Screenwriter’s survival tip: Keep the intimate details of your work to yourself…

May 27, 2019 § Leave a comment

never believe them untl the check clearsAs you’re navigating the trenches on your screenwriting journey, do your best to keep the intimate details of your work to yourself. Do not continually talk about the status of your projects, how many pages you wrote today, or how each project is moving forward or not. It’s similar to when you’re playing poker. You keep your cards close and only let the others see them when you really have a solid hand.

I know we work so hard and seek validation from others, but look for that validation inside when you complete a new project. It’s tempting to share the intimate details with friends and family or even strangers, but keep your business to yourself. Your stock reply should be, “I’m busy working on a handful of interesting projects.”  Hemingway said it best, “I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.”

time warp in HollywoodThe main reason to keep your business to yourself is because you will find Hollywood has a bizarre time warp that works on its own schedule. Every project will take longer than you ever expected and you don’t need people thinking that you’re blowing smoke when you talk about the status of your material. I’ve experienced the head of a production company tell me in person that my script was going into production within three months. Of course the deal fell through as it does most of the time, but what if I told everyone that I knew about my good fortune only to have the rug pulled out from beneath me? When the supposed production date neared, those people would certainly be asking me about the status of the project. I’d have to waste precious energy telling them the bad news or trying to string them along as I kept the news alive not wanting to explain what happened out of fear.

quote of the dayMaybe they would think I was blowing smoke or exaggerating the situation? Maybe they would think I wasn’t talented enough if the project fell apart? The reality is that financing does fall through, schedules change, and there is a myriad of things that can and do happen completely out of the writer’s control. When these unforeseen issues happen the naysayers will respond to you with, “Man, I don’t know how you do it. That’s such a hard business.” As if you didn’t already know this fact, right? And as if anything worth achieving in life was easy? And then you’re judged based upon events out of your control. You might even have others look at you like your dreams are a fool’s folly. It’s not the first time someone has heard about a friend writing a screenplay with hopes to sell it and launch a career. Forget that you not only secured the paid gig to write a script on assignment and it made it through development… but that’s not impressive to those who don’t know just how hard that was to achieve. You’ll have to fight against believing their criticisms and advice because it comes from their own fears projected upon you.

The truth is that it takes an incredible amount of time for any aspiring screenwriter to gain and hold new ground and for any script to find a home and eventually get produced—if ever. Sometimes the less you say about your progress the better. Focus on the work and if anyone asks you what is going on, politely explain that you’re constantly “working on a lot of projects and they’re moving forward.”

I recently ran into an old friend who asked how things were going and when I mentioned a project and its recent upswing in progress he replied, “Haven’t you been trying to get that made for a few years now?” Why, yes I have… and thank you for reminding me of that fact. It’s not as easy as you’d believe to get someone to just give you millions of dollars to make a film. This is a perfect example of how every project is a new adventure and has its own ups and downs that are out of your control. You’ll survive the journey by having as many solid projects out there working as possible for your benefit.  Sometimes they all hit, one hits, and other times nothing hits. It’s the nature of the business, but you keep soldiering on.

rejectionWe all have our own inner voice of self-doubt as artists, but why give fodder to your critics and skeptics who will use it to squash your dreams? They’ll even taint any good news you share and use it to belittle your success because they didn’t have the guts to risk everything to pursue their own dreams. I have a friend who just landed a gig on an indie movie and the pay isn’t great, but it’s a fantastic opportunity and might open up a whole avenue that never existed before for him. He mentioned that he told another friend about this good fortune, and his friend questioned his decision to take the job and even pointed out that he’ll “barely break even financially—so what’s the point?”  The friend couldn’t see the bigger picture and how in the film business, many times you take a job because you can see past the immediate opportunity and look to what other doors it can open.

Again, beware of opening yourself up to negative criticism by sharing all of your private business especially on social media. Sure, you will find those who support your achievements, but the dark side of social media is where the trolls reside. It only takes one or two trolls to crush your spirit even when so many others are supportive of your screenwriting journey. Tread lightly and don’t expect everyone to support your journey. The trolls lash out with jealousy and try to demean you so they can feel better about their shortcomings.

Protect your dreams from the naysayers who enjoy raining on your parade. They’re unable or unwilling to take that leap off the cliff and that’s okay—it’s what us dreamers do every day. Keep your work close to the vest until it’s finished and know that even with a contract—projects can still die in development, during production and even after they’re produced.  No one ever truly knows the fate of any film and it’s mostly out of your control, so stick to what is within your control—keeping your private business to yourself and continuing to write.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE

Follow me on Twitter / Periscope: @scriptcat

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 “Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu

“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”

“‘I never feel the need to discuss my work with anyone. No, I am too busy writing it. It has got to please me and if it does I don’t need to talk about it. If it doesn’t please me, talking about it won’t improve it, since the only thing to improve it is to work on it some more. I am not a literary man but only a writer. I don’t get any pleasure from talking shop.”—William Faulkner

“The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.”—Ernest Hemingway

Everyone holds his fortune in his own hands, like a sculptor the raw material he will fashion into a figure. But it’s the same with that type of artistic activity as with all others: We are merely born with the capacity to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated.”—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

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Communiqué from the trenches… never underestimate the value of a screenplay outline.

May 3, 2019 § Leave a comment

rewritesGreetings screenwriters! I hope this finds you well and busy filling your blank pages. I haven’t been blogging as much because it’s been a busy first part of the year with screenplay assignments. I’ve been blessed to complete two screenplay assignment jobs and just turned in the outline for a third job. Two screenplays in four months is a tremendous pace for me, but you have to rise to the occasion when the jobs are offered. Over the past few years, I’ve had to push myself out of my comfort zone because of the jobs that were offered. When they call, you either accept the job, or turn it down. Luckily for me, these were my jobs to turn down as they came to me first. It’s a nice place to be after so many years of hard work.

This week, I turned in my latest first draft screenplay two days before my contracted deadline. It took me nineteen days to complete. Maybe you’d say, “I could never write a screenplay in three weeks!” Sure, maybe when you’re first starting out, but I’ve been doing this for twenty years, and the script I turned in was my thirty-eighth feature length screenplay. I must stress that I could have never achieved the fast writing pace of five pages a day unless I had my solid outline to follow. In addition, so far I have received few notes from the producer, only tweaks, possibly a few hours of work. That is tremendous because it pushes that script farther along into the development phase and soon hopefully production.

fade inThis is what goal you want to achieve while working now on your specs. You want your first draft to be the best possible draft you can write… and why not? Don’t stress if it’s not. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But why would anyone want to rewrite their screenplay six times? Or be rewriting while they are writing. It wastes time. Even if you rewrite your script to the point of being “written out” where you are totally confident with it… it will be looked upon as a first draft in the eyes of any new reader. And you should never tell anyone how many drafts it took to get to the one they are reading. It’s none of their business.

Also don’t subscribe to the hype about the “vomit” draft where you just write off the top of your head from a few if any ideas written down in a structured format. I recently consulted on a screenplay where the writer followed this belief of writing the screenplay without any guide. It was overwritten with too many issues and came in about thirty pages too long. If you enjoy rewriting yourself and wasting time on a first draft, by all means go ahead.

You should train yourself now with your specs to try and nail the first draft and not look at it as “as crap” that you need to get out of the way.  Trust me, you will not have this luxury when you start working as a professional screenwriter on assignment work. Most of the work in Hollywood is on assignment, as only about one hundred screenplays or fewer sell in any given year at the studio level. What you don’t to happen is that when an opportunity comes your way, you are not fully trained and ready to experience the level of writing it takes to complete an assignment under a contracted deadline. You’ll sign a contract, receive a payment, and it’s “go” time. I’ve had to create the outlines for every assignment job I’ve done before they ever allow me to start the first draft screenplay. The outlines also go through rewrites too until the producers, investors, executives, studio or network is comfortable the story they want is the one that I’ll write. No surprises!

time warp in HollywoodOnce the outline is accepted, I’m given my marching orders to start pages and the clock starts to tick. It’s not stressful because I’ve lived with the characters and story for a few weeks as I’ve created the outline from the concept. It’s given me that precious time to envision every scene and now I’ve seen the entire movie played out in my head. Now all I have to do now it write it. Creating and using an outline makes the screenwriting process a fun experience. You don’t get stuck in ACT TWO trying to figure out what happens. It also still gives you creative freedom while working with a story safety net.

An original draft outline or sometimes known as a “treatment” is generally long and detailed, sometimes with dialogue, and can range from one to fifty pages in length. My latest outline that I turned in for my next assignment was fourteen pages. I’ve also done extensive outlines up to thirty pages. My good friend who is directing a studio film this year turned in a fifty page outline before he wrote the first draft. The outline length varies to how much you need to figure out before you start pages.

A fellow screenwriter friend always tells me he doesn’t like to work from a detailed treatment because he feels it stifles his spontaneity as he writes pages. His method is using a loosely structured beat sheet and he fills in the blanks as he writes. Different writers use different methods, but I’ve never gone astray writing the script from my detailed outline. Many times, a producer or executive only gives you a logline and it’s your job to return with a full story outline before they’ll allow you start the script.

Screenwriting is all about structure. I always find plenty of creative breathing room and spontaneity even when working from a detailed treatment. I still have to write the scene and let the characters interact, but I’ve already figured out the reason for the scene, the intent and the beast, so it allows me to play within the story’s parameters and create ideas not listed in the treatment. I’ve always found so many good ideas spring from a solid foundation because it’s a creative framework and suddenly one idea begets another, and so on.

Outlines are an important process that prepare you to write the script. If you’re getting paid for a script assignment, it’s standard practice the producer or executive will ask you to create one of these structured documents before they’ll allow you to start the script.  Writing an extensive outline is similar to doing a pre-draft of your script. It gives you the chance to explore your story, build your structure, and get to know your characters before you set out on a journey of a hundred pages with them.  If you embrace the treatment process and craft a solid framework for your story, it will help serve as your roadmap to a successful first draft with fewer rewrites in your future.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just finish your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation?  Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website and more information.  You never get a second change to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

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Do you need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years working as a professional screenwriter in Hollywood and shares my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

 

“Don’t think of it as art, think of it as work.”—Paddy Chayefsky

 

“… a basic “must” for every writer: A simple solitude—physical & mental.”—Rod Serling

“Being an artist means not having to avert one’s eyes.”—Akira Kurosawa

 

The romanticized image of a screenwriter in Hollywood Vol. 3…

April 9, 2019 § 3 Comments

rewritesI haven’t been blogging lately because I’ve been too damn busy with work. Yes, I know, be careful what you wish for, right? This has been a busy year out of the gate with three script assignments at the same time. It’s been quite an experience “stacking” projects, but I’ve done it once before and needed to continue to get out of my comfort zone. It’s all about timing, and you can juggle more than one project if you schedule property. Luckily, one screenplay is finished, I’ve done a second pass, and I just turned in my two outlines for second and third movies. It looks like one will start before the other, and that’s good to get a head start before I’ll have to split the day writing two movies.  I think they call this “champagne problems.”

The key to “stacking projects” and finishing a screenplay under a tight deadline is having a solid story treatment before you type FADE IN. This always helps you to write a faster first draft. I will tell you, being holed up for three weeks, working 8-10 hour days, really is the test to see if you can meet any challenge offered. Fortunately, I’ve met the challenge before, but I never take it for granted. Every time up to the plate with a new script is a completely different adventure. I was pleased to receive very few notes on my first draft of the one assignment freeing me up to start the other two.

This is probably not the romanticized image many beginning screenwriters have of what it’s like to be working in Hollywood as a screenwriter. It’s work and will always be work just like any other job. You’ll have to punch a clock every day when you get up in the morning and need to fill your quota of pages. My sweet spot is three to five pages a day, every day including weekends to reach my deadlines. It won’t feel like work when you’re doing what you love for a living.

PILE OF SCRIPTSThis is why you have to start training yourself now with your specs to build your writing endurance. Set up deadlines and meet them. It’s good practice. Are you able to focus and write for 8-10 hours a day—every day uninterrupted? That’s what it takes sometimes when you start working professionally. You lost the luxury of working on your spec when you feel inspired. It’s now your job and you clock in and out with an eye on doing great work under the deadline.

Sure, it can be torture at times—a hellish rewrite on a screenplay can make you question your decision to become a screenwriter when you curse the day you typed “FADE IN.”  Other times it’s easy breezy and brings you great creative satisfaction, a credit and the bonus of getting paid as a professional screenwriter. As with life, you deal with the good and the bad, and learn how to survive the storms to stay in the game as a working screenwriter.

handshake cartoonSometimes you get lucky,  the alchemy just works, you produce a great script, and build new working relationships. I joke about the cliché of the ideal “romanticized life” of a working Hollywood screenwriter, but many times I find aspirants who work with total freedom on their specs, believe it will be the same breezy experience when they get hired to write a screenplay assignment. It’s not all about premieres, parties, and huge paydays. Once you land the gig, it becomes your job with the same expectations, responsibilities, pressures and deadlines of many jobs—all while working under a contract.

If you’re blessed enough to secure the gig, you must be the ultimate team player and collaborator with your producers or executives. Sure, you scored the job, but never fool yourself into believing you’re the only screenwriter who could do the job. There is always someone out there equally or more talented, and maybe hundreds of eager aspirants who would even write it for free just for the break. The important thing is that you landed the job. It’s yours to screw up or succeed. Show them why you were the right pick on that short list of other writers. I’m blessed to finally be offered jobs now that are mine to take or pass. You’ll learn that you take opportunities when they come your way and they will lead to more work as shown by my example.

Back to stacking projects. It’s when you’re in the thick of it, in the deep trenches, and climbing your way out page by hard-earned page. So, after completing my first draft for one project and turning it in, I received minimal notes, and was offered another new project from the same producer. I took that second gig, and had to immediately start on the outline. While working on the story for two weeks, I was offered another assignment from a different producer. I then started the outline for that third movie as I turned in the outline for second movie. The process is called “stacking” where you work on multiple projects at the same time. That’s why you see writers with four or five credits in one year because they are working on multiple projects. This takes experience, but also a knowledge and confidence in your abilities so you can deliver quality work within the deadlines. Trust me, it’s not easy and takes a keen sense of time and your screenwriting abilities. Mostly, you don’t get weekends off because those two precious days can be used to possibly write or rewrite 12-15 pages. You’ll of course suck it up because you’re under a deadline and want to deliver a production ready script as promised.

Always remember, meeting your deadlines is vital to your reputation and your career.  I’ve worked before for many of the producers who hire me, and it’s nice when they call me with job offers and ask, “Are you available?” I’ve worked hard to get to this place and continue to solidify my professional reputation.

So, what’s all this I continually hear about the romanticized and exciting image of working screenwriters? It’s a false image and not reality. Most of the time it’s the impossibly hard work of trying to land the job. Once you secure the gig, now you have to do it—and be the writer they hope you are and turn in the script they hope is “the one.” A lot of pressure? Certainly.  You’re writing at the top of your game and it’s weeks or months of rewrites, polishes, and the pressure of deadlines. You’ll feel the pressure when you hit a creative wall and begin to stare at the calendar or spend more time calculating your daily page count than doing the actual writing.

It will always be about the work. And after you sell one project and the movie is produced, you hope it helps you land another job and another. There will be dry periods with no work and periods with an embarrassment of work. You never know that is why you have to adapt and always be networking. If you’re a true screenwriter, you thrive on process and getting the job done no matter what it takes. You’ll go above and beyond every time to show your producers and executives that you are the right person for the job. Screenwriters are craftspeople, the ones up at 3:30 A.M. in the laboratory, adding a dash of this and taking away a dash of that, fixing the scenes, working on the structure, putting the puzzle together, and chasing after your dreams.

if you can't handle criticismSure, you might come up short on praise and validation but even when you do receive praise, it might be a let down from what you’d expect. The longer you’re in the screenwriting game, you’ll learn that screenwriting can be a thankless and lonely job as you slog away sometimes in the wee small hours of the morning. But don’t lose heart, realize that it’s a job and it’s hard work at all levels of the business. It was your choice to pursue the journey of a master crafts person, working away in your workshop, crafting a new story to unleash upon the world. It’s a lonely process with no parties, no champagne, no red carpets, no fame and rarely fortune, but your praise and validation comes from the satisfaction knowing that you’re working at the top of your game. How do you know? You’ve just moved your last draft from the development process into the important pre-production stage—that’s a major step to success.

I never take any of it for granted and know the long slog and decades of experience that it’s taken me to get here. It’s work—hard work and I’m happy and humbled to have had another chance up to the plate and made sure to knock it out of the park. On to the next one! I think we don’t ever “make it” because we are always looking for our next job. Nothing is guaranteed at any level of the business.

You just have to be the writer that doesn’t give up. But you have to work smart and be smart about the bigger picture. Pick your projects wisely. Protect your precious writing time. Keep writing because if you stop you are guaranteed never to have ANY shot at success. You create new opportunities with every screenplay you create and hopefully it best represents your talent and ability.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on his blog My Blank Page.

Did you just finish your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation?  Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website and more information.  You never get a second change to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

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Master CoverR2-4-REV2Check out my book now available on AMAZON with 22 FIVE STAR REVIEWS!

(click on the book cover for the link)

Do you need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years working as a professional screenwriter in Hollywood and shares my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

 

 

 

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”—Ray Bradbury

“I never feel the need to discuss my work with anyone. No, I am too busy writing it. It has got to please me and if it does I don’t need to talk about it. If it doesn’t please me, talking about it won’t improve it, since the only thing to improve it is to work on it some more. I am not a literary man but only a writer. I don’t get any pleasure from talking shop.”—William Faulkner

“If there ever was one analogy for what a screenwriter must accomplish, it’s this: To create a source of life, to find the bedrock of a given idea, to prevent most of the work from evaporating.”—FX Feeney

“A writer is not a film’s maker but its originator, then a writer must, if she or he is to emerge and make a mark, create a body of work that is not just aimed at posterity but at surviving the food chain which constitutes modern film production.” — Richard Price, screenwriter of The Color of Money, Sea of Love, Mad Dog & Glory, Clockers, & Ransom.

“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

One screenplay will not do it. When you’re ready, you will need multiple solid screenplays in the marketplace at all times for any shot at success…

November 5, 2018 § Leave a comment

PILE OF SCRIPTSIt’s a numbers game at best. Consider the odds of selling a spec screenplay the same as winning the lottery if you believe the numbers—nearly 50,000 projects bounce around Hollywood each year with just over 100 specs selling at the studio level most years. In the 2018 WGA annual report to writers, only 5,819 of the 20,000 WGAw members reported any income last fiscal year in all mediums. Also, when you also consider that only 70 to 75 specs sold in Hollywood in 2017 and only 740 films were released domestically, you have to be writing at a professional level to beat the incredible odds. Don’t forget about the thousands of films without distribution that end up competing at film festivals every year with only a handful landing deals.

Yes, I also hate hearing about the odds, but it’s a reality that must be considered so you know the mountain that you must climb with every new screenplay. It also makes you humble knowing it’s not going to be easy. This is an example of why you must have multiple projects, pitches and treatments in the marketplace at any given time for chance that one might—and I stress might—find interest and move farther down the playing field. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you’ll soon discover talk is cheap in Hollywood. So you’ll add that to the journey of your projects when producers or executives heap their praise on your talents and your screenplay, but they string you along with offers of free work as they dangle the carrot of production.

You’ll find out the longer you’re in the trenches that interest, even when you receive a payday, doesn’t always guarantee your film goes on to being a produced film. Sure, money makes their interest real, but your project still must jump over many hurdles that are out of your control. Some of these pitfalls include:

  • An option for little money that doesn’t end up with the purchase of the script.
  • Your script is purchased, you are fired, and it’s rewritten so many times it languishes in development hell and never gets produced.
  • A script is close to being financed when suddenly the investors pullout, the producer loses the money and the star as a result.
  • A project is put on hold because of scheduling conflicts.
  • A project isn’t produced due to changing global marketplace factors. It’s cheaper NOT to make the film than take a risk of not being able to sell it.

Each project you create will have a shelf life and travel on its own unique journey to either failure or success. Sometimes a spec that didn’t sell two years ago can find a new home, but it’s a long haul journey for any project to find a producer or executive who likes it enough to move forward in some way. The project must also survive the dicey minefield of the development process and with luck, move into production. Even when a film is produced, there still is no guarantee of success either. How many films considered a “guaranteed hit” end up a bomb at the box office? It happens every weekend. As you see there are many hurdles that are out of a screenwriter’s control, but the one thing in your control is creating a solid body of work and putting it in the pipeline with the goal of having one move forward down the field to production. This is why you can’t be a “one script wonder” and burn out after a few drafts of your first screenplay.

poor screenwriterI recently completed my 36th overall screenplay, it was produced as my 20th paid assignment, and it’s still hard work and humbling. One of the hardest lessons that I had to learn when I finally started being paid to write screenplays was that not every project that I wrote was going to be produced. Many projects that I was hired to write ended up in development hell, not from anything I did, but because of a variety of circumstances out of my control. These projects remain viable with production ready drafts, but might never get off the shelf and into production. That’s okay. Take your lumps and move onto generating your next logline, pitch or treatment and hopefully another job.

Never forget that Hollywood is a business and screenwriting is a profession with the same dilemmas of other jobs. Your goal is staying in the game and being hired again and again to write screenplays to establish a career. It may take writing a half-dozen projects for one to finally sell or get you assignment work, but every new script is a new opportunity or a missed opportunity–it depends on how you play it.

The other harsh reality is that you will need plenty of time to master your craft and be writing at a professional level with at least four or five solid projects that can be out in the marketplace competing with the thousands of others. This is why I stress the practice of patience during this period of your journey. I find many beginning screenwriters are too eager to sell their first script for a million dollars—like it’s just that easy. It’s not just that easy. And you need to respect your craft and practice it every day. You’ll need the time to fail and write badly before you can become an excellent screenwriter, execute notes and work on a schedule under pressure. You don’t want a yellow belt in screenwriting—you want to achieve a Grand Master 4th degree Black Belt—and to do this you’ll need to train by writing every day.

boxerThe only way you’ll be able to do this is to keep to a tight writing schedule. You’ll need to protect your precious writing time from distraction and procrastination. Stephen King calls it “closing your door.” When your door is closed, it means that you are writing. You have to take your career seriously and become a master at scheduling your time. If you dabble at your career, time becomes your enemy, it passes quickly while projects burn out and life gets in the way of your most splendid screenwriting dreams. If you keep the pipeline always filled with your best work you will create opportunities and have a shot at success. If your body of work includes feature-length original screenplays and if they don’t sell, the scripts can become solid writing samples that can get you assignment work.  If you want to work in television, your body of work should include your original TV pilots to show an agent, manager, producer or executive your unique voice. It used to be that you needed to write a spec episode of an existing series, but now agents and managers look for original material to get a handle on the writer’s talent and unique voice. And for both feature films and TV continue to craft your pitches for ideas that you want to write.

If you have a solid body of work and you’re always creating new projects, you will be more attractive to an agent or manager as they can see you are not a “one script wonder” but a workhorse. They don’t like divas and love writers who write and create the product. As you build up your projects, you’ll be working on your craft and becoming a better screenwriter in the process. And as it’s extremely difficult to sell a project, you’ll want to increase your odds by only unleashing solid projects into the pipeline so you can attack a career on different fronts. Never allow a screenplay to go out before it’s ready as it will harm the project and the image of you as a screenwriter. Eventually one script will slip through and stick and it will jump-start your screenwriting career.

Keep writing because if you stop—you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 written by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Follow me on Twitter / Periscope: @scriptcat

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information.  You never get a second chance to make a first great impression. Make the time to get it right.

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Subscribe to my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting videos.

Master CoverR2-4-REV219 FIVE STAR REVIEWS! Now available on AMAZON my new screenwriting book. 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.

Click on the book cover above for the link to Amazon and more information.

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Check out my screenwriting masterclass: Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood” from my recent seminar in Hollywood. Click on the icon at the left to watch the entire two hour course.

 

 

 

Always enjoy seeing the fruits of my labor and being able to share them with a global audience…

June 24, 2018 § Leave a comment

A Night to RegretThis is a busy week for premieres of movies that I’ve written starting last Sunday night with the premiere of my latest thriller on LIFETIME called “A Night to Regret” starring Molle Gray and Marguerite Moreau. It re-airs again Saturday, June 30 at 10:05pm on Lifetime and premieres on LMN (Lifetime Movie Network) on Thursday, July 5 at 8pm/7c on Lifetime Movie Network.

If you haven’t experienced it yet, being able to watch your own movies on TV or in the theater is something to behold. I’ve had both including premieres and it’s the icing on the cake of a long process to achieve. It makes up for all the hard work on your journey as a screenwriter. You know first hand the dedication and hard work it took to hone your craft, secure the writing job, doing the many rewrites, sometimes even on set rewrites, and now you get to experience the result of everyone’s hard work and creativity. Does that mean the end product perfect? Nothing is perfect and rarely movies, as there are so many working parts to assemble. Unless you directed or produced the film, your screenplay is open to a lot of interpretations by other creatives and you hope it’s in good hands.  I’ve been blessed to have my scripts in good hands with the creatives I’ve worked with who elevate my screenplays to a higher level. I’m blessed to have been the writer chosen to make the blueprints happen again and again. You have to let go of any regrets and just enjoy the fruits of your labor and accept the good with the bad. The victory is that one of your films gets produced, screened for a mass audience, and seeing your credit—oh and don’t forget getting paid!

Family Vanished posterI also have another thriller premiering next weekend on Saturday, July 6 at 8p/7c on Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) called “Family Vanished” about a family whose home and identities have been taken over by a criminal family.  The movie stars Jennifer Taylor, Todd Cahoon, Kelly Packard, and Madison Dirks.

When you write a screenplay on assignment you must please the producer first—he or she is your boss and the producers also has people they must answer to in the way of executives, financiers, and even distributors. But as the great writer/director Billy Wilder said, “There is no guaranteeing the audience’s reaction.”  That’s for sure. As the great writer/director Preston Sturges said, “You can’t go around to theatres handing out cards saying, ‘It isn’t my fault.’ You go onto the next one.”  Yes, you move on to the next one —and you’re blessed if there is a next one. If the film is financially successful or gets high ratings for the producer, network, or investors, you’ll have another chance to work for them again—and working again makes a career.  These are the moments we aspire to experience as screenwriters — at least I always did — to be paid, credited, and have others around the world see the finished product.  In fact, millions of viewers during the première airing. In fact, I was in Italy earlier this year and got to see one of my movies airing dubbed in Italian. That was huge treat and truly shows the reach of movies to an international marketplace. Again, you always work hard to craft the best script possible under the circumstances and then let others take over to create something bigger — the real movie.

Even after fourteen produced films and nineteen assignment gigs, I never take my journey for granted because I know the work I’ve done and sacrifices to get here. The distribution aspect of the screenwriter’s journey is always a kick and every time I make it out of the trenches and gain some real ground, I hold my new position with renewed vigor. It motivates me to work even harder to move forward again with humility, patience, and a renewed sense of direction for the next screenplay or assignment.

I’m proof if you keep honing your craft and creating a solid body of work, eventually one of your projects will open that door that leads you on your road to screenwriting success. As always, keep writing, learning, networking with integrity and humility, and remember if you stop writing you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my screenplay consultation services. Click on the icon below for the link to my website and more information. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your script. Why not get it into the best shape possible before you unleash it upon Hollywood?

script consultation2

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. 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.

expiration date mugNOW AVAILABLE!

My COFFEE RING CARTOONS MERCHANDISE for screenwriters. Over a dozen different designs. Click on the photos for the link to my online store and the products offered.

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“It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.” — JJ Abrams

“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

When you start a movie script, it’s like entering a dark room: You may find your way around all right, but you also may fall over a piece of furniture and break your neck. Some of us can see a little better than others in the dark, but there is no guaranteeing the audience’s reaction.”—Billy Wilder

 

 

 

 

Don’t seek validation from outside but from within…

March 16, 2018 § Leave a comment

pitchAh, validation. All writers have a need for  some type of recognition of their work in a positive manner. We all need a pat on the back or just a “job well done” comment every once in a while. Many times you won’t find the validation you seek on the outside, but inside yourself for walking the talk and completing a screenplay. In fact, many times the only validation will come from when they stamp your parking ticket after the meeting. I’m always suspicious of the production companies that don’t pay for a writer’s parking. You pull into the parking lot and read the rates are $2.50 (£1.63 / 2.24) every fifteen minutes—ten bucks ( 8.96 / £6.52 ) per hour! It could be foreshadowing of a terrible ending. Sure enough, after the meeting is over they pass on your project and it’s like rubbing lemon into your paper cut as you race down the stairwell because the quarter-hour is approaching and you don’t want to blow another $2.50 unless you have to do it.

thAfter you finish a new screenplay it’s a vulnerable period because you’re exposing your work to criticism and possibly rejection. You’re coming off a major creative high and you don’t want anyone to spoil your euphoria. And then you discover it’s difficult to find someone else who shares your level of excitement about your script. It’s a feeling of lonely disappointment as if you’re the only person who is championing your cause. Stay strong and trust in your daily disciplines to get you through.

Writing the screenplay is the first big hurdle, but waiting for the validation from feedback is another. It’s easy to take notes personally because your script is your baby and your writing exposes yourself and your talents to the world. If you can’t handle critical opinions, work on detaching from your work, as it will make the process easier for survival. Notes and changes are standard procedure with any screenplay at every level of the film business because the script is an ever-changing blueprint for a movie.

Once the producers, the director, and actors become involved there will be changes and you should welcome the creative input from your co-collaborators. These fellow artisans will bring the script to an entirely new level of creativity. The problem comes when so many changes drag down the process and you become frustrated and feel like throwing in the towel. Stay positive and focus on turning in a script that is closer to what everyone needs to produce the film. That’s your ultimate goal—production. Find the passion you had for the first draft and put that energy into shaping the new draft. You’ll please not only yourself, but also the producer and other talent your script needs to attract to get produced.

I remember when one of my films screened for the cast and crew. I attended, sat next to the stars of the film, and even shared their popcorn. The producer addressed the audience from the screen where he introduced the key players who made the film and thanked them. He mentioned the stars, director, various crew members, even the craft service guy who  “made fantastic sushi.” I assumed he would mention my name, but somehow, it slipped his memory. I sat there mortified and the stars of the film gave me a supportive look. The lights dimmed and the movie started—a movie that I wrote!

CUT TO: The production company’s offices and after screening party. It was a crowded affair with many industry types and crew members. After a few martinis, I was chatting with a character actor who starred in many Cohen Brothers films. The producer found me, marched over, and apologized profusely. He said that he didn’t know that I was at the screening. Talk about validation…

script oddsIf 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 you will be disappointed from your feedback and your high expectations may be 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. You’ll need to survive over the long haul of a career to endure disappointment criticism and rejection. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps make your script better and teaches you collaboration as a team player.

You’re certain to experience many disappointments as you pursue a career, but do not perceive any of them as failures or setbacks. These experiences are part of a screenwriter’s journey and you’ll always succeed if you keep a positive outlook and never stop writing.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on blog My Blank Page.

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

Subscribe to my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL for my weekly screenwriting videos.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my professional services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.  You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right…

script consultation2

Master CoverR2-4-REV2

 

Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years working as a professional screenwriter in Hollywood. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon for purchase.

 

 

 

Need help reaching your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinars can help. Click on the icon below for the link to the webinars for rent or purchase.

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“The reward of suffering is experience.”—Aeschylus, Ancient Greek Dramatist known as the founder of Greek Tragedy

“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then.”—William Faulkner

“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”—
Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act 1 Scene 4

“Don’t focus on where you’re not (famous or A-list writer)—focus on where you’re at—hopefully screenwriting. Regardless of success or experience, we’re all equals in front of that blank page channeling the muse.”—Scriptcat

“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”

Be prepared for opportunities

 

The long haul journey to reach any level of screenwriting success…

January 30, 2018 § Leave a comment

mark super8 copyIf you’re lucky, the spark of creativity strikes when you are young. It’s a time to explore your artistic interests with eyes open wide and a fearless hunger to create.  It’s the time for pure creativity without any negative filters. You may explore a range of artistic endeavors before you’re lucky enough to discover the one that brings you the most joy.  It’s exciting as you experience a passion for your work—the motivating force that makes you wake up in the morning with eager anticipation of creating something again.  It soon becomes an important part of who you are as a person.

It also helps to grow up in a family where both parents encourage and support your creative endeavors. My parents knew too well a life of regrets from never fully going after their dreams. They both grew up in the same small town in families that didn’t support or nurture their artistic passions and as a result, their dreams were never allowed to thrive. My parents encouraged my brother and me to dreambig. They always told us they never wanted to stifle our artistic interests like their parents had done to them. Sure, they knew it’s risky to follow a dream, but they believed it was worth it for us to try to achieve what they did not. They just wanted us to be happy.

Neither of my parents nor any of my extended family was in the film industry. I had to make my breaks the old-fashioned way—hard work, discipline, tenacity, resolute faith, and a pitbull’s mentality to make it. Nepotism certainly helps to cut you a break in Hollywood, but luck helps—and luck is when you’re offered an opportunity and you’re prepared to do the job.  You’ll only succeed if you’ve mastered your craft and you can deliver the goods as a professional.  Being raised by two encouraging and supportive parents definitely was the necessary ingredient for me to pursue my creative endeavors and eventually make screenwriting my career. You’re blessed if you can find your calling in life as your job because it doesn’t feel like a job—it’s pleasure to go to work every day.

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.

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)

 

Scriptcat out!

Need a bit of help with your latest screenplay? Could it be time for in-depth consultation before you unleash it upon Hollywood? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website.

script consultation2

Need a bit of screenwriting advice with your morning coffee? Check out my COFFEE RING CARTOONS merchandise for screenwriters now at my online store. New merch up on the site! Coffee mugs, T-shirts, mouse pads, notebooks, glassware, and note cards. Click on the photo below for the link to my online store.

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“Writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die. We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout.”—Ray Bradbury

“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action. Do it or don’t do it… creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.  The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” — Joseph Campbell

“My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.”—Ray Bradbury

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