranteed to never have any shot at success. And trust me this is a business where there are no guarantees—even when you sell a screenplay.
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“The professional understands delayed gratification. He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare… the professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep the huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.”—Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
“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
“Starting tonight, every night in your life before you go to sleep, read at least one poem by anyone you choose. Poetry and motion pictures are twins. You’ll get more out of reading poetry than you will get out of any other kind of reading. You are people with eyes. You must find ways of extending this vision and putting it on film. As an experiment all of you could get out of here and shoot a cinematic haiku. Just go through a book of Japanese haiku and shoot a thirty-second film. They’re purely cinematic, very visual. You must read poems every night of your life in order to enable yourself to refresh your images. In forty years you’ll thank me for telling you this.”—Ray Bradbury, Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.
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.“
September 21, 2015 § Leave a comment
The year almost over and I hope you’ve created new opportunities that have pushed your screenplays closer to success. Trust me, I know if can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall hoping for a breakthrough, but finding the same results of rejection and criticism. I truly hope you’re busy creating a solid body of work and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. I hope that I’ve been able to offer a few nuggets of advice that you’ve found helpful. In addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), my Youtube Channel and my free mobile app Screenwriting Guru, I’ll be posting new tips here every month in addition to new articles. Dig in as I’ve written over 180 articles on this blog. I’m also broadcasting live on the new app PERISCOPE. Check it out. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting. Okay, let’s cut to the chase and get right to the action—here are a few more useful survival tips for your journey…
Act like a professional even if you’re an aspirant writing your specs. As a screenwriter, you must consider writing a job and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional. As with any job, it comes with deadlines, requirements and expectations, so it’s good practice to follow professional disciplines as you prepare for the time when you do get paid to write. If you train yourself to work under a deadline, it’s not a shock when the producer requires you to complete a script by a certain date. It’s no longer the romanticized dream of spending endless time working on your spec to get it just right—it’s “go time” and you’re now playing in the big leagues—exactly where you belong. The producer or executive expects greatness from you and you generally have six to eight weeks to deliver the first draft and its excellence will decide if they keep you on to write a second draft, or fire you. This is not the time for a “vomit draft.” If you start meeting your own deadlines when writing your specs, it will be easier later when they pay you under contract to meet a deadline.
Don’t take criticism personally and realize that it’s part of the process. If you’re going to play in the majors, you’re competing with the best and you must accept that sometimes you won’t find the validation you need. Many times feedback on your script is disappointing and your high expectations become squashed. Your ego’s bruised, beaten to a pulp and you to doubt your talent and chances for success. Don’t take it personally, because feedback is a rite of passage necessary for the growth of any aspiring screenwriter. If you want to survive over the long haul of a career, you’ll need to toughen up and build your courage to endure disappointment criticism and rejection. Learn how to filter the good notes from the bad and ugly notes. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps make your script better, helps push it closer to something a producer wants to produce, and teaches you how to collaborate as a team player so you can work again.
You’ll learn the longer you pursue a screenwriting career that talk is cheap in Hollywood and people want credit for their good intentions. Too many times the words are empty promises that end up wasting an eager and hungry writer’s time. Money makes it real. Take everything as face value for talk is the cheapest commodity in Hollywood. Many times interest in you or your script and the endless talk is just that—interest and talk. Many times meetings are just meetings. Many times a producer’s upbeat attitude about your project can become infectious. You want to believe that others see your dream and can realize it. Why not? It’s what keeps us going as screenwriters—belief in our projects and the faith that success is just around the corner. I’m sure when producers and executives tell you that your project is going into production, they just might believe it themselves, but sometimes they tell a writer this to buy more free time. Producers want to keep a writer’s interest in hanging on until they “work out the pesky financing details” and it becomes the bait for more free work. If they can’t raise the money for the budget or they have no money in their development budget, there really is no money to pay the writer. Be understanding to a certain point and look at every situation through a risk/benefit filter. Are you willing to risk your free time with free rewrites on the possible chance a project “might” get produced? Get excited when a producer gives you a contract, you both sign it and you get paid. That’s the professional way—otherwise, you can’t live on the currency of good intentions. Now get back to your blank pages. If you stop writing you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.
Keep writing and filling your pages because if you stop—you’re guaranteed to never have any shot at success. This is a business with no guarantees even when you do sell a screenplay.
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“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
“If you’re worried about failing, you ought to get into a different business, because statistics will tell you that sixty or seventy percent of the time you’re going to fail. By fail I mean that the movie won’t make money. Just do the best you can every time. And if you’re going to stay in the movies, and you like movies—and I love them—you’d better love them a lot, because it’s going to take all of your time. If you want to be in the movies, it’s going to break your heart.“—Richard Brooks, director of Blackboard Jungle, Sweet Bird of Youth, In Cold Blood, Looking for Mr. Goodbar
“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