Tips to avoid the disappointments on your screenwriting journey…

May 17, 2017 § Leave a comment

megaphoneWe all have expectations after we complete a script. You know the creative high that you felt during writing and you want to let the world know that you finished.  You’re also probably coming down from that high as you turn in your draft for criticism and await feedback. Did you receive opinions that were not exactly what you expected? Many times we are pleasantly surprised, but too many other times we are let down by our expectations.

Were you disappointed they didn’t appreciate the work enough — or maybe didn’t understand it enough? It’s hard because we assume that everyone else is as excited about our screenplay as we are when we finish. If this was an assignment gig, maybe the producer felt your execution of the treatment was off?  (I’ve had this happen before). Perhaps you become down on yourself as the insecure voices scream in your head, “I’m a fraud and they’ve found out!”  You may even question what you thought was some of your best work only a week ago, but now because of the reaction feel it’s crap.  You are not alone my fellow writers.

handshake cartoonWe all need a pat on the back or just a “job well done” once in a while… even if it comes from within and not from external opinions. Writing the script is one thing, turning over to others for feedback, or to a producer and waiting for a reply is another experience. It’s easy to take notes personally because your script is your baby and your writing exposes yourself and your talents to criticism.  f you can’t handle criticism, start to work on acceptance, as it will make your journey as a working writer a lot less bumpy. You will always deal with notes and changes your entire career. It doesn’t change when you become a professional writer. In fact, more it at stake because your reputation is on the line with every project.  Perhaps it will make the process easier to always remember that writing is rewriting.  Detach from the material and expectation from any outcome.  “Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu. Do not hang on every word or sentence. This trick will help you on the long haul journey of a screenwriter.

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

pitchAlong with the successes, I’ve also had to deal with disappointments and frustration throughout my writing career, but I continue to love the craft of writing.  I’ve been paid to write movies that were never made and got lost in “development hell.” Imagine being told by the head of the production that your film will go into production in two months, only to find out it doesn’t happen. There are a myriad of reasons why a film doesn’t move forward—even if you wrote a terrific screenplay. These disappointment were the hardest for me to get used to when starting out as a professional screenwriter. I always thought just because they buy your script or hire you to write one it was a guarantee of a produced film. After nine produced films and seventeen assignments, I know the hard reality.

script revision photo copyI’ve been able to handle these disappointments by viewing the entire process from a larger perspective and focusing on the task at hand — to get the script into better shape and move it through the development process.  If you are lucky enough to be paid to write, it becomes your job.  You go to work, write all day, come back tomorrow and lather, rinse, and repeat. Writers have pages to write and without filling those blank pages there would be no script. Take your feedback seriously, but don’t take it to heart.  Trust in your writing abilities and if you allow the disappointments to take you into a bad place, address your feelings but then focus on the task of executing your notes. Stay out-of-the-way of the story and put your ego aside. Writers must serve the story to the best of their creative ability. If you want to play with the big boys, at some point you’re going to be bruised and beat up.  It’s just the rites of passage necessary for the growth of a writer.

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

Be open to the entire process of writing — the notes, criticism, rejections, rewrites and all. Always be writing to gain that precious experience. Detachment from the work is hard, but it helps so you’re not crushed every time you receive disappointing feedback. No disappointments only triumphs when you complete a project. There will always be creative highs and lows. Do your best not to allow your disappointment to be perceived as a failure and then sink into the morass of fear and insecurity in your creative soul. This will lead to the horrible act of chasing screenplay notes.  Avoid this at all costs.

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

@Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

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

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Editorial reviews…

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

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

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

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

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

REWRITES

Learn how to execute screenplay notes effectively and stay on the project…

April 17, 2017 § Leave a comment

rewritesIt’s vital that when you’re writing your specs to also be training yourself to effectively execute screenplay notes because producers will keep you on the project if you’re able to continue help them push it through development. I’ve recently experienced this again when I completed two assignment jobs in a row for a producer. They were page one rewrites of scripts because the previous writers could not generate a production ready screenplay and the projects were stalled. I was able to execute the notes effectively and greatly reduced the development time allowing the scripts to receive a green light. One of the projects completed production and the second script was just accepted last week and sent to the network. It’s a huge jump forward toward production.

When a company has a slate of films they are scheduled to produce, they do not want anything to stand in way of the forward movement toward production. If you can be the screenwriter who executes notes and delivers production ready drafts, they will hire you again. This is your opportunity to shine and establish your professional reputation. You should realize that most of screenwriting is not the romanticized image you might have of parties, huge paydays, and premieres. It’s a job and tremendous work. Put your ego aside and get the work done. The goal when you are working is to finish the screenplay as contracted, receive your payment, and your credit. Most of my jobs on assignment have come from producers who I have worked for before. These relationships will help you establish your screenwriting career.

Writing your own spec script is one thing, being hired for a script assignment and rewriting an existing screenplay, or working from a treatment you didn’t create, and then executing script notes, is an entirely different talent. It’s an ability that you must have if you want to stay on a project and eventually see your name in the credits.

So, when you are writing your  spec, use this precious time as training for your long haul journey. Now is the time to make mistakes and write badly so that you can learn and avoid this when you finally get a professional writing assignment. If you haven’t experienced it yet on your first few screenplays, writing is all about the execution of a great story and rewriting to get it right. Even after thirty–three feature screenplay, I’m still rewriting drafts, but usually the first few drafts are solid enough and only need light polishing. This is where you want to be with your screenwriting ability if you desire to work professionally in Hollywood.

Keep writing on a regular schedule and keep the faith. It’s all talent, timing, and luck — a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity and delivers the goods.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog My Blank Page.

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“A good style must, first of all, be clear. It must not be mean or above the dignity of the subject. It must be appropriate.”—Aristotle

“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

“… In fact, when the camera is in motion, in the best-directed scenes, the audiences should not be aware of what the camera is doing. They should be following the action and the road of the idea so closely, that they shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on technically.”—John Huston

“Writing is very hard work, and having done both writing and directing, I can tell you that directing is a pleasure and writing is a drag… but writing is just an empty page—you start with absolutely nothing. I think writers are vastly underrated and underpaid. It’s totally impossible, thought, for a mediocre director to completely screw up a great script.”— director Billy Wilder, interview in Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.

 

Scriptcat’s spring screenwriting tips for your adventure in the trenches…

April 2, 2017 § Leave a comment

IMG_2616Ah, spring is in the air. The time for a fresh start when your ideas begin to bloom. 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) and my Youtube Channel .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

ALWAYS ACT LIKE A PROFESSIONAL IN EVERY ACTION YOU TAKE IN HOLLYWOOD.

MARK4Act like a professional even if you’re an aspirant writing who has yet to sell something. 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

DO NOT TYPE “FADE IN” IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE CRITICISM.

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

LEARN THAT TALK AND INTEREST ARE FREE AND 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!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism and ability to endure criticism, rejection, and failure over the long haul. My new book, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry. It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Available now on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link to purchase.

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“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

What should you do with your old spec screenplays that don’t sell?

March 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

old specs collecting dust

Spec screenplays. We need to write them, but the reality is that most specs you write will never sell. I’m not being negative but giving you a dose of reality so you won’t flounder and become frustrated that some big Hollywood script sale has passed you by. The odds are astronomical to sell any feature spec—especially from an unknown screenwriter with no credits.

The Scoggins Spec Market Scorecard for 2016 estimated around 70 specs selling, and last year was an eight year low for sales. It’s also estimated that 50,000 projects are registered with the Writers Guild every year and bounce around Hollywood trying to get noticed. It’s like stepping up to the plate and hoping for a grand slam home run every time out. Difficult at best and impossible most of the time. And the odds become worse to secure any writing work if a screenwriter cuts out the entire business of television or the web. I don’t mean to discourage you with these odds, but it’s to put a perspective on what you’re actually up against as you pursue a career.

I’ve only sold one spec in my career, but the sale opened the door to sixteen paid screenwriting assignments to date. Yes, I’ve written many other specs, but now I will only write a spec if it’s a true passion project because I’m generally too busy working. I’ve also collaborated on specs with directors for no pay, but as it’s our project, I’m contracted to also be a producer if it goes. I took the risk because I considered the cost/benefit was a good gamble. So, what becomes of your spec screenplays that don’t sell or get optioned for development?

1.  They collect dust and become a memory.

2.  They end up as kindling in a producer’s fireplace in Aspen.

3.  They become excellent writing samples.

I hope you answered number 3 above.  I believe a solid spec that never sells is never dead—so, what does happen to your old spec screenplays? My ex writing partner and I would always joke when a producer agreed to read our spec, we’d envision him going to Aspen for the weekend with his pile of reads. He’d snuggle down on a bearskin rug in front of the fireplace with his Playboy model girlfriend and they’d drink wine and get cozy.  Strangely enough there would be no firewood next to the fireplace, only his large pile of twenty scripts.  He would tell his girlfriend, “honey it’s getting cold in here… put another script on the fire.”  And she would take a script from the pile and toss it into the fireplace.  Oh, the horror.  My ex writing partner and I would have a good laugh, but sadly this might have been the fate of our specs.

If you’ve exhausted the viable options for your spec, and the process hasn’t moved you or the project down the road to production… set your old spec screenplay aside for a while and later take a fresh look. I’m sure some of your old scripts that are solid projects are in need of a good polish. This is exactly what I did last year with three of my old chestnuts.

scripts 2I always loved these scripts, but I couldn’t find anyone else to loooooove them enough to buy them. That’s okay. I knew the writing was solid, so I took the time and gave them a fresh nip and tuck — and it’s paid off in spades as solid writing samples.  Last year when I pitched a family film idea to a producer who loved the concept, she needed a comedy writing sample to read before she would take me into the network and pitch.  As I had worked on a polish of my comedy last year, my old spec was ready to go and in the best shape ever.  She wanted to read it right away and because it was ready, I didn’t need to take a few weeks to polish it.

This also happened when I met with another producer who needed a writer to write her idea into a TV pilot with a show bible. I gave her two of my original spec TV comedy pilots as examples of my work, and she responded to the writing and thought it had the same comedic sensibilities that she was looking for in her project. My old specs got me hired for the job.

script oddsYou’ll always need solid writing samples in your bag of tricks and these may end up being your specs that didn’t sell. I know it seems like the end of the world if a spec doesn’t sell, but you can get meetings from your script and it can become an important writing sample.  Producers, agents and managers will always need to read your material to see if you can actually write a screenplay.  If your spec doesn’t sell but lands you an agent, manager or an assignment job, it was worth the effort. In fact, writing a script and finishing it can never be diminished, because you always gain precious writing experience every time you make it through and type “THE END”.

I suggest always have your old specs ready to read as writing samples. If you’re on this screenwriting journey for the long haul, you will write many scripts that don’t sell and others that do.  It’s the nature of the game. Selling a spec script is like winning the lottery. I know it’s possible because I’ve sold a spec, but the odds are not good and the Hollywood spec landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. This is why you must use your spec scripts as way to push your career farther down the road so you can advance and hold new ground.

You never know where your project may end up years later. This is why I believe old specs that don’t sell, never die if they are viable concepts that are well written. Ultimately, they become what you make of them. If you work your old material into the best shape possible, you’ll be ready when new opportunities arise. Who knows, years later your old spec script may find new life with a producer who responds to the material and wants to produce it into a movie or hire you to write on assignment.

Keep writing. Every day. Fill your blank pages by any means necessary, keep learning, don’t be afraid to fail, remain humble, and let your passion drive you through the ups and downs.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Check out my new book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success is now available on Amazon.

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“Time stays long enough for those who use it.”—Leonardo da Vinci

“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

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

“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”

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”—Ray Bradbury

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Another writing dream realized… my new screenwriting book.

March 12, 2017 § Leave a comment

sullivans-travels-052The journey of every artist is unique, and your survival depends on being confident enough to believe that you can make it, but remaining humble and respecting that it’s a marathon climb to any level of success. It starts with your passion to take an idea and follow it through to completion. I was reminded of this again when I embarked on my journey to write my first book—something that could help aspiring screenwriters avoid the many pitfalls that a screenwriting career will bring. It was truly another dream realized. The book grew out of my twenty years of professional screenwriting in Hollywood’s trenches, where I’ve been blessed to work and collaborate with many top professionals including Academy Award® winning producers, veteran directors, and Academy Award®, Emmy®, and Golden Globe® acting nominees.

Many of these filmmaking veterans have become my close friends and mentors, and the priceless knowledge I’ve learned from them has certainly helped make me the filmmaker that I am today. My interest in writing a book grew from my desire to pay it forward, as they have done with me, by sharing my own journey with my successes and failures that started when I was just eleven years old and made films with my friends.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2My hope with this book is that by sharing my experiences and disciplines, other screenwriters can avoid the many pitfalls and survive in the trenches as they pursue their own screenwriting journey to success. I want to inspire and drive them to realizing their own dreams like I’ve been able to achieve. Over time and with experience, screenwriters find their unique style by using their own techniques and disciplines to help establish their careers.

Once your creative spark is ignited, only you can extinguish it, so use your passion to keep your dream alive and protect it from those naysayers who whisper their own fears into your ears. Write every day, remain humble, respect and master your craft, and become a prolific screenwriter. As you work toward achieving success, your courage, tenacity, and talent will generate magical moments you could never have imagined possible.

Check out my new book, A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success: Tips, Tricks and Tactics to Survive as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood, now available on Amazon.

Scriptcat out!

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“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”—Ray Bradbury

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

“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

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

 

Be careful who you bring on to help with your screenwriting career…

March 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

handshake cartoonOver the years, I’ve had both agents and managers and had good and bad experiences with both. I grimace at the wasted time in the past where I stayed with a rep who was basically wasting my time and not moving my career forward. When you’re fist starting out, you will be eager to have anyone show you interest and you will learn that talk is free and cheap in Hollywood. You will experience amazing reps who can’t “move you forward” and others who can but don’t. It’s the nature of the game. The main takeaway is that you must be careful who you entrust with establishing your career. The wrong people will waste your precious time and also may derail your overall plans. Keep your radar up for those who are not helping you but say they are doing great things.

danger development hellYou could call the following a “cautionary tale.”  I once found a manager on the internet. Yes, any story that starts out like this probably ends in tragedy. Again, this was when I started out in the business and was happy for anyone to read my stuff. Well, this cautionary tale ended with an important life lesson—always trust your instincts.  This manager and I played E-mail tag and I sent over a few scripts and he wanted to meet.  We had breakfast  (he paid) and he laid out a game plan to get me working.  I liked that he was thinking of the bigger picture and wanted to hit the ground running.  I was already working on stuff, but as always, needed to meet a larger circle of producers who might offer more writing assignments.

smash head in wallOur working relationship appeared as if it was going well until the communication began to slow on his end. Never a good sign. I was living up to the bargain on my end, working on pitches, executing his notes on my existing scripts, but I could sense that something wasn’t quite right. He had one lead on a producer that never ended up with a meeting and that was pretty much it for him. It was foreshadowing where our working relationship was going—nowhere. It fizzled out and he stopped returning calls and E-mails. It was then I learned that he was actually my neighbor who lives not more than one-hundred yards from me. He was done, baby done.

Time passed and I was at a local coffee-house, enjoying a coffee and reading the newspaper when I recognize this very same “manager.” No surprise, because I would see him around the neighborhood every once in a while but he never did recognize me, as if I wasn’t even worthy of remembering. That’s okay, my anonymity allowed me to eavesdrop on him and listen while he told the very same spiel to two young and eager looking writers.  I just listened, feeling very much undercover, as he didn’t know who I was, and I felt like leaning over and warning these guys of my experience with this bottom feeder.  Who knows, would they suffer the same fate?  Or maybe these were the guys who he would catapult into super stardom.  Bottom line, like any relationship, if it’s not working after many attempts, get out.  Your time is precious too and better to spend it working and not spinning your wheels with a rep who promises the world and delivers nothing. You’ve worked too damn hard to entrust your journey to an amateur.

You quickly learn —no one truly cares like you do about your career.  They read five pages and if it doesn’t happen, they’re done.  The only person who really does care about your career is you because you live it and sacrifice for it every day.  If you remember this fact you won’t be surprised when those people who you think have your best interests in mind—really do not.  If you write something that someone believes they can sell, they will become interested.  If you write something that has a lot of interest before you find representation—they will flock to it like a moth to a flame.

Sure, it’s great to have a rep, but you need someone who is not just along for the ride and has you doing most of the work.  You are responsible for creating new and solid material and you should never stray from that discipline even if you don’t secure representation. My old writing partner and I used to say, “Just because there is a signature on a contract doesn’t mean someone will work that much harder.”  It means if things are not working out, you both have about six months to legally end the relationship.  Remember, you can never get back wasted time because you thought your rep was pushing you as a writer and your projects, but in reality you stalled and missed so many important opportunities as a result.

Keep screenwriting and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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“Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu

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

“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 reason actors, artists, writers have agents is because we’ll do it for nothing. That’s a basic fact – you gotta do it.” —Morgan Freeman

“Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends.” —William Shakespeare

Remember Stephen King’s First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: “You don’t need one until you’re making enough for someone to steal… and if you’re making that much, you’ll be able to take your pick of good agents.” ― Stephen King

procrastination

How many feature scripts will you write without success until you consider a new direction?

February 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

pile-of-scripts-copy“Specs! We must write and sell feature specs! All specs, all the time! It’s the ONLY way! We’re going to sell feature spec screenplays for huge paydays—like we read about in Variety!” This is what my fellow film school friends and I believed back in the day as we started pursing our dreams. Yes, feature specs are a necessary component to your learning and training as a screenwriter, but you have to put the process in perspective.

So, you want to be a feature screenwriter? How many spec screenplays have you written that are solid samples and can compete in a very crowded marketplace? It will take time to create a solid body of material that properly represents you as a professional. Maybe a few of your specs placed in competitions? Obviously, it’s better to win, but if you placed in the semi-finals or closer it’s worth a mention. Okay, but are you also pursuing agents and managers? Sending out query letters?  Are you networking with assistants and other lower level players who will be your entry into the system? What if you don’t live in Hollywood? It makes it more difficult to have your ear to the ground and meet those people necessary to help with your screenwriting journey.

charlie_chaplin02Did you write a handful of specs… and rewrite them… and rewrite them with various notes from friends, contests, or professional feedback? Are your specs scattered in different genres? Are you building a reputation in a particular genre, or are you spending your time trying to be prolific in multiple genres? Comedy is difficult and some screenwriters are not good at comedy. That’s okay if you figure that out early. It’s not okay if you’re not good at comedy and waste your time writing six specs that end up going nowhere. Other writers are great with action while some might be horrible at horror. You have to find a genre that drives your passion, otherwise you’re scattering yourself thin and you’ll find that it’s hard to be prolific in all genres. And most likely the first spec you sell will dictate the genre you’ll be writing from then on.

Screenplay contests are a great way to judge your writing against hundreds or potentially thousands of other writers—but it’s still a protected bubble. It’s not the “real” world of Hollywood where estimates say around 50,000 projects bounce around yearly. Unless your script wins or places in the top percentage of screenplay contest entries, it doesn’t really mean anything. Sure, it can help you judge your writing if that’s what you need, but is it worth the continual expense year after year? Last year maybe you placed in the top 1,000 and this year you placed in the top 750? What does that actually mean? You’re marching closer to success? If you just write your script better this next pass, you just might place in the top 500 next year? It’s madness and chasing an elusive dragon.

A good friend of mine landed in 3rd place in one of the biggest screenplay contests around, but it did nothing for his career. He didn’t get any press from the contest and never even took a meeting as a result. Even “winning” a contest doesn’t guarantee instant success. Sure, you might receive money and some meetings, but you still have to convince someone to buy your screenplay or hire you to write one. The work never ends with “winning.” It just begins.

smash head in wallRita Mae Brown in her book Sudden Death said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” It’s the same as going to the hardware store every day for bread. You hope that someday, they will stock bread and the accusations of your insanity will be proven wrong. Similarly, writing script after script and hoping to sell one could be called insanity. Sure, it’s what screenwriters need to do, but how long are you willing to write feature screenplays without any real evidence of forward movement? Five scripts without a sale or being hired for an assignment? Ten specs? Fifteen? As many as it takes?

A few honest questions:

  1. Are you only writing huge budgeted specs and chasing Hollywood’s ten-pole dreams?
  2. Are you hitting a higher wall every time out?
  3. Are you writing simpler, more indie ideas that are lower budgeted and could actually get made?
  4. Do you have a limit on the number of feature specs you don’t sell when you’ll change direction and write something else—or are you going to continue on the same routine, year after year, without a change or adaptation?
  5. Faith and optimism are necessary, but can you be realistic about the film business, the odds, and if your pursuit of a career is really gaining momentum or not?
  6. Are you willing to consider writing TV pilots, hour and half hour, or a web series on spec in addition?

Time passes fast as you pursue a career and life can get in the way. Writing other mediums could create more opportunities for work. I’ve been blessed that most of my writing work comes from feature-length assignments, so my sole focus was on feature screenplays until about five years ago when I started to craft spec original TV pilots with show bibles. I started to get the hang of the writing for half hour and hour episodic TV and even dabbled writing the first season of an original web series with nine episodes. Later, I turned that web series into an hour pilot. I started to take TV pilot pitch meetings too that opened up  new opportunities. One of my spec comedy TV pilots actually landed me a paid writing assignment with a producer who hired me to write a half hour comedy pilot and the show bible. She asked for a writing sample that was similar in humor to what she wanted, so I gave her my original spec comedy half hour pilot. She loved the writing and my sample got me the job.

It all comes down to cost of time vs. benefit. If you find that feature screenplay writing is taking up all of your time with little to show as a result, maybe writing in another medium could be the answer. You never know when your different works will open new doors that lead to paid work.

Either way, keep writing and getting better. What’s the alternative to not writing? You’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success. At least with a solid body of material you practice your craft and create opportunities—the rest is timing and the right project getting to the right producer.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Look for my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” coming in March to Amazon.com

Screenplay contest deadlines are fast approaching. Did you just complete your latest screenplay or a new draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my professional services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website to schedule a consultation. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

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“Take a person like Picasso, you know, who does double profiles and has gone through cubism and God knows what, but he knows every muscle in the human body. If you ask him to draw the figure of a man or a woman, there wouldn’t be a muscle out of place. You’ve got to know your craft in order to express the art.”—Alfred Hitchcock

“What’s unique about screenwriting is that it’s an act of prophecy. The screenwriter is a bit of the Gypsy with a crystal ball. You say, I’m writing this on a page and it’s going to be blown up on a screen so damned big that you believe it, with actors I don’t know if anybody’s going to get, in settings I don’t know where and how they can be done; and it’s going to turn out this way…” You’re guessing. There’s a big of Gypsy in you. An act of prophecy.”—Robert Towne

“Masters and those who display a high level of creative energy are simply people who manage to retain a sizable portion of their childhood spirit despite the pressures and demands of adulthood.”—Robert Greene, “Mastery”

“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen”—Joseph Campbell

“Screenwriting is such a very special branch of literature. In some ways, it’s closer to the poetic form than it is to the dramatic. A lot of writers think that they write down to an audience if they do a motion-picture script.”—John Huston

MORE QUOTES FOR TODAY

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