Typos and format issues will destroy the image of you as a professional screenwriter…

May 26, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“I FINISHED MY SCREENPLAY!”

We’re all guilty of this… early on during the start of our screenwriting journey we’re too eager to unleash our latest screenplay to be read — many times by people we don’t personally know. Many writers are so excited to receive praise for their hard work they don’t take the time to polish and proofread their material. I’ve read scripts with five or more typos/format issues per page. That’s 500 or more issues in the entire screenplay! It doesn’t make for a smooth read or a good first impression.

 

Imagine the reader’s thoughts about the screenwriter and the image portrayed from the presentation of the work. It’s certainly not that of a professional because they would never allow their work to be seen without proofreading it. The script is not just all about whether the inciting incident is in the correct place or if the second act kicks in on the right page — the presentation of your work is vital to the read and ultimately its success. A screenplay lives or dies by a thousand details, and if it doesn’t get past the first read it’s finished.

pitchYour image as a screenwriter who cares about details will also suffer from this disrespect of the craft and the screenwriting process. Now imagine that producers are reading your script to consider if they should hire you for an assignment job. They can’t get through the first read because it’s heavy with typos, missing punctuation, and dodgy format issues. Do you think their first impression of you will instill confidence in your ability to write their project? They would certainly think if you didn’t respect the craft enough to present your work in the best possible way — why would you change your methods if they hired you? It’s hard to change that first impression too.

It’s also shows a lack of respect for the reader’s time, as you will force them to suffer through a minefield of issues on every page. This certainly doesn’t help with their view of you as a professional either. I ask screenwriters, “Would you turn in your script with coffee stains and smudges on the pages?” Their response is always, “Of course not!” Okay, then why do the same thing with your words and the format?

B3Q_B2CIQAAOQ4LI also hope this goes without saying, but I’ll say it—after you give your script to someone to read, do not call a week later and say, “I hope you didn’t read it. I have a new draft.” I have been the recipient of this too many times to remember. It’s disrespectful, unprofessional, and red flags you as an amateur who doesn’t understand the proper protocol of a read. I remember starting a script and being half way through when the writer calls me about a “new draft.” My time reading half of that script was wasted because I’m now being asked to read it again, but with changes. The agreement was one read — period. Everyone is busy and if the reader is doing this as a favor they will not appreciate the request for a late switch up. If you do this to professionals in the film industry, they will remember and you’ll probably never get a read again.

the long journey of a screenwriterMy final piece of advice… practice patience. I know you’re riding on a creative high after you finish your screenplay and you want praise for your hard work. This is the time to be patient. Go back over your work and read every word. Also accept that it’s a long road to becoming a working screenwriter and forging a career usually doesn’t happen overnight. If you are in this for the long haul, it will require tremendous patience. Even becoming a better writer does not happen overnight and requires you to continually write, learn, and write projects that will ultimately not sell. Your journey as a screenwriter will be a series of failures and mistakes, triumphs and successes, and when added up will hopefully lead to a career as a working screenwriter in Hollywood. The process will be long and arduous, but if you have patience and accept the challenges ahead, you’ll focus more on your love and respect for the craft and not the urgency of success. Everything comes in its proper time with proper experience and opportunity.

Keep the faith and always keep filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2020 Mark Sanderson. All rights reserved. My Blank Page blog.

New script or draft? Need in-depth consultation on your script before you unleash it upon Hollywood? Click on the icon below for the link to my website and more information about my notes packages and mentor programs.

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Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches in this New Year? Consider my book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. Click on the book for the link to Amazon and more information.

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

 

 

Check out actor/writer/showrunner John Lehr’s  (the original Geico Cavemen!) podcast where he interviews me for the second time and we chat about the crazy journey working in Hollywood as writers. Click on the icon below for the link to the Sound Cloud podcast.

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Three tips to help on your screenwriting journey to success…

April 10, 2020 § Leave a comment

IMG_1112Welcome! These are difficult times for sure, but we’ll get through this and hopefully come out stronger on the other side. The sun will rise tomorrow, and the hope of a new day and new positive energy. While you are self isolating, a term most of us writers do anyway, here are three tips to consider as you pursue a screenwriting career. In addition to this blog, I also offer nuggets of advice on Instagram, Twitter (@scriptcat) and my screenwriting Youtube Channel. In addition, I’ve written a book available on Amazon called A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success.”

Okay, here are three more tips to help you on your screenwriting journey…

TIP #1     ACT LIKE A PRO—ALWAYS!

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

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

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

TIP #3         YOUR FIRST DRAFT IS DANGEROUSLY IMPORTANT.

fade inDo not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit or you first need to produce a “vomit” draft. It’s just the opposite—your first draft is extremely important because the DNA of your story and characters lives in this precious first pass. I love this quote from six-time Academy Award nominee screenwriter Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?): “Good screenwriting is about carpentry. It’s a juggling of beginnings, middles and endings so they all inevitably seem to be moving correctly together. Your first draft is dangerously important. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, “It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.”  Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve gone in another direction.”—Ernest Lehman.

It’s true. I know from experience that it’s difficult to totally rewrite a first draft from page one into something new. Sadly, too many times it ends up becoming a jumbled mess as the foundation of the story is being altered underneath the story. My advice is to make your first draft your best possible work at the time. When writing it, act as if you’ll never get another chance to touch the screenplay. You should use your specs as training to turn out a superb first draft to prepare you for the day when you’re hired on assignment. This pays off in many ways, most importantly when you’re working for a producer and your solid first draft secures the interest of investors, a director, and actors. A solid first draft will also keep you on the assignment and not replaced by another screenwriter. Make sure your screenplay suffers the fewest amount of changes during the development process. Trust me, you don’t want your script to get bogged down in development hell. It’s hard to climb out of that pit and many times projects die a tragic death from too many drafts over a long period of time.

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2020 Mark Sanderson on My Blank Page. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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Screenwriting survival tip: Never allow your screenplay to be read before it’s ready…

January 4, 2020 § 1 Comment

karloff scriptI’m guilty. I used to do this too before I learned how damaging it can be to a screenwriter’s mind, image, and the screenplay. You finish your screenplay and you’re surging with a natural creative high that you want to share with the world.  This is the time to step back and take a pause. Allow your script to sit for a few days and do no read it. You’ll be tempted to give it to any of your friends bugging  you to read your script when it’s done. Do not let anyone read it.  Fight the temptation to share it at this point. It’s your first draft and it will definitely need more work—but this is delicate process and one a screenwriter must do alone and without anyone’s input at this point in the journey. It’s now just you and your screenplay—creator and project—alone together again.

During this vulnerable period, it can take just one person’s unfavorable of offhanded comment to drown you in an ocean of self-doubt. Your creative high fuels your feelings of triumph and you definitely do not want anyone to rain on your parade before you start on your next draft. You don’t need anyone’s criticism at this point until you work out the bugs and craft another solid draft.

reading guyI hope this goes without saying, but I’ll say it—never give the script to anyone in the film business after your first draft—even if they ask you to read it—even if they beg you to read it.  I wouldn’t even mention on your screenplay’s cover what draft the screenplay is as to avoid the reader’s possible bias against the draft number. If you list that it’s a fifth draft the reader may think, “Why did it take five drafts to get it right?” Remember, you will never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. If a producer, director or executive reads a substandard draft, no amount of excuses from you will sway their first impression. It will hurt your project and more importantly their view of your writing abilities. If you need to be reminded—write on the cover of your screenplay “FOR MY EYES ONLY.”

When the time comes for a read, everyone will have an opinion about your screenplay. You know that five different people will have five different opinions. You don’t need that varied of criticism ranging from good or bad at this early stage. When you are ready, only give the script to your inner circle to read when you really feel that it’s the best draft you can do up to this point or you feel that you’re written out—you feel that you have nothing more to offer and you are happy with what you’ve done.

If you find yourself needing a professional set of eyes on your new screenplay or draft and want constructive notes, consider my screenplay consultation services. I offer feature and TV pilot packages, mentor packages, outline consultation, and short scripts. I’m offering $20 off until February 29th, 2020 on my feature and TV pilot consultation packages. If you find the need, I’ve love to work with you and get your screenplay in the best shape possible before you unleash it upon Hollywood.

I’d add this nugget of advice from experience—while you’re screenwriting, keep the intimate details of your work to yourself. Do not continually talk about the status of your projects, your “writing process,” or how each project is moving forward.  Hollywood’s bizarre time warp works on its own schedule. Every project will take much longer than you ever expected and you don’t need people thinking that you’re blowing smoke when you talk about the status of your material.  It can also distract you from the work.  The truth is that it takes an incredible amount of time for any script to find a home and eventually get produced—if ever.  Sometimes the less you say about your progress the better. We all have our own inner voice of self-doubt, but why give fodder to your critics and skeptics who will use it to squash your dreams? They’ll even taint any good news you share and use it to belittle your success because they didn’t have the guts to risk everything to pursue their own dreams.  They enjoy raining on your parade instead.  Protect your dreams and cut the naysayers out of your life. Keep your work close to the vest until it’s finished.

alfred-hitchcockreading-script-for-the-movie-rebeccaYou will not escape criticism and notes because they are part of the business of screenwriting. Be open to the entire process of writing—the notes, rewrites, the critiques and all.  There will always be creative highs and lows.  Do your best not to perceive your disappointments as a failures and then sink into the morass of fear and insecurity in your creative soul.  Always be writing— something.  No disappointments only triumphs when you complete a screenplay or other work.

 

Keep the faith and always keep filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2020 Mark Sanderson. All rights reserved. My Blank Page blog.

New script or draft? Need in-depth consultation on your script before you unleash it upon Hollywood? Click on the icon below for the link to my website and more information.

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Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches in this New Year? Consider my book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. Click on the book for the link to Amazon and more information.

Master CoverR2-4-REV228 FIVE STAR reviews!

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.

 

 

Check out actor/writer/showrunner John Lehr’s  (the original Geico Cavemen!) podcast where he interviews me for the second time and we chat about the crazy journey working in Hollywood as writers. Click on the icon below for the link to the Sound Cloud podcast.

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Never disrespect the value of your first draft…

January 1, 2020 § 2 Comments

fade in

I remember writing my first feature-length screenplay back in film school. I had a vague idea of the structure and got lost somewhere in the barren wasteland of ACT 2 and felt like I would never reach the end. Now, after writing a huge stack of screenplays, 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 the process more now as a working screenwriter and the romantic notions of “waiting for inspiration” have given way to the reality that screenwriting is a job with many of the same responsibilities that any job requires.   Early on, I thought screenwriting would be an easy experience, just sit down and write, and I was humbled every time by the enormity of the craft. I’m still learning, even after having sixteen films produced, writing thirty-nine feature length screenplays, and nine TV pilots.

screenplay feedback equal disappointmentDo 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 after it’s been built. My advice is to make your first draft your best possible work at the time you write it. Act as if you’ll never get another chance to touch the screenplay. That’s not to put extra pressure on you, but to train yourself now to turn out a superb first draft—not something you just vomit out. This will prepare you for the day when you’re hired professionally on assignment and have to deliver the goods with every draft. This pays off in many ways, most importantly when you’re working for a producer, and your solid first draft secures your job and makes for a smooth development process—not development hell.  A solid draft also moves the project forward by attracting the interest of investors, a director, and actors.

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 endless rewrites that could change your script into something completely different.  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.

I’m not suggesting that you agonize over every word, but treat your first draft with the seriousness and respect it deserves. A solid first draft will help with faster rewrites because you’re not reinventing story lines but doing more of a “clean up” job. You want to avoid situations where your first draft is shit, and you have to do a page one rewrite and throw out seventy-five percent of the work. This will throw off your writing schedule for sure. 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 outline. Anything less will endanger your chances of getting a chance at writing the second draft and staying on the project through production.

As I mentioned, avoid writing a “vomit” draft because you can use that precious time to actually work on a solid outline and write a faster and more effective first draft. Most of your vomiting stream of consciousness won’t probably keep and you’ll have a massive rewrite anyway. So, why not spend that important time on a solid outline before you start any pages? A sold first draft also helps lessen massive rewrites on the successive drafts. Good luck and keep screenwriting.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2020 by Mark Sanderson. All Rights Reserved. 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. T

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

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“Mark  is a journeyman screenwriter, my good friend and collaborator on  several projects. This is a must have book of reference for those not  only about to embark in a career in the entertainment industry, but also  for those who want to learn from someone who’s been there and done  that. Mark is extremely candid about what it takes and how hard it is to  ‘make it’ in this business. This should be on everyone’s desk right  next to their computer.”
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“Mark’s book starts off as an adventurous tale of a boy’s passion and love for the world of storytelling and this world effortlessly morphs into his accomplished career as a screenwriter. He shows how passion, perseverance, and hard work not only make an amazing screenwriter, but it also strengthens one’s character. Mark cleverly creates a great story out of his journey through the world of telling stories.”

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Check out my two hour seminar, “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood” now free on Youtube. Click on the icon below.

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Check out actor/writer/showrunner John Lehr’s  (the original Geico Cavemen!) podcast where he interviews me for the second time and we chat about the crazy journey working in Hollywood as writers. Click on the icon below for the link to the Sound Cloud podcast.

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Time is your greatest asset, or worst enemy… it depends on how you respect it.

July 12, 2019 § 2 Comments

hang onAs you travel along on your screenwriting journey, you’ll discover that time can drag on and on while you write your screenplays. Time is a screenwriter’s greatest asset to use or worst enemy.  If we don’t have the proper amount of protected time to write—we don’t create the solid body of work necessary to compete. Also time burns quickly in Hollywood. It can take years for your script to find the right producer, network or studio. Many specs never find a home and end up as learning tools. The spec that gets noticed is usually not a million dollar sale, but a showcase of your talents that could land you a coveted assignment job.  My fifth spec screenplay was the one that “launched” my career, it was optioned, went into development, finally sold and was produced and distributed. But that took seven years from the first draft until the first day of production. A long haul journey indeed!

So, the best discipline you can master early in you screenwriting journey is being mindful of your time. As writers we must regard our writing time as precious and do everything in our power to protect our working time from the forces of interruption and procrastination.  I know many non-writers who do not regard writing as real work and believe it’s just playtime like coloring with crayons because it’s creative. Ah, they don’t know any better. They’ve never tried to write a feature length screenplay.

“You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it.”—Ernest Hemingway

And you do have to be ruthless about it. An ex-girlfriend used to tell me that I could “always write on the weekends” — as if writing was not part of my daily routine or schedule. If I have a deadline for a screenwriting assignment and friends invite me out and I turn them down, they always think I’m making up excuses when in reality, I’m actually working. Many times, screenwriters do not get weekends off. One time I had to work for twenty-four hours straight to complete a script, as the producer notified me the investors were in town and wanted to see a draft the following day. It was a seemingly impossible task, but I carved out the time and protected every moment by not answering the phone or spending time on the net. I sacrificed, protected my writing time, and I completed the assignment.

“The telephone and visitors are the work destroyers.”—Ernest Hemingway

IMG_1059When I’m working on a script assignment, it’s my job, and I try my best to write six to eight hours a day — every day.  I generally have a page quote per day and that can range from three to five pages. If I get ahead on pages, that’s great… but if I get behind… it will even out if the work is done every day. That’s the type of schedule it takes to complete a script by a set deadline and dabbling a few hours here and there will not do it. Writing is all about routines and schedules and when the writing gets hard, I know writers are easily distracted. I’ll admit it happens to me. This is dangerous because when distracted, writers tend to procrastinate and ultimately stop writing. This is the time when others chip away at our precious writing time and lead us astray. We actually do want to go out and have a good time, it’s just we have work to do and there will be no pages completed unless we sit down and write.

As a writer, you must consider writing as a job, and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional.  It’s good practice and prepares you for the time when you do get paid to write and the producer requires you to complete the script on a deadline. It’s no longer the romanticized dream of endless time to work on your spec—it’s go time as you have a schedule and a contract. The producer or executive expects greatness from you in four to eight weeks. You’ll already have this priceless experience if you stick to your own schedule by protecting your writing time from interruption and distraction.

the-isolatorWe have more things to distract us writers today than ever before, so it helps to turn off your phone and stay off the web. Choosing the right place to write will also help you to protect your precious writing time. If you’re constantly interrupted as you write at home, consider working at the library, a coffee shop or even renting a small space to write.  As renting an office can become expensive, many paid work spaces have sprung up where you can buy membership access to a quiet working environment.  When a producer hired me last year to write a script, he bought me a membership to a writer’s workspace in Santa Monica, California appropriately called The Office, and I was extremely productive every day.  The Office caters to screenwriters who take their writing time very seriously.  They even enforce a no cell phone or talking policy for all members. It’s a terrific spot for hard-core writers who take their craft seriously. If you’re there—you are there to write. As a result, I completed the script in a month because I was able to work uninterrupted. Look for a “creative space” in your city.

The longer you write the more you’ll get to know yourself better as a writer. You discover your strengths and weaknesses, if you can write for six to eight hours a day, if you write fast or slow, if you can execute notes, and if you’re easily distracted or if you can work in a crowded coffee shop. When the writing gets difficult, time becomes your enemy as you never know each day if your creative juices will flow or dry up. Do yourself a favor and always protect your precious writing time from the forces of interruption. You’ll keep on schedule, writing will become a habit, and you will be more productive than ever before.

Now get back to your blank pages. If you stop writing… you’re guaranteed never to have ANY chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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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

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

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

May 3, 2019 § 3 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

March 31, 2019 § Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptcat out!

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

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

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Paddy Chayefsky on cutting/editing:

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

 

“Starting tonight, every night in your life before you go to sleep, read at least one poem by anyone you choose. Poetry and motion pictures are twins. You’ll get more out of reading poetry than you will get out of any other kind of reading. You are people with eyes. You must find ways of extending this vision and putting it on film. As an experiment all of you could get out of here and shoot a cinematic haiku. Just go through a book of Japanese haiku and shoot a thirty-second film. They’re purely cinematic, very visual. You must read poems every night of your life in order to enable yourself to refresh your images. In forty years you’ll thank me for telling you this.”—Ray Bradbury, Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.

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

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