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!

Screenplay consultation services

Download my free mobile app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp. It sends out bi-weekly script tips from my upcoming book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” soon on Amazon.

Check out my on-demand webinar A SCREENWRITER’S CHECKLIST now available for rent.

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.

Screenplay consultation services

@Scriptcat out!

Download my free app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp. Weekly script tips, video, and links to my social media pages with advice and important information about the screenwriting journey.

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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

Scriptcat’s spring screenwriting tips, tricks & tactics for your Hollywood adventure…

March 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

IMG_2616Ah, it’s finally spring. Time for renewal and seeing your ideas grow into completed screenplays. I hope you’ve created new opportunities that have pushed your screenplays closer to success. Trust me, I know if can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall hoping for a breakthrough, but finding the same results of rejection and criticism. I truly hope you’re busy creating a solid body of work and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. I hope that I’ve been able to offer a few nuggets of advice that you’ve found helpful. In addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), my Youtube Channel and my free mobile app Screenwriting Guru, I’ll be posting new tips here every month in addition to new articles. Dig in as I’ve written over 180 articles on this blog. I’m also broadcasting live on the new app PERISCOPE. Check it out. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting. Okay, let’s cut to the chase and get right to the action—here are a few more useful survival tips for your journey…

TIP #1

KEEP THE INTIMATE DETAILS ABOUT YOUR WORK TO YOURSELF.

never believe them untl the check clearsI 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. 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.

TIP #2

PROTECT YOUR PRECIOUS WRITING TIME.

boxerTime is a screenwriter’s greatest asset or worst enemy—it depends on how to you use it. Carve out a writing schedule and stick to it. You need to protect your precious writing time and treat it like a job because it will be exactly the same when you finally do get paid—but you’ll have the added pressure of being under contract, being paid and having the producer expecting “great things!” When you sit down to write, you’ve probably experienced the battle to defend your time against the forces of procrastination and interruption. Hemingway said, “Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.” Working every day, even if it’s for a short period of time, creates discipline. The longer you write the more you’ll get to know yourself better as a writer.  You’ll 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 and distraction. You’ll keep on schedule, writing will become a habit, and you will be acting like the professional you’ve become.

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!

Download my new free mobile app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp! Receive my weekly screenwriting tips, videos and links. It’s free with no ads!

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—$14.99 each.

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

checklist 2

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

Micromanaging your screenplay leads to overwriting…

March 3, 2016 § Leave a comment

salvador-dali-by-willy-rizzo-1Keep an eye out for bad habits. Here are a few tips to avoid hanging on so tightly to every description or line of dialogue. It will kill your writing in the long run and harm your image of a talented screenwriter. So…

STOP MICROMANAGING YOUR SCREENWRITING!

What should be a 105 page screenplay will end up at 125 pages and you wonder why?

You might be asking, “What do you mean by micromanaging?”Here is my Top 10 Checklist to see if you’re guilty of this:

  1. You describe every action detail between the lines of dialogue. The fewer words on the page the better. Leave the specific character’s business up to the actor unless it’s absolutely necessary to move the story forward.
  2. You’re TELLING and not SHOWING in your writing: “It was a hot summer day like the ones you remember as a child.” How do you SHOW this?
  3. You’re directing the character’s actions with too many details: Frank rolls his eyes, shrugs, smiles, blushes, folds arms, grits teeth, scowls and drops his head. It’s Bad Acting 101 and actors will hate this from the writer.
  4. You describe every “turn” the character makes. It’s assumed characters are talking to each other unless to write otherwise. You don’t need to constantly write “Frank turns to Kate.”
  5. You’re using idioms: “Lisa was over the moon by the performance.” No. She wasn’t literally “over the moon” so don’t write it. Screenwriting is only what we can see and hear on the screen.
  6. Don’t repeat phrases or words in dialogue between characters. You’re not David Mamet, so don’t waste space by writing, “Are we going? Yeah we’re going. Okay, when are we going? We’re going now.”
  7. Don’t write what a character is thinking: “Henry was sad as the remembered the good times with his wife.” You have to show this visually and not TELL us.
  8. You write WE SEE and WE HEAR in your descriptions. Leave this out of your screenplay. It takes us out of the read and you are directing as this point. What you write on the page is what “we see or hear.”
  9. You describe the set with too many unnecessary details: The living room had green shag carpet, paisley wallpaper and a giant crystal chandelier. Unless it’s necessary let the set designer and art director do their jobs.
  10.  You’re writing eight pages of dialogue. Sure, Quentin Tarrantino can get away with opening a film with ten pages of dialogue–you and I cannot. Most of the time the dialogue can be cut and then cut again by fifty percent.

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.

“Consider this: in Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence in flowing white robes, sits on a truck in the middle of the desert giving a press conference. He’s ten feet tall on the screen and overwhelmingly immaculate. He faces a grimy-looking reporter who scratches his beard and asks snidely, “Just what is it, Colonel Lawrence, that attracts you to the desert?” Lawrence glances distastefully at the dirty reporter and offers a three word reply: “Because it’s clean.” It is not the text but the context that gives this reply its full force. Those three words in a novel or even the stage would be mildly amusing at best, but on the screen the effect is as overwhelming as the figure of Lawrence and the desert looming behind him. Those three words are the scene. There is no speech, long or short, about Lawrence’s need to seek remote places of the earth in order to avoid the corruption inevitably found in its more populated areas. Only a clean man, a dirty reporter, a big desert and three little words — “Because it’s clean.” It’s a movie. What else do you need?” —by Robert Towne (Chinatown) from “Why I writer Movies,” Esquire magazine, July 1991.

@Scriptcat out!

Download my new free mobile app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp! Receive my weekly screenwriting tips, videos and links. It’s free with no ads!

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”

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

checklist 2

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

“To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.” – Alfred Hitchcock

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

“If a writer stops observing, he is finished.”—Ernest Hemingway

“So the only environment the artist needs is whatever peace, whatever solitude, and whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost. All the wrong environment will do is run his blood pressure up; he will spend more time being frustrated or outraged. My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”—William Faulkner

“There is no point in having sharp images when you’ve fuzzy ideas.” – Jean-Luc Godard

Scriptcat’s survival tips for Hollywood’s trenches…

February 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

sullivans-travels-052We’re off on a new journey and I hope you’ve created opportunities that have pushed your screenplays closer to success. Trust me, I know if can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall hoping for a breakthrough, but finding the same results of rejection and criticism. I truly hope you’re busy creating a solid body of work and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. I hope that I’ve been able to offer a few nuggets of advice that you’ve found helpful. In addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), my Youtube Channel and my free mobile app Screenwriting Guru, I’ll be posting new tips here every month in addition to new articles. Dig in as I’ve written over 180 articles on this blog. I’m also broadcasting live on the new app PERISCOPE. Check it out. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting. Okay, let’s cut to the chase and get right to the action—here are a few more useful survival tips for your journey…

TIP #1

MARK4Act like a professional even if you’re an aspirant writing your specs. As a screenwriter, you must consider writing a job and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional. As with any job, it comes with deadlines, requirements and expectations, so it’s good practice to follow professional disciplines as you prepare for the time when you do get paid to write. If you train yourself to work under a deadline, it’s not a shock when the producer requires you to complete a script by a certain date. It’s no longer the romanticized dream of spending endless time working on your spec to get it just right—it’s “go time” and you’re now playing in the big leagues—exactly where you belong. The producer or executive expects greatness from you and you generally have six to eight weeks to deliver the first draft and its excellence will decide if they keep you on to write a second draft, or fire you. This is not the time for a “vomit draft.” If you start meeting your own deadlines when writing your specs, it will be easier later when they pay you under contract to meet a deadline.

TIP #2

praise or blameDon’t take criticism personally and realize that it’s part of the process. If you’re going to play in the majors, you’re competing with the best and you must accept that sometimes you won’t find the validation you need. Many times feedback on your script is disappointing and your high expectations become squashed. Your ego’s bruised, beaten to a pulp and you to doubt your talent and chances for success. Don’t take it personally, because feedback is a rite of passage necessary for the growth of any aspiring screenwriter. If you want to survive over the long haul of a career, you’ll need to toughen up and build your courage to endure disappointment criticism and rejection. Learn how to filter the good notes from the bad and ugly notes. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps make your script better, helps push it closer to something a producer wants to produce, and teaches you how to collaborate as a team player so you can work again.

TIP #3

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.

TIP #4

piggybackrideSTOP MICROMANAGING YOUR SCREENWRITING!

This leads to overwriting your script. What should be a 105 page screenplay is now 125 pages and you wonder why.

You might be asking, “What do you mean by micromanaging?”Here is a Top 10 Checklist to see if you’re guilty of this:

 

  1. You describe every action detail between the lines of dialogue. The fewer words on the page the better. Leave the specific character’s business up to the actor unless it’s absolutely necessary to move the story forward.
  2. You’re TELLING and not SHOWING in your writing: “It was a hot summer day like the ones you remember as a child.” How do you SHOW this?
  3. You’re directing the character’s actions with too many details: Frank rolls his eyes, shrugs, smiles, blushes, folds arms, grits teeth, scowls and drops his head. It’s Bad Acting 101 and actors will hate this from the writer.
  4. You describe every “turn” the character makes. It’s assumed characters are talking to each other unless to write otherwise. You don’t need to constantly write “Frank turns to Kate.”
  5. You’re using idioms: “Lisa was over the moon by the performance.” No. She wasn’t literally “over the moon” so don’t write it. Screenwriting is only what we can see and hear on the screen.
  6. Don’t repeat phrases or words in dialogue between characters. You’re not David Mamet, so don’t waste space by writing, “Are we going? Yeah we’re going. Okay, when are we going? We’re going now.”
  7. Don’t write what a character is thinking: “Henry was sad as the remembered the good times with his wife.” You have to show this visually and not TELL us.
  8. You write WE SEE and WE HEAR in your descriptions. Leave this out of your screenplay. It takes us out of the read and you are directing as this point. What you write on the page is what “we see or hear.”
  9. You describe the set with too many unnecessary details: The living room had green shag carpet, paisley wallpaper and a giant crystal chandelier. Unless it’s necessary let the set designer and art director do their jobs.
  10.  You’re writing eight pages of dialogue. Sure, Quentin Tarrantino can get away with opening a film with ten pages of dialogue–you and I cannot. Most of the time the dialogue can be cut and then cut again by fifty percent.

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!

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

“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

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!

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“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!

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“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?

 

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