Considering a screenwriting partner? It’s not all fun and games, so choose wisely…

June 1, 2018 § Leave a comment

IMG_1059Writing is usually a solitary endeavor as we primarily sit alone at our keyboards, sometimes late at night, and peck away at our screenplays.  It can get lonely because a writer must get away from the constant distractions of the day and escape alone into the world of characters on the page.  If you’re thinking about working on a project with a writing partner and never had one before, you have to ask yourself if you both share the same work ethic and seriousness about the craft.  Is this partnership for one project or are you becoming a writing team? What happens if your project sells? Is your partner easy to work with in regards to changes and notes from producers? Do you argue about the creative direction of your screenplay? Do you both have the same creative sensibilities? What happens if you don’t sell anything for years—is your partner still going to go after the dream and how long will you both give the partnership? All good questions to consider before you both sit down and type “FADE IN.”

If you decide to become a writing team, it’s a creative partnership first, but you both must share a bigger vision about where you both see yourselves as business partners. It’s a business relationship too and you both must agree on every decision because it now affects both of your careers and potentially your finances. You’ll both either swim or sink together and during the rough times, you’ll need a partner who will do everything he or she can to save you both if you’re sinking.

My overall experience with having a writing partner was very positive, but I’ve heard stories where friendships have ended because egos and the business got in the way. I’ve had a handful of writing partners over the years and together we worked on spec TV pilots and features, but my last and longest writing partner worked with me for nearly eight years. We met working together as waiters in a restaurant — he was an actor with credits, and I was a writer who had film school and a few feature specs under my belt.  We shared the same comedic sensibilities, work ethic, and were both extremely serious about pursuing a career as screenwriters. We were blessed to have crossed paths when we did and working for many years together.

When he asked me to join a brand new sketch comedy troupe, I jumped at the opportunity and it gave me the chance to also become a live performer. It was our invaluable experiences together writing, performing and producing the live show and subsequent pilot that helped to solidify our screenwriting partnership. We also became closer friends as a result of slogging through Hollywood’s trenches together.

After our live show ran for many years, we co-wrote and co-produced an independently financed film and that experience brought our working relationship to an entirely new level. After that successful experience, we both decided that we wanted to focus on writing feature screenplays. We secured a literary manager who then found us an agent at a mid-level agency and we were off to the races.  During this period, I also sold a spec script of my own that went into production the following year. But now they sold us to Hollywood as a “writing team” and our handlers constantly sent out our specs and set up dozens of pitch meetings.

As a writing team, we laid the foundation for producers to get to know our work and consider us for writing assignments or rewrites. Our scripts were always high concept comedies that were heartfelt and uplifting. This was perfect as the producers we were meeting made those types of movies and wanted to read our scripts. Many times, these producers brought our scripts to the studio level for consideration and we always felt with every positive step forward we moved closer to our big shot. It always seemed like just one script away from that big success that begins a career.

We knew each other so well that it was like having my other half with me in the pitch meetings. And trust me, I’ve pitched alone and when it goes badly, it’s nice to have your writing partner there to back you up and vice versa. We were mature enough to know our weaknesses and both allowed each other to use our creative strengths to help the overall project. We took all ego out of the creative relationship.

As a team, it felt like family and we were like brothers looking out for each other as family. We always seemed on the same page with regards to the bigger picture.  He always had some vivid wild dream and would come to me and pitch it, we’d work it out, and it would become our next project. I’d instantly see it in my mind and we’d structure the story, pitch it to our manager, and then write it.  We’d usually complete a spec in a month and take notes from our handlers and quickly execute those notes.  They liked that we worked fast and were so productive.

After our live sketch show ended, as a writing team we co-wrote and co-produced a feature film, completed seven feature scripts, took dozens of pitch meetings, and co-wrote and did voices for a Showtime pilot. We had a good run. He eventually decided to leave the business and open three very successful restaurants.  I soldiered on alone.

For me personally, I’m so thankful to have had a writing partner during those creative years and I know we had more output together than if I had worked alone. Remember that when managers and agents send you out, you will be a writing team and from then on it will be difficult for you to work on your own as well. If you become successful and hook a writing job together, they will want the writing team and no just you alone. At the time, I recall my manager not really wanting to push my solo projects, as I was part of a writing team now and that was her focus.

chaplinBefore you decide to write a project with a partner, you have to ask yourself if you both share the same work ethic and bigger vision about where you both see yourselves as a creative team. It’s a business relationship first and together you will make important decisions that will affect both of your careers. If your writing partner is a friend and your business relationship goes sour, you could lose your friend and the project in the process. What if your partner decides to go another direction and quit the writing team because you aren’t selling anything? What if your partner hates to execute notes and doesn’t get along with producers? Be sure about the person you decide to include in your own career path. Also remember that any money you make will be split between you as well. That big $100,000 script sale really means $50,000 each minus agent, manager, lawyer, and of course taxes. It’s half the work, but also half the money.

A writing partner needs to be the right fit for the long haul because the team’s every success and failure will affect both of your careers. Like any relationship, it’s a give and take, so you have to seriously weigh the pros and cons of having a writing partner or choosing to go it alone. Choose wisely my friends.

Here’s a classic example of writing partners not working out from ‘Billy Wilder: The Art of Screenwriting No. 1’. Interviewed by James Linville in The Paris Review, 1996.

INTERVIEWER
I understand your collaboration with Raymond Chandler was more difficult?

BILLY WILDER
Yes. Chandler had never been inside a studio. He was writing for one of the hard-boiled serial magazines, The Black Mask—the original pulp fiction—and he’d been stringing tennis rackets to make ends meet. Just before then, James M. Cain had written The Postman Always Rings Twice, and then a similar story, Double Indemnity, which was serialized in three or four installments in the late Liberty magazine.

Paramount bought Double Indemnity, and I was eager to work with Cain, but he was tied up working on a picture at Fox called Western Union. A producer-friend brought me some Chandler stories from The Black Mask. You could see the man had a wonderful eye. I remember two lines from those stories especially: ‘Nothing is emptier than an empty swimming pool.’ The other is when Marlowe goes to Pasadena in the middle of the summer and drops in on a very old man who is sitting in a greenhouse covered in three blankets. He says, ‘Out of his ears grew hair long enough to catch a moth.’ A great eye . . . but then you don’t know if that will work in pictures because the details in writing have to be photographable.

I said to Joe Sistrom, Let’s give him a try. Chandler came into the studio, and we gave him the Cain story Double Indemnity to read. He came back the next day: I read that story. It’s absolute shit! He hated Cain because of Cain’s big success with The Postman Always Rings Twice.

He said, Well, I’ll do it anyway. Give me a screenplay so I can familiarize myself with the format. This is Friday. Do you want it a week from Monday?

Holy shit, we said. We usually took five to six months on a script.

Don’t worry, he said. He had no idea that I was not only the director but was supposed to write it with him.

      Double Indemnity (Directed by Billy Wilder)

He came back in ten days with eighty pages of absolute bullshit. He had some good phrases of dialogue, but they must have given him a script written by someone who wanted to be a director. He’d put in directions for fade-ins, dissolves, all kinds of camera moves to show he’d grasped the technique.

I sat him down and explained we’d have to work together. We always met at nine o’clock, and would quit at about four-thirty. I had to explain a lot to him as we went along, but he was very helpful to me. What we were doing together had real electricity. He was a very, very good writer—but not of scripts.

One morning, I’m sitting there in the office, ten o’clock and no Chandler. Eleven o’clock. At eleven-thirty, I called Joe Sistrom, the producer of Double Indemnity, and asked, What happened to Chandler?

I was going to call you. I just got a letter from him in which he resigns.

Apparently he had resigned because, while we were sitting in the office with the sun shining through, I had asked him to close the curtains and I had not said please. He accused me of having as many as three martinis at lunch. Furthermore, he wrote that he found it very disconcerting that Mr. Wilder gets two, three, sometimes even four calls from obviously young girls.

Naturally. I would take a phone call, three or four minutes, to say, “Let’s meet at that restaurant there, or, Let’s go for a drink here.” He was about twenty years older than I was, and his wife was older than him, elderly. And I was on the phone with girls! Sex was rampant then, but I was just looking out for myself. Later, in a biography he said all sorts of nasty things about me—that I was a Nazi, that I was uncooperative and rude, and God knows what. Maybe the antagonism even helped. He was a peculiar guy, but I was very glad to have worked with him.

film stockScriptcat out!

Follow me on Twitter @scriptcat and on Periscope.

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

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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. My new book, “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. Available now on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link to purchase.

 

“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.” —Leigh Brackett

“Starting tonight, every night in your life before you go to sleep, read at least one poem by anyone you choose. Poetry and motion pictures are twins. You’ll get more out of reading poetry than you will get out of any other kind of reading. You are people with eyes. You must find ways of extending this vision and putting it on film. As an experiment all of you could get out of here and shoot a cinematic haiku. Just go through a book of Japanese haiku and shoot a thirty-second film. They’re purely cinematic, very visual. You must read poems every night of your life in order to enable yourself to refresh your images. In forty years you’ll thank me for telling you this.”—Ray Bradbury, Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.

“To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.” – Alfred Hitchcock

“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

“Give me a good script, and I’ll be a hundred times better as a director.” – George Cukor

 

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Three screenwriting tips for your long haul journey to success…

May 27, 2018 § Leave a comment

completing a scriptDid you just type FADE OUT – THE END? Congrats! I hope you’ve created new opportunities that have pushed your screenplay closer to success. And be patient with your rewrites. They are vital to your screenwriting success.

Trust me, I know if can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall hoping for a breakthrough, but finding the same results of rejection and criticism. I truly hope you’re busy creating a solid body of work and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. I hope that I’ve been able to offer a few nuggets of advice that you’ve found helpful. In addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat) and my Youtube Channel .I’m also broadcasting live on the app PERISCOPE. Check it out. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase and get right to the action—here are a few more useful survival tips for your journey…

TIP #1

ALWAYS ACT LIKE A PROFESSIONAL IN EVERY ACTION YOU MAKE.

MARK4Act like a professional even if you’re an aspirant writing who has yet to sell something. 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

DO NOT TYPE “FADE IN” IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE CRITICISM.

praise or blameDon’t take criticism personally and realize that it’s part of the process. If you’re going to play in the majors, you’re competing with the best and you must accept that sometimes you won’t find the validation you need. Many times feedback on your script is disappointing and your high expectations become squashed. Your ego’s bruised, beaten to a pulp and you to doubt your talent and chances for success. Don’t take it personally, because feedback is a rite of passage necessary for the growth of any aspiring screenwriter. If you want to survive over the long haul of a career, you’ll need to toughen up and build your courage to endure disappointment criticism and rejection. Learn how to filter the good notes from the bad and ugly notes. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps make your script better, helps push it closer to something a producer wants to produce, and teaches you how to collaborate as a team player so you can work again.

TIP #3

REALIZE THAT TALK AND INTEREST ARE FREE AND CHEAP IN HOLLYWOOD.

quote of the dayYou’ll learn the longer you pursue a screenwriting career that talk is cheap in Hollywood and people want credit for their good intentions—it’s the follow through that is usually missing. Too many times the words are empty promises that end up wasting an eager and hungry writer’s time. Money makes it real. Take everything as face value for talk is the cheapest commodity in Hollywood. Many times interest in you or your script and the endless talk is just that—interest and talk. Many times meetings are just meetings. Many times a producer’s upbeat attitude about your project can become infectious. You want to believe that others see your dream and can realize it. Why not? It’s what keeps us going as screenwriters—belief in our projects and the faith that success is just around the corner. I’m sure when producers and executives tell you that your project is going into production, they just might believe it themselves, but sometimes they tell a writer this to buy more free time. Producers want to keep a writer’s interest in hanging on until they “work out the pesky financing details” and it becomes the bait for more free work. If they can’t raise the money for the budget or they have no money in their development budget, there really is no money to pay the writer. Be understanding to a certain point and look at every situation through a risk/benefit filter. Are you willing to risk your free time with free rewrites on the possible chance a project “might” get produced? Get excited when a producer gives you a contract, you both sign it and you get paid. That’s the professional way—otherwise, you can’t live on the currency of good intentions. Now get back to your blank pages. If you stop writing you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.

Keep writing and filling your pages by any means necessary because if you stop—you’re guaranteed to never have any shot at success. This is a business with no guarantees even when you do sell a screenplay.

Until next time… @Scriptcat out!

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

Master CoverR2-4-REV2If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism and ability to endure criticism, rejection, and failure over the long haul. My new book, “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. Available now on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link to purchase.

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Do you lack focus or haven’t set goals for the year with regards to your career? Check out my on-demand webinars…

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“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?” ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

“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

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Respect and protect your first draft…

May 6, 2018 § Leave a comment

IMG_1059I remember my first feature-length screenplay. I got lost somewhere in the barren wasteland of ACT 2 and felt like I would never reach the end. Now, thirty-five screenplays later with fourteen produced films from nineteen paid assignments and one spec sale, 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 this fact. Early on in my journey, I thought it would be screenwriting would be an easy experience, and I was humbled every time by the enormity of the craft.

Do not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit or you should just, ‘Get it down on paper.” 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 for a screenplay assignment. This pays off in many ways, most importantly when you’re working for a producer and your solid first draft helps reduce the development process and can secure the interest of investors, a director, and actors. A solid, kick-ass first draft will also keep you on the screenplay assignment and not get you replaced by another screenwriter.

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 development hell. 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 of time. The script can end up unrecognizable after the multiple drafts and ultimately the writer can be blamed for the producer’s decisions to change the story.

I’m not suggesting that you agonize over every word, but treat your first draft with the seriousness it deserves. A solid first draft will help with faster rewrites because you’re not reinventing story lines, but you’re doing a “clean up” job. You want to avoid situations where your first draft is shit and you have to do a page one rewrite instead of a clean up. 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 treatment. Anything less will endanger your chances of getting a chance at draft two and staying on the project through production.

Avoid a “vomit” draft because you can use that precious time to work it into something excellent. Why not? A sold first draft also helps lessen massive rewrites on the successive drafts.

hang onAnd continuing of the subject of first drafts the question always arises, “How long should a first draft take?” If you’ve been screenwriting for a while, you’ll be able to estimate how fast you can write a first draft of a screenplay. That’s important because when you start working professionally, you will need to work under a contracted deadline and deliver the goods on time at the top of your game. Time is our greatest asset or worst enemy—it depends on how you respect and use it. This is why I recommend that beginning screenwriters to always set their own realistic writing schedules when writing their specs so they’ll be training for the day when a professional opportunity arrives.

You may labor over your spec for six months or longer because there is no deadline and your life keeps getting in the way. Once screenwriting becomes your job, and it is a job, you’ll need to have the stamina and focus to write six or more hours per day to meet a deadline. If you haven’t already, you need to set up a regular, uninterrupted writing schedule and protect it at all costs. If the forces of interruption get in the way, you’re productivity and success will be severely hampered.  An important element in writing is consistency and if you skip one day, and then two, you’ll find yourself losing the vital focus to keep your script on track. As you’ve probably found out already, there is always something else to do then write. It’s important to finish out a day writing, no matter the page count, and get right back to it the next day while it’s fresh in your mind. This builds consistency and a regular schedule.

If you’re working under a WGA union contract, the minimum time for a first draft is usually twelve weeks. You can guarantee the producer or executive will start calling your agent or manager in about four weeks, sniffing around to see how you are progressing. In my contract for my recent screenwriting assignment that I completed a few months ago, I agreed to a four-week schedule to turn in my first draft. I completed the script in 25 days and turned in my 105 page script a few days early after going over it a few times myself. It wasn’t impossible because I was working from a solid story treatment that I crafted and it was authorized by the producer and production company. I’ve also worked under a contract that allowed four weeks for a first draft. When you’re working on assignment jobs, producers will not allow you to start the script until the story treatment or step outline is completely fleshed out. This way your screenwriting will be a breeze as you have a solid road map to follow. It’s such a creative high when you complete a solid day of writing and leave it where you can’t wait to get up the next morning and start again.

My fastest time for writing a first draft was twenty days. That was five pages a day, every day to get the job done. When I finish early, I go over the script again by myself for a polish before I turn it in to the producer. I believe too much time can harm the process because every project has a deadline, otherwise nothing would get into development or be produced. You should work on your spec story treatment for a longer time, because about seventy-five percent of the work should go into the story development of the script. The script itself?  I think two months would be a huge amount of time. If you’re working six to eight hours a day, you should be able to write five or more pages on a normal day. You also have to remain fluid because you never know how the experience will develop and every time out it’s different. I once had to write 26 pages in 24 hours because the German investors were coming into town! I never want to experience that frenzy again, but it’s nice to know my abilities under pressure.

If you want to eventually work professionally, as I’m sure is your goal, you will need to work efficiently under a deadline, and at the best of your ability. It’s basically working quickly at the best of your creativity on a schedule and under a deadline. The only way to get to this place is to always set your own deadlines and meet them every time with your spec screenplays. If you’re not practicing this writing schedule now, I’d suggest starting it on your next project. Respect that first draft, protect it, and you’ll end up with a solid foundation that will lessen the rewrites.

Keep filling your blank pages and keep the faith.

@Scriptcat out!

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

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.

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Need help to navigate 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 of screenwriting professionally in Hollywood using my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me to stay in the game.

Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon for purchase.

 

 

 

 

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“Ideas are born from what is smelled, heard, seen, experienced, felt, emotionalized.”—Rod Serling.

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible adventures.”—Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”—Joseph Campbell

“Screenwriting is such a very special branch of literature. In some ways, it’s closer to the poetic form than it is to the dramatic. A lot of writers think that they write down to an audience if they do a motion-picture script.”—John Huston

“When I first meet with the scriptwriter, I ask him what is the story about—what do you see—what was your intention?”—Sidney Lumet

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – wholeheartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” — Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing, 1916

“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.”—Rudyard Kipling, “If

Three more tips, tricks and tactics to help on your screenwriting journey…

April 28, 2018 § Leave a comment

alfred-hitchcockreading-script-for-the-movie-rebeccaIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, first of all—THANK YOU! I truly hope you’re busy creating new projects and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. As you may know, I’ve been adding short posts (nothing is EVER short on this blog!) and sharing various survival tips. I do speak about these tips in the over 250 articles on this blog, but this feature will be a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate Hollywood’s trenches. Follow me on Twitter (@scriptcat). and on Instagram. I’ll be posting new articles here when my time allows. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting! Okay, here are three more survival tips that will help you on your screenwriting adventure…

TIP #1: 

Find filmmaking mentors and apprentice with them. lucas & coppola on set

Another good way to do your homework with regards to learning is to find a filmmaking mentors and apprentice under them or at least have access to them as they are working. Many busy screenwriters need an assistant and they’re willing to pay an hourly wage for the job. It’s a great way for aspiring screenwriters to learn while getting paid. If you can’t find a paid position, offer your time to a working screenwriter in exchange for access to their knowledge and the whole process they go through daily. A true professional is always willing to give back and share knowledge. When you’re able to observe working professionals, be like a sponge and soak up everything you can and ask questions. I’ve been blessed over the years to work with many top professionals and veterans of the film business and a few have become my mentors. This includes directors and a few have become my mentors and friends. I’m currently working with two directors on various projects that we are developing together and will take out into the marketplace as partners. As I worked with them and collaborated on the films that I wrote, I was able to have inside and unlimited access to help build my screenwriter’s toolkit. Seeking knowledge is an ongoing discipline for every artist. Keep filling your blank pages. If you stop you’ll never have any chance at success.

TIP #2: 

Work your way to becoming a multi-hyphenate screenwriter. multi-hyphenate

Eventually to gain more creative control over your projects, you’ll need to become a multi-hyphenate filmmaker and not just a screenwriter who is a “hired gun.” This means along with your talent for creating the script you will move into producing and or directing as a way to keep your total creative vision on the project. This won’t likely happen on your first few screenplays, but eventually you can negotiate your way into being one of the key decision makers or ultimately the director whose vision takes the script to the screen. Your goal is working your way into being a double threat: A writer/producer or writer/director—or a triple threat: a writer/producer/director.

TIP #3:

When you just finish your first draft—do not immediately give it to someone for a read. Let the creative dust settle and go over it by yourself first. karloff script

Avoid the temptation to give anyone your screenplay moments after you finish it. Put it away and let it settle for a few days or even a week before giving it your first read. You’ll be coming down from your natural creative high and you don’t want anyone to harsh your buzz. It’s the necessary time a screenwriter needs to spend alone with his/her script. You’re also in a raw and vulnerable place after giving birth to new material, so you don’t want feedback now to taint your clear vision or perspective. This will only lead to chasing notes because everyone has an opinion about your work. Keep your script close. Don’t boast or talk about it. You did the work, now go and do something to celebrate. You need to enjoy the little and big successes on your long journey as a screenwriter. Keep the faith and keep filling your blank pages. Nothing is guaranteed on this screenwriting journey except one thing— if you quit writing, you’re guaranteed never have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just finish your latest screenplay or a new draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out the different packages I offer by clicking on the icon below to schedule your consultation. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right before you unleash it upon Hollywood.

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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

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?”― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

“All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.”—Ernest Hemingway

“No person who is enthusiastic about his work has anything to fear from life.”—Samuel Goldwyn

I don’t think of it as an art. When it works it’s skill & craft and some unconscious ability”—Ernest Lehman

“When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb outside with a pencil and a ten cent notebook and start the whole thing over again.” — Preston Sturges

Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working.”—Michael Crichton

Screenwriters need a sound body and mind as part of their daily routine…

April 15, 2018 § 1 Comment

BoulderFlatOur body.  How often do we as screenwriters think about being in shape? Sure, we spend so much time exercising our fingers on our keyboards in front of our laptops, sitting and creating, while hours and weeks pass. Maybe you exercise regularly already? If so, bravo. You know how even spending a little time exercising can reap huge rewards for the effort. If not, I suggest being some type of program be it yoga, running, biking, lifting weights, or anything that keeps your interest. I returned from the gym today feeling great after a 40 minute session on the elliptical machine and it made me reflect on how it’s vital for screenwriters to maintain a workout routine. We’re continually pushing that boulder up the hill until we’re able to push it onto the other side. When you’re healthy and feeling like a million bucks, it will definitely show in your writing and lift your spirits during the low periods.

We also need to build up our endurance to weather the storms of rejection, criticism, and failure. Setbacks can leave screenwriters depressed and this dangerous mental state can affect the writing and one’s overall positive outlook about a career. It’s so easy for our splendid plans to become derailed by the many forces in life. So, staring down negativity and bracing for setbacks, you will need to be strong to come out on the other side and live to write another day. The mind and body work in tandem and the connection is powerful.

Recharge your batteries

Now let’s focus on the mind. Information is invaluable currency in Hollywood so as part of the ongoing process of working out, screenwriters need to do their homework with regards to staying up on information about the film business and what projects are selling. This is the type of homework you will need to over the course of your entire screenwriter career. It’s one of the top disciplines of a professional screenwriter. If you are lucky enough to have representation, they will help you with this information. If not, you are responsible for finding it yourself.

Like a good exercise routine, your mental workout is an ongoing daily quest for knowledge and doing the work necessary to become an excellent screenwriter. The actual writing of screenplays is the number one training tool to gain the necessary experience with the craft. You’ll also need the ability to write all day, keep focused (possibly on multiple projects), and generate your creativity at the highest levels. This is exhausting mentally and it drains you physically. Also the study of your craft never ends and you should never consider for a moment that you’re bigger or better than your craft—it will always be a larger creative force than you will ever be.

alfred-hitchcockreading-script-for-the-movie-rebeccaYour homework should include reading screenplays (good and bad), watching and studying movies (good and bad), reading about classic Hollywood and the history of cinema, reading about the film business, and making the quest for filmmaking knowledge your daily regimen. You should take workshops, attend seminars, enroll in screenwriting courses, acting classes, or find a working screenwriter willing to take you under their wing as a mentor to learn first hand knowledge. Doing the work and constantly learning is an ongoing process for all screenwriters on their journey.

Who can help you with this important pursuit of knowledge? Utilize your industry contacts: your writer friends, the assistants, interns, producers, and other talent to glean insider information you may not have. They are the eyes and ears on the ground while you are off sequestered in your office writing your next magnum opus. You can’t always leave it up to your agent or manager to let you know what’s happening or the recent changes in the business. You need to take responsibility for your career and then means staying up on everything about the film business. It’s also your job to point out information and share it with your representatives.

You’ll also need to do your homework about the film industry trends and where technology is going—everything from 3-D production, projection advances, production advances, and even economic changes that will affect a movie’s budget. Read the trade papers Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and regularly visit great websites like Deadline Hollywood, The Wrap, Film News Briefs, Paste Magazine, Indiewire, Entertainment Weekly, E! News Online, Movie City News, Movieline, Total Film, IFC, Filmmaker Magazine, and Box Office Mojo. Knowledge about the film business will allow you to make important considerations as you decide the genre and story of your next spec screenplay.

yoda-lukeAnother good way to do your homework is to find a filmmaking mentor and apprentice under them or at least have access to them as they are working. Many busy screenwriters need an assistant and they’re willing to pay an hourly wage for the job. It’s a great way for aspiring screenwriters to learn while getting paid. If you can’t find a paid position, offer your time to a working screenwriter in exchange for access to their knowledge. A true professional is always willing to give back and share knowledge. When you’re able to observe working professionals, be like a sponge and soak up everything you can and ask questions. I’ve been blessed over the years to work with many top professionals and veterans of the film business and a few have become my mentors.  As I worked with them and collaborated on the films that I wrote, I was able to have inside and unlimited access to help build my screenwriter’s toolkit.  Seeking knowledge and staying on top of the latest news and events in the film business is an ongoing discipline.

 

Here is a list of great websites where you can do some of your important daily mental homework (click on name for link):

  • Stage 32 is another fantastic website for film industry networking from around the world. Sign up, create a profile and start posting and participating in the lounge discussions.
  • The Screenwriting Spark: Tips, resources, blogs, videos and more!
  • DONE DEAL PRO.com  Agents, lawyers, managers, companies, writing jobs, TV deals, info about contests and articles.

I was out pitching my TV series idea recently with my pilot idea only to find out shortly after five pilots sold that were the same basic concept. I decided not to pursue my idea and luckily I didn’t spend six months writing and developing it on spec because it would have been time wasted. Ideas are in the ether and Hollywood follows trends. It’s all about knowledge. If you are aware of what is in production or in development, your project won’t suddenly become a writing sample or competing with something that is in production. If you properly do your daily homework and workout your mind, you’ll empower your career as knowledge is the precious currency in Hollywood and staying current will always serve you well as you pursue a screenwriting career.

Keep your body and mind in top shape. You’ll be working at the best of your ability so when an opportunity does come your way you’re ready to do your best.

Scriptcat out!

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

Did you just finish your latest screenplay and need professional and in-depth consultation?  Check out my website for more information about my consultation services. Click on the icon below for the link to my website and more information.

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Do you need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue your screenwriting career? Check out my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” available on Amazon. It’s my personal guide using my past twenty year of screenwriting professionally in Hollywood using my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me to stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

 

 

 

“So the only environment the artist needs is whatever peace, whatever solitude, and whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost. All the wrong environment will do is run his blood pressure up; he will spend more time being frustrated or outraged. My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”—William Faulkner

“There is no point in having sharp images when you’ve fuzzy ideas.” – Jean-Luc Godard

“There should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall.” — Stephen King

“Unlimited budgets make for a lack of precise decision-making.”—producer Lynda Obst in her new book: Sleepless in Hollywood

“Starting tonight, every night in your life before you go to sleep, read at least one poem by anyone you choose. Poetry and motion pictures are twins.”—Ray Bradbury

“Most writers can’t tell at the premise stage whether they’ve got a good story because they don’t have the training to see the deep structural problems in the idea before writing it as a script.”—John Truby

Don’t seek validation from outside but from within…

March 16, 2018 § Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

script oddsIf you’re going to play in the majors, you’re competing with the best and you must accept that sometimes you won’t find the validation you need. Many times you will be disappointed from your feedback and your high expectations may be squashed. Your ego’s bruised, beaten to a pulp and you to doubt your talent and chances for success. Don’t take it personally, because feedback is a rite of passage necessary for the growth of any aspiring screenwriter. You’ll need to survive over the long haul of a career to endure disappointment criticism and rejection. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps make your script better and teaches you collaboration as a team player.

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on blog My Blank Page.

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Seeking support from friends and family is like having your people gathered around at your deathbed.  It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye.  Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work.  In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

Be prepared for opportunities

 

Always set and meet deadlines when writing your specs…

February 26, 2018 § Leave a comment

hang onAh, the march of time and the dreaded specter of deadlines. It can be the downfall of writers because they haven’t yet trained themselves to achieve their best results with a specific due date. As a screenwriter, time can be your greatest asset or worst enemy, it’s how you decide to respect the time given to write a project. You’ll face deadlines your entire life and more importantly as you’re screenwriting. Sure, you can spend copious amounts of time on your specs with an open-ended schedule that doesn’t include a specific finish date, but you’re not training yourself for the time when you do finally land a screenplay assignment job with a payday and a concrete deadline.

Use your specs as training tools to learn the craft of screenwriting, find your unique writer’s “voice,” and to practice writing a screenplay under a self-imposed deadline. Don’t look at your specs as million dollar sales. The odds are astronomical of selling a spec. In fact, most years only around 100 specs or less sell at the studio level in Hollywood out of an estimated 50,000 registered yearly with the Writers Guild. When I first started writing screenplays, I mistakenly believed that everything that I wrote would sell. I was quickly humbled and it wasn’t until my 5th spec that finally sold. Yes, I’ve sold one spec in my career, but that opened the door to highly coveted assignment work and has blossomed into 19 paid assignments that have produced 13 films so far and 2 paid TV pilot assignments. Specs are the training tools for you to learn and master screenwriting. Yes, a few of them might end up being winners, but the first four or five will be a mess. After that, you hope that your best work will make some noise and get you hired to write a screenplay for a producer or executive.

rewritesThis is why meeting deadlines are vital to your success as a working screenwriter. When you land an assignment job, you’ll sign a contract and agree to complete the screenplay within a specific time frame. Producers don’t want to be stuck in development hell for years and they too have deadlines to meet. Once you sign the contract, you’re off to the keyboard and will have to produce a kick ass (no vomit drafts allowed here) screenplay in usually  four to eight weeks, depending on your contract. I’ve done it as fast as two weeks for a first draft but mostly four weeks.

You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve if you write every day following a solid story treatment. You have to learn how to be your most creative under the pressure of a deadline, while still writing as if you’re unaware of it. Professional screenwriters are professionals because a producer or executive pays them to get the job done—on time—every time. I always try to turn in my assignments a day or two before they are due, just to show that I’m at the top of my game.

If you’re blessed to work regularly and forge a screenwriting career, the reality is that it’s your job and how you make your living—and deadlines are now a fact of life. It’s not some romantic ideal of writing when you feel like it, but the reality that paid work comes from you filling blank pages—either of your own creation or from ideas that producers pay you to write. That’s what is known as a “working screenwriter.” That’s always been my goal since I started making films as a wide-eyed eleven year old kid—to work as a filmmaker in Hollywood. I’ve now been able to live my dream many times over during the past twenty years of my career.

IMG_1059Playwright, novelist and screenwriter Patty Chayefsky once said, “Artists don’t talk about art. Artists talk about work. If I have anything to say to young writers, it’s stop thinking of writing as art. Think of it as work.” If you start treating it as your job and meeting self-imposed deadlines, even if you do have a day job, you will begin to act in a professional way. This includes disciplines you must practice and master to prepare you for when it finally does become your job. If you dabble in screenwriting, it’s like sticking your pinkie into the Pacific Ocean. You’ll need to jump off the cliff without fear and plunge into the abyss with all of your might. Screenwriting professionals follow strict disciplines used to help guide them on their journey to success.

Disciplines like…

1. Set up self-imposed deadlines when writing your specs. Meet your writing page count every day and every week—even if it means working on weekends. Can you write a kick ass first draft in four weeks? Eight weeks? You’ll have to train yourself to be a fast writer who can deliver quality under the pressure of a deadline. If you stick to a regular schedule with self-imposed deadlines, maybe with a day job you can even write one or two feature specs a year. Once it’s your job, you will create under the pressure of a contracted deadline, so train now to get used to this reality.

2. Do the writing necessary to create a solid body of material that will represent you and compete in a competitive marketplace. One script will not do it and it might take five scripts over ten years to see any level of success in the film business. Remember, time is a writer’s greatest asset or worst enemy—it depends on how it’s used.

3. Look at the big picture of your screenwriting career goals and set up a yearly master plan. Make a project list of ideas, pitches, treatments, finished scripts and set deadlines and stick to them. Make a list of your contacts and where you submitted your scripts in the past. When you complete a new script and it’s completely ready for a read, follow-up with your network and offer them your latest creation. Lather, rinse and repeat. That’s how you will eventually sell something or get hired for an assignment.

4. Be humble and know that it’s a long climb to reach the top of the mountain you’re climbing. It’s your dream and no one forced you to choose this path, so take responsibility daily and hone your writing skills to reach the next plateau. Professionals respect the craft and climb the mountain every day. Sure it’s fraught with the pitfalls of rejection, criticism and failure, but a professional soldiers on in the face of adversity and for every two steps back, takes four steps forward.

Treat your screenwriting like a job and you’ll be acting as a professional and preparing yourself for the time when you do finally score the gig that opens the door to a career.

It’s a business with no guarantees—even if you do sell your screenplay. So keep writing, meeting your deadlines, and keep the faith because if you stop, you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Join me on Twitter/Periscope @scriptcat

Subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting videos.

Did you just complete your latest magnum opus? Time for in-depth screenplay consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website for more information.

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Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue your screenwriting career? Check out my book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” that charts my past twenty years of professional screenwriting in Hollywood and I share my tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve used to stay in the game. It’s now available on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link for more information.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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