Communique from the front lines: The ebb and flow of a screenwriting career…
August 28, 2017 § 1 Comment
If you’re blessed enough to find regular work as a screenwriter, you’ll experience both slow and busy periods for work. It’s the ebb and flow of the film business. If you can survive the slow periods, you can move forward to your next jobs and establish a career. One sold screenplay and no job to follow it up is a horrible place to be. Time passes quickly and so does the money.
The key to a career and staying in the game is using your last job to secure your next. The more projects you have out there working for you the better. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and two or three will follow each other into production. Other times something you sold that languished in development will come alive and get produced much later than expected. The best times are when you have a script going into production and you’re already writing your next assignment.
Equally as important is having enough solid contacts who trust you because you’ve worked for them before. The rest is just timing—being the writer they call and having the job be yours to turn down or accept. It takes years to build up these important relationships and this is why building your professional reputation is vital to your success. Producers, directors, and production companies like to work with people whom they can trust and they’ve worked with before. You want to be one of those people on their list.
Last year I wrote one screenplay that will go into production in October of this year. It was a slow year until the end and then things really picked up. It’s nice to be so busy starting from the first of this year. I feel blessed. It’s another example of the importance of maintaining solid professional relationships in the film business with producers and production companies. My last three jobs were mine to turn down. I was available and blessed they came my way. In the past nine months, I’ve completed three screenwriting assignment jobs for the same production company and each film was produced. The most recent film wrapped two weeks ago. That will be a total of four produced movies in nine months. One of the films, “One Small Indiscretion” just premiered on LMN to fantastic ratings coming in #6 for the night.
I went on to consult with a director on his screenplay for his next film and it’s now out to investors. And with only a short period of “down” time, I was just offered a new assignment job from a different producer whom I’ve worked with before. I spent the past three weeks completing the story treatment for that film (my 18th assignment) and I await my marching orders to start pages for the first draft.
The life of a working screenwriter is not the romanticized ideal life you may read about with fame and fortune—it’s a job and nice work when you can get it. Once the producer or executive hires you and then unleashes you, it can be a bit lonely because it’s just you and the blank page until it’s done. Strict disciplines are vital during this period because the pressure is on to deliver the goods under a specific deadline. When the production company signs off on the treatment, it’s your job to craft a screenplay that becomes the movie they want to make. As always, my trusty entertainment lawyer negotiates all of my contracts and it’s a relatively quick and painless experience followed by signatures and getting the green light to go to work.
It’s generally the way a working screenwriter works. You secure an assignment job, hopefully work on every draft until production, and move on to work again with the same producer or another in your network. I’m blessed that I don’t have to go far to look for work and it’s helps not having to convince someone new that I’m the writer for the job. Again, this takes experience and time.
I remain humble and grateful for the steady work that comes my way. I know how competitive this business is and the thousands of screenwriters chasing the limited number of writing jobs. I have to admit, even after thirty-three completed feature screenplays, I still get the jitters and that nervous stomach facing a new project and the blank page. I always expect it to turn out great, but you never know until you type FADE OUT – THE END and wait for your producer’s notes. No matter credits or experience, we’re all equal when we sit in front of that blank page and channel the muse. If you think you’re bigger or better than your craft or the film business, you will be humbled. I guarantee it. That is why I respect the process every time up to the plate because I know too well the pitfalls and roadblocks that can spring up during the adventure. And trust me, you don’t want your back up against the wall when you’re working on assignment under a contracted deadline and your reputation that got you the gig is at stake. You must do everything possible to clear the decks and make your process work for you by following your trustworthy disciplines and using your screenwriting tools kept in your toolkit.
It’s still a creative high and feeling of accomplishment when I finish a new screenplay and turn it into the producer or executive. It’s also fulfilling because it’s how I make my living—something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a child. These past three scripts were no different and I look forward to starting this new screenplay within a week. It’s back to the blank page and the life of a working screenwriter.
Keep the faith, practice your disciplines, and keep filling your blank pages.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog My Blank Page.
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“Being an artist means not having to avert one’s eyes.”—Akira Kurosawa
“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
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
“I don’t think of it as an art. When it works it’s skill & craft & some unconscious ability”—Ernest Lehman