Ahhhh… that sweet aroma of victory when you finish your spec screenplay. It’s your vision — every word, scene, and line of dialogue is yours… it’s a joyous dream world filled with everything that came from your head. Now reality hits with a spec release and if you end up working in Hollywood—it’s always a collaboration with compromises. The moment you unleash your script for others to read, you will receive notes, good, bad and ugly and open yourself up to criticism. It’s hard when they burst your protected spec bubble, and you realize that just because you write a screenplay doesn’t mean anyone has to like it or produce it. Time to toughen up and strap yourself in for the reality of the journey’s bumpy ride. If you can’t handle criticism and notes about your screenplays, don’t type FADE IN.
The key to survival as a writer, and working in Hollywood if you do land a job, is mastering the fine art of collaboration. Filmmaking by its nature is a collaborative art. No single person makes a movie. It can take up to one hundred people or more to make a decent budgeted film. So accepting the concept of collaboration is vital to your survival over the long haul. No screenplay scene or line of dialogue—or any screenplay—is worth losing a job over because you don’t want to collaborate. Professionals want to work with other professionals who are not difficult.
Producers, executives, agents, managers, and directors look for screenwriters that go above and beyond and realize the opportunities they have landed. If you want to work in this crazy business where it’s nearly impossible to get anything produced on any size screen — detach and get the script produced. You want to be the “go to person” who helps the producer, executive, and director move the project through the development phase into production. A collaborator and team player does just that without grumbling or being defensive about every change to the material. Drop the ego when you walk through the door or pick up that phone. Your experience and attitude can determine if you’ll stay on the project or be fired. Have you learned how to take constructive criticism and mastered the ability to execute producer’s notes—and not gripe and grimace during the experience? If not, learn it now.
Most producers and executives have their radar up to detect if a screenwriter is easy or difficult when it comes time for the rewrites. They test you when you don’t expect it. Can you pass the test? The minute you’re viewed as problem, you’ll be branded as “difficult” and it’s a hard to dispel that reputation. The next step? You lose the job, and they hire another writer who is a collaborator.
Your professional reputation is vital to your overall success. Hollywood is a small town when it comes to people knowing each other. The producer I’m working with now knows and has worked with everyone I’ve worked with in the past. If word gets out that a producer or director had a difficult working relationship with you, it can mean the death of your next job — or your career. Let’s dispel that old stereotype and prove them all wrong. We’re the writers who want to work and make it all happen. Make a point to clearly show the producers how invaluable you are to the project and why they need to keep you around. As you’re the screenwriter, be the repository of knowledge about the script for the director, producer, and actors.
Collaboration doesn’t mean that you only say “yes” to every note and don’t intelligently discuss the changes. I’ve been in situations where I’m the only line of defense for the screenplay as my producer had to focus on another film. I was in a notes meeting with the other producers whom I’ve never met or worked with before, and they were in another country so we had to Skype our meeting. They wanted to dramatically change the ending of the screenplay, and I politely defended the work with clear examples of why that would be a bad idea. They listened… after a long pause, I received the comment, “Okay, let’s keep it. Moving on…” BAM! So, was I going to do that with every note? Of course not, but you have to pick and choose your battles wisely. I think producers also don’t want writers who are not thinking about the story and defending it with clear evidence, not just defending the work due to their ego.
Do everything you can to help the producers craft the script they need and lend all of your support to get the movie competed. That’s the end game—getting your movie produced, receiving the production bonus, and receiving your credit. Initially, you may not receive the praise or validation you feel that you deserve for all of your hard work. I know it feels like you’re banging your head against a wall and coming up short. If this happens, patience is a good discipline to follow, 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. Produced film credits will determine your payment quote for your next project and secure you as a working professional. You’ll always find opportunities to be a collaborator team player and build your integrity as a professional screenwriter.
Collaborate! 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. Some of the best collaborations I’ve had are with the directors of the scripts that I’ve written. I’m helping make their job easier and they respect me as the writer. Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you, that your word means something, and you are a willing and able collaborator. Your talent is equally as important as your professional work ethic and your attitude. These are the characteristics of a professional screenwriter and your reputation of being a the ultimate collaborator will precede you.
Keep filling your blank pages because if you stop writing, you’ll never have a shot at any success.
Copyright ©2020 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE. All rights reserved.
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 Hollyw
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“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” — John Lubbock
“Fame and money are gifts given to us only after we have gifted the world with our best, our lonely, our individual truths.”—Ray Bradbury
“Just do the best you can every time. And if you’re going to stay in the movies, and you like movies—and I love them—you’d better love them a lot, because it’s going to take all of your time. If you want to be in the movies, it’s going to break your heart.”—director Richard Brooks
“You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning.” – Billy Wilder