Communiqué from the trenches: Starting the year with a new gig and a challenge…
January 10, 2017 § Leave a comment
I was blessed to end last year busy with two screenwriting jobs—one was a script doctor job doing a rewrite on a project that went into production in December and wrapped—and the other was a page one rewrite of a screenplay that I just completed this week. It was nice to have back-to-back jobs from a production company and producer whom I’ve worked for before. This is why your professional reputation is so vital to your longevity of your career. You want to be the “to go to” writer for a producer or production company who trusts you to deliver the goods on time. This timing of this particular job fit nicely into my schedule and a great way to start off the new year.
I accepted the second job knowing it was going to be a huge challenge for me. Time was not on my side. Firstly, it was to completely rewrite a new draft of a screenplay and not use any of it—commonly called a “page one rewrite” and have it done within two weeks. Even after completing thirty-one feature-length screenplays, I still get anxious before every new project. It’s that feeling of the unknown and setting off on a new adventure that didn’t exist before. The longer you write the more tricks you know, but you still have to fill the blank page and slog through ACT TWO. I’ve been doing this long enough to practice humility in the face of the craft. I know from experience there are always unexpected surprises both good and bad. The bad ones can derail you if you allow them—and the good ones make you want to get up the next morning and get back to writing.
I signed the contact and went off to work in my workshop. This is when the shit gets real. It requited me to put in eight to ten-hour days writing a minimum of ten pages a day—and one day I even reached fourteen pages. I managed to complete this new screenplay in twelve days and beat my old record for a first draft of twenty days. It was screenplay number thirty-one on my journey to date. This latest assignment was a huge challenge for me as I’m generally not a fast writer. When I’m on an assignment, I like a pace of about five pages a day and that ends up with a screenplay in about twenty days. This assignment required me to really use my disciplines and focus every day without any distractions to meet ten solid pages. If I dropped below my page minimum for a day, I’d have to make it up the next day to meet my contracted deadline. This is why I always recommend that when you write your specs, you should always set a self-imposed deadline to train you for the time when you do get hired to write. It doesn’t hurt to train now for your future assignment jobs.
There were a few days when the writing became difficult. I couldn’t “see” the scenes and I really had to sit with the material and hunker down to focus. It’s so tempting to become distracted, leave the keyboard and venture off to do something else. I found myself being tempted daily to do this and I had to really force myself to never leave my seat. When the times got rough, I sat with the material and eventually the characters would lead the way or answer a question for me as they do every time. I would get up every morning and go back to work as if I was channeling the project. The disciplines worked for me as I turned the script in on schedule and the notes for the second pass should be coming soon.
Every job where you get paid is another step in establishing your career. If a produced film with a writing credit comes from it, so much the better. Take the work when you can get it, as there are a limited number of jobs out there and no limit on the number of screenwriters eager to do them. If you land a gig, consider yourself lucky. If you land two gigs back-to-back, consider yourself blessed and you’re doing something right.
There are no guarantees in the screenwriting game. Many projects that you write will never go through development or make it to production. This is why you need multiple projects going in the marketplace at all times for any chance that one or more will make it all the way. A project that I wrote on assignment last year was supposed to go into production in late 2016 and then it got pushed until this month. The recent news is that it has yet to get the green light and I’ll probably have to do another draft. It’s stalled right now in development hell as we call it. This is no fault of mine, but it doesn’t take the sting out of the reality that it may lapse into not being made for reasons out of my control.
So, the lesson here is don’t put all of your hopes and dreams into one project. Keep writing and creating new material so eventually one script will open a door and get you an assignment job that will keep you on the fast track of a career.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson written on blog My Blank Page. http://www.scriptcat.wordpress.com
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“Most directors do not want to rewrite the script. They have more pressing commitments on the sound stage. The writer’s best insurance against a rewrite is to have an understanding of the directorial problems. Write a scene that can’t be played, no matter how beautiful the words or thoughts, is begging for a revamp.”—Jerry Lewis
“Because so much of directing is just getting the script right. Getting the beats to play, and knowing what to emphasise. To me, screenwriting isn’t just exit, enter, speak your lines. It’s really about establishing a rhythm, and directing on paper, to some extent.”—Shane Black
“As an artist, you are always striving toward an ultimate achievement but never seem to reach it. You shoot a film, and the result could have always been better. You try again, and fail once more. In some ways I find it enjoyable. You never lose sight of your goal. I don’t do my job to make money or to break box office records, I simply try things out. What would happen if I were to achieve perfection at some point? What would I do then?” — Woody Allen for The Talk, 2012.
“There are no minor decisions in movie making. Each decision will either contribute to a good piece of work or bring the whole movie crashing down around my head many months later.”—Sidney Lumet
“When I first meet with the scriptwriter, I ask him what is the story about—what do you see—what was your intention?”—Sidney Lumet