On your screenwriting journey don’t be afraid to say, “No.”

January 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

pitchNo. It’s a powerful word if used properly on your screenwriting journey. Or better yet, “No, thank you.” If you stay in the screenwriting game long enough you will encounter the ups and downs of the business. During the successful times when you’re working and your scripts get produced, it’s magical, but you must prepare for the Yin & Yang of the journey. There will be times when you’re scraping the bottom and it feels like nobody wants to return your calls. Or you might feel trapped in a cycle where you just can’t push any one project forward enough to actually see money or production.

hang onSo, 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.

praise or blameTrust 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.

In the Wild West, a gunslinger could spot other gunslingers by the way they handled themselves and by the execution of their work. The same goes for professionals in Hollywood. Pros can spot another pro just by the title page on a screenplay. They have a built-in radar to weed out the amateurs and aspirants by recognizing their inexperience and bad screenwriting. And if you’re desperate, you just might consider taking a bad working situation just to move forward. Do not. Many times the job “is what it is” meaning there is no chance of advancement when it’s done, just more of the same. Or if you get fired with no credit it really doesn’t help your career anyway. In fact maybe next time they tell you that your pay is less because their business model has changed. If you’re meeting with a producer who complains about working with bad writers and bemoans about not having much of a development budget, it’s a major red flag.

sullivans-travels-052I know, it’s difficult to walk away because it may feel like that producer is the only person interested and at least their interest is something. Some interest is better than the script file sitting in your hard drive, right? No. It’s talk until you both sign the contract and the check clears. Unfortunately, money does make it real. And if the interest from just one person is the “only game in town,” that doesn’t really give you much leverage for any type of negotiation. If you tell them, “Nobody else is interested in my script,” you’re sunk and they’ve got you. Never let anyone know the real status of your project unless they are ready to offer a contract and money. Until then you have it “at a handful of companies around town and it’s being considered.” Even if two of the companies passed, in your discussion it’s still over there and they haven’t gotten back to you yet. This buys you more time—but not much. Hopefully, they won’t ask you more details, but if they do have a real answer because they will check up and it’s a small town.

The only consideration should be the risk factor for you and that includes the payment, your time, and if it detracts from other more important work. Also realize the markings of a good deal and when it’s the best that you’re going to get. You might blow it a few times before you realize what you can and can’t push for at your level. It’s best to let your lawyer, agent or manager handle the back and forth negotiations of any deal. If you don’t have anyone on your team, consult friends who are more established in the film business for advice. They’ve been through the process for years and will tell you what to do and not to do.

BoulderFlatThe reality is you’ll probably make less money on your first few jobs until you can get established, show a successful movie and then can negotiate for a better deal. 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.

Keep writing and learning because it you stop you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

Scriptcat out!

Download my new free app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp with my weekly script tips, videos and links about screenwriting.

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Did you just finish you latest screenplay? Congrats! Do you need in-depth analysis, editing, proofing? Check out my consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.  You’ll 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 keeping focus on your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinar can help, “A Screenwriter’s Checklist.” Part One and Two are $14.99 each and available as a streaming rental.

Click on the photo below for the link for the streaming rental.

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Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

“The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them.  His aim is to take what the day gives him.  He is prepared to be prudent and prepared to be reckless, to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can.   He understands the field alters every day.   His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily as he can.”— Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art

“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

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

“All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.”—Ernest Hemingway

“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

Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working.”—Michael

Micromanaging your screenplay comes from inexperience and fear…

January 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

handsMany beginning screenwriters work so hard at keeping a tight grip on every line of dialogue and action that it results in micromanaging at the highest level. It comes from inexperience and the fear that actors, the producer or director will not understand the scene or the dialogue properly so the screenwriter feels the need to overwrite and hammer the ideas home. The writer doesn’t trust his or her writing and this insecurity sucks the air out of the script. It’s obvious the writer is directing from the page and that’s not our job. We should stay the hell out of the way of the characters and story. When reading a really amazing screenplay, it’s like you don’t notice that someone actually wrote the script. The same goes for a really believable acting performance. The acting appears effortless because it’s not obvious and looks easy. One of the hardest abilities to master as a screenwriter is to stay out of the way and not handle every line or action with a stranglehold as you still need to put your unique imprint on the script.

I recently read a screenplay where the writer described every bit of action between most lines of dialogue and also added emotional descriptions to help give the dialogue a “line reading” for the actor or script reader. This will result in an overwritten screenplay, but also one that showcases the writer’s inexperience and insecurity. If your character must exit or enter the scene of course you need to describe that action, but not the excruciating details that include: “rolls eyes, shrugs shoulders, grits teeth, blushes, folds arms, blinks, breathes heavily, smiles, and even stands “up.” Are you laughing because you’re guilty of this? Trust me, actors do not enjoy reading this heavy-handed writing and it’s a bit insulting to their craft. It’s the writer directing from the page on how to play the scene if a character is upset: “Jack walks to the window, looks out, inhales deeply, thinks for a beat and folds his arms as he’s upset with Harold’s unexpected news.” This is not screenwriting.

Trust me, the actors will find the right emotional business that will come out of the scene and the dialogue—and what is not written. The subtext beneath and between the lines is the actor’s playground and allows them the myriad of actions the character takes based upon their motivations and emotional state at the moment. You set the scene and let the other artists elevate your material to a higher level. I’ve been the recipient of this when an Academy Award nominee co-starred in one of my films. He added some improvised lines to a scene and it became the biggest laugh in the movie. I still get people asking me if I wrote that line of dialogue and I reply that it was not me, but his improvised line.

I’ve been lucky to work around Academy Award and Emmy nominated actors who have starred in some of the films that I’ve written and I’ve learned so much watching them on the set. If you give them a well-written scene they will elevate it and add more than you’d expect. Imagine telling your Academy Award nominee or winner that he or she needs to “blush” on cue when saying a line of dialogue. It’s like you’re training a dog to sit on command. Avoid this because it does not give you the image of a professional screenwriter, but a nervous and inexperienced aspirant.

220px-MadworldposterI’m reminded of a famous Spencer Tracy acting story from director Stanley Kramer. He tells of directing Tracy in the classic comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Tracy did not like heavy-handed direction and only wanted Kramer to tell him where he was needed at the end of the scene. Kramer told Tracy the scene ended with him at the door of the office. The camera rolled and Tracy started off behind his desk and said his dialogue as he made his way around the office toward the door. He paused at points along the way and created every action himself as part of his “business” in character. He didn’t need a screenwriter telling him to pause next to the chair, glance out the window, look at his hat, consider his wife, or scratch his nose.

In my experience, the micromanaging can come in the production draft when the producer or director needs you to really punch things up and the specific details are necessary for them to actually make the film. I once worked with a producer who wanted me (in my opinion) to overwrite and micromanage the script, but there was a good reason, he was not going to be on location in another country so he really wanted to make that important details not be overlooked during the fast production schedule.

script pageSo, I had to adapt my screenwriting style to facilitate the job, but it was in a protected bubble of development so it’s okay. The script was not a spec out there representing me and my ability. It was a green-lit film and I was now part of a team and my job was whatever it took to help get the film produced. When you write specs you want to put your best image forward and your screenplay represents your talents if you are an unknown entity without credits. You can break all rules after your screenplay is purchased. That is why I tell writers to be careful when reading the “Oscar nominated” scripts, as they are written in a protected bubble and have been through the development process. By the time you read the script it’s the final production draft or the scripts were written by the directors, so all bets are off because they can do whatever they need to create a working blueprint to shoot the movie.  Nothing is left to chance.

When you’re starting out writing your specs, avoid having a white knuckle grip on the scenes, every line of dialogue or too much description where you tell us rather than show us. Don’t tell an actor to “blink” as an emotion, not unless it’s some type of secret code system worked out between characters and two blinks means danger. You have to find more effective ways of screenwriting to get your point across without micromanaging the work.

Keep writing and learning because if you stop you are guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

Scriptcat (Mark Sanderson) out!

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope/Vine: @scriptcat

Download my free mobile app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp. It sends out bi-weekly screenwriting tips from my upcoming book.

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Need help meetings your screenwriting goals? Check out my on-demand webinar “A Screenwriter’s Checklist: 10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game” now available in two parts streaming each for $14.99. Click on the photo below for the link to the website.

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Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

“Given the choice between trivial material brilliantly told versus profound material badly told, an audience will always choose the trivial told brilliantly.  Master storytellers know how to squeeze life out of the least of things, while poor storytellers reduce the profound to the banal.  You may have the insight of a Buddha, but if you cannot tell story, your ideas turn dry as chalk.”—Robert McKee, “Story”

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”—Stephen King

“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, The Lady Killers, Sweet Smell of Success.

“A good writer should know as near everything as possible. Naturally he will not. A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge. There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.”—Ernest Hemingway

Your first draft is dangerously important.  Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, “It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.” Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve already gone in another direction.  The longer you can hold off putting a word down on paper, the better you are. ” Rewriting is largely cleaning up things that aren’t clear to you, or trying to shorten a scene that’s too long, or realizing now that you’ve written scenes at the end of the story, maybe the scenes at the beginning should be a little different to help set up a scene that comes at the end.“—Ernest Lehman, Screenwriter of Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

 

If you haven’t yet, ask yourself the honest question: “Why do I want to be a professional screenwriter?”

January 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

It’s at the heart of any journey… the true reason for embarking on a crusade that remains so elusive for so many, but those who refuse to give up on a dream find a way to achieve some level of success. It’s the pursuit of a screenwriting career. Thousands crack open “Save the Cat” every year and begin to dream saying, “I can do that!” And far too many don’t yet realize how difficult it is to craft a well-written screenplay or the long haul journey fraught with criticism, rejection and failure.

Yes, it’s a romanticized career pursued by millions of writers  who chase a dream of screenwriting’s fame and fortune, but realize after five years of getting kicked around it’s a hard climb to the top of the mountain. The mistake aspirants make is setting off on the journey without the proper training or temperament. You have to be in this for the long haul with the tenacity of a pitbull or get out now.

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Format? I  don’t need to know any stinking format! My idea is genius!

I’m shocked when I read a script and the writer hasn’t yet learned screenwriting format or even cares to proofread the work. This is not a business for amateurs who don’t take the journey seriously. It’s a big sandbox and if you want to play with the big toys you’ll have to do the work necessary to compete and even then you have no guarantees. Too many jump in line who don’t respect the craft or the difficulty of the job. They believe that writing one screenplay is going to launch a career, but don’t realize the early specs are training tools to learn the craft—not potential million dollar sales. Yes, if you’re blessed and can make screenwriting your job, you sell one and now you have to do it again and again—it’s called a professional career that comes with all of the pressures and deadlines any job requires. You move from a protected bubble of writing specs on your own schedule to a job. When it’s how you pay your bills and eat is when it really gets serious.

chaplin

“Heck, screenwriting looks like fun. All the kids are doing it!”

The question of “why” comes when you’re slogging it out in the trenches getting a face full of criticism and rejection. If your answer is because it’s your dream, your passion to become a filmmaker and tell stories on the screen—go forward, take your lumps, come back next time with a better script and never give up. If you do give up, Hollywood doesn’t care, they don’t need anymore screenwriters at the gates. Seriously, the WGA’s Annual Report ending June 2015 shows only 4,899 writers reported any income. The rest did not work in that calendar year. These are “professional writers” in the guild with only about fifty out of thousands making over a million dollars a year. Sure, you know their names and some of us know them personally.

It’s not like Hollywood is throwing money as specs anymore. The Scoggins Spec Market Scorecard back in August 2015 reported that only 46 specs had sold in Hollywood—it’s a 30% decrease from the norm and the second worst year for spec sales in seven years. The spec sales by genre in order?  Comedy, drama, sci-fi fantasy, action/adventure, thriller and then horror. Do these numbers stop you in your tracks?  They shouldn’t—but let it be a wake up call and know the mountain you’re climbing to reach any level of success—if any success is even possible. And considering when 50,000 scripts bounce around Hollywood each year, you really have to ask yourself “why?” Why do you want to pursue screenwriting as a career? Focus on your love of the craft and becoming a better screenwriter. Be humble on your journey and be in the screenwriting game because your passion drives you to write and you simply love the work—end of story.

If you’re struggling with the “why,” dig deep and look in the mirror if you must, but you need to get the answer out of the way early in your journey. If it’s passion for the work, the prolific David Mamet has a great quote,“Having spent too many years in show business, the one thing I see that succeeds is persistence. It’s the person who just ain’t gonna go home. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to go home. This is what I’ll be doing until they put me in jail or in a coffin.

what it takes screenwriting

At the start: What you think it takes… and what it REALLY takes to achieve success.

If you haven’t discovered after a few years of struggling for any level of success in Hollywood—write this down so you can see it daily: “Screenwriting is not a road to fame, fortune and celebrity—it’s just not.” The romantic myth doesn’t include the years of hard work as you master your craft, the many late nights, sacrifices, constant rewrites of projects that don’t sell, the rejection and criticism, magnificent highs, bottom scraping lows, and the constant search for validation and respect. If you’re in this game believing a Hollywood screenwriter’s exciting life is living in a mansion in the hills with a pool and three cars in the garage, and endless parties, premieres and huge paydays—very few screenwriters achieve that level of success.

Trust me, I’ve slogged it out over the past twenty years of my professional career and have managed to rack up credits and survive with screenwriting as my job. At times it can feel like madness staring into the unknown and looking for your next gig. The longer you stay in the game, it’s filled with good times and bad, dry periods where you can’t find work, and other times when you have two films produced within ten months—like what happened to me this past year. The key is to stay in the game for the long haul and that’s the hardest part of the journey.

gillis in poolAs for fame? Ha… it’s was best said by screenwriter Joe Gillis in writer/director Billy Wilder’s classic movie Sunset Boulevard, “Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.” So, forget the “fame aspect” unless you enjoy impressing your parents or grandparents. Screenwriters are a dime a dozen in Hollywood—throw a rock and you’ll hit a dozen. Screenwriters are lucky even to get an invite to the wrap party or the movie’s première. Hollywood is like no other business where the person or people who are invaluable to creating the project are sometimes the most disrespected and mistreated.  Ah, but that’s showbiz, folks.

the march of development hellAnd realize even if you finally do get paid to write or your script sells, your payday might be less than you expected, and you may have to live on it for a year or more before the film is made—if the film is ever made. There are no guarantees—ever. Your daily reward must come from doing what you love to do. The way to survive over the long haul marathon is to forge ahead without expectations. Even if you do “make it,” whatever your definition is, your overnight success will probably be ten years in the making. Trust me, those will be years of sacrifice, ups and downs, criticism, self-doubt and fear while you slog it out in the trenches. Do you have what it takes to weather the storms over the long haul?

Every time up to the plate and with every new screenplay it’s a constant test to see just how badly you want a career as a screenwriter. So, if you want to make “big money” or get attention from a career, pick another profession besides screenwriter. Only pursue a screenwriting career because your passion drives you to live out your dreams, it’s what gets you up in the morning and you don’t want to go through life doing anything else.

Now get back to filling those blank pages—and hopefully you’ve asked yourself the honest question, “why am I pursuing a screenwriting career,” and have a solid answer for the right reasons whatever they may be. If you’ve discovered that screenwriting is your calling, keep writing because if you stop you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

Scriptcat out!

Follow me on Twitter /  Periscope / Vine: @scriptcat

Download my new free mobile app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp. It sends out my weekly script tips from my upcoming book, videos and links.

Also check out my new Youtube Channel with over twenty screenplay videos on surviving in the trenches of Hollywood.

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

Screenplay consultation services

Have you lost focus on your screenwriting goals this year? Let my archived webinar help you get back on track with “A Screenwriter’s Checklist: 10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game.” Now archived on Pivotshare for rental. Click on the icon below for the link to the website.

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Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

Find the quotes below and 100 others on the QUOTE FOR TODAY page on this blog.

“With the door shut, downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job. It’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There is plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind, only looking back to check the names of my characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.”—Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“Only you know the hard work, sacrifices and time it took to reach this level of your career. Surround yourself with like-minded people who truly champion your overall screenwriting goals and not just support you for one project. Remember always—it’s your career.”—Scriptcat

“Master storytellers never explain. They do the hard, painfully creative thing—they dramatize.”—Robert Mckee, “Story”

“So now it was all over, he thought.  So now he would never have a chance to finish it… now he would never write the thing he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well.  Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them, and that is why you put them off and delayed the starting.  Well he would never know, now.” —Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

“But the Artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling.  If you don’t believe me, ask Van Gogh, who produced masterpiece after masterpiece and never found a buyer his whole life. In the hierarchy, the Artist faces outward. Meeting someone new he asks himself, “What can this person do for me?”  “How can this person advance my standing?” In hierarchy, the Artist looks up and looks down.  The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“Believe me that in every big thing or achievement there are obstacles — big or small — and the reaction one shows to such an obstacle is what counts not the obstacle itself.”—Bruce Lee

The ten warning signs you’re still a screenwriting aspirant…

January 1, 2016 § 1 Comment

The_EndOkay, it’s one thing to finish a screenplay and another to understand the complexities of how it fits into forging a career or what I call “the bigger picture.” Sure, a completed screenplay is an accomplishment to be celebrated, but you have to realize it’s only the beginning of a long journey. If you’ve completed a few screenplays, congratulations. Now get back to work because it’s always going to be about the work. Writing the perfect screenplay is elusive at best, but we can still try, right? Every time out is a chance to get better and learn while you build your screenwriting arsenal.

If also you lack humility on this adventure and think it’s an easy road, the film business will humble you and fast. There are approximately 50,000 scripts bouncing around Hollywood every year with only about 100 specs being purchased at the studio level. Each year, half of the Writers Guild doesn’t report any income and those are writers with professional credits.

Consider your first screenplay as a training tool and one of many that you’ll have to write badly to get to a place where you’re writing at a professional level to compete. Specs usually end up being your calling card instead of a million dollar sale. Also realize now that everything you write is not going to sell. It might take ten scripts and four drafts of each to have one open the door for a job.

hollywood boulevardThe pursuit of a Hollywood screenwriting career, especially in today’s film business, is not for the thin of skin or for anyone looking to achieve easy fame and fortune. I wish you the best of luck if that’s your intention. There are better careers that pay more on a regular basis instead of going from script to script with many never getting produced or you paid. Honestly, no one cares who wrote the screenplay when they see a film at the multiplex. They’re going to see the stars or the story and hopefully your name is still on the end product and you haven’t been fired or have to share credit.

If you’re calling yourself a screenwriter but without credits, do you have four or five solid screenplays written, other pitches, one sheets, or treatments and have you done the training necessary to compete? Professionalism is an attitude, work ethic and discipline that shows you are serious about your screenwriting even if you haven’t sold anything yet.

Time to check the list…

THE TEN WARNING SIGNS YOU’RE STILL AN ASPIRANT:

1 . You don’t spend the time necessary to become a better screenwriter because you still believe it’s easy to establish a career.

2.  You’re writing beyond your ability at this point in your screenwriting journey because you want to sell a Hollywood tent-pole before you’re ready.

3. Your writing is only a rehash of what you’ve seen before in movies and on television and not something unique to your voice.

4. You lack the patience to master your craft and want success to come fast without sacrifice.

5. You’re not open to notes, you’re defensive about criticism on your screenplay and bristle at the suggestion of cutting anything. You have not learned how to be a collaborator and team player with professionals.

6. You haven’t accepted it’s a long haul journey to reach any level of success in the film business and believe it’s going to be different for you because you are the “chosen one”– it’s just that Hollywood hasn’t chosen you yet.

7. You don’t learn from your mistakes and you’re doomed to repeat them.

8. You constantly bemoan, “The producers, executives and agents don’t know what they’re talking about. I see the movies out there and I can do better.” If so, why haven’t you sold anything?

9. You feel entitled to success just because you’ve completed a script and expect Hollywood to grant you a big sale and a career.

10. You do more talking about your “writing” than actually writing.

If you’re guilty of any of the signs on this list, consider making immediate changes to your attitude and game plan. Hollywood is filled with screenwriters and the odds of establishing a career and being paid regularly are horrible, but it does happen. Respect the craft and the journey because that’s what professionals do and you don’t want to be stuck aspiring for success.

Scriptcat out!

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

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

Screenplay consultation services

Are you having trouble reaching your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinar can help? “A Screenwriter’s Checklist: 10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game.” Now available as a streaming rental. Click on the icon below for the link to rent it.

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Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

 Download my free mobile app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp. It sends out bi-weekly script tips from my upcoming book soon to be published on Amazon.

Follow and subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for my screenwriting videos.

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“Don’t focus on where you’re not (famous or A-list writer)—focus on where you’re at—hopefully screenwriting. Regardless of success or experience, we’re all equals in front of that blank page channeling the muse.”—Scriptcat

“‘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

“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”

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

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On your first screenplays don’t tackle stories beyond your ability…

December 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

smash head in wallMy real world advice to beginning screenwriters is don’t write stories that are beyond your capacity at this point on your journey. You must be aware of your screenwriting ability and accept what you can and cannot write at this time. I find that too many beginning writers try and go after the massive budget Hollywood tent-pole story ideas for their first screenplays with the hopes to compete against A-list Hollywood writers. It’s a huge waste of time and energy as the studios already have proven A-listers who have box office mega hits and the credits to write the movies that we generally see in the multiplexes. All of the super hero movies are assignment jobs from ideas and franchises the studio already owns. And when 50,000 scripts bounce around Hollywood every year with only under 100 spec sales at the studio level, the odds are horrible for a sale.

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.

script page and keyboardWhen starting on your first screenplays, I suggest writing more personal stories. I hate to use this cliché, but focus on character driven stories where you can really showcase your talent for creating relationships between people. Every story that you write should be driven by characters, but some stories end up being more focused on plot. Yes, structure and story are equally important, but if you can’t create memorable and unique characters that can interact you will be lost. Showcase your talents with your passion for a story and let it show though on the page. If you’re chasing the big budget tent-pole ideas you’ll probably be fabricating characters, tropes and stories that feel inauthentic because they’re only a rehash of other movies that you’ve seen.

If you write a story about an FBI agent who deals with a serial killer, did you do research on serial killers or FBI agents, bureau procedures, and how agents think and talk? Did your research include reading books or interviewing an FBI agent? My point about authenticity is that without extensive research or living in the characters minds, the scripts and stories will feel inauthentic because the experiences are drawn from other movies or TV shows the writer has seen before. This perpetuates clichés and keeps them alive.

I’m talking about spec screenplays and not assignment jobs—they’re a completely different experience. When you work on assignment, you must please producers or executives who must please their bosses at the studio or network, or please the buyer, or the investor, and even the director must please the producer to create a commercial product on schedule and on budget. Filmmaking is a business first and millions of dollars is on the line with every project.

When writing specs, try to pick stories that can showcase the best of your writing abilities with story structure and equally as important, character development, motivation and emotion. Too many times I read specs that feel inauthentic like they are just rehashing “Hollywood” scenes that the writer only knows from movies and not from real life. Inject your personal life and experiences into your stories to make them unique. If you want to say something or cause people to think, write a personal story and strive to make the emotions leap off the page. This is what will attract talent and move the script forward more than you just trying to roll the dice and hope Hollywood wants another movie about a super hero or alien. Again, I’m talking about specs from unknown screenwriters with no credits—and that’s most of the writers trying to break into Hollywood.

You usually get one chance to dazzle them with your script, so you must be writing at a professional level with a solid screenplay to compete. Anything less is a waste of everyone’s time. You also must have the patience to weather the long haul journey while you’re learning your craft and getting muddy as you slog it out in Hollywood’s trenches. They will be filled with rejection, criticism and failure, but it’s all part of the process. Patience helps, but if you can’t accept this reality, your frustration and anger will spoil any splendid dreams of a career.

What separates those aspirants who see screenwriting as an easy way to fame and fortune from those writers who have a professional mindset? It’s a respect for the difficulty of writing, the discipline to create the necessary work, and going after dreams even in the face of the incredible odds to reach any level of success. Keep true to yourself and always write with a passion for your work, but when first staring out keep it simple and don’t tackle stories beyond your ability.

Scriptcat out!

Follow me on Twitter & Periscope: @scriptcat

Download my free mobile app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp. I sent out bi-weekly script tips, my videos and links to my sites.

Also subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for my weekly screenwriting videos.

Is it time for in-depth professional screenplay consultation for your feature or TV script? Check out my services. Click on the icon below for the link to my website.

Screenplay consultation services

Need help keeping focus on your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinar can help. Click on the photo below for the link for the streaming rental.

checklist 2

Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

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

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

“All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.”—Ernest Hemingway

“No person who is enthusiastic about his work has anything to fear from life.”—Samuel Goldwyn

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

“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

“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

rejection

Three more tips, tricks and tactics for your screenwriting journey…

December 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

BoulderFlatIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, first of all—THANK YOU! I truly hope you’re busy creating and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. As you may know, I’ve been adding short posts (nothing is EVER short on this blog!) and sharing various survival tips. I do speak about these in over 180 articles on this blog, but this feature will be a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate your screenwriting journey. So, in addition to my bi-weekly tips on my free mobile app SCREENWRITING GURU and Twitter (@scriptcat) I’ll be posting new ones here from time to time. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting! Okay, here are three more survival tips that will help you on your screenwriting adventure…

TIP #1

Find filmmaking mentors and apprentice with them. lucas & coppola on setAnother good way to do your homework with regards to learning is to find a filmmaking mentors and apprentice under them or at least have access to them as they are working. Many busy screenwriters need an assistant and they’re willing to pay an hourly wage for the job. It’s a great way for aspiring screenwriters to learn while getting paid. If you can’t find a paid position, offer your time to a working screenwriter in exchange for access to their knowledge and the whole process they go through daily. A true professional is always willing to give back and share knowledge. When you’re able to observe working professionals, be like a sponge and soak up everything you can and ask questions. I’ve been blessed over the years to work with many top professionals and veterans of the film business and a few have become my mentors. This includes directors and a few have become my mentors and friends. I’m currently working with two directors on various projects that we are developing together and will take out into the marketplace as partners. As I worked with them and collaborated on the films that I wrote, I was able to have inside and unlimited access to help build my screenwriter’s toolkit. Seeking knowledge is an ongoing discipline for every artist. Keep filling your blank pages. If you stop you’ll never have any chance at success.

TIP #2

Work your way to becoming a multi-hyphenate screenwriter. multi-hyphenateEventually to gain more creative control over your projects, you’ll need to become a multi-hyphenate filmmaker and not just a screenwriter who is a “hired gun.” This means along with your talent for creating the script you will move into producing and or directing as a way to keep your total creative vision on the project. This won’t likely happen on your first few screenplays, but eventually you can negotiate your way into being one of the key decision makers or ultimately the director whose vision takes the script to the screen. Your goal is working your way into being a double threat: A writer/producer or writer/director—or a triple threat: a writer/producer/director.

TIP #3:

When you just finish your first draft—do not immediately give it to someone for a read. Let the creative dust settle and go over it by yourself first. karloff script Avoid the temptation to give anyone your screenplay moments after you finish it. Put it away and let it settle for a few days or even a week before giving it your first read.  You’ll be coming down from your natural creative high and you don’t want anyone to harsh your buzz. It’s the necessary time a screenwriter needs to spend alone with his/her script. You’re also in a raw and vulnerable place after giving birth to new material, so you don’t want feedback now to taint your clear vision or perspective. This will only lead to chasing notes because everyone has an opinion about your work. Keep your script close. Don’t boast or talk about it. You did the work now do something to celebrate. You need to enjoy the little and big successes on your long journey as a screenwriter. Keep the faith and keep filling your blank pages. Nothing is guaranteed, but if you quit you’re guaranteed never have any chance at success. Scriptcat out!

Download my new free app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp with my weekly script tips, videos and links about screenwriting.

Subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting videos.

Follow me on Twitter @scriptcat and Periscope.

Look for my new book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success coming this spring on Amazon.

Did you just finish you latest screenplay? Congrats! Do you need in-depth analysis, editing, proofing? Check out my consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.  You’ll 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 keeping focus on your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinar can help. Click on the photo below for the link for the streaming rental.

checklist 2

Click the photo above for the link to the webinar.

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

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

“All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.”—Ernest Hemingway

“No person who is enthusiastic about his work has anything to fear from life.”—Samuel Goldwyn

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

“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

Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working.”—Michael Crichton

Happy 5 Year Anniversary to MY BLANK PAGE!

December 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

IMG_2714Wow!  Time sure flies as we’re busy filling our blank pages, right? Yes, it’s my FIFTH ANNIVERSARY here of my little screenwriting blog MY BLANK PAGE! And it’s been another solid year of readership and with over 43,000 views of the blog so far this year, I say thank you to all of my loyal readers for a fantastic fifth year on the net.  I hope my articles helped in some way to you surviving in the trenches of Hollywood as a working screenwriter. As you know, screenwriting is a long haul journey to reach any level of success, but when you know other writers are out here slugging away, fighting the good fight, and being successful, it can help to give hope and strength to fill yet another blank page and follow your dreams.

In addition to my nearly 180 articles on the blog, I’ve also had guest bloggers too—screenwriter/producer and now director Christine Conradt‘s great article “Why I Decided to Direct After Writing Movies for Fifteen Years and a talented UK screenwriter Niraj Kapur’s piece on “The Delicate Balance of Writing and Selling Your Screenplay.”

I hope this has been a productive year for you as it’s been for me. I completed two more screenwriting assignment jobs (my 13th and 14th paid gigs), one my produced movies made last year finally premiered in September of this year and has re-aired in November, I was hired to write a show bible and TV sitcom pilot for a producer, and my latest thriller completed post-production and will premiere in January 2016. Also Lifetime Network re-aired a double feature of my holiday chestnuts “Deck the Halls” and “An Accidental Christmas.” It’s always good to have movies airing on TV.

My two assignments this year were my 27th and 28th feature length screenplays that I’ve written since I started on this wacky adventure. It’s always a new experience every time up to the plate and I never take it for granted. I feel blessed daily that I’m living my childhood dreams of being a filmmaker and can wake up every day and write for a living.

I’m also wrapping up the final touches on my new book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success set for an early 2016 release on Amazon. Keep checking back on the blog or my Twitter account for a solid release date. The book has been a long haul journey and shares my twenty years of experiences in Hollywood’s trenches with advice about forging a career.

I also have a free mobile app that I created called SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp. Once you download it,  you’ll receive inspirational screenwriting tips (taken from my upcoming book) twice a week from the app and it has links to my videos, website and other places to find script advice. On the video front, I’ve also created a screenwriting YOUTUBE CHANNEL where I post weekly script videos with my tips, tricks and tactics to help you survive in Hollywood’s trenches. I have over twenty videos uploaded to help with your screenwriting survival in the trenches.

And as you complete your latest magnum opus, if you find yourself in need of professional screenplay consultation, check out my screenplay consultation services. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay.

I  have renewed energy for 2016 and I hope you do as well. If haven’t done this already, make the time to craft a checklist and game plan for the new year so you can hit the ground running. Analyze your experiences this past year, examine your mistakes and failures, celebrate your successes, adapt and find new strategies to move you and your projects forward down the paying field.

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

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

All my best screenwriting wishes for 2016.

Scriptcat out!

never give up

procrastination

Also check out my archived webinar “A Screenwriter’s Checklist: 10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game” now available for streaming rental. This affordable webinar has two parts and makes a great gift for the aspirant in your life. Click on the photo below for the link to the website to rent the webinar.

checklist 2

Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

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

“You must be confident enough to believe that you can “make it”—but humble enough to know it’s a long journey with much to learn.”—Scriptcat

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

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

“People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich.”—William Faulkner

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