Top 10 Worst Screenwriting Habits for Overwriting…

November 29, 2018 § Leave a comment

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

STOP MICROMANAGING YOUR SCREENWRITING!

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

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

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

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

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

@Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.

 

double feature

Don’t miss my new double feature — my recent thriller “HIDDEN FAMILY SECRETS re-airing on LIFETIME MOVIE NETWORK on Saturday, December 22 at 12 pm and followed by my other thriller at 2 pm  “FAMILY VANISHED.”

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

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

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

EDITORIAL REVIEWS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

November 13, 2018 § Leave a comment

EXCUSES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Follow me on Twitter / Periscope: @scriptcat

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

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Master CoverR2-4-REV219 FIVE STAR REVIEWS!

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

IMG_0564

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 5, 2018 § Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptcat out!

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

Follow me on Twitter / Periscope: @scriptcat

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

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Subscribe to my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting videos.

Master CoverR2-4-REV219 FIVE STAR REVIEWS! Now available on AMAZON my new screenwriting book. If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism and ability to endure criticism, rejection, and failure over the long haul. The odds may be stacked against you, but the way to standout in this very competitive business is to create a solid body of work and build a reputation as a team player and collaborator. The rest is just luck — a prepared screenwriter who meets with an opportunity and delivers the goods. “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry. It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

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

IMG_0564

 

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

 

 

 

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

October 12, 2018 § Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

You’re certain to experience many disappointments as you pursue a career, but do not perceive any of them as failures or setbacks. These experiences are part of a screenwriter’s journey. You will always succeed if you keep a positive outlook, continue learning and getting better, continue networking, and never stop writing. I look forward to you seeing the full seminar online.

Keep screenwriting and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Respect and protect your first draft…

May 6, 2018 § Leave a comment

IMG_1059I remember my first feature-length screenplay. I got lost somewhere in the barren wasteland of ACT 2 and felt like I would never reach the end. Now, thirty-five screenplays later with fourteen produced films from nineteen paid assignments and one spec sale, I have a better grasp on the process, but it’s always a new and different experience every time you type FADE IN. I respect this fact. Early on in my journey, I thought it would be screenwriting would be an easy experience, and I was humbled every time by the enormity of the craft.

Do not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit or you should just, ‘Get it down on paper.” It’s just the opposite—your first draft is extremely important because the DNA of your story and characters lives in this precious first pass. I love this quote from six time Academy Award nominee screenwriter Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?):

“Good screenwriting is about carpentry. It’s a juggling of beginnings, middles and endings so they all inevitably seem to be moving correctly together. Your first draft is dangerously important. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, “It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.”  Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve gone in another direction.”—Ernest Lehman

It’s true. I know from experience that it’s difficult to totally rewrite a first draft from page one into something new. Sadly, too many times it ends up becoming a jumbled mess as the foundation of the story is being altered underneath the story. My advice is to make your first draft your best possible work at the time. When writing it, act as if you’ll never get another chance to touch the screenplay.

You should use your specs as training to turn out a superb first draft to prepare you for the day when you’re hired for a screenplay assignment. This pays off in many ways, most importantly when you’re working for a producer and your solid first draft helps reduce the development process and can secure the interest of investors, a director, and actors. A solid, kick-ass first draft will also keep you on the screenplay assignment and not get you replaced by another screenwriter.

praise or blameMake sure your screenplay suffers the fewest amount of changes during the development process. Trust me, you don’t want your script to get bogged down in development hell. It’s hard to climb out of that pit and too many times projects die a tragic death from too many drafts over a long period of time. The script can end up unrecognizable after the multiple drafts and ultimately the writer can be blamed for the producer’s decisions to change the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep filling your blank pages and keep the faith.

@Scriptcat out!

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

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

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“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

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

April 15, 2018 § 1 Comment

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

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

Recharge your batteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Scriptcat out!

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t 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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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

 

 

 

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