March 12, 2017 § Leave a comment
The 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.
My 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.
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“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
“If a writer stops observing, he is finished.”—Ernest Hemingway
“This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.”—Rod Serling
“The well is where your “juice” is. Nobody knows what it is made of, least of all yourself. What you know is if you have it, or you have to wait for it to come back.”—Ernest Hemingway
February 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
It happens to all screenwriters eventually. You’re working along on at a good clip, maybe writing five or more pages a day, and then a giant barrier drops in your way. Your writing comes to a crashing halt and you’ve lost that precious momentum.
You know the positive feeling momentum can bring. It’s when you have to shut down your writing for the day, but you can’t wait until the next morning to get back to work. It feels like your characters are waiting for you to get them into the next scene and they are frozen until you do. This day-to-day schedule and working in the zone to finish is momentum—the force that propels your writing forward and enables you to complete your screenplay on a schedule. Never underestimate the energy that comes with screenwriting momentum. You reconnect with the material the next day and the next and this is how you complete a project quickly.
The problem comes with life gets in the way of your schedule. You skip one day of writing… and this leads to two days… and three… you get the idea. When you’re finally able to get back to the writing, it can be difficult to put yourself back into that creative space and “see” the movie again that you’re writing. If you allow barriers to block your precious writing time, you will derail the project and may never finish. I know many aspiring screenwriters who are still trying to complete their first screenplay after years of stops and starts. There is always something else to do than write—especially when it gets difficult.
Once you start working professionally, you can also lose momentum on a project when the producer or production company takes longer with their notes than you expect. This can derail your splendid career plans but also your creative process. If you want to work as a professional screenwriter and keep your sanity, you have to accept that Hollywood runs on its own schedule. Yes, your contract will have provisions about when your script is due and the producer’s reading period for notes, but the process can take longer than you’re used to when you wrote your specs alone. Don’t allow this shift in momentum to throw you off your game. Your ability to jump back onto a project and execute notes will show producers that you are a professional who can deal with any screenwriting situation.
I have a project in development and I’ve done three drafts on it, but I have not heard from the producer in five months to find out if it’s moving forward or not. When I eventually have to do another draft, I’ll need to acquaint myself with the script again because it’s been so long between the rewrites. This loss of momentum is hard to deal with unless you have experienced it before. I prefer when it’s only a few weeks between drafts and that allows me to keep sharp on the script that I’m writing.
When writing your specs, this is your training ground to keep up your momentum. This also goes for the pursuit of your career. Every day, do something that contributes to moving farther down the field where you can plant your flag. It’s all about gaining new ground with contacts and new projects. Most of the time, this will involve creating a solid body of work to standout, but it also includes networking and learning.
If you slip and allow a barrier to derail your scheduled writing time, procrastination and distractions will keep you from completing your pages. You want to see concrete results and feel like you’re constantly moving forward toward your end goal—becoming a working screenwriter. Momentum is a precious energy that screenwriters need to not only complete their screenplays but also to establish their careers.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.
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“I’ve often been asked why the film industry hasn’t generated more acting talent. The answer is simple: the men at the top do not care. They live on the basis of product being made today. There is a sad but true saying in the industry: “Is it good?” “No, but we’ll have it Friday.”—Jerry Lewis
“… In fact, when the camera is in motion, in the best-directed scenes, the audiences should not be aware of what the camera is doing. They should be following the action and the road of the idea so closely, that they shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on technically.”—John Huston
“Not only do you attack each scene as late as is possible, you attack the entire story the same way.”—William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade.
“Just tell the story, physically and visually. Don’t censor. Let the final form come last.”—director Carol Reed
“Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”—Ray Bradbury
“I don’t think of it as an art. When it works it’s skill & craft & some unconscious ability”—Ernest Lehman
November 21, 2016 § Leave a comment
If you are lucky enough to establish a screenwriting career and build a professional reputation, other opportunities may come from “script doctor” work. This job includes being hired to come onto a project and do the necessary rewrites to push it through development. Most of the time the previous screenwriter either had another commitment and could not continue on the project, or the screenwriter was “written out” and couldn’t execute the notes as requested. I’ve been hired to do this type of rewrite work three times before and it’s an invaluable opportunity to work with producers and directors. It also helps to build your solid reputation as someone they can go to help
I just signed last week for another script doctor job, my second with a production company that hired me last year to do the same thing. This new job came my way because of my solid working relationship with the company and the producer. They trust me to deliver the goods on time because I’ve proven myself to them before. The film goes into production in three weeks, so I have to be available to turn around the rewrites quickly. The scheduling was perfect because I have a break from a script assignment job and will be returning to that almost when this new film starts production.
It took me six days to execute the notes for my first rewrite. I just completed the next pass and that only took me two days. I’ll be working on any and all changes up until production begins. Many times these rewrite jobs don’t offer credit or shared credit, but that’s okay. The real importance is that the producer and director know that I was able to help them to execute the changes necessary to start the film as scheduled.
The rewrite jobs really offer an invaluable working experience to deconstruct a screenplay and put in new elements to make it work. It also gives you experience on working through the pre-production process and what changes a screenplay needs to go through. It’s also helpful that I’m completely detached because it’s not my screenplay. What doesn’t work has to be changed for the benefit of the overall project. I’m also facilitating the producer and director’s notes. At this point, it is all about making the script production ready.
This is why it’s extremely important to learn how to execute screenplay notes properly. No writer enjoys being rewritten, but the harsh realities of the business dictate when the writer is unable to deliver, producers go with a writer who can adequately make the changes necessary to push the project along toward production. You eventually want to be the “go to” person who they will hire on a regular basis.
This latest job continues my solid working relationship with the production company and allows me to pitch my own ideas and present story treatments to them. If you want steady work, it’s vital to build your professional reputation with producers and directors. According to the Scoggins Report, in 2015 only 93 specs sold and as of September of this year only 47 specs have sold, so you won’t be selling specs your entire career. A spec will open the door for assignment work and possibly rewrite jobs too. As they say, work begets work and it’s absolutely true. There are plenty of hungry screenwriters out there competing for fewer jobs, so if you can land any screenwriting job consider yourself blessed.
The only guarantee is that if you stop writing you’ll never have any shot at success.
Copyright 2016, by Mark Sanderson on My Blank Page.
Don’t miss my Lifetime Movie Network double feature to kick off 2017!
Did you just complete your latest screenplay or new draft? Do you need in-depth consultation? Check out my 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.
Need help reaching your screenwriting goals? Check out my on-demand webinars. Click on the photo below for the link to the website.
Also check out my new COFFEE RING CARTOONS MERCHANDISE for screenwriters now available at my online store. Click on the mug below for the link.
“Believe me that in every big thing or achievement there are obstacles — big or small — and the reaction one shows to such an obstacle is what counts not the obstacle itself.”—Bruce Lee
“… a basic “must” for every writer: A simple solitude—physical & mental.”—Rod Serling
“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”—Ray Bradbury
“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
“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
September 1, 2014 § 1 Comment
I remember completing my first screenplay. It was fun and I thought it was the greatest piece of writing ever created—until I received feedback and that knocked me back into reality. I had much to learn and the humbling experience was enough for me to realize that screenwriting is an ongoing journey of learning and writing, failing, and getting rejected. As I soldiered on, I could see legitimate progress as each new screenplay moved me farther down the field of play. Now, twenty-eight screenplays later and thirteen paid screenwriting assignments, my seventh produced film just completed production and comes out this year. Nothing has come for free or handed to me on my journey. My family was not in the film business. I had to learn, climb and claw for everything that I’ve achieved with the invaluable support team of my family and dear friends. We make our own breaks and set up opportunities with every new screenplay that we create.
One can’t do it alone, but you are alone when you face that blank page and realize that no one forced you to choose this endeavor. It’s your dream so take responsibility for it. If you haven’t learned it yet, you will realize it’s not for the thin-skinned or for those who can’t handle failure and rejection. All of this comes with the territory and there are no guarantees. That is what makes it exciting and terrifying at the same time. Every time out, we stand on the side of the cliff and stare into the dark, unknown void below. What makes us take the leap of faith? Our passion and dreams burn as red-hot fuel for our courage to step forward and soar.
This is not an easy journey to reach any level of success for a sustained period. You really have to dig deep and ask yourself if you are willing to slog through the trenches for years, possibly writing material that will never sell only to maybe strike gold and sell something or be hired to write a script for a producer. If you’re in this for the fame and fortune, or you think it’s easy because you’ve read a few screenwriting books and read some scripts, you are very mistaken. The craft and the film business will humble you. It’s not enough to just put the words on paper and call yourself a “screenwriter.” That’s like saying you jumped out of a plane once and now you’re a skydiver. You have to possess the tenacity to weather the ups and downs of the film business, to constantly become a better screenwriter, to learn and grow with your craft, master executing notes, being the ultimate team player and collaborator, and writing material that reveals honestly and authenticity. If you’re in it because you think it’s a quick way for fame and to make big money, think again—you will be humbled by the business. Sure, Hollywood is the boulevard of successes, but also of countless broken dreams.
The life of a screenwriter is not glamorous, but you’d be lucky to become a “working screenwriter” — someone who makes their living by writing. I’m not talking about an A-list superstar (as if many screenwriters ever to get to be superstars compared to actors). Not everyone can achieve A-list status no matter how good they write or how badly they want it. Everyone has their own journey and not everyone will achieve the level of success they anticipated—but that’s okay. You have to decide what your idea of “making it” is and trust me, it changes over the years. Out of the gate from film school graduation, I was going to set the world on fire and sell scripts for a million dollars each. Funny how time and the pursuit has a way of tempering dreams and shaping a more realistic goal.
It hasn’t been easy and there were many times when fear and despair nearly extinguished the bright light I always see ahead of me. Somehow, I manage to hang on and take a few steps forward for every step back. They told me it would not be easy and they were correct. When given the insurmountable odds, it could potentially be impossible—but not for us dreamers. I’d rather work at making my dreams a reality, than never to attempt them and always wonder if I could have made it.
I think it’s an important question to pose to beginning writers—do you have the burning desire to be a writer and the all-encompassing drive it takes to achieve any type of success as a screenwriter? There will be times you ask yourself, “why the hell am I doing this?” and if your answer is, “because I don’t want to do anything else and it’s my life’s calling” — my friend you just might be a real screenwriter.
And what about time? It’s your greatest asset or your worst enemy. It depends on how you use your precious time to create a solid body of work and continue to become a better screenwriter. That’s why I ask if you have an artist’s mentality — or the insanity to believe that even as you stare into the dark void of the unknown, your burning passion will guide you across yet another hurdle. You’ll need to withstand continued rejection, criticism, failure, and even sometimes ridicule — and if you can remain strong and shout with confidence, “I am a screenwriter” and truly believe it, because you are doing the work. It means sacrificing the time to create a solid body of work and not just talking about what you aspire to do.
I knew a lot of “actors” who loved the actor’s lifestyle, but really didn’t do much work at acting. They thought they would get by on their charm and good looks. Well, in Hollywood those qualities are a dime a dozen. The same goes for a “screenwriter.” Ideas are everywhere and it’s the execution that counts. It’s what separates those people who look at writing a screenplay as a way to become famous or to make money. That’s a fool’s endeavor. It takes a real love of the craft of writing that will keep your aim true and focused. You’ll have a body of work to show just how serious you are about being a “screenwriter” because you’re acting like a professional—even if you haven’t been paid. Every time you write you are living out your dream. Everything else on your journey is just an extra treat.
I’ve never found a way around the hard work, only through it. Success is not guaranteed or deserved to any of us. The “overnight success” can take ten years or even longer, so you’ll need the ability to hunker down for the long haul of a screenwriter’s journey in Hollywood. It took me six years out of film school to sell my first project and another two years after that for it to go into production.
You may write scripts for years that no one ever buys or might languish in development hell where you get paid, but no projects make it to the screen. That’s okay because every script you complete makes you a better writer, even if it doesn’t sell. Your goal is a constant mastering of your craft. Even when you finally score a writing job, a simple contract can take months going back and forth between lawyers and agents. Time burns quickly and if patience isn’t in your DNA, then I suggest you learn it because you will endure difficult circumstances and never-ending test of your will.
If you love the craft regardless of the outcome, you already possess the ability to weather the long slog it may take to becoming a working screenwriter. You are not insane in your thinking, you’re hammering away in a rarefied world among writers with an esprit de corps—fellow dreamers who refuse to give up and settle for less than living out their dreams.
Always remember, no one can extinguish your creative flames but you. Keep the hungry creative fires burning, keep believing, follow the professional’s code, and always keep writing and creating new projects. What other choice do you have? Give up? Never.
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“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald
“… the payoff of playing-the-game-for-money is not the money (which you may never see anyway, even after you turn pro). The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude. It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind that shows up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
“Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.” – Hemingway
“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
“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman