The screenplay you’re writing now may not be the one, but one of many you’ll need to write…

January 29, 2020 § 1 Comment

PILE OF SCRIPTSIf you’re in this business for any length or time, you’ll realize it’s a numbers game at best to sell a screenplay. Consider the odds of selling a spec screenplay being the same as winning the lottery if you believe the numbers—nearly 50,000 projects bounce around Hollywood each year with less than 100 specs selling at the studio level in most years. The exact numbers are hard to find, but it looks like about 40 specs sold in 2018. Don’t forget about the thousands of films made without distribution that end up competing at film festivals every year with only a handful landing deals. Ah, don’t forget about the hundreds of pitches that don’t sell and the fact that the WGA 2019 employment report listed only 6,057 professional writers reporting income in fiscal year 2019 (Ends June 2019).

Yes, I also hate learning 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. And talk is cheap in Hollywood, so add that to the journey of your projects when producers or executives head their praise on your talents and your screenplay, but string you along with offers of free work as they dangle the carrot of production. 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 hurdles that are out of your control.

  • An option for little money doesn’t end up with the purchase of the script.
  • A script is purchased, the writer is 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. It’s dead after that.
  • 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.

script oddsEach 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 just completed my 39th overall screenplay 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 unleashing solid projects into the pipeline so you can attack a career on different fronts. 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 © 2020 Mark Sanderson. All rights reserved. My Blank Page blog.

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.

Screenplay consultation services

Master CoverR2-4-REV2My book now available on Amazon.

28 FIVE STAR reviews. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon and more information.

It’s a long haul journey to reach any level of screenwriting success. 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.

 

Subscribe to my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL for over 40 screenwriting advice videos.

My new COFFEE RING CARTOONS Merchandise for screenwriters is now available on my online store. Mugs, T-shirts, mouse pads, note cards, pint glasses, and coasters. Click on the photo below for the link to my online store.

mug-real-photo

Losing focus on your screenwriting goals this year? Maybe my archived webinars may help:
                                         A SCREENWRITER’S CHECKLIST

                                                                     Part 1 & 2

Available for rental and download just $5.99 each. Click on the icon below for the link…

checklist 2

Check out actor/writer/showrunner John Lehr’s  (the original Geico Cavemen!) 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.

john stands up logo

“In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me.”—Kurt Vonnegut

“You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it. But the best writing is certainly when you are in love. If it is all the same to you I would rather not expound on that.”—Ernest Hemingway

“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

“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 time we have alone; the time we have in walking; the time we have in riding a bicycle; are the most important times for a writer. Escaping from a typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give your subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level.”—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

Happy ninth anniversary to my blog!

December 6, 2019 § Leave a comment

blog 9 yearsI can’t believe it’s December again and my nine-year anniversary for my blog. Time sure flies as we’re busy filling our blank pages, right? Yes, it’s my 9th ANNIVERSARY here and it’s been another solid year of readership of the blog. I want to thank you all my loyal readers for a fantastic eight years on the net. I hope my over 250 articles helped with your survival in the trenches of Hollywood as a working screenwriter. As you know, screenwriting is a long haul journey to reach any level of success, but when you know other writers are out here slugging away, fighting the good fight, and being successful, it can give you hope and strength to fill yet another blank page as you follow your dreams.

As a bonus extra, I’m going to give you my list of TOP 10 DISCIPLINES TO BUILD A PROFESSIONAL REPUTATION.

It’s a given that you must have talent as a screenwriter, but if you also have a bad reputation it will harm your ability to land a job. Your reputation as a professional screenwriter will always precede you and can only be built over time as you work on various projects with producers or executives.

You must understand that everyone’s opinion about working with you matters. If you garner a reputation as being “difficult,” producers and others will choose not work with you again. Hollywood is all about working relationships and time is too precious and a lot of money is at stake on a project to deal with hassles. There are just too many other capable writers out there who are not divas and can get the job done. This is one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned on my nearly twenty year professional journey as a screenwriter—a solid reputation is vital to establishing a professional career.

Hollywood is a business of relationships and networking. People generally like to work with those people they’ve had a positive experience with in the past and who they can trust to deliver the work.  So, how do you build a solid reputation as a screenwriter?

My TOP 10 Disciplines to Build a Professional Reputation:

  1. Always deliver your best work, every time, regardless of your salary.
  2. Do you best not to be late for meetings.
  3. Always meet your contracted screenplay deadlines.
  4. Never get testy or upset about script notes or show anger about the changes.
  5. Be the ultimate team player and collaborator.
  6. Go the extra mile on every screenplay and clearly show the producers how invaluable you are to the project.
  7. If you don’t already have the natural ability—pay close attention to all details. Nobody will know the screenplay better than you will as the writer.
  8. Help the producers craft a script they can actually produce and do everything in your power to help push it through the development process.
  9. Don’t be a pain in the ass or a precious screenwriter.
  10. Be generous with your collaborators and make working with you a positive and fun experience.

th

Initially, you may not receive the praise you feel that you deserve for all of your hard work.  If this happens, practice patience, as it will eventually pay off for you over the long haul. Your praise will come in the form of a payment for your writing, a produced film, and a vital part of your screenwriting career—a credit. This will lead to more jobs as you now have experience and someone who took a chance on hiring you.

You’ll always find opportunities to build your integrity as a professional screenwriter.  Every new project is a chance to build new relationships and show the producers and executives they can trust you by being a person of your word.  If you promise to do something—do it.  It’s that easy.  Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you and that your word means something.  It’s part of being a professional in all aspects of your career.

During pre-production of one of my films, I remember the director was on the location scouting and we’d keep in touch every day.  When he needed changes to the script, he’d call or E-mail me, and I would have the revisions back to him the next morning.  He knew he could trust me to deliver the changes that he needed to produce the film. Directors and producers remember these positive working relationships and it’s all part of the process to build your professional reputation. It was very gratifying for me recently hearing this director say that he ran into another director whom I worked with and they both told each other what a pleasure it was to work with me. I’ve worked hard to build my reputation over the years and it continually pays off.

handshake cartoonA bad first impression is hard to erase, so never turn in your script late and never be late for a meeting, especially if it’s your first meeting. Make sure you are always ten to fifteen minutes early and ready to go. Somehow it’s become industry standard protocol that producers or executives will always make you wait. It’s like the doctor’s office, where your appointment is for 11:00 and you’re called into the office at 11:30. As frustrating as it is, it’s their prerogative and not yours. Be known as the writer who shows up early and is always ready to go. If you’re habitually late, you’ll lose their trust and they will think, “if this writer can’t even show up on time, why would he turn in his script on schedule?” It’s a reasonable assumption.

I was recently at a very important pitch meeting at a very high-profile Hollywood production company where the executives ran thirty minutes late. The assistant came down twice from upstairs to apologize—and I was very understanding of course. There was nothing I could do but tough it out. This meeting took a month to schedule and I wasn’t about to re-schedule, as I was ready to pitch today. When they finally called me into the meeting, the executives were so apologetic and went the extra mile to accommodate me.  It adds a different dynamic to the meeting when they feel badly about making you wait.  It’s their prerogative being late, not yours.

What you can control is your own conduct as you follow the code of a professional screenwriter. Your integrity is like a muscle and you need to work on it daily. Eventually your professionalism will come naturally (if it doesn’t already) and building your reputation with integrity will become effortless. Always remember, your reputation is as important as your talent and work ethic. It’s a vital ingredient for any level of success in your overall screenwriting career, so build a reputation that will make producers want to work with you again and again.

salvador-dali-by-willy-rizzo-1As the year ends, take some time to reflect on your experiences — celebrate your successes, analyze your mistakes and failures, and adapt to find new strategies that can move you and your projects forward down the paying field. Always set realistic goals and do whatever you need to go after them with passion. Remember, it’s later than you think, and life passes quickly while you attempt great things with your screenwriting career.

My sincere thanks for your support of this blog. Remember to always respect the craft, keep the faith, work from a solid outline with a passion for the work and not seeking fame and fortune, and remember—if you stop writing, you’re guaranteed to never have a shot at any success.

See you on Twitter/Periscope and the big and small screen.

All my best screenwriting wishes for the new decade and 2020!

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Need in-depth consultation on your screenplay or TV pilot? Consider my consultation services. Click the icon below for the link to my website and schedule your consultation today.

script-consultation2

 

Master CoverR2-4-REV2

Check out my book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success, now available on Amazon with 28 five-star reviews. The book has been a long haul journey to write and shares my twenty years of experiences in Hollywood’s trenches with advice about forging your own career with my tips, tricks and tactics to say in the game. Makes a great holiday gift too, so put in your order early!

 

 

 

And for the screenwriter in your life — consider my screenwriting merch at my online store. Discover my COFFEE RING CARTOONS merch hand drawn by me! Click on the photo below for the link to my store. Order early to make sure to receive it for Christmas.

holiday mug meme

“… 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

“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

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.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”—Pablo Picasso

“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

Scriptcat’s end of the year checklist for screenwriters…

December 3, 2019 § Leave a comment

new opportunityWho can believe the year is almost over? It will be 2020 in a blink of an eye. It’s always a powerful tool to look back over the previous year and critically analyze the good, the bad, and the ugly choices you’ve made. Hopefully, you’ve learned from your failures and enjoyed your successes. Excuses abound, but what really matters is how productive have you been? Room for improvement? Have you become a better screenwriter and have you been able to move yourself and your projects down the field? Have you opened doors and gained new “fans” of your writing? Have you been able to gain and hold new ground? Established new relationships and contacts? Created a solid body of material in a genre to show your unique voice?

The responsibility for a screenwriter’s career begins and ends with the screenwriter. The hard fact:  Your screenwriting career is probably the most important struggle to you and not to anyone else. Only you know the hard work and sacrifices you’ve endured to go after your dream, so you need to protect your career path by taking responsibility for chartering the course of your career. Your time is precious and you need to constantly be moving forward and avoid the pitfalls of poor choices and negative experiences.

Too many times, I’ve heard screenwriters blame others for their own missteps or lack of success in Hollywood. Some writers look for the quick and easy way to success, but end up frustrated when their one script doesn’t sell, they have no other plans and they are not working on new material. Sure, it’s easier to soften the blow to blame the agent, manager, producer, or Hollywood itself for not getting your film made, but screenwriters need to step up and take more control over their choices.

Every time you write a new project on spec, you must consider how it fits into the bigger picture of your screenwriting goals. It’s a risk when you write a spec and you are rolling the dice with your precious time. Did you just have a “fun idea” for a movie and thought it would sell, so you decided to spend months writing it? This is not an effective use of your time. If it’s your passion project and you must write it—do it and hopefully you’ve executed it properly and your passion will be there on the page.

Boulder FlatAlways have a purpose in choosing your material. REMEMBER: What you write about is as important as how you execute it — and just because you write it doesn’t mean they have to buy it or will “love it.” You’ll only figure this out after you meander through four or five scripts that don’t achieve the plateaus you had expected or do not sell. You’ll be forced to take a step back and examine your reasoning for embarking on the journey with each project. If you’ve been successfully making noise with a particular genre, continue to establish yourself as an expert in that genre. When you secure a writing gig, you’ll have steady work because you’ll be known for a genre. There is nothing wrong with being pigeonholed as a screenwriter. It means you’ll work and build up your résumé in a genre that you hopefully enjoy writing.

script oddsTrust me, bouncing around for years with different scripts in different genres hoping that something sticks is a fool’s endeavor. I’ve been there.  When something eventually hits and is a success, the producers will want more of the same from you in the way of screenwriting assignments—the bread and butter or working screenwriters. There is no shame in steady work in a particular genre. I find sometimes aspirants believe they’ll hold out and will only go with a script that is “their vision” and somehow it’s “selling out” to take a job offered writing something that maybe isn’t their favorite choice of material—but it’s a foot in the door. A writer with zero credits is still a writer without any produced films.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the odds are already stacked against you and time marches on so quickly. Only 6,057 WGA members reported any income last year and of those, 4,830 were in Television (annual report ending in June 2019) out of nearly 13,000 members. Check out the 2019 ANNUAL REPORT FROM THE WGA. Think about those odds for a moment and then get back to work. And if you add the non-union screenwriters working… it can boggle the mind with more stats and there are no stats for non-union screenwriters working or not working. The main issue is that you must stay busy creating projects, networking, building your unique voice, and casting your best scripts wide to the right players.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2This year was very busy for me with three paid assignments and two of the films go into production in the next few months. Screenwriters are also discovering and enjoying my book, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” with 23 FIVE STAR REVIEWS on Amazon. I also offered my master class seminar “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood,” and continued to expand my screenwriting consulting business. In fact, I’m offering a holiday special with $35 off any feature screenplay or TV pilot consultation package until Dec. 31st. Now is a perfect time to get your project ready for 2020.

 

IMG_2016So, it’s never too late, even though the year is nearly over, to grab a piece of paper and if you haven’t yet, set up a game plan for 2020.  Hit the ground running and achieve your goals every day of the week. Treat your screenwriting like a business—because it’s YOU, INC. and every decision you make affects your pathway to success. Ask yourself the hard questions: “Why are you writing this particular spec and will it serve you in the best way possible to create opportunities and open doors?”

Here are seven steps in my checklist to prepare for the new year:

1)  SCREENPLAYS! Make a list of all viable projects. Completed scripts and what condition they are in: ready to be read, needs a rewrite, needs a polish, only a first draft, etc. Add to the list any fleshed out pitches, log lines, one sheets, beat sheets or treatments. This is important if you cross paths with an agent or manager. They want to see you busy and prolific on your own. What do you have to offer? Do you have script only and nothing as a follow-up? You’ll need a solid body of work to standout and it will take time to craft these projects. It’s dangerous to be impatient and go out with a screenplay without having another solid project to back it up.

2)  ACHIEVEMENTS!  Make a list of your achievements in 2019. Scrutinize the successes and failures so you can see where you need to pick up the slack in areas where you need to focus in the new year. List any accolades—did you win or place in a significant screenwriting competition? Did you option or sell a screenplay? Did you graduate from film school?  Did you make any films, short movies, or a webseries on your own?  Did you work on a production or take an internship? List anything that shows you are working toward to your goals.

3)  SOLID CONTACTS! Make a list of any new contacts that you met by networking during the year. In January, make sure to send them a “First of the year—hope this finds you well—this is what I’m doing” e-mail. It will put you back on their radar and if you list a few interesting projects, they might bite and ask for a read. Also, instead of always asking for help, BE a good contact too. It’s not all one-sided.

4)  DEADLINES!  Make a list of potential deadlines for any rewrites or new ideas. Keep true to these self-imposed deadline as if they were real screenwriting jobs. Do not deviate from the commitment for anyone or any external forces. Trust me, either on purpose or by mistake, people will try to derail your schedule and will think it’s not that important because you’re writing on spec. It is that important. It’s vital training for the time when you finally do get a job on assignment and you’ll know how to keep a deadline under any conditions. Find respected screenwriting contests that you may want to enter and use their entry dates as a goal and deadlines to finish your new material.

5)  NETWORKING! If you haven’t yet, start attending networking events in the new year. Become a member of the International Screenwriter’s Association ( ISA ) for workshops, webinars and in person events in your area. Join Scriptwriter’s Network and they have seminars and meetups every month in Los Angeles. Network on Stage32.com and also Final Draft hosts meetups every month with known screenwriters and offers tips and many free networking events during the year. Get out of your writing cave and meet other screenwriters and network.  Help others and you will find they will help you.

6)  READ, READ, READ! If you don’t already, read scripts on a regular basis. Good scripts, bad scripts, classics—read! You’ll be surprised how much you learn from reading screenplays. Be careful of the screenplays that are posted during award season. Do not try to emulate their style as most were written in a protected bubble of development and were not specs, so they can get away with many things regarding format that you cannot with a spec from an unknown writer.  “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” —Stephen King.

7)  HOMEWORK! If you don’t already, read screenwriting blogs, books, articles and film websites with news about the film industry. You must do your homework on a daily basis and not expect your representation (if you’re lucky to have an agent or manager) to do it for you. A lot of vital information slips through the cracks and information is priceless currency in Hollywood. It can mean the difference between getting in a door with a meeting that could land you the next job that launches your career.

A game plan helps you allocate your precious time wisely. It shows that you’re your serious about your career and treating your screenwriting as a professional—not just willy-nilly writing a script and hoping it will sell on its own merits. It’s rare that one script makes a career. It’s always one script that opens the door, but you’ll probably have to write five or six to get to that “ONE.” The overnight success is usually a series of little successes along the way that lead up to continued success.  You have to consider how everything you do regarding your career fits into your bigger overall goals.

Your career aspirations can’t live or die by one project and you can’t focus on “the one” and hope it unlocks the gates of Hollywood. It’s always going to be a numbers game with horrible odds of success. Even if you sell a screenplay, there are no guarantees and still so many hurdles to jump. The good news is—the more quality material you create, the better chance you have of garnering interest and that may lead to a sale or assignment work. It’s always about the right project to the right producer at the right time. That’s why you stay in the game by continuing to write and get better. Keep your eye on the big picture.  It’s like what Bruce Lee said in Enter the Dragon, “It’s like a finger pointing a way to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!”

All my best wishes for a glorious and successful new year that is a blank slate for you to fill as you wish.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2020 by Mark Sanderson. All Rights Reserved. My Blank Page blog.

Also check out my YOUTUBE Channel with weekly videos offering script tips.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on photo below for the link to my website and more information.

script-consultation2

Check out my new interview on actor/producer John Lehr’s podcast where we talk about the journey of screenwriting in Hollywood. Click on photo below for Sound Cloud link.

john stands up logo

Need  gifts for the screenwriter in your life? Check out my COFFEE RING CARTOONS merch at my online store by clicking on the photo below.

holiday mug meme

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

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

“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 Falukner

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”—William Falukner

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” —Lao Tzu

“Your screenwriting career is not a Dali-esque delusion, but the result of work, talent, focus, sacrifice, patience and luck. And we know that luck is a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity.”—Scriptcat

The less you share about your progress the better and only celebrate when the check clears…

October 7, 2019 § Leave a comment

never believe them untl the check clearsI know writers can get excited about anyone’s interest in their work. This also goes for a meeting, or a request to read their screenplay. Sure, on the surface it’s all positive forward movement, but many times you’ll learn that the final results don’t always live up to your high expectations. That’s why you have to always do what Lao Tzu recommends, “Act without expectation,” so you don’t suffer the ups and downs of the screenwriting journey and its emotional roller coaster.

What can you do as you’re navigating the trenches on your screenwriting journey? Keep the intimate details of your work to yourself. Do not continually post on social media or talk about the status of your projects, about an upcoming meeting, how many pages you wrote today, or how each project is moving forward or not. It’s only to seek validation from people you don’t know and that’s the hardest quest of all. It’s similar to when you’re playing poker. You keep your cards close to your vest and only play your hand when you really have something. I’ve seen too many writers get excited and post on social media about their upcoming meetings, or how a production company wants to read their script, only to learn a week later the meeting was just a general meeting, and the production company passed on the script. Why share that private information only to have it end with rejection?

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 after a series of events that failed to materialize into anything, people might believe that you were exaggerating for effect or just blowing smoke. Maybe they would think you weren’t talented enough if the project fell apart? The reality is that financing does fall through, schedules change, companies pass on your scripts, 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.

hang onThe 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 a few million 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. It’s like fake currency because it’s as easy for people to just click a heart as it is to respond with a jealous or nasty comment. 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. You don’t need the added distractions.

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 and don’t post it on social media until there is something real to talk about. A meeting can just be a meeting. And it’s great that a production company requested to read your script, but that a long way from them wanting to option or buy it. It’s baby steps at first before anything major happens, and it takes years of writing and networking. It was six years after film school for me when I landed my first professional writing job. Even when projects move forward, they can still die in development, during production, and even after they’re produced. Projects can also languish after you’ve been paid to write them as they sit on a shelf never to be produced. It’s happened to me at least five times. What do you do? You move on.

The less you share about your progress the better. No one ever truly knows the fate of any screenplay or film and it’s mostly out of your control, so stick to what is within your control—keeping your private business to yourself until there is something concrete to share. And only get excited when the check clears!

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2020by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE

Follow me on Twitter / Periscope: @scriptcat

Did you just complete your latest magnum opus? Is it time for in-depth consultation/editing/proofing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.

script consultation2

masterclassFREE!  My seminar “Staying the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood” sponsored by Film Courage. It’s two hours of me talking about my screenwriting journey and I share my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me to become and stay as a working screenwriter in Hollywood for over twenty years. Click on the icon for the link to the video.

 

Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years of working professionally as a screenwriter in Hollywood and shares my tips, tricks, and tactics that helped me to stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2

Subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for screenwriting video advice.

Losing focus on your screenwriting goals? Maybe my archived webinar can help—now available for streaming rental. Click on the icon below for the link to rent the webinar.

checklist 2

Check out actor/writer/showrunner John Lehr’s  (the original Geico Cavemen!) 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.

john stands up logo

 

“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

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

Did you just complete your latest magnum opus? Is it time for in-depth consultation/editing/proofing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.

 

masterclassFREE!  My seminar “Staying the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood” sponsored by Film Courage. It’s two hours of me talking about my screenwriting journey and I share my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me to become and stay as a working screenwriter in Hollywood for over twenty years. Click on the icon for the link to the video.

 

Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years of working professionally as a screenwriter in Hollywood and shares my tips, tricks, and tactics that helped me to stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2

Subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for screenwriting video advice.

Losing focus on your screenwriting goals? Maybe my archived webinar can help—now available for streaming rental. Click on the icon below for the link to rent the webinar.

checklist 2

 “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

More Quotes of the Day

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

May 3, 2019 § 3 Comments

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.

script consultation2

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.

 

“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.

script consultation2

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

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the screenwriting career category at My Blank Page.

%d bloggers like this: