It’s easy to fall victim to the mistakes below as beginning screenwriters navigate their way through Hollywood’s trenches. The key is to realize the journey is not a sprint, but a long haul marathon that may take years to achieve any level of success. On the journey, many pitfalls can harm a writer’s pursuit to establish a career, and you have to be aware of the common mistakes to avoid making them. Here are my “Top 5 Mistakes Beginning Screenwriters Make on Their First Screenplays.”
1.) They are desperate for a career but don’t want to put in the time or work necessary. They underestimate the craft and the competition believing that one screenplay (their first) will jump-start their career. It’s going to take three or four screenplays and many rewrites just to get a handle on the craft and discover a style.
2.) Before they commit to an idea, they don’t consider “why” they are writing their particular story or who is their audience. I’ve heard too many times, “I thought it would be a good idea for a movie.” That’s not a good enough of a reason in today’s marketplace.
3.) They don’t create a solid story treatment or outline before starting to write pages. This comes back to haunt them when they reach the middle of ACT 2 and their story goes off the tracks. Over half of the work should go into the story and that includes the characters, back story, theme, central idea, and plot.
4.) They believe that every screenplay they write is going to sell for a million dollars. The sad truth is that most of what you write is not going to sell. If a script opens a door or secures a job—that’s considered success. A screenwriter usually does not sell only specs during a career. Most working writers thrive on rewrite or assignment jobs.
5.) They eagerly rush through their script and present it to Hollywood before it’s ready. This will harm the project and a writer’s professional reputation. Patience is the key to working a screenplay into a marketable project. Anything less is wasting everyone’s time.
Your attitude and work ethic are equally as important as your talent on the screenwriter’s journey—especially at the beginning. Do your best to avoid the mistakes that can derail any screenwriter’s splendid career plans.
Keep writing and keep the faith.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.
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(Mission Impossible III, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
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(Cloverfield, Let Me In, Dawn Of The Planet of the Apes, War For The Planet of the Apes)
“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)
“Starting tonight, every night in your life before you go to sleep, read at least one poem by anyone you choose. Poetry and motion pictures are twins.”—Ray Bradbury
“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
“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
“The well is where your “juice” is. Nobody knows what it is made of, least of all yourself. What you know is if you have it, or you have to wait for it to come back.”—Ernest Hemingway
“Dramatic economy, which includes the ability of a writer to cut what at one point he might have considered to be his best work ever, is one of the most important skills a writer can have. It is learned only through much experience, combined with a ruthless attitude and utter lack of sentimentality.”—Alexander MacKendrick, “Sweet Smell of Success”