Typos and format issues will destroy the image of you as a professional screenwriter…

May 26, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“I FINISHED MY SCREENPLAY!”

We’re all guilty of this… early on during the start of our screenwriting journey we’re too eager to unleash our latest screenplay to be read — many times by people we don’t personally know. Many writers are so excited to receive praise for their hard work they don’t take the time to polish and proofread their material. I’ve read scripts with five or more typos/format issues per page. That’s 500 or more issues in the entire screenplay! It doesn’t make for a smooth read or a good first impression.

 

Imagine the reader’s thoughts about the screenwriter and the image portrayed from the presentation of the work. It’s certainly not that of a professional because they would never allow their work to be seen without proofreading it. The script is not just all about whether the inciting incident is in the correct place or if the second act kicks in on the right page — the presentation of your work is vital to the read and ultimately its success. A screenplay lives or dies by a thousand details, and if it doesn’t get past the first read it’s finished.

pitchYour image as a screenwriter who cares about details will also suffer from this disrespect of the craft and the screenwriting process. Now imagine that producers are reading your script to consider if they should hire you for an assignment job. They can’t get through the first read because it’s heavy with typos, missing punctuation, and dodgy format issues. Do you think their first impression of you will instill confidence in your ability to write their project? They would certainly think if you didn’t respect the craft enough to present your work in the best possible way — why would you change your methods if they hired you? It’s hard to change that first impression too.

It’s also shows a lack of respect for the reader’s time, as you will force them to suffer through a minefield of issues on every page. This certainly doesn’t help with their view of you as a professional either. I ask screenwriters, “Would you turn in your script with coffee stains and smudges on the pages?” Their response is always, “Of course not!” Okay, then why do the same thing with your words and the format?

B3Q_B2CIQAAOQ4LI also hope this goes without saying, but I’ll say it—after you give your script to someone to read, do not call a week later and say, “I hope you didn’t read it. I have a new draft.” I have been the recipient of this too many times to remember. It’s disrespectful, unprofessional, and red flags you as an amateur who doesn’t understand the proper protocol of a read. I remember starting a script and being half way through when the writer calls me about a “new draft.” My time reading half of that script was wasted because I’m now being asked to read it again, but with changes. The agreement was one read — period. Everyone is busy and if the reader is doing this as a favor they will not appreciate the request for a late switch up. If you do this to professionals in the film industry, they will remember and you’ll probably never get a read again.

the long journey of a screenwriterMy final piece of advice… practice patience. I know you’re riding on a creative high after you finish your screenplay and you want praise for your hard work. This is the time to be patient. Go back over your work and read every word. Also accept that it’s a long road to becoming a working screenwriter and forging a career usually doesn’t happen overnight. If you are in this for the long haul, it will require tremendous patience. Even becoming a better writer does not happen overnight and requires you to continually write, learn, and write projects that will ultimately not sell. Your journey as a screenwriter will be a series of failures and mistakes, triumphs and successes, and when added up will hopefully lead to a career as a working screenwriter in Hollywood. The process will be long and arduous, but if you have patience and accept the challenges ahead, you’ll focus more on your love and respect for the craft and not the urgency of success. Everything comes in its proper time with proper experience and opportunity.

Keep the faith and always keep filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2020 Mark Sanderson. All rights reserved. My Blank Page blog.

New script or draft? Need in-depth consultation on your script before you unleash it upon Hollywood? Click on the icon below for the link to my website and more information about my notes packages and mentor programs.

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Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches in this New Year? Consider my book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. Click on the book for the link to Amazon and more information.

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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.

 

 

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.

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Three tips to help on your screenwriting journey to success…

April 10, 2020 § Leave a comment

IMG_1112Welcome! These are difficult times for sure, but we’ll get through this and hopefully come out stronger on the other side. The sun will rise tomorrow, and the hope of a new day and new positive energy. While you are self isolating, a term most of us writers do anyway, here are three tips to consider as you pursue a screenwriting career. In addition to this blog, I also offer nuggets of advice on Instagram, Twitter (@scriptcat) and my screenwriting Youtube Channel. In addition, I’ve written a book available on Amazon called A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success.”

Okay, here are three more tips to help you on your screenwriting journey…

TIP #1     ACT LIKE A PRO—ALWAYS!

MARK4This goes without saying — but I’ll say it anyway: Act like a professional even if you’ve never been paid. As a screenwriter, you must consider writing a job, and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional. As with any job, it comes with deadlines, requirements and expectations, so it’s good practice to follow professional disciplines as you prepare for the time when you do get paid to write. If you train yourself to work under a deadline, it’s not a shock when the producer requires you to complete a script by a certain date. It’s no longer the romanticized dream of spending endless time working on your spec to get it just right—it’s “go time” and you’re now playing in the big leagues—exactly where you belong. The producer or executive expects greatness from you and you generally have six to eight weeks to deliver the first draft and its excellence will decide if they keep you on to write a second draft, or fire you. This is not the time for a “vomit draft.” If you start meeting your own deadlines when writing your specs, it will be easier later when they pay you under contract to meet a deadline.

TIP #2       IT’S A LONG JOURNEY. ENJOY THE LITTLE SUCCESSES ALONG THE WAY.

scan4Sometimes, the only nourishment we have in this barren wasteland of screenwriting is our faith and the anchor of the small achievement. No matter how small. Maybe you finished your script? That’s a major achievement. Maybe you finally got a producer to give it a read? That’s another successful achievement. The ingredients of a big success are usually a range of small successes all leading up to that sale or screenwriting job that jump starts a “career.” It’s the little successes that keep us going through the rough times. I know for me personally, what gets me through is seeing results from my forward movement and creating new material. Every screenplay opens up new opportunities. Always be moving forward, even if it’s a few steps at a time. Sure, you’ll stumble and experience failure during your journey, but avoid falling into the self-doubt pit where the darkness of fear overshadows your burning desire to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

TIP #3         YOUR FIRST DRAFT IS DANGEROUSLY IMPORTANT.

fade inDo not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit or you first need to produce a “vomit” draft. It’s just the opposite—your first draft is extremely important because the DNA of your story and characters lives in this precious first pass. I love this quote from six-time Academy Award nominee screenwriter Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?): “Good screenwriting is about carpentry. It’s a juggling of beginnings, middles and endings so they all inevitably seem to be moving correctly together. Your first draft is dangerously important. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, “It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.”  Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve gone in another direction.”—Ernest Lehman.

It’s true. I know from experience that it’s difficult to totally rewrite a first draft from page one into something new. Sadly, too many times it ends up becoming a jumbled mess as the foundation of the story is being altered underneath the story. My advice is to make your first draft your best possible work at the time. When writing it, act as if you’ll never get another chance to touch the screenplay. You should use your specs as training to turn out a superb first draft to prepare you for the day when you’re hired on assignment. This pays off in many ways, most importantly when you’re working for a producer and your solid first draft secures the interest of investors, a director, and actors. A solid first draft will also keep you on the assignment and not replaced by another screenwriter. Make sure your screenplay suffers the fewest amount of changes during the development process. Trust me, you don’t want your script to get bogged down in development hell. It’s hard to climb out of that pit and many times projects die a tragic death from too many drafts over a long period of time.

Remember, this is a business with no guarantees even when you do sell a screenplay. The only guarantee is you must keep writing and filling your pages because if you stop, you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

Scriptcat out!

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

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or a new draft? Are you “written out” and need a professional opinion about your script?  Is it time for in-depth consultation before you unleash it upon Hollywood? Check out my consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.

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Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue your screenwriting career? My new book is available on Amazon, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success: Tips, tricks and tactics to survive as a working screenwriter in Hollywood.”  Click on the book cover below for the link to Amazon. 31 five star reviews.

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Need help reaching your screenwriting goals? Check out my on-demand webinars for rental or download on $5.99 each. Click on the photo below for the link and a preview.

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“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

“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

If you’re worried about failing, you ought to get into a different business, because statistics will tell you that sixty or seventy percent of the time you’re going to fail.  By fail I mean that the movie won’t make money.  Just do the best you can every time.  And if you’re going to stay in the movies, and you like movies—and I love them—you’d better love them a lot, because it’s going to take all of your time.  If you want to be in the movies, it’s going to break your heart.“—Richard Brooks, director of Blackboard Jungle, Sweet Bird of Youth, In Cold Blood, Looking for Mr. Goodbar

“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

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Scriptcat’s Top 10 daily tips to survive as a sequestered screenwriter…

April 3, 2020 § Leave a comment

We are living in rough times. As creative people, we can’t allow this recent turn of events to get in the way of our splendid screenwriting dreams. Sure, it’s easy to become depressed or anxious during this time of self-quarantine, as we don’t know what the future will bring. In addition, so many of us are out of work and trying to figure out how to keep the lights on. I had two films moving toward with green lights and production dates, but they were shut down until further notice. It’s a difficult time for everyone, and our physical and mental health is so important now. The best discipline we can follow during this period is to focus on the things we do have control over — our screenwriting.

EXCUSESExcuses are easy for writers. We have a myriad of things going on in our busy lives that can distract us from the job of filling our blank pages. It’s more evident now during this stressful time with being self-quarantined due to the global pandemic. You may have lost your day job, you now have your children at home all day, and you are finding zero time to fill your blank pages. Do your best to keep your focus and try to stay creative. I’ve learned that many times, too much time isn’t a good thing, as we tend to waste it and only realize later we have squandered precious opportunities.

I’ve found the key to surviving this period is sticking to a regular schedule. Many of you are not used to working from home and the complexities that involves. It’s not all fun and games and sitting in your pajamas all day in front of your computer. I’ve found a specific routine helps me during these rough times. Here are my TOP 10 DAILY TIPS FOR SEQUESTERED SCREENWRITERS:

  1. Stick to a strict sleep schedule. Go to bed and the same time every night and get up at the same time in the morning. Those of you who work day jobs already follow this, but it’s the the part-time workers who also write screenplays that will need the most structure.
  2. In the morning, get up, but take a few moments to consider how you will “own” the day. Realize what you can control, and especially what you cannot. Start your day at peace and realize it’s a blank slate and up to you to write the story of your day. This will allow you to create a proper mindset to proceed.
  3. As many experts suggest… make your bed. You might laugh, but it puts you in the right direction with taking care of your sleep space, being grateful that you have a bed to sleep in at night, and respect for order. A messy bed and house usually indicates a messy life.
  4. Eat breakfast. Be good to yourself and nourish your body and mind. If you meditate, do that after breakfast. If you don’t, you might consider starting. Do NOT jump on the Internet or social media yet. The bad news of the day can wait, and you can’t do anything about it anyway. Maybe during breakfast, write in a journal. Write down what you’re grateful for in your life. This will help to keep you humble and living with grace.
  5. Now get to work! Whatever work you are doing, jump in and do it right away. Protect your precious screenwriting time – even if that means an hour of writing. Any writing or focusing on your project is better than allowing another day to pass without any work.
  6. After you feel the need for a break — exercise. Whatever your choice of exercise is stick to it daily. You will feel better after, energized and ALIVE! Even a brisk walk does wonders. Fresh air and sunshine is vital to your positive mindset.
  7. Reach out to other writers. Our creative community needs support and even the smallest of gestures can help so much in someone’s daily life. You never know how your fellow screenwriter is feeling. Connect on the internet and give your support.
  8. Now is a good time to watch those films you have always wanted to see. It’s the proper research every screenwriter needs to do for their writing journey. You can learn so much from watching a film and then reading the screenplay.
  9. Read screenplays. Good, bad, not so bad. Be careful reading production drafts as they were written in a protected bubble and many times by the director. Those scripts can get away with certain style and format choices that your spec may not be able to do.
  10. Remain hopeful. A positive mindset does wonders to your overall choices and you can serve as an example to others who may need more direction and support.

The overall concept during this time is — if you’re starting to write a new project or rewriting an old one, stick to a tight daily writing schedule and protect it from the forces of distraction and procrastination. Stephen King calls it, “closing your door.” When your door is closed, it means that you are writing. Don’t stress if you do not reach your daily or weekly goal, but keep in mind, one missed day leads to another, and soon you’re losing precious momentum. We don’t want regrets that we didn’t utilize our time to the best of our ability and when this passes, you’re back to the day job with hardly any time to write. Time passes so fast and six months burns before you realize it.

hang onYou must to take your career seriously enough to make the time to write. Hemingway said, “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.” Once you start a writing schedule, it becomes easy and you’ll soon become a master at scheduling your time. If you dabble at your career, time becomes your enemy, and it passes quickly as projects burn out. This is why setting deadlines is so important now when you are writing your spec screenplays. It trains you for the time when you do land a professional writing job and you’ll be able create under a contracted deadline. It’s vital to your professional reputation and ultimate success.

If you start your screenplay without a solid outline or treatment, you may find yourself lost in the barren wasteland of Act 2 and wonder how you’re going to trudge through the next 55-pages to reach Act 3. It’s a nightmare. I’m a huge advocate of starting outlines before you write any pages and it’s probably 50, 60, 70 percent of the work that needs to be done. Your screenwriting should be the easiest part of the process because a solid outline makes the load a lot easier, and you can write a faster screenplay when you know what’s going to happen and why.

fade inI’ve heard writers complain that outlines are too constricting, but there is always room for new ideas or improvising because you still have to write the actual scenes. You’re going to have a bumpy ride if you don’t have a solid roadmap going in. I’m also not an advocate of what people call the vomit draft, or just spilling it out and seeing if something sticks. When you start working on assignment screenplays, you won’t have the luxury of spilling it out and hoping it works. There are producers, executives, investors, studios, and networks all involved in the material who have their own requirements and responsibilities. On my assignments, I have to turn in a screenplay that is a seven or eight out of a ten scale because if it’s anything less, I’m holding up development if my first draft needs a long rewrite process to get it right. Another benefit of doing outlines now before you write your specs is that it actually trains you for the time when you do land an assignment job. You’ll be ready to write a full screenplay in two months or less. That is vital to your professional success.

We’ll get through this, and the best way for writing is to maintain a schedule and realize what we do have control over — our screenwriting. If you are not writing, you only have yourself to blame. If it’s important enough, your passion will force you to make the time and protect your writing schedule. Let’s emerge on the other side of this horror with a new project and a new outlook on the world. Perhaps one of humility and understanding that writing is a lifelong journey of learning, no matter the environment.

Keep the faith and keep filling your blank pages on your road to success.

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

If you just completed a new screenplay and need in-depth consultation, check out my screenplay consultation and mentoring services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.

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Master CoverR2-4-REV2CHECK OUT MY BOOK ON AMAZON with 30 FIVE STAR reviews (click on the book cover at the left).

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.

 

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

“Writers, like most human beings, are adaptable creatures. They can learn to accept subordination without growing fond of it. No writer can forever stand in the wings and watch other people take the curtain calls while his own contributions get lost in the shuffle.”—Rod Serling

“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

 

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Hollywood works on its own schedule and never yours. Practice patience to survive over the long haul…

March 9, 2020 § 2 Comments

smash head in wallOne axiom you will quickly learn is that Hollywood works on its own time — never on your schedule. Even if you are doing the necessary work, it can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall that you can’t break through. We all want the process to happen faster, but it becomes a slow burn where nothing ever happens in the time frame you hoped for or imagined.

Time can also burn so quickly as you pursue your screenwriting career. You’re working on screenplays, living life, and suddenly five years pass. After you finish a screenplay and await feedback, if you watch the clock, it can leave you hanging. Your script is the most important thing in the world to you—but you quickly discover it’s not to everyone else. You are now one of 50,000 bouncing around Hollywood looking for a home. This is when a time warp happens and you realize you’re now on Hollywood’s schedule. It’s a strange world of fear, unknowns, half-truths, liars, thieves, promises, good intentions, and sometimes a very long wait for any feedback or success.

megaphoneAs a screenwriter, you spend so much time and energy finishing a script, once you finish how can you temper your excitement? This is what screenwriters live for—the excitement of completing a new project and moving forward with establishing their careers. It’s playing the screenwriting game, living as a wide-eyed dreamer with hope for another chance up to the plate with every new screenplay. It’s empowering to work on your own schedule and steer your own ship seemingly in control of your destiny.

Remember, so much is out of your control as a screenwriter. You control the creation of your screenplay, but not much after you unleash it upon Hollywood. The journey after may become long and bumpy. Sometimes it may take years for a project to see any type of real progress. It was seven long years from the time I typed “THE END” of my fifth spec to the day the cameras rolled. You never know what adventure lies ahead for each project you complete.

As a screenwriter with dreams of working in Hollywood, you must realize every aspect of your progress will take time. First, you must master the craft and that takes time. You have to write bad first screenplays so you can get to the good ones. You have to learn the important virtue of patience, or you will live with constant anxiety and pressure for your script to move you farther down the field—or God forbid to dig you out of a financial hole. Did you ever think, “I have to sell this script to pay the rent!”  Either way, you are in for a life-long adventure.

Even if you do land a screenplay assignment, the business side of contracts and negotiations takes time.  My last contract for a script assignment went back and forth between my lawyer and the production company’s lawyer for a month. As negotiations continue on every deal point, the back and forth seemingly takes forever—and this is before you can start any work on the script. Unfortunately a holiday comes up, so it means another four or five days until a reply. It seems like torture, leaving you feeling as if you’re in the starting blocks waiting for the starter gun to go off—but it never does until you and the producer sign the contract’s final draft.  Learn and practice patience.  It’s going to help your survival over the long haul screenwriting journey.

You may also hit an inevitable slow patch on your journey as a working screenwriter, but if you keep writing you will never lose sight of your dreams. Your writing is the only thing you can control and the more you write, the better you will become. This will prepare you for when another good opportunity does come. Think of building your career over the long haul and not just looking to hook one big script sale. If you believe your first spec is going to sell and make you a million dollars, see how you feel after you write ten screenplays with no sales.

Nobdy cares about your scriptLike any difficult journey, you’ll constantly be tested to see how badly you want a career in screenwriting and how much you are willing to sacrifice to keep doing what you love to do. Sure, you’ll have failures, rejection, projects that die and never get made, and maybe other scripts languishing in development, but if the road gets bumpy, always keep the faith and your focus on the end goal—a career as a working screenwriter.

Always stay hungry, never get lazy, and keep true to your self-discipline. Don’t allow any day job or any person to derail your plans. Protect your dreams from all comers. We all need to put food in the fridge and pay our bills, but be aware of the pitfalls of a 9-5 job and how you may allow it to affect your writing.  If you have the drive and determination to go after your dreams, no day job or person will keep you away from your keyboard.  Only you can stop you from writing.

It’s a simple… writers write. Keep focused on the bigger picture. Time burns quickly in Hollywood and every move seems to take forever. Their schedule is not yours, so temper your excitement and don’t allow disappointments to crush you. Time is precious, and we don’t get it back so use your writing time wisely—protect it and don’t get too upset when a simple read of your screenplay can take months. If this happens,  focus on your next project—so you’ll always have fresh projects in the works. When you finish a script, work on a new pitch, or a treatment, and get to work on various TV and feature ideas. Keep as many projects juggling as you can because the reality is a screenwriting career does not happen overnight. If you respect this fact, you’ll have a better experience and keep your sanity over the long haul.

Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Stay humble. Learn. Keep writing!

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2020 Mark Sanderson. All rights reserved. My Blank Page blog.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Congrats! Time for in-depth analysis/consultation/editing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second change to make a first great impression. Make the time to get it right.

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Master CoverR2-4-REV2My book with 29 FIVE STAR RATINGS on AMAZON. Click on the book cover for the link.

If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism and ability to endure criticism, rejection, and failure over the long haul. The odds may be stacked against you, but the way to standout in this very competitive business is to create a solid body of work and build a reputation as a team player and collaborator. The rest is just luck — a prepared screenwriter who meets with an opportunity and delivers the goods. “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry. It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

Now available at my online store – my COFFEE RING CARTOON merchandise for screenwriters. Click on the mug below for the link.

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“Writers, like most human beings, are adaptable creatures. They can learn to accept subordination without growing fond of it. No writer can forever stand in the wings and watch other people take the curtain calls while his own contributions get lost in the shuffle.”—Rod Serling

“The well is where your “juice” is. Nobody knows what it is made of, least of all yourself. What you know is if you have it, or you have to wait for it to come back.”—Ernest Hemingway

“The problem is that being creative has glamour. People in the business end of film always say, “I want to be a producer, but a creative producer.” Or a woman I went to school with who said, “Oh, yes, I married this guy. He’s a plumber but he’s very creative.”—Woody Allen

“Directors have always been accused of rewriting unnecessarily—particularly by writers. Actually, most of the time it is deletion because a scene won’t work. You loved it in the original script, okayed it during pre-production, but when you get to the top of the second page of the scene you suddenly discover there is a resolution. It wasn’t evident until you took it in front of the camera. Oops, that’s the scene! There is no point in mucking up what is already good.”—Jerry Lewis

“Every time I go to a movie, it’s magic, no matter what the movie’s about”—Steven Spielberg

Check out actor/writer/showrunner John Lehr’s podcast where he interviews me for the second time and we chat about the crazy journey working in Hollywood as writers. Click on the icon below for the link to the Sound Cloud podcast.

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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.

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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.

 

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“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

Screenwriting survival tip: Never allow your screenplay to be read before it’s ready…

January 4, 2020 § 1 Comment

karloff scriptI’m guilty. I used to do this too before I learned how damaging it can be to a screenwriter’s mind, image, and the screenplay. You finish your screenplay and you’re surging with a natural creative high that you want to share with the world.  This is the time to step back and take a pause. Allow your script to sit for a few days and do no read it. You’ll be tempted to give it to any of your friends bugging  you to read your script when it’s done. Do not let anyone read it.  Fight the temptation to share it at this point. It’s your first draft and it will definitely need more work—but this is delicate process and one a screenwriter must do alone and without anyone’s input at this point in the journey. It’s now just you and your screenplay—creator and project—alone together again.

During this vulnerable period, it can take just one person’s unfavorable of offhanded comment to drown you in an ocean of self-doubt. Your creative high fuels your feelings of triumph and you definitely do not want anyone to rain on your parade before you start on your next draft. You don’t need anyone’s criticism at this point until you work out the bugs and craft another solid draft.

reading guyI hope this goes without saying, but I’ll say it—never give the script to anyone in the film business after your first draft—even if they ask you to read it—even if they beg you to read it.  I wouldn’t even mention on your screenplay’s cover what draft the screenplay is as to avoid the reader’s possible bias against the draft number. If you list that it’s a fifth draft the reader may think, “Why did it take five drafts to get it right?” Remember, you will never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. If a producer, director or executive reads a substandard draft, no amount of excuses from you will sway their first impression. It will hurt your project and more importantly their view of your writing abilities. If you need to be reminded—write on the cover of your screenplay “FOR MY EYES ONLY.”

When the time comes for a read, everyone will have an opinion about your screenplay. You know that five different people will have five different opinions. You don’t need that varied of criticism ranging from good or bad at this early stage. When you are ready, only give the script to your inner circle to read when you really feel that it’s the best draft you can do up to this point or you feel that you’re written out—you feel that you have nothing more to offer and you are happy with what you’ve done.

If you find yourself needing a professional set of eyes on your new screenplay or draft and want constructive notes, consider my screenplay consultation services. I offer feature and TV pilot packages, mentor packages, outline consultation, and short scripts. I’m offering $20 off until February 29th, 2020 on my feature and TV pilot consultation packages. If you find the need, I’ve love to work with you and get your screenplay in the best shape possible before you unleash it upon Hollywood.

I’d add this nugget of advice from experience—while you’re screenwriting, keep the intimate details of your work to yourself. Do not continually talk about the status of your projects, your “writing process,” or how each project is moving forward.  Hollywood’s bizarre time warp works on its own schedule. Every project will take much 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.  It can also distract you from the work.  The truth is that it takes an incredible amount of time for any script to find a home and eventually get produced—if ever.  Sometimes the less you say about your progress the better. We all have our own inner voice of self-doubt, 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.  They enjoy raining on your parade instead.  Protect your dreams and cut the naysayers out of your life. Keep your work close to the vest until it’s finished.

alfred-hitchcockreading-script-for-the-movie-rebeccaYou will not escape criticism and notes because they are part of the business of screenwriting. Be open to the entire process of writing—the notes, rewrites, the critiques and all.  There will always be creative highs and lows.  Do your best not to perceive your disappointments as a failures and then sink into the morass of fear and insecurity in your creative soul.  Always be writing— something.  No disappointments only triumphs when you complete a screenplay or other work.

 

Keep the faith and always keep filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2020 Mark Sanderson. All rights reserved. My Blank Page blog.

New script or draft? Need in-depth consultation on your script before you unleash it upon Hollywood? Click on the icon below for the link to my website and more information.

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Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches in this New Year? Consider my book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. Click on the book for the link to Amazon and more information.

Master CoverR2-4-REV228 FIVE STAR reviews!

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.

 

 

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.

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Never disrespect the value of your first draft…

January 1, 2020 § 2 Comments

fade in

I remember writing my first feature-length screenplay back in film school. I had a vague idea of the structure and got lost somewhere in the barren wasteland of ACT 2 and felt like I would never reach the end. Now, after writing a huge stack of screenplays, I have a better grasp on the process, but it’s always a new and different experience every time you type FADE IN. I respect the process more now as a working screenwriter and the romantic notions of “waiting for inspiration” have given way to the reality that screenwriting is a job with many of the same responsibilities that any job requires.   Early on, I thought screenwriting would be an easy experience, just sit down and write, and I was humbled every time by the enormity of the craft. I’m still learning, even after having sixteen films produced, writing thirty-nine feature length screenplays, and nine TV pilots.

screenplay feedback equal disappointmentDo not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit. It’s just the opposite—your first draft is extremely important because the DNA of your story and characters lives in this precious first pass. I love this quote from six time Academy Award nominee screenwriter Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?):

“Good screenwriting is about carpentry. It’s a juggling of beginnings, middles and endings so they all inevitably seem to be moving correctly together. Your first draft is dangerously important. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, ‘It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.’  Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve gone in another direction.”—Ernest Lehman.

It’s true. I know from experience that it’s difficult to totally rewrite a first draft from page one into something new. Sadly, too many times it ends up becoming a jumbled mess as the foundation of the story is being altered after it’s been built. My advice is to make your first draft your best possible work at the time you write it. Act as if you’ll never get another chance to touch the screenplay. That’s not to put extra pressure on you, but to train yourself now to turn out a superb first draft—not something you just vomit out. This will prepare you for the day when you’re hired professionally on assignment and have to deliver the goods with every draft. This pays off in many ways, most importantly when you’re working for a producer, and your solid first draft secures your job and makes for a smooth development process—not development hell.  A solid draft also moves the project forward by attracting the interest of investors, a director, and actors.

praise or blameMake sure your screenplay suffers the fewest amount of changes during the development process. Trust me, you don’t want your script to get bogged down in endless rewrites that could change your script into something completely different.  It’s hard to climb out of that pit and too many times projects die a tragic death from too many drafts over a long period.

I’m not suggesting that you agonize over every word, but treat your first draft with the seriousness and respect it deserves. A solid first draft will help with faster rewrites because you’re not reinventing story lines but doing more of a “clean up” job. You want to avoid situations where your first draft is shit, and you have to do a page one rewrite and throw out seventy-five percent of the work. This will throw off your writing schedule for sure. When you start working on paid screenwriting assignments, you will not have the luxury of turning in a crappy first draft. The producer or executive will expect the best possible draft that matches the accepted story outline. Anything less will endanger your chances of getting a chance at writing the second draft and staying on the project through production.

As I mentioned, avoid writing a “vomit” draft because you can use that precious time to actually work on a solid outline and write a faster and more effective first draft. Most of your vomiting stream of consciousness won’t probably keep and you’ll have a massive rewrite anyway. So, why not spend that important time on a solid outline before you start any pages? A sold first draft also helps lessen massive rewrites on the successive drafts. Good luck and keep screenwriting.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2020 by Mark Sanderson. All Rights Reserved. My Blank Page blog at http://www.scriptcat.wordress.com

And speaking of first drafts… before you go… if you just completed a new screenplay and need in-depth consultation, check out my screenplay consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. T

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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.

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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.

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