One axiom you will quickly learn is that Hollywood works on its own time — never on your schedule. Even if you are doing the necessary work, it can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall that you can’t break through. We all want the process to happen faster, but it becomes a slow burn where nothing ever happens in the time frame you hoped for or imagined.
Time can also burn so quickly as you pursue your screenwriting career. You’re working on screenplays, living life, and suddenly five years pass. After you finish a screenplay and await feedback, if you watch the clock, it can leave you hanging. Your script is the most important thing in the world to you—but you quickly discover it’s not to everyone else. You are now one of 50,000 bouncing around Hollywood looking for a home. This is when a time warp happens and you realize you’re now on Hollywood’s schedule. It’s a strange world of fear, unknowns, half-truths, liars, thieves, promises, good intentions, and sometimes a very long wait for any feedback or success.
As a screenwriter, you spend so much time and energy finishing a script, once you finish how can you temper your excitement? This is what screenwriters live for—the excitement of completing a new project and moving forward with establishing their careers. It’s playing the screenwriting game, living as a wide-eyed dreamer with hope for another chance up to the plate with every new screenplay. It’s empowering to work on your own schedule and steer your own ship seemingly in control of your destiny.
Remember, so much is out of your control as a screenwriter. You control the creation of your screenplay, but not much after you unleash it upon Hollywood. The journey after may become long and bumpy. Sometimes it may take years for a project to see any type of real progress. It was seven long years from the time I typed “THE END” of my fifth spec to the day the cameras rolled. You never know what adventure lies ahead for each project you complete.
As a screenwriter with dreams of working in Hollywood, you must realize every aspect of your progress will take time. First, you must master the craft and that takes time. You have to write bad first screenplays so you can get to the good ones. You have to learn the important virtue of patience, or you will live with constant anxiety and pressure for your script to move you farther down the field—or God forbid to dig you out of a financial hole. Did you ever think, “I have to sell this script to pay the rent!” Either way, you are in for a life-long adventure.
Even if you do land a screenplay assignment, the business side of contracts and negotiations takes time. My last contract for a script assignment went back and forth between my lawyer and the production company’s lawyer for a month. As negotiations continue on every deal point, the back and forth seemingly takes forever—and this is before you can start any work on the script. Unfortunately a holiday comes up, so it means another four or five days until a reply. It seems like torture, leaving you feeling as if you’re in the starting blocks waiting for the starter gun to go off—but it never does until you and the producer sign the contract’s final draft. Learn and practice patience. It’s going to help your survival over the long haul screenwriting journey.
You may also hit an inevitable slow patch on your journey as a working screenwriter, but if you keep writing you will never lose sight of your dreams. Your writing is the only thing you can control and the more you write, the better you will become. This will prepare you for when another good opportunity does come. Think of building your career over the long haul and not just looking to hook one big script sale. If you believe your first spec is going to sell and make you a million dollars, see how you feel after you write ten screenplays with no sales.
Like any difficult journey, you’ll constantly be tested to see how badly you want a career in screenwriting and how much you are willing to sacrifice to keep doing what you love to do. Sure, you’ll have failures, rejection, projects that die and never get made, and maybe other scripts languishing in development, but if the road gets bumpy, always keep the faith and your focus on the end goal—a career as a working screenwriter.
Always stay hungry, never get lazy, and keep true to your self-discipline. Don’t allow any day job or any person to derail your plans. Protect your dreams from all comers. We all need to put food in the fridge and pay our bills, but be aware of the pitfalls of a 9-5 job and how you may allow it to affect your writing. If you have the drive and determination to go after your dreams, no day job or person will keep you away from your keyboard. Only you can stop you from writing.
It’s a simple… writers write. Keep focused on the bigger picture. Time burns quickly in Hollywood and every move seems to take forever. Their schedule is not yours, so temper your excitement and don’t allow disappointments to crush you. Time is precious, and we don’t get it back so use your writing time wisely—protect it and don’t get too upset when a simple read of your screenplay can take months. If this happens, focus on your next project—so you’ll always have fresh projects in the works. When you finish a script, work on a new pitch, or a treatment, and get to work on various TV and feature ideas. Keep as many projects juggling as you can because the reality is a screenwriting career does not happen overnight. If you respect this fact, you’ll have a better experience and keep your sanity over the long haul.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Stay humble. Learn. Keep writing!
Copyright © 2020 Mark Sanderson. All rights reserved. My Blank Page blog.
Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Congrats! Time for in-depth analysis/consultation/editing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second change to make a first great impression. Make the time to get it right.
If 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. The odds may be stacked against you, but the way to standout in this very competitive business is to create a solid body of work and build a reputation as a team player and collaborator. The rest is just luck — a prepared screenwriter who meets with an opportunity and delivers the goods. “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.
Now available at my online store – my COFFEE RING CARTOON merchandise for screenwriters. Click on the mug below for the link.
“Writers, like most human beings, are adaptable creatures. They can learn to accept subordination without growing fond of it. No writer can forever stand in the wings and watch other people take the curtain calls while his own contributions get lost in the shuffle.”—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
“The problem is that being creative has glamour. People in the business end of film always say, “I want to be a producer, but a creative producer.” Or a woman I went to school with who said, “Oh, yes, I married this guy. He’s a plumber but he’s very creative.”—Woody Allen
“Directors have always been accused of rewriting unnecessarily—particularly by writers. Actually, most of the time it is deletion because a scene won’t work. You loved it in the original script, okayed it during pre-production, but when you get to the top of the second page of the scene you suddenly discover there is a resolution. It wasn’t evident until you took it in front of the camera. Oops, that’s the scene! There is no point in mucking up what is already good.”—Jerry Lewis
“Every time I go to a movie, it’s magic, no matter what the movie’s about”—Steven Spielberg
Check out actor/writer/showrunner John Lehr’s podcast where he interviews me for the second time and we chat about the crazy journey working in Hollywood as writers. Click on the icon below for the link to the Sound Cloud podcast.