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.

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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.

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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

Screenwriting tip for today… avoid the “widow words” in your screenplay…

February 28, 2019 § Leave a comment

karloff scriptIt’s important how a screenplay “reads” on the page, but you must first remember that nobody likes to actually read. It’s a sad fact that I’ve come to accept. Strange in a business of words, right? It’s probably the volume of screenplays out there all competing for attention. I’ve read reports upward to 50,000 projects a year registered with the WGA. That is why loglines exist and scripts get “coverage.” If producers finally decide to read your script, they’ll enjoy seeing more white space on the page than a script cluttered with useless words. It’s vital to know what you need to write and what you need to leave out of a screenplay.

Many beginning writers tend to overwrite and micromanage their scenes with detailed descriptions of how the character “sighs, shrugs, smiles, clenches teeth, folds arms, and turns.” These beginners have not yet learned to let go and trust the director and actors to “get it.”  If your scene and dialogue are properly written, the other contributors will bring your script to an entirely new level.  You must stay the hell out-of-the-way of the story and write only what is of primary importance to push the story forward. Anything extra hurts and will immediately show producers that you are a beginning writer trying to micromanage the script.  The old axiom still holds true: Less is more.

Avoid being “precious” with your screenplay. It’s a blueprint that will be altered and changed by your collaborators—the producer, the executive, the director, and even the actors. When you type FADE IN, lose any trace of ego and don’t hang on to your words so tightly.  Trust me, there will be notes and changes — even during production.

I don’t recall where I read this nugget of screenwriting advice, but believe me it works every time: When writing the action block of a script, never leave a line with only one word dangling — a “widow word.” It’s also officially known as the “orphan word” — it doesn’t matter by what name this pesky gremlin is called, here’s an example of what it looks like on the page:  

Jennifer hesitates and in silence she lowers her

sunglasses.

The widow/orphan word above is sunglasses and it’s jarring to the eye when you read the script to have just one word taking up an entire line on the page.  t’s also a waste of precious real estate on the page. The one word takes up an entire line of space. You may leave a half-dozen widow words per page and never realize it unless you go on a hunt for them. If you do this about fifty times or more throughout the script, you will have added an extra page to the length just based on the underutilized lines. I consulted recently on a screenplay and pointed out the “widow words” to the writer and she was able in a rewrite to cut out three pages just by eliminating the widow words.

In almost every case, I have found that a widow word is a red flag that the previous sentence could be rewritten and will be a read better in the second pass. So, if I find a widow word, I analyze the previous sentence and either cut a few words or make sure there is more than one word on the second line:

Jennifer hesitates and lowers her sunglasses.

It’s Hemingway’s economy of writing. When you read your scripts, keep an eye out for widow words and clean them up. Your script will read much better and the action lines will get right to the point.  You also just saved a wasted line on the page and that works in your script’s favor.

Keep filling your blank pages and keep the faith!

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Don’t miss my newest thriller “Suburban Swingers Club” when it premieres on Saturday, March 9 at 8 pm on Lifetime Network. 

“A young married couple makes a huge mistake by agreeing to participate in a secret swingers’ party in their suburban neighborhood, and soon both of them are being targeted by a jealous and homicidal neighbor. Dana Davis and Jesse Ruda star.”Suburban Swingers Club

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

 

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In rewriting what you have to be able to do is read a piece of material, say what’s wrong with it, know how to say what’s right with it, and then be able to do it yourself. That’s really what it comes down to.  Some people say what’s wrong with something, some people can even say what’s right with it, and some people can do all three, but, you know, the more things that are required, the fewer people can do it.  I think I can do it.”— Robert Towne, screenwriter of Chinatown, Hollywood’s major uncredited script doctor.

“What I’m saying is that is it frustrating.  If a painter paints a picture, he can scrape it off and do it again, if he doesn’t like it.  In a film, it will cost you forty thousand dollars to do that again, just for that once scene that didn’t come out the way you wanted.  All the time I hear young filmmakers say, “But I’ll never make a compromise.”  Baloney!  All of life is a compromise. It’s one succession of compromises after another.”Stanley Kramer

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

When you start a movie script, it’s like entering a dark room: You may find your way around all right, but you also may fall over a piece of furniture and break your neck. Some of us can see a little better than others in the dark, but there is no guaranteeing the audience’s reaction.”—Billy Wilder

Top 10 Worst Screenwriting Habits for Overwriting…

November 29, 2018 § 1 Comment

salvador-dali-by-willy-rizzo-1Keep an eye out for bad habits. Here are a few tips to avoid hanging on so tightly to every description or line of dialogue. It will kill your writing in the long run and harm your reputation of a talented screenwriter. So…

STOP MICROMANAGING YOUR SCREENWRITING!

When your 105 page screenplay ends up at 125 pages and you wonder why?

You might be asking, “What do you mean by micromanaging?” Here is my Top 10 Checklist to see if you’re guilty of this:

  1. You describe every action detail between the lines of dialogue. The fewer words on the page the better. Leave the specific character’s business up to the actor unless it’s absolutely necessary to move the story forward.
  2. You’re TELLING and not SHOWING in your writing: “It was a hot summer day like the ones you remember as a child.” How do you SHOW this?
  3. You’re directing the character’s actions with too many details: Frank rolls his eyes, shrugs, smiles, blushes, folds arms, grits teeth, scowls and drops his head. It’s Bad Acting 101 and actors will hate this from the writer.
  4. You describe every “turn” the character makes. It’s assumed characters are talking to each other unless to write otherwise. You don’t need to constantly write “Frank turns to Kate.”
  5. You’re using idioms: “Lisa was over the moon by the performance.” No. She wasn’t literally “over the moon” so don’t write it. Screenwriting is only what we can see and hear on the screen.
  6. Don’t repeat phrases or words in dialogue between characters. You’re not David Mamet, so don’t waste space by writing, “Are we going? Yeah we’re going. Okay, when are we going? We’re going now.”
  7. Don’t write what a character is thinking: “Henry was sad as the remembered the good times with his wife.” You have to show this visually and not TELL us.
  8. You write WE SEE and WE HEAR in your descriptions. Leave this out of your screenplay. It takes us out of the read and you are directing as this point. What you write on the page is what “we see or hear.” Make your screenwriting cinematic.
  9. You describe the set with too many unnecessary details: The living room had green shag carpet, paisley wallpaper and a giant crystal chandelier. Unless it’s necessary let the set designer and art director do their jobs.
  10.  You’re writing eight pages of dialogue. Sure, Quentin Tarrantino can get away with opening a film with ten pages of dialogue–you and I cannot. Most of the time the dialogue should be cut and then cut again by fifty percent.

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.

“Consider this: in Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence in flowing white robes, sits on a truck in the middle of the desert giving a press conference. He’s ten feet tall on the screen and overwhelmingly immaculate. He faces a grimy-looking reporter who scratches his beard and asks snidely, “Just what is it, Colonel Lawrence, that attracts you to the desert?” Lawrence glances distastefully at the dirty reporter and offers a three word reply: “Because it’s clean.” It is not the text but the context that gives this reply its full force. Those three words in a novel or even the stage would be mildly amusing at best, but on the screen the effect is as overwhelming as the figure of Lawrence and the desert looming behind him. Those three words are the scene. There is no speech, long or short, about Lawrence’s need to seek remote places of the earth in order to avoid the corruption inevitably found in its more populated areas. Only a clean man, a dirty reporter, a big desert and three little words — “Because it’s clean.” It’s a movie. What else do you need?” —by Robert Towne (Chinatown) from “Why I writer Movies,” Esquire magazine, July 1991.

@Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.

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Master CoverR2-4-REV2My new book with 19 FIVE STAR reviews on amazon.

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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“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.”

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Excuses don’t finish screenplays. Discipline and a solid outline does…

November 13, 2018 § Leave a comment

EXCUSES

I’ve heard every excuse from screenwriters as to why they’re unable to finish a screenplay. A year ago, my close friend was working on a screenplay and he wanted me to read the first thirty pages. I read it and gave him my notes. He thanked me, and I assumed he eagerly continued on his journey. Alas, I recently asked him about his script, and he told me it wasn’t finished yet. A year later? That script should have had multiple drafts and been unleashed upon Hollywood by now. His excuse was that he got “stuck” and couldn’t figure out where the story was going. I know he also got disillusioned by his idea because it wasn’t working and he didn’t spend enough quality time with it. He should have never typed FADE IN without knowing the entire story and characters.

Sadly, I hear this story all too often from screenwriters. Too many times, the writer didn’t respect the outline process and wanted to jump right in and start pages. Many writers believe they can just “wing it” with a simple idea and go where the pages take them. It’s a fool’s endeavor, and the writer will end up either getting bored by their story, or procrastinate so much because they got lost and end up with their script unfinished. Or it will end up a jumbled mess with so many issues that it will need multiple rewrites. It becomes the project with no deadline and no ending. Do not fall into this trap.

Excuses are easy. We have a myriad of things going on in our busy lives that can distract us from the job of filling pages. Regardless of what you have going on, if you want a career as a screenwriter you’ll have to manage your screenwriting time and protect it. I learned how to do this early on when I attended film school and working four to five nights a week in a restaurant as a waiter. It trained me to respect the efficient use of my time and I never took it for granted. We have to be careful because the forces of distraction and procrastination are always lurking and will try to derail us from our splendid screenwriting plans.

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

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

We’ve all made excuses for the reason we’re not writing. Some writers allow their excuses to affect them to the point where they are helpless to finish any new project.   When the work gets difficult, you have to face it head on and not avoid it. Distractions and procrastination will always lurk and help you to find even better excuses as to why you’re not able to write. Don’t allow your excuses to derail your splendid screenwriting plans. Fully develop your idea in the form of an outline or story treatment before you start any pages and stick to a disciplined writing schedule free from distractions. This is the key to a successful first draft and a solid starting point for your next project.

Keep writing and keep the faith because if you stop you’re guaranteed to never have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Follow me on Twitter / Periscope: @scriptcat

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.  You never get a second chance to make a first great impression. Make the time to get it right.

script consultation2

Master CoverR2-4-REV219 FIVE STAR REVIEWS!

Now available on AMAZON my new screenwriting book. 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.

IMG_0564

 

Check out my seminar masterclass “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood.” The entire two hour discussion is followed by a question and answer session. Click on the photo to the left for the link.

 

 

 

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

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.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”—Pablo Picasso

“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

“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”

One screenplay will not do it. When you’re ready, you will need multiple solid screenplays in the marketplace at all times for any shot at success…

November 5, 2018 § Leave a comment

PILE OF SCRIPTSIt’s a numbers game at best. Consider the odds of selling a spec screenplay the same as winning the lottery if you believe the numbers—nearly 50,000 projects bounce around Hollywood each year with just over 100 specs selling at the studio level most years. In the 2018 WGA annual report to writers, only 5,819 of the 20,000 WGAw members reported any income last fiscal year in all mediums. Also, when you also consider that only 70 to 75 specs sold in Hollywood in 2017 and only 740 films were released domestically, you have to be writing at a professional level to beat the incredible odds. Don’t forget about the thousands of films without distribution that end up competing at film festivals every year with only a handful landing deals.

Yes, I also hate hearing about the odds, but it’s a reality that must be considered so you know the mountain that you must climb with every new screenplay. It also makes you humble knowing it’s not going to be easy. This is an example of why you must have multiple projects, pitches and treatments in the marketplace at any given time for chance that one might—and I stress might—find interest and move farther down the playing field. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you’ll soon discover talk is cheap in Hollywood. So you’ll add that to the journey of your projects when producers or executives heap their praise on your talents and your screenplay, but they string you along with offers of free work as they dangle the carrot of production.

You’ll find out the longer you’re in the trenches that interest, even when you receive a payday, doesn’t always guarantee your film goes on to being a produced film. Sure, money makes their interest real, but your project still must jump over many hurdles that are out of your control. Some of these pitfalls include:

  • An option for little money that doesn’t end up with the purchase of the script.
  • Your script is purchased, you are fired, and it’s rewritten so many times it languishes in development hell and never gets produced.
  • A script is close to being financed when suddenly the investors pullout, the producer loses the money and the star as a result.
  • A project is put on hold because of scheduling conflicts.
  • A project isn’t produced due to changing global marketplace factors. It’s cheaper NOT to make the film than take a risk of not being able to sell it.

Each project you create will have a shelf life and travel on its own unique journey to either failure or success. Sometimes a spec that didn’t sell two years ago can find a new home, but it’s a long haul journey for any project to find a producer or executive who likes it enough to move forward in some way. The project must also survive the dicey minefield of the development process and with luck, move into production. Even when a film is produced, there still is no guarantee of success either. How many films considered a “guaranteed hit” end up a bomb at the box office? It happens every weekend. As you see there are many hurdles that are out of a screenwriter’s control, but the one thing in your control is creating a solid body of work and putting it in the pipeline with the goal of having one move forward down the field to production. This is why you can’t be a “one script wonder” and burn out after a few drafts of your first screenplay.

poor screenwriterI recently completed my 36th overall screenplay, it was produced as my 20th paid assignment, and it’s still hard work and humbling. One of the hardest lessons that I had to learn when I finally started being paid to write screenplays was that not every project that I wrote was going to be produced. Many projects that I was hired to write ended up in development hell, not from anything I did, but because of a variety of circumstances out of my control. These projects remain viable with production ready drafts, but might never get off the shelf and into production. That’s okay. Take your lumps and move onto generating your next logline, pitch or treatment and hopefully another job.

Never forget that Hollywood is a business and screenwriting is a profession with the same dilemmas of other jobs. Your goal is staying in the game and being hired again and again to write screenplays to establish a career. It may take writing a half-dozen projects for one to finally sell or get you assignment work, but every new script is a new opportunity or a missed opportunity–it depends on how you play it.

The other harsh reality is that you will need plenty of time to master your craft and be writing at a professional level with at least four or five solid projects that can be out in the marketplace competing with the thousands of others. This is why I stress the practice of patience during this period of your journey. I find many beginning screenwriters are too eager to sell their first script for a million dollars—like it’s just that easy. It’s not just that easy. And you need to respect your craft and practice it every day. You’ll need the time to fail and write badly before you can become an excellent screenwriter, execute notes and work on a schedule under pressure. You don’t want a yellow belt in screenwriting—you want to achieve a Grand Master 4th degree Black Belt—and to do this you’ll need to train by writing every day.

boxerThe only way you’ll be able to do this is to keep to a tight writing schedule. You’ll need to protect your precious writing time from distraction and procrastination. Stephen King calls it “closing your door.” When your door is closed, it means that you are writing. You have to take your career seriously and become a master at scheduling your time. If you dabble at your career, time becomes your enemy, it passes quickly while projects burn out and life gets in the way of your most splendid screenwriting dreams. If you keep the pipeline always filled with your best work you will create opportunities and have a shot at success. If your body of work includes feature-length original screenplays and if they don’t sell, the scripts can become solid writing samples that can get you assignment work.  If you want to work in television, your body of work should include your original TV pilots to show an agent, manager, producer or executive your unique voice. It used to be that you needed to write a spec episode of an existing series, but now agents and managers look for original material to get a handle on the writer’s talent and unique voice. And for both feature films and TV continue to craft your pitches for ideas that you want to write.

If you have a solid body of work and you’re always creating new projects, you will be more attractive to an agent or manager as they can see you are not a “one script wonder” but a workhorse. They don’t like divas and love writers who write and create the product. As you build up your projects, you’ll be working on your craft and becoming a better screenwriter in the process. And as it’s extremely difficult to sell a project, you’ll want to increase your odds by only unleashing solid projects into the pipeline so you can attack a career on different fronts. Never allow a screenplay to go out before it’s ready as it will harm the project and the image of you as a screenwriter. Eventually one script will slip through and stick and it will jump-start your screenwriting career.

Keep writing because if you stop—you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

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

Follow me on Twitter / Periscope: @scriptcat

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.  You never get a second chance to make a first great impression. Make the time to get it right.

script consultation2

Subscribe to my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting videos.

Master CoverR2-4-REV219 FIVE STAR REVIEWS! Now available on AMAZON my new screenwriting book. 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.

Click on the book cover above for the link to Amazon and more information.

IMG_0564

 

Check out my screenwriting masterclass: Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood” from my recent seminar in Hollywood. Click on the icon at the left to watch the entire two hour course.

 

 

 

My seminar video: “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood.”

October 12, 2018 § Leave a comment

IMG_0564Those of you who live outside of Los Angeles and were unable to attend, I recently did a live seminar in Hollywood and it’s now available for viewing on the Film Courage YouTube Channel.

The seminar will take you through my journey of graduating from UCLA Film School and how I balanced various odd jobs while screenwriting until I finally sold my first spec screenplay. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t glamorous. My story shows it’s possible to live your dreams, and in this two-hour discussion, I’ll offer up my tips, tricks, and disciplines that may help you with your own screenwriting career.

The reality is… it’s a long haul journey to reach any level of screenwriting success and to sell any project on any size screen. If you want to pursue this as your career, you have to follow disciplines and focus on the bigger picture. It’s not the romanticized image of what most people think is a screenwriter’s life in Hollywood. It can be filled with a lot of rejections, failures, and criticism. If you can’t handle these — don’t type FADE IN.

If you’re going to play in the game, you’re competing with thousands of other writers, and you must accept that sometimes you won’t find the validation you desire. It may take ten scripts before you find one that breaks you into the business. 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 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 and endure disappointment, criticism, and rejection to find any level of success. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps you 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. You will always succeed if you keep a positive outlook, continue learning and getting better, continue networking, and never stop writing. I look forward to you seeing the full seminar online.

Keep screenwriting and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just finish your latest screenplay? Time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to schedule your session at my website.

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Master CoverR2-4-REV2Check out my new book available on Amazon. 19 FIVE STAR reviews. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon for purchase.

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.

 

“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

“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”

“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

“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

 

 

 

 

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