A crushing blow for many screenwriters—realizing it might take ten scripts to sell the first one…

September 16, 2016 § Leave a comment

pile-of-scripts-copy

When I started out on this crazy screenwriting journey, I made the same mistake many beginning screenwriters make after 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 Scoggins Report for 2015 listed only 93 specs that have sold in Hollywood. Horrible numbers.

The screenwriting journey is a long haul and does not happen overnight.  You’ll have to write a pile of specs until one opens the door for you, but remember that no spec ever wastes your time. Hopefully you gain precious knowledge and experience with every new screenplay. Screenwriting success is a numbers game with luck and timing—right project, right producer, right marketplace. It’s like the stars must align and then—BAM! And how often does that happen? Yes, it does happen and that’s why we continue to write and become better screenwriters. Even when a script sells, it has many hurdles to jump before it becomes a film and it can end up in development hell never being produced too. This is why you’ll need a stack of scripts to burn through, each finds its way along the journey, some fail, some succeed and then fail, some succeed and go all the way. So, one spec will not do it. And the spec you are writing now (no offense) will probably not be “the one” that does the job. It might, but don’t hang all of your hopes and dreams on it.

Recently, I’ve completed my 30th feature-length script since I started screenwriting and have been paid for fifteen of them (one spec sale and fourteen assignments). My early specs were not terrific 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 remember what you write about is as important as the execution of the screenplay. It wasn’t until my fifth spec that got me some notice as a top 20 script in the Nicholl Fellowship. Sure, I received positive feedback about the story and my writing, but alas no sale. The screenplay 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 old kids as the protagonists. When I shopped the script, Hollywood was not making historical films and I kept coming up short with my submissions. 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 that 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.

When writing specs, I try to persuade beginning screenwriters to write something smaller in scope with regards to story. When beginners work on their first or second screenplays, they are still learning the craft as they go and also forging their own unique style. It takes at least four or five scripts to hit your groove and really understand your strengths and weaknesses as a screenwriter. As you’re becoming a better screenwriter by writing bad specs, making mistakes and learning how to execute notes, you can’t focus on competing with the A-listers with scripts that are basically learning tools. Early on in every screenwriter’s journey we’re still discovering our identity and ability as screenwriters. We need that precious time to learn our craft. When you’re finally writing at a professional level only then can you write something more challenging and stretch your abilities.

So, it might take you ten scripts just to become an excellent screenwriter and maybe finally sell a project or land a screenwriting assignment job. 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 currently 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 practice your craft and create opportunities—the rest is timing and the right project getting to the right producer.

Scriptcat out!

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

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Check out my YOUTUBE channel with twenty-seven videos about screenwriting.

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Check out my on-demand webinars “A Screenwriter’s Checklist” and “So, you want to be a screenwriter. Now what?”  Both available on my streaming website. Click on the photo below for the link to the website and more information.

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I don’t think of it as an art. When it works it’s skill & craft and some unconscious ability”—Ernest Lehman

“Then our writers when they have made some money increase their standard of living and they are caught. They have to write to keep up their establishments, their wives, and so on, and they write slop. It is slop not on purpose but because it is hurried. Because they write when there is nothing to say or no water in the well. Because they are ambitious. Then, once they have betrayed themselves, they justify it and you get more slop.”—Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa, page 23.

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

freddy screenwriter

 

luck

 

Scriptcat’s Top 10 Disciplines to Build Your Professional Reputation as a Screenwriter…

August 21, 2016 § Leave a comment

megaphoneIt’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?

TOP 10 Disciplines to Build a Professional Reputation:

  1. Always deliver your best work, every time, regardless of your salary.
  2. Never be late for meetings.
  3. Always meet your contracted screenplay deadlines.
  4. Never get testy or upset about script notes or show anger.
  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.
  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 diva.
  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, be patient, 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.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just finish your latest screenplay? Time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

Screenplay consultation services

Need help reaching your screenwriting goals? Check out my on-demand webinar “A Screenwriter’s Checklist” now available as a streaming rental from my streaming website.

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Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

 

Check out my screenwriting YOUTUBE CHANNEL with 27 videos.

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“Writers, like most human beings, are adaptable creatures. They can learn to accept subordination without growing fond of it. No writer can forever stand in the wings and watch other people take the curtain calls while his own contributions get lost in the shuffle.”—Rod Serling

“The well is where your “juice” is. Nobody knows what it is made of, least of all yourself. What you know is if you have it, or you have to wait for it to come back.”—Ernest Hemingway

“Dramatic economy, which includes the ability of a writer to cut what at one point he might have considered to be his best work ever, is one of the most important skills a writer can have. It is learned only through much experience, combined with a ruthless attitude and utter lack of sentimentality.”—Alexander MacKendrick, “Sweet Smell of Success”

 

Beware… talk and “interest” are free and cheap in Hollywood…

August 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

quote of the dayYou’ll learn this hard reality the longer you pursue a screenwriting career — talk is cheap in Hollywood and people want credit for their good intentions. Too many times the words are empty promises and “interest” in a screenplay becomes a tool for producers to string along hungry and desperate writers.

BUT — money makes it real. Seriously. Producers need to put some skin in the game otherwise you are walking a narrow plank and it’s easy for them to change their minds because there is no risk.You’ve taken all of the risk by spending time writing your screenplay and allowing it to be with only the producer exclusively without an option or money. And then the charade continues when they ask for changes without paying anything for your effort and time.

How many times has a producer, agent or manager asked to read your screenplay and you never hear from them again. Three months later you feel bad contacting them only to find out they have “been swamped with work.” The sad truth is… you’ll quickly learn that somehow they will never have the free time to read your precious magnum opus. BUT – they want credit for their good intentions of asking you to read your script. It’s the actual follow through that’s impossible.

So you may ask, “What is the key to survive over the long haul?” Well, a positive outlook, tenacity, faith, respect for the craft and your journey, and a solid body of work. Also you must take all news about your projects as face value. As I always say, “Don’t believe them until the check clears.” Even then, many projects don’t make it to production so you will never receive the coveted production bonus.

megaphoneAlso 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.I’ve had the head of a production company tell me to my face that my film was going into production in six weeks. Uh, right… but during the next six months something happened and it wasn’t the production.

Many 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? You only get taken advantage of if you allow it and many times it comes from the writer’s fear and desperation. Once they smell desperation and blood is in the water… it never turns out well for the screenwriter.

what it takes screenwriting

What you think it takes & what it really does take to reach any level of success.

Another good discipline for survival over the long haul journey is to keep the intimate details of your project’s movement or lack of movement to yourself. I’ve been guilty of announcing to the world when the first stages of movement happen only to see the project collapse and then having to explain the sordid details. I see too many screenwriters doing this and expending precious energy and opening themselves up to early criticism. Do not continually talk about the status of your projects, your “writing process,” or how each project is moving forward or is not. 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. 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.

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 and phony interest. Now get back to your blank pages and proceed with optimistic caution. If you stop writing you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Is it time for in-depth screenplay consultation? Click on the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information on my services.

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Need help reaching your screenwriting career goals? 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. Parts 1 & 2 are 14.99 each. Click on the icon below for the link to the webinar rental website.

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Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

 

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

“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.

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

“Yes, screenwriting is character, story and structure, but it’s also about feel… like you’re working with emotional clay.” — Scriptcat

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

luck

 

 

Creativity is a mysterious process that must be respected and protected on the screenwriting journey.

July 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

script page and keyboard copyIf you’re new to this screenwriting adventure, you’ll soon discover that when you go back to your creative well it doesn’t always deliver as expected. It’s important to carve out a writing schedule and stick to it so you can actually finish a project, but sometimes the creative juices just don’t flow. Some call it writer’s block. I call it part of the creative process. When the writing becomes difficult, you can cut and run, or stick with the material and concentrate on visualization even if it doesn’t produce pages. In private correspondence the great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed, “Even if I didn’t write anything, I made sure I sat down at my desk every single day and concentrated.” Chandler gave himself the physical stamina a professional writer needs, quietly strengthening his willpower. This sort of daily training was indispensable to him. It’s vital for a writer to go through the ups and downs of the creative process because it’s the basic training necessary to gain precious experience.

scripts 2The more you write, the faster you’ll be able to finish a first draft, but don’t let experience fool you. I’ve written thirty feature length screenplays and I’m still humbled every time I sit down to start a new project. Even with experience a writer isn’t immune to the anxiety of the creative process. I was filled with anxiety during the start of a recent screenwriting assignment because I couldn’t get my creative process going every day when I had planned. I woke up early and lingered on the Internet, took a late lunch, became distracted by phone calls and suddenly it was 3:00 P.M. and I had no pages. This horror show went on for about three days until I realized that maybe on this project my writing schedule didn’t start in the morning, but later in the afternoon. I make a choice to let go of my preconceived daily structure and my creativity thrived. I started my writing day at 3 P.M. without guilt and worked until about 11 P.M. Yes, I was blessed to have the luxury of shifting my screenwriting writing schedule, but I realized as long as I sat with the material and focused, the daily creative process was moving forward.

The creative process has no secret formula for success. It’s the reality that writers must jump in and discover a method that works best for their productivity. If you spend quality time with your material, free from distractions and interruptions, you will eventually power through the walls that block your creativity and become productive. Don’t stress about today’s page count because it will always vary over the course of any project. Focus on sticking to your writing schedule and being “one” with the material. The consistency of a daily writing schedule will protect your creative process regardless if it works today or not. Also stick to your self-imposed deadlines because this is training for when you do score a screenwriting assignment and work for pay under a contract. Creativity is a mysterious process and writers must respect it, but also protect it during their long haul journey to finishing a new project.

You have to believe you can “make it” but also respect the fact it’s a long journey to reach any level of success. Keep the faith and keep screenwriting!

Scriptcat out!

 

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? 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. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression. Make the time to get it right.

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Subscribe to my screenwriting YOUTUBE CHANNEL for 27 videos about surviving in the trenches of Hollywood.

Need help focusing on your screenwriting goals? Check out my on-demand webinar “A Screenwriter’s Checklist” available as a streaming rental. Part 1 & 2 are $14.99 each. Click on the icon below for the link to my webinar website.

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Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

“Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.”– Kurt Vonnegut

“Yes, screenwriting is character, story and structure, but it’s also about feel… like you’re working with emotional clay.” — Scriptcat

“A writer is not a film’s maker but its originator, then a writer must, if she or he is to emerge and make a mark, create a body of work that is not just aimed at posterity but at surviving the food chain which constitutes modern film production.” — Richard Price, screenwriter of The Color of Money, Sea of Love, Mad Dog & Glory, Clockers, & Ransom.

“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”

“Writers, like most human beings, are adaptable creatures. They can learn to accept subordination without growing fond of it. No writer can forever stand in the wings and watch other people take the curtain calls while his own contributions get lost in the shuffle.”—Rod Serling

what it takes screenwriting

What you think it takes & what it really does take to reach any level of success.

 

Scriptcat’s summer screenwriting tips, tricks and tactics for your adventure…

June 4, 2016 § 1 Comment

DSCN4717Ah, it’s summertime and the screenwriting is easy… well, maybe not so easy, but it’s always going to be a part of your working life. I was blessed to spend a month in Sardinia, Italy earlier this year working on a script assignment for a producer back in Los Angeles. I completed my draft and turned it in before the deadline—and then enjoyed the rest of my stay. I find being in a beautiful environment makes me distracted because I’m thinking of how I’m missing everything being tapped inside in front of my laptop. But the reward after a full and productive day of screenwriting was being able to step out and enjoy the beautiful sea, the food and the history-filled lands.

I hope you’ve created new opportunities that have pushed your screenplays closer to success so far this year. 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

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  PERISCOPE. Check it out. I’ve also jumped onto Instagram—find me at: marksanderson_scriptcat.  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…

Scriptcat out!

TIP #1

DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY, “NO.”

no kiddin largeNo. It’s a powerful word if used properly on your screenwriting journey. Or better yet, “No, thank you.” If any deal does not feel right or isn’t right for you, don’t be afraid to graciously say, “No, thank you.” Yes, even if you haven’t sold a screenplay before. Your time is more important than being locked into a crappy deal and something that could set you back. You come from a place of power when you feel that something is wrong and you don’t cave to your fears out of desperation. You will thank yourself when a better opportunity comes your way and you’re free to take it.  Trust me, producers can smell desperation in the room if a writer needs to pay the rent or needs some validation about the work. This is when you unknowingly might allow them to take advantage of you and then you accept a crappy deal that benefits them and not you. Sure, you might need to get your foot in the door, but it doesn’t mean they have to crush your toes in the process. Any opportunity to work is a chance for you to shine, but your time is important and if you are writing at a professional level to compete, you should come into any situation with a humble confidence. So, what if you find yourself on the side of the cliff dangling by a mere finger hold and running out of time? Hang on. Climb back up and work on another script, and another, and get better and build your network of contacts. When you’re at the lowest point is when it really matters how you stay in the game because it’s much easier for you to leave the business when all hope is lost. And time keeps ticking away. It can be your greatest asset or worst enemy especially if you put an expiration date on your screenwriting dreams—“I have to make it by 30!” When you’re struggling on the side of that cliff, fight for your long term survival. Never allow them to stomp on your fingers so you fall into the void and never to live out your splendid screenwriting dreams.

TIP #2

CONSIDER YOUR SPECS AS YOUR CALLING CARDS AND NOT A MILLION DOLLAR SALE.

bag of money

I know it’s hard to accept the spec you are writing now 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 and landed me fifteen assignment jobs that followed. Be smart about your career. Don’t waste time making the same mistakes over and over again. 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 and I’m sure it will sell.” 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.

TIP #3

TALK IS CHEAP IN HOLLYWOOD!

quote of the dayYou’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.

@Scriptcat out!

Also subscribe to my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL with weekly screenwriting video tips.

Do you lack focus or haven’t set goals for the year with regards to your career? Check out my on-demand webinar “A SCREENWRITER’S CHECKLIST — 10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game.”

Part One & Two available for a streaming rental/purchase—$9.99 each.

(click on the icon below for the link to the streaming rental/purchase)

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

Screenplay consultation services

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

“The time we have alone; the time we have in walking; the time we have in riding a bicycle; are the most important times for a writer. Escaping from a typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give your subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level.”—Ray Bradbury

“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

“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

It’s a long road to reach any level of success as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Start training now for the time when you do land a job so you’ll be able to keep it and stay on the film.

sullivans-travels-052

Oh, the odds to achieve any screenwriting success…

May 7, 2016 § 1 Comment

smash head in wallI just read the sobering statistics from the Scoggins Year End Spec Scorecard for the 2015 spec sales in Hollywood. A total of 93 specs sold. And in four of the last seven years, fewer than 100 specs a year sold. Ouch. Don’t even get me started on the number of scripts registered with the Writer’s Guild every year.  Those figures are staggering and are reported to be 30,000 – 50,000. Last fiscal year for 2015 (ending March 2015) in the WGAw, only 4,899 screenwriters reported any income, the rest did not find gainful work as a professional screenwriter. They may have written specs or taken other jobs, but not in their career field. Three-quarters of the employed writers work in television and the rest in features—and only 50 screenwriters out of the 10,000 or so in the WGA made one million dollars. Crazy odds!  This is what we’re up against brave screenwriters, but use these statistics as a reality check and not to derail your dreams. It’s humbling for sure, but you can sell a spec… hell, I did it once. It opened the door to fifteen screenwriting assignments.

So, I always ask aspiring screenwriters, does their passion to write still burn inside even after hearing these numbers?  If you are going to pursue writing as a career in Hollywood, I think you must honestly ask yourself the difficult questions. If your answer is “yes” then you truly love the craft of screenwriting, even against all odds. Call it the insanity of us dreamers.

I believe some screenwriters write scripts because they consider it like playing the lottery.  Buy a ticket at a chance for millions — write a script for a chance at millions.  Mostly those days are over where Hollywood throws money at scripts just to take them off the market.  I remember when you would read that a studio just spent a cool million dollars to buy a “hot” property, only to read later that it’s shelved due to particular circumstances.  Mostly they discovered what they purchased was over priced and when they actually read the script, it was a lemon.

bag of moneyOthers may seek fame, fortune and a desire for attention from selling a script for a huge amount of money. Unfortunately, it’s a numbers game at best and unfortunately, no one really cares who wrote the movie.  Respect is a fickle beast in Hollywood.  If you are searching for validation from Hollywood, you are going to come up empty most of the time.  You’ll survive in the trenches much longer if you can get into a Zen mindset where the only validation you seek is your own satisfaction from finishing the best script you’ve ever written to date. Oh, and also detaching from any outcome. You pat yourself on the back for completing your new script—don’t expect anyone else to do it.

Mastering your craft takes years of study and execution.  Hemingway said, “We are all masters of a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”  Wow.  That’s respect for the art of writing.  I love hearing an old jazz musician, a master of his instrument, saying that he is still learning.  It’s an ongoing process.  As you live and experience, you enhance your observation of life and hopefully it translates into your writing.  Be an honest writer and find the truth in your stories.  Once you find your own voice, continually work on your craft to get better with each screenplay.  Especially if you are working for producers who pay you to deliver the script they need.

dreamsThose writers who burn out after one script probably didn’t really love the craft enough to start.  Writing is difficult to do well and the business side certainly can take its toll.  If you want to be a working screenwriter, you can’t write in a vacuum.  Development executives, producers and directors will expect you to execute their notes, and your precious baby will start to strangely change into something much different from the first draft they purchased.  It’s a collaborative art form and we as the screenwriters are the architects of the film.  If your script gets produced into a film, a hundred craftspeople will go to work adding their creativity and imprint.  Sometimes when I visit the set, I feel useless because my work was done months ago when I typed “FADE OUT – THE END.”  Now a hundred people are now busy taking care of my baby, the script.  An idea that I crafted into a completed blueprint.  It’s extremely fulfilling to see these creative masters all working together.

Screenwriting is the only writing craft that I know where so many people you run into daily have at least one script they either attempted to write, or actually completed.  I don’t find many of those same people having attempted or completed a novel.  That’s an entirely different world, one with a lot less perceived fame and fortune.  I think screenwriting has become almost a pop culture exercise as the basics are now so accessible to everyone.  Everyone now has unprecedented access to making a movie.  When I started, the process was more mysterious and you’d only find a small group of film nerds who were truly interested in film.  The craft is now truly open to everyone, but you still have to tell a good story.

True writers love the craft of storytelling.  We write because we need to release these stories from our heads and hearts.  Our passion in life is to fill the blank page.  We would even write for free and do when we craft our spec scripts.  But remember, don’t tell producers that you love writing so much, you’d write for free—you’ll find yourself working for free, and I only suggest doing that for your own spec projects.  At least you have ownership and that is a place of power.

The odds of success for any artistic pursuit are shaky at best, but artists create because of their passion for the work.  If you do manage to get a film produced, a hearty congratulations.  You have just beat the seemingly insurmountable odds.  If you can sustain screenwriting as a career, you have won the lottery. As my old friend director/writer/producer JJ Abrams once said to me, “It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.”  Tru dat!

Live. Experience. Write. Love and enjoy the wild journey.  Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small.  If you love what you do and your passion drives you to create, then you’re already a winner. It’s a blast to wake up every morning and get paid for your passion in life. I’m on my 29th screenplay which is my fifteenth screenwriting assignment. I’m blessed.

Keep the faith and ever, I mean never give up.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation?  Check out my script consultation services. Click on the icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to do it right!

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checklist 2Click on the icon above for the link.

“… 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

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.“— Thomas Edison

Fall down seven times, get up eight.” — Japanese Proverb

“… 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.“—Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Time is a screenwriter’s greatest asset to use or worst enemy working against you…

April 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

hang onAs you travel along on your screenwriting journey, you’ll discover that time can drag on and on while you write your screenplays. Time is a screenwriter’s greatest asset to use or worst enemy.  If we don’t have the proper amount of protected time to write—we don’t create the solid body of work necessary to compete. Also time burns quickly in Hollywood. It can take years for your script to find the right producer, network or studio. My fifth spec screenplay was the one that “launched” my career, it was optioned, went into development, finally sold and produced and distributed.  But that took six years out of film school and two years after that until the first day of production. A long haul journey indeed.

So, the best discipline you can master early in you screenwriting journey is being mindful of time.  As writers we must regard our writing time as precious and do everything in our power to protect our working time from the forces of interruption and procrastination.  I know many non-writers who do not regard writing as real work and believe it’s just playtime like coloring with crayons because it’s creative. Ah, they don’t know any better. They’ve never tried to write a feature length screenplay.

“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.”—Ernest Hemingway

And you do have to be ruthless about it. An ex-girlfriend used to tell me that I could “always write on the weekends” as if writing was not part of my daily routine or schedule.  If I have a deadline for a screenwriting assignment and friends invite me out and I turn them down, they always think I’m making up excuses when in reality, I’m actually working.  Sometimes I don’t get weekends off. One time I had to work for twenty-four hours straight to complete a script, as the producer notified me the investors were in town and wanted to see a draft the following day.  I carved out the time and protected every moment by not answering the phone or spending time on the net.  I sacrificed, protected my writing time and completed the assignment.

“The telephone and visitors are the work destroyers.”—Ernest Hemingway

IMG_1059When I’m working on a script assignment, it is a job and I try my best to write six to eight hours a day — every day.  If I get ahead on pages, that’s great… but if I get behind… it will even out if the work is done every day. That’s the type of schedule it takes to complete a script by a set deadline and dabbling a few hours here and there will not do it.  Writing is all about routines and schedules and when the writing gets hard, I know writers are easily distracted.  I’ll admit it happens to me often.  This is dangerous because when distracted, writers tend to procrastinate and ultimately stop writing.  This is the time when others chip away at our precious writing time and lead us astray.  We actually do want to go out and have a good time, it’s just we have work to do and there will be no pages completed unless we sit down and write.

As a writer, you must consider writing a job and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional.  It’s good practice and prepares you for the time when you do get paid to write and the producer requires you to complete the script on a deadline.  It’s no longer the romanticized dream of endless time to work on your spec—it’s go time as you have a schedule and a contract.  The producer or executive expects greatness from you in six to eight weeks.  You’ll already have this priceless experience if you stick to your own schedule by protecting your writing time from interruption and distraction.

the-isolatorWe have more things to distract us writers today than ever before, so it helps to turn off your phone and stay off the web.  Choosing the right place to write will also help you to protect your precious writing time.  If you’re constantly interrupted as you write at home, consider working at the library, a coffee shop or even renting a small space to write.  As renting an office can become pricy, many paid workspaces have sprung up where you can buy membership access to a quiet working environment.  When a producer hired me last year to write a script, he bought me a membership to a writer’s workspace appropriately called The Office  and I was extremely productive every day.  The Office is on the westside of Los Angeles and specifically caters to screenwriters who take their writing time very seriously.  They even enforce a no cell phone or talking policy for all members.  It’s a terrific spot for hard-core writers who take their craft seriously. If you’re there—you are there to write. As a result, I completed the script in a month because I was able to work uninterrupted. Look for a “creative space” in your city.

The longer you write the more you’ll get to know yourself better as a writer.  You discover your strengths and weaknesses, if you write fast or slow, and if you’re easily distracted or if you can work in a crowded coffee shop. When the writing gets difficult, time becomes your enemy as you never know each day if your creative juices will flow or dry up.  Do yourself a favor and always protect your precious writing time from the forces of interruption.  You’ll keep on schedule, writing will become a habit, and you will be more productive than ever before.

Now get back to your blank pages. If you stop writing you’re guaranteed never to have ANY chance at success.

If you’ve just finished your latest screenplay or a new draft and need in-depth screenplay consultation, check out my services by clicking on the icon below. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your script.  Make the time to get it right.

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@Scriptcat out!

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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

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

hang on

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