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

April 15, 2018 § 1 Comment

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

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

Recharge your batteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Scriptcat out!

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scriptcat’s spring tips for your screenwriting journey…

April 10, 2018 § Leave a comment

IMG_3273Ah, spring is in the air. The time for a fresh start when your ideas begin to bloom. I hope you’ve created new opportunities that have pushed your screenplays closer to success. Trust me, I know if can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall hoping for a breakthrough, but finding the same results of rejection and criticism. I truly hope you’re busy creating a solid body of work and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. I hope that I’ve been able to offer a few nuggets of advice that you’ve found helpful. In addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat) and my Youtube Channel .I’m also broadcasting live on the new app PERISCOPE. Check it out. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting.

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

TIP #1

ALWAYS ACT LIKE A PROFESSIONAL IN EVERY ACTION YOU MAKE.

MARK4Act like a professional even if you’re an aspirant writing who has yet to sell something. As a screenwriter, you must consider writing a job and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional. As with any job, it comes with deadlines, requirements and expectations, so it’s good practice to follow professional disciplines as you prepare for the time when you do get paid to write. If you train yourself to work under a deadline, it’s not a shock when the producer requires you to complete a script by a certain date. It’s no longer the romanticized dream of spending endless time working on your spec to get it just right—it’s “go time” and you’re now playing in the big leagues—exactly where you belong. The producer or executive expects greatness from you and you generally have six to eight weeks to deliver the first draft and its excellence will decide if they keep you on to write a second draft, or fire you. This is not the time for a “vomit draft.” If you start meeting your own deadlines when writing your specs, it will be easier later when they pay you under contract to meet a deadline.

TIP #2

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

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

TIP #3

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

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

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

Until next time… @Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism and ability to endure criticism, rejection, and failure over the long haul. My new book, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry. It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Available now on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link to purchase.

Visit and subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL with 31 screenwriting video tips.

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

(click on the icon below for the link to purchase or stream the videos)

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Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

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

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

“Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard. When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.”—Florida State University’s Anders Ericsson

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

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Don’t underestimate the importance of research for your screenwriting…

April 4, 2018 § Leave a comment

big booksGenerally speaking, there are three types of research for your screenplay: Experience, imagination, and reality. I believe doing your proper research shows respect for the subject you are writing. It hearkens back to my strong convictions about respect for the craft of screenwriting and living the life of a professional in all manner and action. Every aspect of your writing goes into your writer’s toolkit and you will draw upon these tools as your build and establish a career as a working screenwriter.  How many movies have you seen that feel completely inauthentic?  How many characters seem fake?  Quite a few and it’s hard to mask inauthentic writing.  This is why the best films come from a place of authenticity and it starts from the producer and screenwriter’s desire to get it right.

The fun part of being a writer is that your research is an ongoing process of venturing out into the world and living your life in an adventurous way. You constantly need to have new and different experiences to make your writing more truthful and creative. It helps to get out of your “comfort zone.” I don’t believe you can live in an ivory tower and write about life without ever really experiencing it from the gutter to the penthouse.  I believe any writer needs to stay open and curious about the world.  It’s our duty to experience life and fill our stories with truth and authenticity.

observe and be fully presentMaybe you’ve done research for a paper or report in college or high school and found the process frustrating and overly time-consuming.  The process is the same when crafting your screenplay, so if you haven’t mastered the techniques of research, you need to learn how to use the process as a tool in your ability to craft an authentic project. If you’re hired for a screenplay assignment, you might write about something you don’t know. Many of my screenwriting assignment jobs have been to write a particular genre — military action, family, holiday, science fiction, thriller, natural disaster, even noir crime thriller. You’ll need to watch and study films of a particular genre to become an expert on the story, structure and characters in the types of genre movies you might write. You’ll also need to read other screenplays in the genre to become an expert in that particular world. Not a bad job, eh? Watching movies and reading screenplays as part of your screenwriting research.

So, how do you begin your screenplay research? You’ll need to have your basic story down first and as you compile your research, but make sure you don’t get lost in the process. As you know, us screenwriters tend to procrastinate, so don’t allow your research to keep you from writing your script. Make a list of specific issues or facts you need to research and use it as a guide to save time. The better you know your screen story, the faster you will be able to target the research topics as they will become clearer. Limit the time you spend on research, so set aside a block of time and keep to a schedule, take detailed notes and keep track of everything in a file or notebook. As you compile most of what you need to learn, switch the rest of your day to writing. Don’t waste unnecessary months, you can always go back and find specific items you need, but always get on with the process of screenwriting.

harmon and morita yardWhen I developed the basic story for my WWII coming of age spec screenplay, “I’ll Remember April,” I needed to flesh out the lives of the characters during this period in history. I needed historical details to add realism to my story. Authenticity was my mission, as I based my story on a historical military incident: The shelling of an oil refinery just north of Santa Barbara in Goleta, California by a Japanese submarine.  It was the first attack on United States soil by a foreign power since the War of 1812.

I already structured my screenplay and spent three months reading every book, historical newspaper article, magazine and watched dozens of films to get into the mindset of the months surrounding February of 1942 when my screenplay took place. I interviewed my parents who remember the war as small children and I incorporated their feelings and experiences into my characters. I interviewed my grandparents, who were the age of my lead characters during the war, for a different point of view. All of this information went into my research notebook.

I needed to know what life was like on the home front of the United States in 1942—what troubled people living on the west coast, what was going on in Washington DC, what was happening in the battles of the South Pacific where our lead character’s son was fighting, how people reacted to rationing and the war, and the facts and events leading up to the Japanese internment? These topics were necessary research to make my story more authentic. Your screenplay may never be a hundred percent authentic, as it’s a movie and not a documentary, but always service the story first and then do your best to make it realistic. If you want to write a historical screenplay, hunt for your story first and don’t let the historical facts to keep you from writing—for the Hero’s Journey dates back to the beginning of storytelling. I believe the little details are important and trust me, someone will always find inaccuracies in your movie and point them out on their blogs, customer reviews, or the Internet Movie Database!

What if you don’t have screenplay credits, how can you get others to take you seriously with your research? You’d be surprised how easy it is to get people excited to help once you tell them you’re working on a project. The more serious and professional you are about your writing, the easier it is to draw others in to help your cause. You’ll find experts are very open to sharing their knowledge and will even do interviews to help you make your screenplay more authentic.

Years ago when I was writing a spec action screenplay that took place on a supertanker, my writing partner at the time and I contacted a shipping company in San Pedro, California and told them we needed to get on board of a ship to ask questions for our research. We showed our serious interest in their world and in return, they were extremely helpful and gave us a complete tour—from the bridge down to the bowls of the rear engine room with its gigantic propeller. It was a unique experience and I would have never set foot on a supertanker if it hadn’t been for our need to do research. You would be surprised how many times people want to help you if you just ask.

As I mentioned earlier, you must use the three types of research for your screenplay: Experience, imagination, and reality. Like the actor, I believe a screenwriter should go out of his or her way to log as many life experiences as possible to expand their writer’s arsenal. How can you possibly write about something and make it authentic without ever having experienced it? Sure, you can imagine what it would be like, but many times you get writing that isn’t authentic and is just a rehash of what you’ve either seen in movies or television. If you always write your stories from your unique perspective and experience, they won’t read or feel fake.

The ability to research is another important tool in your screenwriter’s arsenal.  When you can’t write from experience, you need to do research and become a mini expert on a particular subject or film genre. Don’t get distracted by the process, set aside a block of time, target your topics of research, take detailed notes and move on with the job of writing. As you live an authentic writer’s life, everything you do and observe is research for your writing. Make it your goal to pursue as many different experiences in life as possible—it will enrich your writing and your life. Learn as much as you can about every subject and always strive to make your screenplays authentic. Again, it’s all part having respect for the craft of screenwriting.

Keep writing and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

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

Need help with your screenwriting goals? Check out my on-demand webinar “A Screenwriter’s Checklist.” Part One & Two available and other webinars for purchase ora  streaming rental. Click on the photo below for the link to the website.

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Subscribe to my screenwriting YOUTUBE CHANNEL for thirty-one videos with tips, tricks and tactics.

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

 

 

 

“I could be just a writer very easily. I am not a writer. I am a screenwriter, which is half a filmmaker. … But it is not an art form, because screenplays are not works of art. They are invitations to others to collaborate on a work of art.”—Paul Schrader

“A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in his 1878 letter to his benefactress.

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

“Then our writers when they have made some money increase their standard of living and they are caught. They have to write to keep up their establishments, their wives, and so on, and they write slop. It is slop not on purpose but because it is hurried. Because they write when there is nothing to say or no water in the well. Because they are ambitious. Then, once they have betrayed themselves, they justify it and you get more slop.”—Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa, page 23.

“Time stays long enough for those who use it.”—Leonardo da Vinci

 

 

 

Always set and meet deadlines when writing your specs…

February 26, 2018 § Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disciplines like…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Join me on Twitter/Periscope @scriptcat

Subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting videos.

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

When the writing gets rough, don’t run from your screenplay…

January 28, 2018 § Leave a comment

REWRITESI just wrapped up my second draft of a new script assignment and it ended up being a two-week rewrite executing the producer’s notes. The beginning remained the same, but the middle and the end received heavy structural changes — and now I see more clearly it was for the better. What I didn’t realize is that when I was restructuring the final act, I actually came up short with regards to the amount of story. I was shocked, as I had expected the ending to come together with ease, but now I was nearing my deadline and concerned. The solution wasn’t coming to me and it took a few solid days of looking at the ending from different angles and just sitting with the material—even if nothing immediately clicked. This is good practice and will help you get through the rough periods — and trust me, you know when the screenwriting gets difficult.

The answer to my story puzzle didn’t immediately present itself as many times it does, and I was forced to really put myself into my screenplay’s story world. The puzzle piece was right in front of me the entire time, but I could not see it. So, I took another approach and focused on the characters and their motivations, and eventually it was the villain who showed me the way. After about three days, I figured out the key to the new ending of the script and finished my rewrite by the deadline.

smash head in wallWhen you’re in the thick of it and the screenwriting becomes difficult, don’t avoid your screenplay and run off to do something else. This leads to procrastination and it doesn’t help you solve your problems but just makes you avoid them. Face your screenplay problems head on with determination to break through that barrier. I’ve always found that if you sit with the material, even if you don’t immediately find the answers, eventually something will click and you’ll find that missing piece of the puzzle to finish.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson for his blog MY BLANK PAGE

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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

“You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it. But the best writing is certainly when you are in love. If it is all the same to you I would rather not expound on that.”—Ernest Hemingway

“Most directors do not want to rewrite the script. They have more pressing commitments on the sound stage. The writer’s best insurance against a rewrite is to have an understanding of the directorial problems. Write a scene that can’t be played, no matter how beautiful the words or thoughts, is begging for a revamp.”—Jerry Lewis

“The time we have alone; the time we have in walking; the time we have in riding a bicycle; are the most important times for a writer. Escaping from a typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give your subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level.”—Ray Bradbury

Five important questions to ask before you start working with a screenwriting partner…

July 5, 2017 § 1 Comment

hemingwayScreenwriting is usually a solitary endeavor as we primarily sit alone at our keyboards, sometimes late at night, and peck away at our precious screenplays. It can get lonely because a writer must get away from the constant distractions of the day and escape alone into the world of characters on the page. Many times you’ll throw around ideas with a friend and end up saying, “That’s a great idea. Let’s write the script.” Your excitement may cloud your better judgement and cause you not to ask the serious questions before you both sit down and type FADE IN. You have to remember that it’s a creative and business relationship—both writers will sink or swim together. This is why you need a fully engaged partner on your team and not someone who half-asses their way through the experience.

If you’re thinking about working on a project with a screenwriting partner and never had one before, you have to ask yourself some important questions first.

1.  Do you both share the same work ethic and seriousness about the craft?

This is vital to the success of your screenplay and your collaboration. You might find that your “writing partner” allows everything else in his or her life to get in the way of your writing time. If both writers are not “on the same page,” it’s going to be a bumpy ride and you’ll waste your time. It’s not fun and games. Time is precious and there are plenty of screenwriters out there who are serious and can the job done.

2.  Is this partnership for one project or are you becoming a writing team? 

You should have a talk about your situation before you begin. You could work on one screenplay to see how you like or dislike the experience and later decide to go off on your own. Either way, always know each other’s intentions before you start on the journey together.

3.  Do you both have the same creative sensibilities?

This is vital to a successful collaboration. If you’re writing a thriller and your writing partner doesn’t know anything about the genre, why are you working together? It’s a team, but you work together as one voice. When agents, mangers, executives, and producers start reading your work, you will have one voice—the team. If you’re doing all of the work, why are you writing with a partner? Each person will have strengths and weaknesses and you both should compliment each other with regards to this.

4.  What happens if your project sells? Is your partner willing to collaborate with producers to make changes and execute notes? 

You don’t want to finally make it into “the room” and learn that your writing partner is difficult and combative with producers when they want to make changes. This will lose you the job faster than anything else.

5.  If you decide to become writing partners on all of your projects, what happens if you don’t sell anything right away? How much time will your partner give to “make it?

This is important because you don’t want to find out that after three screenplays, dozens of meetings, and no writing jobs offered, your partner decides to quit and leaves you dangling alone. The screenplays that you wrote together will become useless for you to show as an example of your talent because producers, agents, or managers will not be able to read your particular “voice” not knowing who contributed what in the script. Now going forward alone, you’ll have to start over and establish yourself as a solo screenwriter. It’s definitely a major blow to your forward movement.

Remember… this is serious. It’s not just fun and games. You must stick to a writing schedule and share everything fifty-fifty—especially the work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sullivans-travels-052After our live sketch show ended, as a writing team we co-wrote and co-produced a feature film, completed seven feature scripts, took dozens of pitch meetings, and co-wrote and did voices for a Showtime pilot. We had a good run. He eventually decided to start a family, leave the film business, and open three very successful restaurants. I soldiered on alone.

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

If your writing partner is a friend and your business relationship goes sour, you could lose your friend and the project in the process. What if your partner decides to go another direction and quit the writing team because you aren’t selling anything? What if your partner hates to execute notes and doesn’t get along with producers?  Be sure about the person you decide to include in your own career path. Also remember that any money you make will be split between you as well. That big $100,000 script sale really means $50,000 each minus agent, manager, lawyer, and taxes. It’s half the work, but also half the money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                            Double Indemnity (Directed by Billy Wilder)

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

I sat him down and explained we’d have to work together. We always met at nine o’clock, and would quit at about four-thirty. I had to explain a lot to him as we went along, but he was very helpful to me. What we were doing together had real electricity. He was a very, very good writer—but not of scripts.
One morning, I’m sitting there in the office, ten o’clock and no Chandler. Eleven o’clock. At eleven-thirty, I called Joe Sistrom, the producer of Double Indemnity, and asked, “What happened to Chandler?”

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

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

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

film stockScriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 written by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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“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”

“Writing is very hard work, and having done both writing and directing, I can tell you that directing is a pleasure and writing is a drag… but writing is just an empty page—you start with absolutely nothing. I think writers are vastly underrated and underpaid. It’s totally impossible, thought, for a mediocre director to completely screw up a great script.”— director Billy Wilder

You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it. But the best writing is certainly when you are in love. If it is all the same to you I would rather not expound on that.”—Ernest Hemingway

“Most directors do not want to rewrite the script. They have more pressing commitments on the sound stage. The writer’s best insurance against a rewrite is to have an understanding of the directorial problems. Write a scene that can’t be played, no matter how beautiful the words or thoughts, is begging for a revamp.”—Jerry Lewis

“Life in the movie business is like the beginning of a new love affair. It’s full of surprises and you’re constantly getting fucked.”—David Mamet

“The time we have alone; the time we have in walking; the time we have in riding a bicycle; are the most important times for a writer. Escaping from a typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give your subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level.”—Ray Bradbury

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Scriptcat’s summer tips for your screenwriting journey…

June 20, 2017 § Leave a comment

DSCN2560Summer is finally here! Time for script contests, pitch fests, writing conferences, and a definite change in the weather. I hope you’ve made some noise with your screenplays so far this year and pushed yourself closer to establishing a career. As you know, you’ll need to create a solid body of work to standout in this very competitive marketplace. In addition to this blog, I also offer nuggets of advice on Twitter (@scriptcat) and my screenwriting Youtube Channel . Dig in on this blog, as I’ve written over 200 articles with screenwriting advice, I have a new book available on Amazon called “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success,” and I also broadcast live on PERISCOPE.

Okay, here are three more tips to help you through the summer screenwriting season…

TIP #1     ACT LIKE A PRO—ALWAYS!

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

 

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

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

 

TIP #3           YOUR FIRST DRAFT IS DANGEROUSLY IMPORTANT.

fade inDo not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit or you first need to produce a “vomit” draft. It’s just the opposite—your first draft is extremely important because the DNA of your story and characters lives in this precious first pass. I love this quote from six-time Academy Award nominee screenwriter Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?): “Good screenwriting is about carpentry. It’s a juggling of beginnings, middles and endings so they all inevitably seem to be moving correctly together. Your first draft is dangerously important. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, “It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.”  Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve gone in another direction.”—Ernest Lehman. It’s true. I know from experience that it’s difficult to totally rewrite a first draft from page one into something new. Sadly, too many times it ends up becoming a jumbled mess as the foundation of the story is being altered underneath the story. My advice is to make your first draft your best possible work at the time. When writing it, act as if you’ll never get another chance to touch the screenplay. You should use your specs as training to turn out a superb first draft to prepare you for the day when you’re hired on assignment. This pays off in many ways, most importantly when you’re working for a producer and your solid first draft secures the interest of investors, a director, and actors. A solid first draft will also keep you on the assignment and not replaced by another screenwriter. Make sure your screenplay suffers the fewest amount of changes during the development process. Trust me, you don’t want your script to get bogged down in development hell. It’s hard to climb out of that pit and many times projects die a tragic death from too many drafts over a long period of time.

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson – originally published on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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

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

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“This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.”—Rod Serling

“Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard. When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.”—Florida State University’s Anders Ericsson

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

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

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