Avoid looking or acting like a desperate screenwriter (even though you might be).

June 18, 2019 § Leave a comment

desperateIf you’re new to the screenwriting game, the longer it takes to sell a screenplay, the more desperate you might get after you face your first series of rejections and setbacks. Precious time passes quickly while you write new projects, send them out, and receive feedback—good or bad. It’s a long haul process to get any interest in your screenwriting, and you’ll soon learn that success doesn’t happen overnight.

PILE OF SCRIPTSAs time passes, you have to accept the hard reality that it might take ten scripts to sell your first one. Are you working at a job that you hate and look for a script sale to save you? Do you have rent or a house payment due and look for your new script to sell so you can pay the bills next month? Have you written five scripts that you thought were your best work, only to receive less than stellar reviews and no real forward progress?  Have you entered contests only to place in the quarter finals year after year or receive rejection letters? Have you written another script only to learn nobody else loves it as much as you do? All of these scenarios can breed desperation. Avoid it at all costs.

script oddsThe key is not to hang on to your screenwriting dreams with a white knuckle grip. This will cause you to become desperate when things don’t go your way. You have to realize that it’s going to take years of perfecting your craft to reach any level of success—and it doesn’t come easy. There are approximately 50,000 projects bouncing around Hollywood every year. Here is the spec market sales report for 2018. Here are the figures by genres…

Science Fiction — 10

Comedy — 9

Drama — 9

Horror — 4

Thriller — 4

Action — 3

Family — 1

This is not to scare you but to humble you about the mountain that you climb every time you offer a script to the Hollywood machine. It goes without saying, but you need to be doing the work necessary to compete in a very crowded marketplace. One script is not going to do it, but two or three might. In fact, the script you’re working on now might not be “the one” but one of many that you’ll have to write. It’s a numbers game at best and you have to find the right project for the right producer at the right time. It never happens overnight.

What can get you through the entire process is enjoying the little successes along the way. A career is mostly never made up of one big success, but a series of small successes that lead to establishing a career. Beware—producers can also smell a screenwriter’s desperation. Don’t act desperate. What are some telltale signs?

1. You push your script on them too hard, especially if they don’t show much interest.

2. You call their office or send e-mails too soon asking if they’ve read your script yet.

3. You don’t negotiate, but you take the first crappy deal they offer.

4. You’re willing to make changes and do free work as they string you along with promises of an option or purchase.

Desperation could put you in a situation where you allow someone to take advantage of you with a bad deal. You might accept it because you believe that you’ll never find another producer who wants to buy your screenplay. Muster the courage to move on if a deal isn’t right for you. You will live to write another day. All good things happen at the right time if you allow it.

Do your best to avoid becoming a desperate screenwriter. You’ll need a proper job to take care of yourself as you pursue your screenwriting career. It’s vital that you take care of yourself first and not look at the script you’re writing to sell and save you from some crappy job that you hate. Focus on creating new material and sending it out into the marketplace only when it’s ready. Don’t look for your screenplay to change your life. It could be a long, long wait. Hollywood works on its own time table and you can’t be anxious about establishing a career. Accept that criticism, rejection and failure are part of the screenwriting process and be open to changes on your screenplay. Strive to write screenplays that can compete in a crowded marketplace. Become a team player and collaborator and producers will value your input to the project and keep you around.

Keep the faith and keep working on new projects. Be prolific! A solid body of work is necessary to sell even one screenplay or land a coveted assignment.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson written on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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

“The film (The Power and the Glory) made a lot of enemies. Writers at that time worked in teams, like piano movers. And my first solo script was considered a distinct menace to the profession.”Preston Sturges

When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”—Stephen King

“Not only do you attack each scene as late as is possible, you attack the entire story the same way.”—William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade.

“There are no minor decisions in movie making. Each decision will either contribute to a good piece of work or bring the whole movie crashing down around my head many months later.”—Sidney Lumet

 

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Screenwriter’s survival tip: Keep the intimate details of your work to yourself…

May 27, 2019 § Leave a comment

never believe them untl the check clearsAs you’re navigating the trenches on your screenwriting journey, do your best to keep the intimate details of your work to yourself. Do not continually talk about the status of your projects, how many pages you wrote today, or how each project is moving forward or not. It’s similar to when you’re playing poker. You keep your cards close and only let the others see them when you really have a solid hand.

I know we work so hard and seek validation from others, but look for that validation inside when you complete a new project. It’s tempting to share the intimate details with friends and family or even strangers, but keep your business to yourself. Your stock reply should be, “I’m busy working on a handful of interesting projects.”  Hemingway said it best, “I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.”

time warp in HollywoodThe main reason to keep your business to yourself is because you will find Hollywood has a bizarre time warp that works on its own schedule. Every project will take longer than you ever expected and you don’t need people thinking that you’re blowing smoke when you talk about the status of your material. I’ve experienced the head of a production company tell me in person that my script was going into production within three months. Of course the deal fell through as it does most of the time, but what if I told everyone that I knew about my good fortune only to have the rug pulled out from beneath me? When the supposed production date neared, those people would certainly be asking me about the status of the project. I’d have to waste precious energy telling them the bad news or trying to string them along as I kept the news alive not wanting to explain what happened out of fear.

quote of the dayMaybe they would think I was blowing smoke or exaggerating the situation? Maybe they would think I wasn’t talented enough if the project fell apart? The reality is that financing does fall through, schedules change, and there is a myriad of things that can and do happen completely out of the writer’s control. When these unforeseen issues happen the naysayers will respond to you with, “Man, I don’t know how you do it. That’s such a hard business.” As if you didn’t already know this fact, right? And as if anything worth achieving in life was easy? And then you’re judged based upon events out of your control. You might even have others look at you like your dreams are a fool’s folly. It’s not the first time someone has heard about a friend writing a screenplay with hopes to sell it and launch a career. Forget that you not only secured the paid gig to write a script on assignment and it made it through development… but that’s not impressive to those who don’t know just how hard that was to achieve. You’ll have to fight against believing their criticisms and advice because it comes from their own fears projected upon you.

The truth is that it takes an incredible amount of time for any aspiring screenwriter to gain and hold new ground and for any script to find a home and eventually get produced—if ever. Sometimes the less you say about your progress the better. Focus on the work and if anyone asks you what is going on, politely explain that you’re constantly “working on a lot of projects and they’re moving forward.”

I recently ran into an old friend who asked how things were going and when I mentioned a project and its recent upswing in progress he replied, “Haven’t you been trying to get that made for a few years now?” Why, yes I have… and thank you for reminding me of that fact. It’s not as easy as you’d believe to get someone to just give you millions of dollars to make a film. This is a perfect example of how every project is a new adventure and has its own ups and downs that are out of your control. You’ll survive the journey by having as many solid projects out there working as possible for your benefit.  Sometimes they all hit, one hits, and other times nothing hits. It’s the nature of the business, but you keep soldiering on.

rejectionWe all have our own inner voice of self-doubt as artists, but why give fodder to your critics and skeptics who will use it to squash your dreams? They’ll even taint any good news you share and use it to belittle your success because they didn’t have the guts to risk everything to pursue their own dreams. I have a friend who just landed a gig on an indie movie and the pay isn’t great, but it’s a fantastic opportunity and might open up a whole avenue that never existed before for him. He mentioned that he told another friend about this good fortune, and his friend questioned his decision to take the job and even pointed out that he’ll “barely break even financially—so what’s the point?”  The friend couldn’t see the bigger picture and how in the film business, many times you take a job because you can see past the immediate opportunity and look to what other doors it can open.

Again, beware of opening yourself up to negative criticism by sharing all of your private business especially on social media. Sure, you will find those who support your achievements, but the dark side of social media is where the trolls reside. It only takes one or two trolls to crush your spirit even when so many others are supportive of your screenwriting journey. Tread lightly and don’t expect everyone to support your journey. The trolls lash out with jealousy and try to demean you so they can feel better about their shortcomings.

Protect your dreams from the naysayers who enjoy raining on your parade. They’re unable or unwilling to take that leap off the cliff and that’s okay—it’s what us dreamers do every day. Keep your work close to the vest until it’s finished and know that even with a contract—projects can still die in development, during production and even after they’re produced.  No one ever truly knows the fate of any film and it’s mostly out of your control, so stick to what is within your control—keeping your private business to yourself and continuing to write.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE

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 “Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu

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

“‘I never feel the need to discuss my work with anyone. No, I am too busy writing it. It has got to please me and if it does I don’t need to talk about it. If it doesn’t please me, talking about it won’t improve it, since the only thing to improve it is to work on it some more. I am not a literary man but only a writer. I don’t get any pleasure from talking shop.”—William Faulkner

“The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.”—Ernest Hemingway

Everyone holds his fortune in his own hands, like a sculptor the raw material he will fashion into a figure. But it’s the same with that type of artistic activity as with all others: We are merely born with the capacity to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated.”—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

More Quotes of the Day

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

May 3, 2019 § Leave a comment

rewritesGreetings screenwriters! I hope this finds you well and busy filling your blank pages. I haven’t been blogging as much because it’s been a busy first part of the year with screenplay assignments. I’ve been blessed to complete two screenplay assignment jobs and just turned in the outline for a third job. Two screenplays in four months is a tremendous pace for me, but you have to rise to the occasion when the jobs are offered. Over the past few years, I’ve had to push myself out of my comfort zone because of the jobs that were offered. When they call, you either accept the job, or turn it down. Luckily for me, these were my jobs to turn down as they came to me first. It’s a nice place to be after so many years of hard work.

This week, I turned in my latest first draft screenplay two days before my contracted deadline. It took me nineteen days to complete. Maybe you’d say, “I could never write a screenplay in three weeks!” Sure, maybe when you’re first starting out, but I’ve been doing this for twenty years, and the script I turned in was my thirty-eighth feature length screenplay. I must stress that I could have never achieved the fast writing pace of five pages a day unless I had my solid outline to follow. In addition, so far I have received few notes from the producer, only tweaks, possibly a few hours of work. That is tremendous because it pushes that script farther along into the development phase and soon hopefully production.

fade inThis is what goal you want to achieve while working now on your specs. You want your first draft to be the best possible draft you can write… and why not? Don’t stress if it’s not. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But why would anyone want to rewrite their screenplay six times? Or be rewriting while they are writing. It wastes time. Even if you rewrite your script to the point of being “written out” where you are totally confident with it… it will be looked upon as a first draft in the eyes of any new reader. And you should never tell anyone how many drafts it took to get to the one they are reading. It’s none of their business.

Also don’t subscribe to the hype about the “vomit” draft where you just write off the top of your head from a few if any ideas written down in a structured format. I recently consulted on a screenplay where the writer followed this belief of writing the screenplay without any guide. It was overwritten with too many issues and came in about thirty pages too long. If you enjoy rewriting yourself and wasting time on a first draft, by all means go ahead.

You should train yourself now with your specs to try and nail the first draft and not look at it as “as crap” that you need to get out of the way.  Trust me, you will not have this luxury when you start working as a professional screenwriter on assignment work. Most of the work in Hollywood is on assignment, as only about one hundred screenplays or fewer sell in any given year at the studio level. What you don’t to happen is that when an opportunity comes your way, you are not fully trained and ready to experience the level of writing it takes to complete an assignment under a contracted deadline. You’ll sign a contract, receive a payment, and it’s “go” time. I’ve had to create the outlines for every assignment job I’ve done before they ever allow me to start the first draft screenplay. The outlines also go through rewrites too until the producers, investors, executives, studio or network is comfortable the story they want is the one that I’ll write. No surprises!

time warp in HollywoodOnce the outline is accepted, I’m given my marching orders to start pages and the clock starts to tick. It’s not stressful because I’ve lived with the characters and story for a few weeks as I’ve created the outline from the concept. It’s given me that precious time to envision every scene and now I’ve seen the entire movie played out in my head. Now all I have to do now it write it. Creating and using an outline makes the screenwriting process a fun experience. You don’t get stuck in ACT TWO trying to figure out what happens. It also still gives you creative freedom while working with a story safety net.

An original draft outline or sometimes known as a “treatment” is generally long and detailed, sometimes with dialogue, and can range from one to fifty pages in length. My latest outline that I turned in for my next assignment was fourteen pages. I’ve also done extensive outlines up to thirty pages. My good friend who is directing a studio film this year turned in a fifty page outline before he wrote the first draft. The outline length varies to how much you need to figure out before you start pages.

A fellow screenwriter friend always tells me he doesn’t like to work from a detailed treatment because he feels it stifles his spontaneity as he writes pages. His method is using a loosely structured beat sheet and he fills in the blanks as he writes. Different writers use different methods, but I’ve never gone astray writing the script from my detailed outline. Many times, a producer or executive only gives you a logline and it’s your job to return with a full story outline before they’ll allow you start the script.

Screenwriting is all about structure. I always find plenty of creative breathing room and spontaneity even when working from a detailed treatment. I still have to write the scene and let the characters interact, but I’ve already figured out the reason for the scene, the intent and the beast, so it allows me to play within the story’s parameters and create ideas not listed in the treatment. I’ve always found so many good ideas spring from a solid foundation because it’s a creative framework and suddenly one idea begets another, and so on.

Outlines are an important process that prepare you to write the script. If you’re getting paid for a script assignment, it’s standard practice the producer or executive will ask you to create one of these structured documents before they’ll allow you to start the script.  Writing an extensive outline is similar to doing a pre-draft of your script. It gives you the chance to explore your story, build your structure, and get to know your characters before you set out on a journey of a hundred pages with them.  If you embrace the treatment process and craft a solid framework for your story, it will help serve as your roadmap to a successful first draft with fewer rewrites in your future.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.

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

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Do you need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years working as a professional screenwriter in Hollywood and shares my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

 

“Don’t think of it as art, think of it as work.”—Paddy Chayefsky

 

“… a basic “must” for every writer: A simple solitude—physical & mental.”—Rod Serling

“Being an artist means not having to avert one’s eyes.”—Akira Kurosawa

 

The romanticized image of a screenwriter in Hollywood Vol. 3…

April 9, 2019 § 3 Comments

rewritesI haven’t been blogging lately because I’ve been too damn busy with work. Yes, I know, be careful what you wish for, right? This has been a busy year out of the gate with three script assignments at the same time. It’s been quite an experience “stacking” projects, but I’ve done it once before and needed to continue to get out of my comfort zone. It’s all about timing, and you can juggle more than one project if you schedule property. Luckily, one screenplay is finished, I’ve done a second pass, and I just turned in my two outlines for second and third movies. It looks like one will start before the other, and that’s good to get a head start before I’ll have to split the day writing two movies.  I think they call this “champagne problems.”

The key to “stacking projects” and finishing a screenplay under a tight deadline is having a solid story treatment before you type FADE IN. This always helps you to write a faster first draft. I will tell you, being holed up for three weeks, working 8-10 hour days, really is the test to see if you can meet any challenge offered. Fortunately, I’ve met the challenge before, but I never take it for granted. Every time up to the plate with a new script is a completely different adventure. I was pleased to receive very few notes on my first draft of the one assignment freeing me up to start the other two.

This is probably not the romanticized image many beginning screenwriters have of what it’s like to be working in Hollywood as a screenwriter. It’s work and will always be work just like any other job. You’ll have to punch a clock every day when you get up in the morning and need to fill your quota of pages. My sweet spot is three to five pages a day, every day including weekends to reach my deadlines. It won’t feel like work when you’re doing what you love for a living.

PILE OF SCRIPTSThis is why you have to start training yourself now with your specs to build your writing endurance. Set up deadlines and meet them. It’s good practice. Are you able to focus and write for 8-10 hours a day—every day uninterrupted? That’s what it takes sometimes when you start working professionally. You lost the luxury of working on your spec when you feel inspired. It’s now your job and you clock in and out with an eye on doing great work under the deadline.

Sure, it can be torture at times—a hellish rewrite on a screenplay can make you question your decision to become a screenwriter when you curse the day you typed “FADE IN.”  Other times it’s easy breezy and brings you great creative satisfaction, a credit and the bonus of getting paid as a professional screenwriter. As with life, you deal with the good and the bad, and learn how to survive the storms to stay in the game as a working screenwriter.

handshake cartoonSometimes you get lucky,  the alchemy just works, you produce a great script, and build new working relationships. I joke about the cliché of the ideal “romanticized life” of a working Hollywood screenwriter, but many times I find aspirants who work with total freedom on their specs, believe it will be the same breezy experience when they get hired to write a screenplay assignment. It’s not all about premieres, parties, and huge paydays. Once you land the gig, it becomes your job with the same expectations, responsibilities, pressures and deadlines of many jobs—all while working under a contract.

If you’re blessed enough to secure the gig, you must be the ultimate team player and collaborator with your producers or executives. Sure, you scored the job, but never fool yourself into believing you’re the only screenwriter who could do the job. There is always someone out there equally or more talented, and maybe hundreds of eager aspirants who would even write it for free just for the break. The important thing is that you landed the job. It’s yours to screw up or succeed. Show them why you were the right pick on that short list of other writers. I’m blessed to finally be offered jobs now that are mine to take or pass. You’ll learn that you take opportunities when they come your way and they will lead to more work as shown by my example.

Back to stacking projects. It’s when you’re in the thick of it, in the deep trenches, and climbing your way out page by hard-earned page. So, after completing my first draft for one project and turning it in, I received minimal notes, and was offered another new project from the same producer. I took that second gig, and had to immediately start on the outline. While working on the story for two weeks, I was offered another assignment from a different producer. I then started the outline for that third movie as I turned in the outline for second movie. The process is called “stacking” where you work on multiple projects at the same time. That’s why you see writers with four or five credits in one year because they are working on multiple projects. This takes experience, but also a knowledge and confidence in your abilities so you can deliver quality work within the deadlines. Trust me, it’s not easy and takes a keen sense of time and your screenwriting abilities. Mostly, you don’t get weekends off because those two precious days can be used to possibly write or rewrite 12-15 pages. You’ll of course suck it up because you’re under a deadline and want to deliver a production ready script as promised.

Always remember, meeting your deadlines is vital to your reputation and your career.  I’ve worked before for many of the producers who hire me, and it’s nice when they call me with job offers and ask, “Are you available?” I’ve worked hard to get to this place and continue to solidify my professional reputation.

So, what’s all this I continually hear about the romanticized and exciting image of working screenwriters? It’s a false image and not reality. Most of the time it’s the impossibly hard work of trying to land the job. Once you secure the gig, now you have to do it—and be the writer they hope you are and turn in the script they hope is “the one.” A lot of pressure? Certainly.  You’re writing at the top of your game and it’s weeks or months of rewrites, polishes, and the pressure of deadlines. You’ll feel the pressure when you hit a creative wall and begin to stare at the calendar or spend more time calculating your daily page count than doing the actual writing.

It will always be about the work. And after you sell one project and the movie is produced, you hope it helps you land another job and another. There will be dry periods with no work and periods with an embarrassment of work. You never know that is why you have to adapt and always be networking. If you’re a true screenwriter, you thrive on process and getting the job done no matter what it takes. You’ll go above and beyond every time to show your producers and executives that you are the right person for the job. Screenwriters are craftspeople, the ones up at 3:30 A.M. in the laboratory, adding a dash of this and taking away a dash of that, fixing the scenes, working on the structure, putting the puzzle together, and chasing after your dreams.

if you can't handle criticismSure, you might come up short on praise and validation but even when you do receive praise, it might be a let down from what you’d expect. The longer you’re in the screenwriting game, you’ll learn that screenwriting can be a thankless and lonely job as you slog away sometimes in the wee small hours of the morning. But don’t lose heart, realize that it’s a job and it’s hard work at all levels of the business. It was your choice to pursue the journey of a master crafts person, working away in your workshop, crafting a new story to unleash upon the world. It’s a lonely process with no parties, no champagne, no red carpets, no fame and rarely fortune, but your praise and validation comes from the satisfaction knowing that you’re working at the top of your game. How do you know? You’ve just moved your last draft from the development process into the important pre-production stage—that’s a major step to success.

I never take any of it for granted and know the long slog and decades of experience that it’s taken me to get here. It’s work—hard work and I’m happy and humbled to have had another chance up to the plate and made sure to knock it out of the park. On to the next one! I think we don’t ever “make it” because we are always looking for our next job. Nothing is guaranteed at any level of the business.

You just have to be the writer that doesn’t give up. But you have to work smart and be smart about the bigger picture. Pick your projects wisely. Protect your precious writing time. Keep writing because if you stop you are guaranteed never to have ANY shot at success. You create new opportunities with every screenplay you create and hopefully it best represents your talent and ability.

Scriptcat out!

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

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

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Master CoverR2-4-REV2Check out my book now available on AMAZON with 22 FIVE STAR REVIEWS!

(click on the book cover for the link)

Do you need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years working as a professional screenwriter in Hollywood and shares my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

 

 

 

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”—Ray Bradbury

“I never feel the need to discuss my work with anyone. No, I am too busy writing it. It has got to please me and if it does I don’t need to talk about it. If it doesn’t please me, talking about it won’t improve it, since the only thing to improve it is to work on it some more. I am not a literary man but only a writer. I don’t get any pleasure from talking shop.”—William Faulkner

“If there ever was one analogy for what a screenwriter must accomplish, it’s this: To create a source of life, to find the bedrock of a given idea, to prevent most of the work from evaporating.”—FX Feeney

“A writer is not a film’s maker but its originator, then a writer must, if she or he is to emerge and make a mark, create a body of work that is not just aimed at posterity but at surviving the food chain which constitutes modern film production.” — Richard Price, screenwriter of The Color of Money, Sea of Love, Mad Dog & Glory, Clockers, & Ransom.

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”—Ray Bradbury

Talk is free and cheap in Hollywood…

April 8, 2019 § Leave a comment

quote of the dayYou’ll learn the longer you pursue a screenwriting career that talk is cheap in Hollywood and many people want credit for their good intentions. Too many times the words are empty promises that end up wasting an eager and hungry screenwriter’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. It costs nothing and is a way to string you along for more free work. You’ll also find that some meetings are just meetings where 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. Of course other times it is real, but then a contract would be presented and money received.

Producers might 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 little or no money in their development budget, there really is no money to pay the screenwriter. Be understanding to a certain point, but look at every situation through a risk/benefit filter. Are you willing to risk your time with free rewrites on the possible chance your project “might” get produced? I had this happen once, and I told the producers that I needed them to option my screenplay if they wanted me to make changes. They optioned my script, I made the changes throughout the development process, and they eventually produced the movie. Over the years, I’ve had many false starts, empty promises, and projects that never moved forward, even after I was paid to do all of the drafts. So you never know, even when you do finally get paid. There are no guarantees in this business.

handshake cartoonGet excited when a producer gives you a contract, you both sign it, and you get paid. That’s when it becomes real. It’s the professional way—otherwise, you can’t live on the currency of good intentions. Now get back to your blank pages because if you stop writing, you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.

Keep writing and filling your pages 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.

@Scriptcat out!

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

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or a new draft. Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website and more information.

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Master CoverR2-4-REV2Check out my screenwriting book with twenty-two FIVE STAR reviews on Amazon. (click on book cover for link to Amazon to purchase)

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.

EDITORIAL REVIEWS:

“I have known Mark my entire life, and he is  absolute living proof of the grit and tenacity it takes to make it as a  writer in this business. Take your first steps toward your own career by  reading the words of this true fighter.”

Matt Reeves, writer/director
(Cloverfield, Let Me In, Dawn Of The Planet of the Apes, War For The Planet of the Apes)

“A  great book for anyone who ever aspired to become anything; Sanderson  reminds us how important it is to have a life passion, how important it  is to work hard at it, and how that, in itself, is a victory.”

J. J. Abrams, writer/producer/director
(Mission Impossible III, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

“Mark’s work as a screenwriting guru is as thorough, as painstaking, and as insightful as his actual screenwriting was on Tides Of War,  our submarine drama. As aspiring writers soon learn it’s a complex,  changeable, lonely field of endeavor, so Mark provides not only valid  professional advice but also meaningful emotional support for all those  who stare into the abyss of an empty page. Read Mark, and your  keystrokes will accelerate.”

Brian Trenchard-Smith, producer/director
(Dead End Drive In, BMX Bandits, Drive Hard, and 40 others)

“Not  only have I collaborated with Mark as a writer, more importantly I have  found him to be a true artist who walks his talk. Whenever the chips  are down, whenever I’ve needed some creative or inspirational, perhaps  technical help — even if it’s at 3:00 in the morning — Mark has been  there invariably. Infallibly. As a screenwriter, director, or producer,  this book is the very next best thing to having Mark in your corner at 3  A.M.”

George Mendeluk, writer/producer/director
(70 credits, over 300 hours of television, and 9 features including the epic Bitter Harvest)

“Mark  is a journeyman screenwriter, my good friend and collaborator on  several projects. This is a must have book of reference for those not  only about to embark in a career in the entertainment industry, but also  for those who want to learn from someone who’s been there and done  that. Mark is extremely candid about what it takes and how hard it is to  ‘make it’ in this business. This should be on everyone’s desk right  next to their computer.”

Greg Grunberg, actor and writer/producer
(actor Alias, Heroes, Big Ass Spider, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

 

Hemingway said it best, I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.

“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

“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

“Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.”– Kurt Vonnegut

Consider your spec as a calling card and not a million dollar sale…

March 31, 2019 § Leave a comment

PILE OF SCRIPTSWhen I started out on this crazy screenwriting journey, I made the same mistake many beginning screenwriters make when they complete their first specs—believing that everything they write will sell—and sell for a million dollars. When you consider that on the average about one hundred specs a year sell at the studio level and only about a quarter of the Writers Guild members report income in any given year, your specs should really be considered the necessary training ground for you to become a better screenwriter—not chances to win Hollywood’s lottery.

Trust me, I know it’s hard to accept the spec you are writing probably will not sell and may end up being only a writing sample, but you need to put your specs into perspective. If you don’t put in the necessary work with solid rewrites from constructive feedback and create professionally competitive material, your specs could end up in a drawer collecting dust, or worse a dumpster and have a negative effect on your career aspirations.

BoulderFlatSpecs are a necessary part of every screenwriter’s journey because they are the scripts you “cut your teeth on” to prepare you for when you do get hired for assignment jobs. My fifth spec is the one that opened the door to a career for me. Back in the day, a new production company optioned my screenplay and made it as their first released film. My professional relationship with the producers on the rewrites and my attitude during production helped build my reputation with them and they hired me for a series of screenwriting assignment jobs. This opened the door and launched my career. Since then I’ve been hired twenty-one times for paid assignments, some of them sadly went into “development hell,” but I’ve had fifteen of the scripts produced into films and distributed globally.

script oddsNo spec ever wastes your time because you hopefully gain precious knowledge and experience with every new screenplay. I’ve completed 37 feature-length scripts since I started screenwriting and have been paid for twenty-one of them in addition to one spec sale. My early specs were not great and I look back at them as learning experiences. I realized that I needed time to get better and learn how to compete on a professional level. The truth is that I’m still learning because as screenwriters we never stop mastering our craft. You always learn something new with every screenplay and working with every producer. This is why it’s vital to respect the process and journey otherwise the craft and the film business will humble you fast. Trust me, years of rejection and criticism just might make you decide to pick another career to pursue. I’ve had many friends who wanted to be actors and writers, and very few achieved any success in the film business today.

Also consider the genre you’re writing. Which genre drives your passion? Many of Hollywood biggest films now are multi-genre movies so they can appeal to a global audience. If you’re writing in every genre and an agent or manager asks, “What genre do you write?” What is your answer? If you replay, “Well… I write everything… horror, drama, comedy, and action.” No writer is a master at every genre and you will appear scattered. Agents want to get you on studio rewrite lists and those are genre specific. Also your first screenplay sale will probably determine the genre that you’ll be working in as you establish your career. If you sell a comedy out of the gate, your agent won’t be sending you out for horror or action assignment jobs.

hang onMoving forward on your spec journey, realize that Hollywood doesn’t owe you or me a read, a job, or a career just because we’ve put words on paper in the form of a screenplay. Sure, many have a screenplay or have tried to write one, but not everyone respects the craft or the mountain they need to climb for any shot at success. Specs are vital to your journey, but detach from their outcome and protect yourself from the reality of rejection so it doesn’t destroy your creative soul. Also remember what you write about is as important as the execution of the screenplay. My fifth spec was a difficult commercial sell because it was a historical movie about WWII and life on the home front of the United States with four ten-year olds as the protagonists. When I first shopped the script, Hollywood was not making historical films, and I kept coming up short with my submissions. Yes, it was a top 20 script in the Nicholl Fellowship, and I received positive feedback about the story and writing, but alas no sale. It took three years until it found a home with a producer and new company that wanted to make quality independent films. And it was a total of seven years from the day I typed FADE OUT of the first draft to the first day of photography. A long haul journey for sure, but I never gave up and it paid off.

Be smart about your career. Don’t waste time making the same mistakes over and over again. Always remember that it’s your responsibility to chart the course and keep your eye of the big picture. Before you start your next spec and burn precious time, consider how it figures into your overall screenwriting goals—not just the mantra that I hear from so many aspirants, “I have a good idea for a script.” Many times it’s not a good idea and if your goal is to be a horror genre screenwriter, why are you writing a romantic comedy especially when Hollywood isn’t producing that genre now? Think, plan, create a checklist, hit your goals, create a solid story treatment before you start pages, and then put your ass in a seat and fill those blank pages.

Also realize even if you do sell a script there are no guarantees. I’ve been paid to write five production ready screenplays that are in development hell, and they will probably never be made due to situations out of my control. What’s the alternative to not writing? You’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success. At least with a solid body of material you create opportunities. The rest is timing and the right project getting to the right producer.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Follow me on Twitter / Periscope: @scriptcat

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or finish a new draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website.

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Don’t miss my new thriller SUBURBAN SWINGERS CLUB when it premieres on Lifetime Movie Network on Thursday, April 4 at 8 PM and on Saturday, April 6 at 10:03 PM on LIFETIME.

LIFETIME MOVIE NETWORK PREMIERE

Paddy Chayefsky on cutting/editing:

If it should occur to you to cut, do so. That’s the first basic rule of cutting. If you’re reading through and stop, something is wrong. Cut it. If something bothers you, then it’s bad. Cut it. If you can cut inside the speech, you’re really cutting most effectively. It’s purifying, it’s refining. Making it precise. Precision is one of the basic elements of poetry. My own rules are very simple. First, cut out all the wisdom; then cut out all the adjectives. I’ve cut some of my favorite stuff. I have no compassion when it comes to cutting. No pity, no sympathy. Some of my dearest and most beloved bits of writing have gone with a very quick slash, slash, slash. Because something was heavy there. Cutting leads to economy, precision, and to a vastly improved script.

 

“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.

“Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.”– Kurt Vonnegut

A screenwriter’s end of the year checklist: Keeping your eye on the big picture for 2019…

December 6, 2018 § Leave a comment

EXCUSESWho can believe the year is almost over? It will be 2019 in a blink of an eye. It’s always a powerful tool to look back over the previous year and critically analyze the good, the bad, and the ugly choices you’ve made. Hopefully, you’ve learned from your failures and enjoyed your successes. Excuses abound, but what really matters is how productive have you been? Room for improvement? Have you become a better screenwriter and have you been able to move yourself and your projects down the field? Have you opened doors and gained new “fans” of your writing? Have you been able to gain and hold new ground? Established new relationships and contacts? Created a solid body of material in a genre to show your unique voice?

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

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

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

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

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

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the odds are already stacked against you and time marches on so quickly. Only 5,819 WGA members reported any income last year and of those, 4,670 were in Television (annual report ending in June 2018) out of nearly 20,000 members. Check out the 2018 ANNUAL REPORT FROM THE WGA. Think about those odds for a moment and then get back to work. And if you add the non-union screenwriters working… it can boggle the mind with more stats and there are no stats for non-union screenwriters working or not working. The main issue is that you must stay busy creating projects, networking, building your unique voice, and casting your best scripts wide to the right players.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2This year was very busy for me and I’ve pushed various projects along the field. Early in the year, I was hired to write my nineteenth paid screenwriting assignment, it was produced in the spring, and premiered last week on LMN to solid ratings. After this, I was hired for another assignment that wrapped production in October and is now in post with a spring 2019 scheduled premiere. Screenwriters are also discovering and enjoying my new book, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” with 19 FIVE STAR REVIEWS on Amazon. I also taught my master class seminar “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood,” and continued to expand my screenwriting consulting business.

IMG_2016So, it’s never too late, even though the year is nearly over, to grab a piece of paper and if you haven’t yet, set up a game plan for 2019.  Hit the ground running and achieve your goals every day of the week. Treat your screenwriting like a business—because it’s YOU, INC. and every decision you make affects your pathway to success. Ask yourself the hard questions: “Why are you writing this particular spec and will it serve you in the best way possible to create opportunities and open doors?”

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

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

2)  ACHIEVEMENTS!  Make a list of your achievements in 2018. Scrutinize the successes and failures so you can see where you need to pick up the slack in areas where you need to focus in the new year. List any accolades—did you win or place in a significant screenwriting competition? Did you option or sell a screenplay? Did you graduate from film school?  Did you make any films, short movies, or a webseries on your own?  Did you work on a production or take an internship? List anything that shows you are working toward to your goals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information. Hit the ground running in the New Year with a solid project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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