Learn how to execute screenplay notes effectively and stay on the project…

April 17, 2017 § Leave a comment

rewritesIt’s vital that when you’re writing your specs to also be training yourself to effectively execute screenplay notes because producers will keep you on the project if you’re able to continue help them push it through development. I’ve recently experienced this again when I completed two assignment jobs in a row for a producer. They were page one rewrites of scripts because the previous writers could not generate a production ready screenplay and the projects were stalled. I was able to execute the notes effectively and greatly reduced the development time allowing the scripts to receive a green light. One of the projects completed production and the second script was just accepted last week and sent to the network. It’s a huge jump forward toward production.

When a company has a slate of films they are scheduled to produce, they do not want anything to stand in way of the forward movement toward production. If you can be the screenwriter who executes notes and delivers production ready drafts, they will hire you again. This is your opportunity to shine and establish your professional reputation. You should realize that most of screenwriting is not the romanticized image you might have of parties, huge paydays, and premieres. It’s a job and tremendous work. Put your ego aside and get the work done. The goal when you are working is to finish the screenplay as contracted, receive your payment, and your credit. Most of my jobs on assignment have come from producers who I have worked for before. These relationships will help you establish your screenwriting career.

Writing your own spec script is one thing, being hired for a script assignment and rewriting an existing screenplay, or working from a treatment you didn’t create, and then executing script notes, is an entirely different talent. It’s an ability that you must have if you want to stay on a project and eventually see your name in the credits.

So, when you are writing your  spec, use this precious time as training for your long haul journey. Now is the time to make mistakes and write badly so that you can learn and avoid this when you finally get a professional writing assignment. If you haven’t experienced it yet on your first few screenplays, writing is all about the execution of a great story and rewriting to get it right. Even after thirty–three feature screenplay, I’m still rewriting drafts, but usually the first few drafts are solid enough and only need light polishing. This is where you want to be with your screenwriting ability if you desire to work professionally in Hollywood.

Keep writing on a regular schedule and keep the faith. It’s all talent, timing, and luck — a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity and delivers the goods.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog My Blank Page.

Did you just complete your new screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my screenplay consultation services. Click on the icon below for the link to my website for more information.  You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay.

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“A good style must, first of all, be clear. It must not be mean or above the dignity of the subject. It must be appropriate.”—Aristotle

“A good writer should know as near everything as possible. Naturally he will not. A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge. There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.”—Ernest Hemingway

“… In fact, when the camera is in motion, in the best-directed scenes, the audiences should not be aware of what the camera is doing. They should be following the action and the road of the idea so closely, that they shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on technically.”—John Huston

“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, interview in Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.

 

What should you do with your old spec screenplays that don’t sell?

March 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

old specs collecting dust

Spec screenplays. We need to write them, but the reality is that most specs you write will never sell. I’m not being negative but giving you a dose of reality so you won’t flounder and become frustrated that some big Hollywood script sale has passed you by. The odds are astronomical to sell any feature spec—especially from an unknown screenwriter with no credits.

The Scoggins Spec Market Scorecard for 2016 estimated around 70 specs selling, and last year was an eight year low for sales. It’s also estimated that 50,000 projects are registered with the Writers Guild every year and bounce around Hollywood trying to get noticed. It’s like stepping up to the plate and hoping for a grand slam home run every time out. Difficult at best and impossible most of the time. And the odds become worse to secure any writing work if a screenwriter cuts out the entire business of television or the web. I don’t mean to discourage you with these odds, but it’s to put a perspective on what you’re actually up against as you pursue a career.

I’ve only sold one spec in my career, but the sale opened the door to sixteen paid screenwriting assignments to date. Yes, I’ve written many other specs, but now I will only write a spec if it’s a true passion project because I’m generally too busy working. I’ve also collaborated on specs with directors for no pay, but as it’s our project, I’m contracted to also be a producer if it goes. I took the risk because I considered the cost/benefit was a good gamble. So, what becomes of your spec screenplays that don’t sell or get optioned for development?

1.  They collect dust and become a memory.

2.  They end up as kindling in a producer’s fireplace in Aspen.

3.  They become excellent writing samples.

I hope you answered number 3 above.  I believe a solid spec that never sells is never dead—so, what does happen to your old spec screenplays? My ex writing partner and I would always joke when a producer agreed to read our spec, we’d envision him going to Aspen for the weekend with his pile of reads. He’d snuggle down on a bearskin rug in front of the fireplace with his Playboy model girlfriend and they’d drink wine and get cozy.  Strangely enough there would be no firewood next to the fireplace, only his large pile of twenty scripts.  He would tell his girlfriend, “honey it’s getting cold in here… put another script on the fire.”  And she would take a script from the pile and toss it into the fireplace.  Oh, the horror.  My ex writing partner and I would have a good laugh, but sadly this might have been the fate of our specs.

If you’ve exhausted the viable options for your spec, and the process hasn’t moved you or the project down the road to production… set your old spec screenplay aside for a while and later take a fresh look. I’m sure some of your old scripts that are solid projects are in need of a good polish. This is exactly what I did last year with three of my old chestnuts.

scripts 2I always loved these scripts, but I couldn’t find anyone else to loooooove them enough to buy them. That’s okay. I knew the writing was solid, so I took the time and gave them a fresh nip and tuck — and it’s paid off in spades as solid writing samples.  Last year when I pitched a family film idea to a producer who loved the concept, she needed a comedy writing sample to read before she would take me into the network and pitch.  As I had worked on a polish of my comedy last year, my old spec was ready to go and in the best shape ever.  She wanted to read it right away and because it was ready, I didn’t need to take a few weeks to polish it.

This also happened when I met with another producer who needed a writer to write her idea into a TV pilot with a show bible. I gave her two of my original spec TV comedy pilots as examples of my work, and she responded to the writing and thought it had the same comedic sensibilities that she was looking for in her project. My old specs got me hired for the job.

script oddsYou’ll always need solid writing samples in your bag of tricks and these may end up being your specs that didn’t sell. I know it seems like the end of the world if a spec doesn’t sell, but you can get meetings from your script and it can become an important writing sample.  Producers, agents and managers will always need to read your material to see if you can actually write a screenplay.  If your spec doesn’t sell but lands you an agent, manager or an assignment job, it was worth the effort. In fact, writing a script and finishing it can never be diminished, because you always gain precious writing experience every time you make it through and type “THE END”.

I suggest always have your old specs ready to read as writing samples. If you’re on this screenwriting journey for the long haul, you will write many scripts that don’t sell and others that do.  It’s the nature of the game. Selling a spec script is like winning the lottery. I know it’s possible because I’ve sold a spec, but the odds are not good and the Hollywood spec landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. This is why you must use your spec scripts as way to push your career farther down the road so you can advance and hold new ground.

You never know where your project may end up years later. This is why I believe old specs that don’t sell, never die if they are viable concepts that are well written. Ultimately, they become what you make of them. If you work your old material into the best shape possible, you’ll be ready when new opportunities arise. Who knows, years later your old spec script may find new life with a producer who responds to the material and wants to produce it into a movie or hire you to write on assignment.

Keep writing. Every day. Fill your blank pages by any means necessary, keep learning, don’t be afraid to fail, remain humble, and let your passion drive you through the ups and downs.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Check out my new book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success is now available on Amazon.

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

“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

“Hollywood is Hollywood. There’s nothing you can say about it that isn’t true, good or bad. And if you get into it, you have no right to be bitter—you’re the one who sat down, and joined the game.” —Orson Welles

“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”

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

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How many feature scripts will you write without success until you consider a new direction?

February 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

pile-of-scripts-copy“Specs! We must write and sell feature specs! All specs, all the time! It’s the ONLY way! We’re going to sell feature spec screenplays for huge paydays—like we read about in Variety!” This is what my fellow film school friends and I believed back in the day as we started pursing our dreams. Yes, feature specs are a necessary component to your learning and training as a screenwriter, but you have to put the process in perspective.

So, you want to be a feature screenwriter? How many spec screenplays have you written that are solid samples and can compete in a very crowded marketplace? It will take time to create a solid body of material that properly represents you as a professional. Maybe a few of your specs placed in competitions? Obviously, it’s better to win, but if you placed in the semi-finals or closer it’s worth a mention. Okay, but are you also pursuing agents and managers? Sending out query letters?  Are you networking with assistants and other lower level players who will be your entry into the system? What if you don’t live in Hollywood? It makes it more difficult to have your ear to the ground and meet those people necessary to help with your screenwriting journey.

charlie_chaplin02Did you write a handful of specs… and rewrite them… and rewrite them with various notes from friends, contests, or professional feedback? Are your specs scattered in different genres? Are you building a reputation in a particular genre, or are you spending your time trying to be prolific in multiple genres? Comedy is difficult and some screenwriters are not good at comedy. That’s okay if you figure that out early. It’s not okay if you’re not good at comedy and waste your time writing six specs that end up going nowhere. Other writers are great with action while some might be horrible at horror. You have to find a genre that drives your passion, otherwise you’re scattering yourself thin and you’ll find that it’s hard to be prolific in all genres. And most likely the first spec you sell will dictate the genre you’ll be writing from then on.

Screenplay contests are a great way to judge your writing against hundreds or potentially thousands of other writers—but it’s still a protected bubble. It’s not the “real” world of Hollywood where estimates say around 50,000 projects bounce around yearly. Unless your script wins or places in the top percentage of screenplay contest entries, it doesn’t really mean anything. Sure, it can help you judge your writing if that’s what you need, but is it worth the continual expense year after year? Last year maybe you placed in the top 1,000 and this year you placed in the top 750? What does that actually mean? You’re marching closer to success? If you just write your script better this next pass, you just might place in the top 500 next year? It’s madness and chasing an elusive dragon.

A good friend of mine landed in 3rd place in one of the biggest screenplay contests around, but it did nothing for his career. He didn’t get any press from the contest and never even took a meeting as a result. Even “winning” a contest doesn’t guarantee instant success. Sure, you might receive money and some meetings, but you still have to convince someone to buy your screenplay or hire you to write one. The work never ends with “winning.” It just begins.

smash head in wallRita Mae Brown in her book Sudden Death said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” It’s the same as going to the hardware store every day for bread. You hope that someday, they will stock bread and the accusations of your insanity will be proven wrong. Similarly, writing script after script and hoping to sell one could be called insanity. Sure, it’s what screenwriters need to do, but how long are you willing to write feature screenplays without any real evidence of forward movement? Five scripts without a sale or being hired for an assignment? Ten specs? Fifteen? As many as it takes?

A few honest questions:

  1. Are you only writing huge budgeted specs and chasing Hollywood’s ten-pole dreams?
  2. Are you hitting a higher wall every time out?
  3. Are you writing simpler, more indie ideas that are lower budgeted and could actually get made?
  4. Do you have a limit on the number of feature specs you don’t sell when you’ll change direction and write something else—or are you going to continue on the same routine, year after year, without a change or adaptation?
  5. Faith and optimism are necessary, but can you be realistic about the film business, the odds, and if your pursuit of a career is really gaining momentum or not?
  6. Are you willing to consider writing TV pilots, hour and half hour, or a web series on spec in addition?

Time passes fast as you pursue a career and life can get in the way. Writing other mediums could create more opportunities for work. I’ve been blessed that most of my writing work comes from feature-length assignments, so my sole focus was on feature screenplays until about five years ago when I started to craft spec original TV pilots with show bibles. I started to get the hang of the writing for half hour and hour episodic TV and even dabbled writing the first season of an original web series with nine episodes. Later, I turned that web series into an hour pilot. I started to take TV pilot pitch meetings too that opened up  new opportunities. One of my spec comedy TV pilots actually landed me a paid writing assignment with a producer who hired me to write a half hour comedy pilot and the show bible. She asked for a writing sample that was similar in humor to what she wanted, so I gave her my original spec comedy half hour pilot. She loved the writing and my sample got me the job.

It all comes down to cost of time vs. benefit. If you find that feature screenplay writing is taking up all of your time with little to show as a result, maybe writing in another medium could be the answer. You never know when your different works will open new doors that lead to paid work.

Either way, keep writing and getting better. 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 practice your craft and create opportunities—the rest is timing and the right project getting to the right producer.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Look for my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” coming in March to Amazon.com

Screenplay contest deadlines are fast approaching. Did you just complete your latest screenplay or a new draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my professional services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website to schedule a consultation. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

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“Take a person like Picasso, you know, who does double profiles and has gone through cubism and God knows what, but he knows every muscle in the human body. If you ask him to draw the figure of a man or a woman, there wouldn’t be a muscle out of place. You’ve got to know your craft in order to express the art.”—Alfred Hitchcock

“What’s unique about screenwriting is that it’s an act of prophecy. The screenwriter is a bit of the Gypsy with a crystal ball. You say, I’m writing this on a page and it’s going to be blown up on a screen so damned big that you believe it, with actors I don’t know if anybody’s going to get, in settings I don’t know where and how they can be done; and it’s going to turn out this way…” You’re guessing. There’s a big of Gypsy in you. An act of prophecy.”—Robert Towne

“Masters and those who display a high level of creative energy are simply people who manage to retain a sizable portion of their childhood spirit despite the pressures and demands of adulthood.”—Robert Greene, “Mastery”

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

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

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Communiqué from the trenches: Starting the year with a new gig and a challenge…

January 10, 2017 § Leave a comment

script revision photo copyI was blessed to end last year busy with two screenwriting jobs—one was a script doctor job doing a rewrite on a project that went into production in December and wrapped—and the other was a page one rewrite of a screenplay that I just completed this week. It was nice to have back-to-back jobs from a production company and producer whom I’ve worked for before. This is why your professional reputation is so vital to your longevity of your career. You want to be the “to go to” writer for a producer or production company who trusts you to deliver the goods on time. This timing of this particular job fit nicely into my schedule and a great way to start off the new year.

hang onI accepted the second job knowing it was going to be a huge challenge for me. Time was not on my side. Firstly, it was to completely rewrite a new draft of a screenplay and not use any of it—commonly called a “page one rewrite” and have it done within two weeks. Even after completing thirty-one feature-length screenplays, I still get anxious before every new project. It’s that feeling of the unknown and setting off on a new adventure that didn’t exist before. The longer you write the more tricks you know, but you still have to fill the blank page and slog through ACT TWO. I’ve been doing this long enough to practice humility in the face of the craft. I know from experience there are always unexpected surprises both good and bad. The bad ones can derail you if you allow them—and the good ones make you want to get up the next morning and get back to writing.

I signed the contact and went off to work in my workshop. This is when the shit gets real. It requited me to put in eight to ten-hour days writing a minimum of ten pages a day—and one day I even reached fourteen pages. I managed to complete this new screenplay in twelve days and beat my old record for a first draft of twenty days. It was screenplay number thirty-one on my journey to date. This latest assignment was a huge challenge for me as I’m generally not a fast writer. When I’m on an assignment, I like a pace of about five pages a day and that ends up with a screenplay in about twenty days. This assignment required me to really use my disciplines and focus every day without any distractions to meet ten solid pages. If I dropped below my page minimum for a day, I’d have to make it up the next day to meet my contracted deadline. This is why I always recommend that when you write your specs, you should always set a self-imposed deadline to train you for the time when you do get hired to write. It doesn’t hurt to train now for your future assignment jobs.

There were a few days when the writing became difficult. I couldn’t “see” the scenes and I really had to sit with the material and hunker down to focus. It’s so tempting to become distracted, leave the keyboard and venture off to do something else. I found myself being tempted daily to do this and I had to really force myself to never leave my seat. When the times got rough, I sat with the material and eventually the characters would lead the way or answer a question for me as they do every time. I would get up every morning and go back to work as if I was channeling the project. The disciplines worked for me as I turned the script in on schedule and the notes for the second pass should be coming soon.

Every job where you get paid is another step in establishing your career. If a produced film with a writing credit comes from it, so much the better. Take the work when you can get it, as there are a limited number of jobs out there and no limit on the number of screenwriters eager to do them. If you land a gig, consider yourself lucky. If you land two gigs back-to-back, consider yourself blessed and you’re doing something right.

There are no guarantees in the screenwriting game. Many projects that you write will never go through development or make it to production. This is why you need multiple projects going in the marketplace at all times for any chance that one or more will make it all the way. A project that I wrote on assignment last year was supposed to go into production in late 2016 and then it got pushed until this month. The recent news is that it has yet to get the green light and I’ll probably have to do another draft. It’s stalled right now in development hell as we call it. This is no fault of mine, but it doesn’t take the sting out of the reality that it may lapse into not being made for reasons out of my control.

So, the lesson here is don’t put all of your hopes and dreams into one project. Keep writing and creating new material so eventually one script will open a door and get you an assignment job that will keep you on the fast track of a career.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson written on blog My Blank Page. http://www.scriptcat.wordpress.com

Check out my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for over twenty-seven screenwriting videos.

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Did you just complete your new screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my screenplay consultation services. Click on the icon below for the link to my website for more information.  You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay.

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Need a bit of help reaching your screenwriting goals? Try my on-demand webinars. They’ve available for download or rental. Click on the icon below for the link.

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“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

“Because so much of directing is just getting the script right. Getting the beats to play, and knowing what to emphasise. To me, screenwriting isn’t just exit, enter, speak your lines. It’s really about establishing a rhythm, and directing on paper, to some extent.”—Shane Black

“As an artist, you are always striving toward an ultimate achievement but never seem to reach it. You shoot a film, and the result could have always been better. You try again, and fail once more. In some ways I find it enjoyable. You never lose sight of your goal. I don’t do my job to make money or to break box office records, I simply try things out. What would happen if I were to achieve perfection at some point? What would I do then?” — Woody Allen for The Talk, 2012.

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

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

Happy 6th Anniversary to MY BLANK PAGE!

December 3, 2016 § Leave a comment

anniversary-blog-photo-edited-copy I can’t believe it’s December again and my six-year anniversary for this blog. Time sure flies as we’re busy filling our blank pages, right? Yes, it’s my SIXTH ANNIVERSARY and it’s been another solid year of readership and with over 20,000 views of the blog. I want to thank all of my loyal readers for a fantastic sixth year on the net. I hope my articles helped with your survival in the trenches of Hollywood as a working screenwriter. As you know, screenwriting is a long haul journey to reach any level of success, but when you know other writers are out here slugging away, fighting the good fight, and being successful, it can give you hope and strength to fill yet another blank page as you follow your dreams.

I hope 2016 has been a productive year on your screenwriting journey. I’ve been blessed to keep busy with two more screenwriting assignment jobs (my 14th & 15th gigs), I completed my 30th feature length screenplay on my journey, I co-created, produced and co-wrote a TV talk show pilot that will be out to the networks in early 2017, my latest thriller MOMMY’S LITTLE GIRL premiered on Lifetime Network in the spring to their highest ratings in over a year (1,825,000 viewers for the premiere), and I just completed a script doctor job on a film that begins production this weekend. A fitting way to end a great year. I’ve also completed my online store that sells my COFFEE RING CARTOONS MERCHANDISE for screenwriters. Check it out!

book-illustrationI’m also wrapping up the final touches on my new book, A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success, set to be released in early 2017 on Amazon. Keep checking back on the blog or my Twitter account for a solid release date. The book has been a long haul journey and shares my twenty years of experiences in Hollywood’s trenches with advice about forging a career.

If you haven’t yet, check out my screenwriting YOUTUBE CHANNEL where I post weekly script videos with my tips, tricks and tactics to help you survive in Hollywood’s trenches. I have twenty seven videos uploaded to help with your screenwriting survival in the trenches. checklistI also provide on-demand webinars from my Pivotshare Channel to help you reach your screenwriting goals.The webinars make great holiday gifts for the aspiring screenwriter in your life. And as you complete your latest magnum opus, if you find yourself in need of professional screenplay consultation, check out my screenplay consultation services. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay.

salvador-dali-by-willy-rizzo-1As the year ends, take some time to reflect on your experiences — celebrate your successes, analyze your mistakes and failures, and adapt to find new strategies that can move you and your projects forward down the paying field. Always set realistic goals and do whatever you need to go after them with passion. Remember, it’s later than you think, and life passes quickly while you attempt great things with your screenwriting career.

My sincere thanks for your support of this blog. Remember to always respect the craft, keep the faith, write from a passion for the work and not seeking fame and fortune, and remember—if you stop writing, you’re guaranteed to never have a shot at any success.

See you on Twitter/Periscope and the big and small screen.

All my best screenwriting wishes for 2017.

Copyright 2016 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Scriptcat out!

Don’t miss my Lifetime Movie Channel double feature to kick off 2017 –

“Mommy’s Little Girl” and “Mother of All Lies.”

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

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

“Hollywood is Hollywood. There’s nothing you can say about it that isn’t true, good or bad. And if you get into it, you have no right to be bitter—you’re the one who sat down, and joined the game.” —Orson Welles

Stephen King with advice from his old newspaper editor John Gould: “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

“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

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

The importance of your first draft…

October 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

fade inI remember my first feature-length screenplay. I got lost somewhere in the barren wasteland of ACT 2 and felt like I would never reach the end. Now, thirty screenplays later, I have a better grasp on the process, but it’s always a new and different experience every time you type FADE IN. I respect this fact. Early on in my journey, I thought it would be screenwriting would be an easy experience, and I was humbled every time by the enormity of the craft.

Do not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit. 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.

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

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

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Sanderson 10.24.2016 on My Blank Page blog at http://www.scriptcat.wordress.com

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

Screenplay consultation services

Are you having trouble focusing on your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinars can help with a checklist. Click on the icon below for the link to buy or rent my webinars for only $9.99 each.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The new Final Draft 10 is here!

October 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

fdYes, it’s finally here—Final Draft 10. After graduating from film school, my first and only screenwriting software purchase was Final Draft and I’ve used it and loved it ever since. I can remember writing my fourth spec screenplay using Final Draft 1. Now ten versions later, I’ve written twenty-six of my thirty feature screenplays and all of my TV pilots using Final Draft. It’s the only screenwriting software that I use.

When I consult on screenplays, my biggest pet peeve is dealing with aspirants who don’t want to invest the money in professional screenwriting software recognized by the film industry. This is a blatant disrespect of the craft and immediately shows me they’re not serious about their career. Never use something that you formatted yourself.

Some of the cool new features of Final Draft 10 deal with outlining and structuring your screenplay. The new STORY MAPTM feature is a story-planning tool that offers you a high-levestory-mapsl view of your story and allows you to easily preview and navigate to scenes. It’s displayed at the top of your script in a long strip and shows the page numbers and the length of your scenes in an easy view. I’m a huge advocate of screenplay structure and my producers never allow me to start my assignments until we have locked to story.

Another cool new feature is THE BEAT BOARDTM and it’s like having your own corkboard on the screen where you have to freedom to brainstorm and organize your ideas beatcompletely within your script file. You can write down ideas, story beats, or whatever you want in boxes and color code each one to your preferences. If you drag a beat box up top into the story map and release it, the feature will link to that page number. This is useful when you know you want to hit that beat at a certain page in your screenplay.

Another new feature is the ALTERNATIVE DIALOUGE element. If you write a line of dialogue, there will be a small “plus” sign at the end. If you click on it you can enter another version of the dialogue and it saves it in a box dialoguefor easy reference later. You can toggle between the various lines and choose the one you like the best.

If you are working with a screenwriting partner, another useful new feature is called COLLABORATION. This allows you to work on your script remotely in real time with your writing partner(s). You can host or join a session, enter your name, the script’s title, and work in real time with your partner.

And with the STRUCTURE POINTS feature, you can create your screenplay’s structure within your .fdx file. They’ve also added new SCENE NUMBERING OPTIONS in line with industry standards, improved the HEADER and FOOTER allowing you to add file names to them automatically, and added the ability to bold your REVISION sets.

Overall, Final Draft 10 is a solid new version with strong features to help with your screenplay’s structure and collaboration. Check it out at the FINAL DRAFT website. As I always say, regardless of your methods, keep screenwriting because if you stop writing, you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Time for in-depth feedback before you unleash it upon Hollywood? Check out my screenplay consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link.

Screenplay consultation services

Having trouble meeting your screenwriting goals? Check out my on-demand webinars. Available for streaming or download – only $9.99 each. Click on the icon below for the link.

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

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

“Dramatic economy, which includes the ability of a writer to cut what at one point he might have considered to be his best work ever, is one of the most important skills a writer can have. It is learned only through much experience, combined with a ruthless attitude and utter lack of sentimentality.”—Alexander MacKendrick, “Sweet Smell of Success”

 

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