Avoid looking or acting like a desperate screenwriter (even though you might be).

June 18, 2019 § Leave a comment

desperateIf you’re new to the screenwriting game, the longer it takes to sell a screenplay, the more desperate you might get after you face your first series of rejections and setbacks. Precious time passes quickly while you write new projects, send them out, and receive feedback—good or bad. It’s a long haul process to get any interest in your screenwriting, and you’ll soon learn that success doesn’t happen overnight.

PILE OF SCRIPTSAs time passes, you have to accept the hard reality that it might take ten scripts to sell your first one. Are you working at a job that you hate and look for a script sale to save you? Do you have rent or a house payment due and look for your new script to sell so you can pay the bills next month? Have you written five scripts that you thought were your best work, only to receive less than stellar reviews and no real forward progress?  Have you entered contests only to place in the quarter finals year after year or receive rejection letters? Have you written another script only to learn nobody else loves it as much as you do? All of these scenarios can breed desperation. Avoid it at all costs.

script oddsThe key is not to hang on to your screenwriting dreams with a white knuckle grip. This will cause you to become desperate when things don’t go your way. You have to realize that it’s going to take years of perfecting your craft to reach any level of success—and it doesn’t come easy. There are approximately 50,000 projects bouncing around Hollywood every year. Here is the spec market sales report for 2018. Here are the figures by genres…

Science Fiction — 10

Comedy — 9

Drama — 9

Horror — 4

Thriller — 4

Action — 3

Family — 1

This is not to scare you but to humble you about the mountain that you climb every time you offer a script to the Hollywood machine. It goes without saying, but you need to be doing the work necessary to compete in a very crowded marketplace. One script is not going to do it, but two or three might. In fact, the script you’re working on now might not be “the one” but one of many that you’ll have to write. It’s a numbers game at best and you have to find the right project for the right producer at the right time. It never happens overnight.

What can get you through the entire process is enjoying the little successes along the way. A career is mostly never made up of one big success, but a series of small successes that lead to establishing a career. Beware—producers can also smell a screenwriter’s desperation. Don’t act desperate. What are some telltale signs?

1. You push your script on them too hard, especially if they don’t show much interest.

2. You call their office or send e-mails too soon asking if they’ve read your script yet.

3. You don’t negotiate, but you take the first crappy deal they offer.

4. You’re willing to make changes and do free work as they string you along with promises of an option or purchase.

Desperation could put you in a situation where you allow someone to take advantage of you with a bad deal. You might accept it because you believe that you’ll never find another producer who wants to buy your screenplay. Muster the courage to move on if a deal isn’t right for you. You will live to write another day. All good things happen at the right time if you allow it.

Do your best to avoid becoming a desperate screenwriter. You’ll need a proper job to take care of yourself as you pursue your screenwriting career. It’s vital that you take care of yourself first and not look at the script you’re writing to sell and save you from some crappy job that you hate. Focus on creating new material and sending it out into the marketplace only when it’s ready. Don’t look for your screenplay to change your life. It could be a long, long wait. Hollywood works on its own time table and you can’t be anxious about establishing a career. Accept that criticism, rejection and failure are part of the screenwriting process and be open to changes on your screenplay. Strive to write screenplays that can compete in a crowded marketplace. Become a team player and collaborator and producers will value your input to the project and keep you around.

Keep the faith and keep working on new projects. Be prolific! A solid body of work is necessary to sell even one screenplay or land a coveted assignment.

Scriptcat out!

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

Did you just finish your new screenplay? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. Take $25 off my feature package. It’s good thru July 2019.

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

“The film (The Power and the Glory) made a lot of enemies. Writers at that time worked in teams, like piano movers. And my first solo script was considered a distinct menace to the profession.”Preston Sturges

When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”—Stephen King

“Not only do you attack each scene as late as is possible, you attack the entire story the same way.”—William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade.

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

 

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The romanticized image of a screenwriter in Hollywood Vol. 3…

April 9, 2019 § 3 Comments

rewritesI haven’t been blogging lately because I’ve been too damn busy with work. Yes, I know, be careful what you wish for, right? This has been a busy year out of the gate with three script assignments at the same time. It’s been quite an experience “stacking” projects, but I’ve done it once before and needed to continue to get out of my comfort zone. It’s all about timing, and you can juggle more than one project if you schedule property. Luckily, one screenplay is finished, I’ve done a second pass, and I just turned in my two outlines for second and third movies. It looks like one will start before the other, and that’s good to get a head start before I’ll have to split the day writing two movies.  I think they call this “champagne problems.”

The key to “stacking projects” and finishing a screenplay under a tight deadline is having a solid story treatment before you type FADE IN. This always helps you to write a faster first draft. I will tell you, being holed up for three weeks, working 8-10 hour days, really is the test to see if you can meet any challenge offered. Fortunately, I’ve met the challenge before, but I never take it for granted. Every time up to the plate with a new script is a completely different adventure. I was pleased to receive very few notes on my first draft of the one assignment freeing me up to start the other two.

This is probably not the romanticized image many beginning screenwriters have of what it’s like to be working in Hollywood as a screenwriter. It’s work and will always be work just like any other job. You’ll have to punch a clock every day when you get up in the morning and need to fill your quota of pages. My sweet spot is three to five pages a day, every day including weekends to reach my deadlines. It won’t feel like work when you’re doing what you love for a living.

PILE OF SCRIPTSThis is why you have to start training yourself now with your specs to build your writing endurance. Set up deadlines and meet them. It’s good practice. Are you able to focus and write for 8-10 hours a day—every day uninterrupted? That’s what it takes sometimes when you start working professionally. You lost the luxury of working on your spec when you feel inspired. It’s now your job and you clock in and out with an eye on doing great work under the deadline.

Sure, it can be torture at times—a hellish rewrite on a screenplay can make you question your decision to become a screenwriter when you curse the day you typed “FADE IN.”  Other times it’s easy breezy and brings you great creative satisfaction, a credit and the bonus of getting paid as a professional screenwriter. As with life, you deal with the good and the bad, and learn how to survive the storms to stay in the game as a working screenwriter.

handshake cartoonSometimes you get lucky,  the alchemy just works, you produce a great script, and build new working relationships. I joke about the cliché of the ideal “romanticized life” of a working Hollywood screenwriter, but many times I find aspirants who work with total freedom on their specs, believe it will be the same breezy experience when they get hired to write a screenplay assignment. It’s not all about premieres, parties, and huge paydays. Once you land the gig, it becomes your job with the same expectations, responsibilities, pressures and deadlines of many jobs—all while working under a contract.

If you’re blessed enough to secure the gig, you must be the ultimate team player and collaborator with your producers or executives. Sure, you scored the job, but never fool yourself into believing you’re the only screenwriter who could do the job. There is always someone out there equally or more talented, and maybe hundreds of eager aspirants who would even write it for free just for the break. The important thing is that you landed the job. It’s yours to screw up or succeed. Show them why you were the right pick on that short list of other writers. I’m blessed to finally be offered jobs now that are mine to take or pass. You’ll learn that you take opportunities when they come your way and they will lead to more work as shown by my example.

Back to stacking projects. It’s when you’re in the thick of it, in the deep trenches, and climbing your way out page by hard-earned page. So, after completing my first draft for one project and turning it in, I received minimal notes, and was offered another new project from the same producer. I took that second gig, and had to immediately start on the outline. While working on the story for two weeks, I was offered another assignment from a different producer. I then started the outline for that third movie as I turned in the outline for second movie. The process is called “stacking” where you work on multiple projects at the same time. That’s why you see writers with four or five credits in one year because they are working on multiple projects. This takes experience, but also a knowledge and confidence in your abilities so you can deliver quality work within the deadlines. Trust me, it’s not easy and takes a keen sense of time and your screenwriting abilities. Mostly, you don’t get weekends off because those two precious days can be used to possibly write or rewrite 12-15 pages. You’ll of course suck it up because you’re under a deadline and want to deliver a production ready script as promised.

Always remember, meeting your deadlines is vital to your reputation and your career.  I’ve worked before for many of the producers who hire me, and it’s nice when they call me with job offers and ask, “Are you available?” I’ve worked hard to get to this place and continue to solidify my professional reputation.

So, what’s all this I continually hear about the romanticized and exciting image of working screenwriters? It’s a false image and not reality. Most of the time it’s the impossibly hard work of trying to land the job. Once you secure the gig, now you have to do it—and be the writer they hope you are and turn in the script they hope is “the one.” A lot of pressure? Certainly.  You’re writing at the top of your game and it’s weeks or months of rewrites, polishes, and the pressure of deadlines. You’ll feel the pressure when you hit a creative wall and begin to stare at the calendar or spend more time calculating your daily page count than doing the actual writing.

It will always be about the work. And after you sell one project and the movie is produced, you hope it helps you land another job and another. There will be dry periods with no work and periods with an embarrassment of work. You never know that is why you have to adapt and always be networking. If you’re a true screenwriter, you thrive on process and getting the job done no matter what it takes. You’ll go above and beyond every time to show your producers and executives that you are the right person for the job. Screenwriters are craftspeople, the ones up at 3:30 A.M. in the laboratory, adding a dash of this and taking away a dash of that, fixing the scenes, working on the structure, putting the puzzle together, and chasing after your dreams.

if you can't handle criticismSure, you might come up short on praise and validation but even when you do receive praise, it might be a let down from what you’d expect. The longer you’re in the screenwriting game, you’ll learn that screenwriting can be a thankless and lonely job as you slog away sometimes in the wee small hours of the morning. But don’t lose heart, realize that it’s a job and it’s hard work at all levels of the business. It was your choice to pursue the journey of a master crafts person, working away in your workshop, crafting a new story to unleash upon the world. It’s a lonely process with no parties, no champagne, no red carpets, no fame and rarely fortune, but your praise and validation comes from the satisfaction knowing that you’re working at the top of your game. How do you know? You’ve just moved your last draft from the development process into the important pre-production stage—that’s a major step to success.

I never take any of it for granted and know the long slog and decades of experience that it’s taken me to get here. It’s work—hard work and I’m happy and humbled to have had another chance up to the plate and made sure to knock it out of the park. On to the next one! I think we don’t ever “make it” because we are always looking for our next job. Nothing is guaranteed at any level of the business.

You just have to be the writer that doesn’t give up. But you have to work smart and be smart about the bigger picture. Pick your projects wisely. Protect your precious writing time. Keep writing because if you stop you are guaranteed never to have ANY shot at success. You create new opportunities with every screenplay you create and hopefully it best represents your talent and ability.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on his blog 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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“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

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

“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

“A writer is not a film’s maker but its originator, then a writer must, if she or he is to emerge and make a mark, create a body of work that is not just aimed at posterity but at surviving the food chain which constitutes modern film production.” — Richard Price, screenwriter of The Color of Money, Sea of Love, Mad Dog & Glory, Clockers, & Ransom.

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

Talk is free and cheap in Hollywood…

April 8, 2019 § Leave a comment

quote of the dayYou’ll learn the longer you pursue a screenwriting career that talk is cheap in Hollywood and many people want credit for their good intentions. Too many times the words are empty promises that end up wasting an eager and hungry screenwriter’s time. Money makes it real. Take everything as face value for talk is the cheapest commodity in Hollywood. Many times, interest in you or your script and the endless talk is just that—interest and talk. It costs nothing and is a way to string you along for more free work. You’ll also find that some meetings are just meetings where a producer’s upbeat attitude about your project can become infectious. You want to believe that others see your dream and can realize it. Why not? It’s what keeps us going as screenwriters—belief in our projects and the faith that success is just around the corner. I’m sure when producers and executives tell you that your project is going into production, they just might believe it themselves, but sometimes they tell a writer this to buy more free time. Of course other times it is real, but then a contract would be presented and money received.

Producers might want to keep a writer’s interest in hanging on until they “work out the pesky financing details” and it becomes the bait for more free work. If they can’t raise the money for the budget, or they have little or no money in their development budget, there really is no money to pay the screenwriter. Be understanding to a certain point, but look at every situation through a risk/benefit filter. Are you willing to risk your time with free rewrites on the possible chance your project “might” get produced? I had this happen once, and I told the producers that I needed them to option my screenplay if they wanted me to make changes. They optioned my script, I made the changes throughout the development process, and they eventually produced the movie. Over the years, I’ve had many false starts, empty promises, and projects that never moved forward, even after I was paid to do all of the drafts. So you never know, even when you do finally get paid. There are no guarantees in this business.

handshake cartoonGet excited when a producer gives you a contract, you both sign it, and you get paid. That’s when it becomes real. It’s the professional way—otherwise, you can’t live on the currency of good intentions. Now get back to your blank pages because if you stop writing, you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.

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

@Scriptcat out!

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

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or 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 and more information.

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Master CoverR2-4-REV2Check out my screenwriting book with twenty-two FIVE STAR reviews on Amazon. (click on book cover for link to Amazon to purchase)

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’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.”

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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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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.

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

“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

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

Embrace all opportunities that come your way on your screenwriting journey…

February 1, 2019 § Leave a comment

new opportunityThe longer you chase your dream of being a professional screenwriter and slug it out in Hollywood’s trenches, the more you’ll realize just how difficult it is to sell a screenplay and if you do, to sustain a career. The years pass by fast, and Hollywood definitely works on its own schedule — never the schedule of an eager writer looking to sell a big spec or start a career. I offer this reality check only to keep you humble, focused on the necessary work, and always keeping your eye on the bigger picture of where you are going with your pursuits. A screenplay written without the thought of what it can do for you with regards to your ultimate career goals can be an exercise in futility.  If you want to be a horror genre screenwriter and that is your passion, don’t write a romantic comedy.  Stick to what you love to write and a genre that is your passion — and write the hell out of it.  You’ll be looked upon as less “scattered” when it’s time to get you on the studio rewrite lists for jobs. Agents and managers can also understand what you can do better than if you showed up with a western, romantic comedy, drama, sci-fi, and action screenplay. How can a writer be good at all genres? Most likely they are not.

Now let’s examine the role of a good opportunity that can help start your screenwriting career.  First of all, I believe you create new opportunities with every new screenplay. When your script is completely ready to be sent out and compete in the marketplace, it will serve as your “calling card” to showcase the best of your abilities. Many times, the screenplay will not sell, but you will get you a meeting or open a door with a production company and land an assignment job.  Today the business is all about intellectual property and developing existing books, news events, and even re-making old films. But the key is recognizing a good opportunity when it comes your way.

A few years ago, I took a rewrite job with a producer and because I did so well with the job, the producer hired me three more times, two were other rewrites and one was a script assignment of my own.  You never know where one opportunity will lead and what doors it will open.

BoulderFlatI recently had this discussion with a screenwriter who asked if he should continue to focus on writing his big-budget specs and hoping for a major sale, or should he write lower budgeted films at a company where he has a solid connection.  I told him most years, around 100 or fewer screenplays sell at the studio level in Hollywood. And if you consider the 50,000 scripts registered at the Writer’s Guild every year, the odds of selling a major spec to a studio as an unknown writer… well, you’d might have a better chance at winning the lottery.  You have to seriously ask yourself what is the best use of your time.  Yes, some writers are willing to hold out, year after year, writing big budget specs as unknowns, hoping for a miracle sale to happen and hitting a wall every time out.  As the years fly past, this pursuit can really affect one’s mental and financial health.  Or, if you have an opportunity to write a movie with a company where it will get made, why not take that easier opportunity? You never know where your job will lead and you can build on the opportunity.  What if you write a few successful movies for them, and then you ask to move into producing? Or maybe directing? And you’re learning production while you’re getting paid. As an unknown writer, you’d never have those opportunities at a major studio to start with your first movie.

And looking at the bigger picture, most writers end up where they never imagined. Your career will never be what you imagined when you were pounding out your specs at home.  You have to seize upon a good opportunity to get past the gates, and then what you do with that opportunity is the most important thing.  I told this writer to take the writing job with the company, low budget or not, because it’s real. He will be a paid and credited screenwriter, and that goes a hell of a long way to getting the next job over someone who has never been paid to write anything.  It’s also building relationships as he will be working closely with producers and the directors.  These relationships are vital to building the foundation of a screenwriting career.

At the start, someone has to take a chance on you. If you deliver the goods and have a productive working relationship, that’s when they offer you another job, and hopefully another — and that’s called a career.  It’s being paid to do what you love for a living. Trust me, producers like working with writers whom they can trust.

Every screenwriter has their own idea of  “making it” and what a dream career looks like.  I say you have to continue to “make it” with every new job after the first one.  There is no down time to rest.  The hardest part of the journey is selling that first screenplay or being offered your first assignment job. Once you have a credited film, it’s a lot easier to find your next job because someone has already taken a chance on you.  Always consider all opportunities that come your way.  You probably won’t be paid a lot for your first few jobs, but you have to build the solid foundation of a career first before it can flourish.

Keep filling your blank pages on your road to success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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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. Hit the ground running in the New Year with a solid project.

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Check out my master class seminar “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood.” Click on the photo for the link to the complete video.

 

 

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Check out my book with 20 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.

 

“It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.” — JJ Abrams

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”—William Falukner

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” —Lao Tzu

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

 

A screenwriter’s end of the year checklist: Keeping your eye on the big picture for 2019…

December 6, 2018 § Leave a comment

EXCUSESWho can believe the year is almost over? It will be 2019 in a blink of an eye. It’s always a powerful tool to look back over the previous year and critically analyze the good, the bad, and the ugly choices you’ve made. Hopefully, you’ve learned from your failures and enjoyed your successes. Excuses abound, but what really matters is how productive have you been? Room for improvement? Have you become a better screenwriter and have you been able to move yourself and your projects down the field? Have you opened doors and gained new “fans” of your writing? Have you been able to gain and hold new ground? Established new relationships and contacts? Created a solid body of material in a genre to show your unique voice?

The responsibility for a screenwriter’s career begins and ends with the screenwriter. The hard fact:  Your screenwriting career is probably the most important struggle to you and not to anyone else. Only you know the hard work and sacrifices you’ve endured to go after your dream, so you need to protect your career path by taking responsibility for chartering the course of your career. Your time is precious and you need to constantly be moving forward and avoid the pitfalls of poor choices and negative experiences.

Too many times, I’ve heard screenwriters blame others for their own missteps or lack of success in Hollywood. Some writers look for the quick and easy way to success, but end up frustrated when their one script doesn’t sell, they have no other plans and they are not working on new material. Sure, it’s easier to soften the blow to blame the agent, manager, producer, or Hollywood itself for not getting your film made, but screenwriters need to step up and take more control over their choices.

Every time you write a new project on spec, you must consider how it fits into the bigger picture of your screenwriting goals. It’s a risk when you write a spec and you are rolling the dice with your precious time. Did you just have a “fun idea” for a movie and thought it would sell, so you decided to spend months writing it? This is not an effective use of your time. If it’s your passion project and you must write it—do it and hopefully you’ve executed it properly and your passion will be there on the page.

Boulder FlatAlways have a purpose in choosing your material. REMEMBER: What you write about is as important as how you execute it — and just because you write it doesn’t mean they have to buy it or will “love it.” You’ll only figure this out after you meander through four or five scripts that don’t achieve the plateaus you had expected or do not sell. You’ll be forced to take a step back and examine your reasoning for embarking on the journey with each project. If you’ve been successfully making noise with a particular genre, continue to establish yourself as an expert in that genre. When you secure a writing gig, you’ll have steady work because you’ll be known for a genre. There is nothing wrong with being pigeonholed as a screenwriter. It means you’ll work and build up your résumé in a genre that you hopefully enjoy writing.

script oddsTrust me, bouncing around for years with different scripts in different genres hoping that something sticks is a fool’s endeavor. I’ve been there.  When something eventually hits and is a success, the producers will want more of the same from you in the way of screenwriting assignments—the bread and butter or working screenwriters. There is no shame in steady work in a particular genre. I find sometimes aspirants believe they’ll hold out and will only go with a script that is “their vision” and somehow it’s “selling out” to take a job offered writing something that maybe isn’t their favorite choice of material—but it’s a foot in the door. A writer with zero credits is still a writer without any produced films.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the odds are already stacked against you and time marches on so quickly. Only 5,819 WGA members reported any income last year and of those, 4,670 were in Television (annual report ending in June 2018) out of nearly 20,000 members. Check out the 2018 ANNUAL REPORT FROM THE WGA. Think about those odds for a moment and then get back to work. And if you add the non-union screenwriters working… it can boggle the mind with more stats and there are no stats for non-union screenwriters working or not working. The main issue is that you must stay busy creating projects, networking, building your unique voice, and casting your best scripts wide to the right players.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2This year was very busy for me and I’ve pushed various projects along the field. Early in the year, I was hired to write my nineteenth paid screenwriting assignment, it was produced in the spring, and premiered last week on LMN to solid ratings. After this, I was hired for another assignment that wrapped production in October and is now in post with a spring 2019 scheduled premiere. Screenwriters are also discovering and enjoying my new book, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” with 19 FIVE STAR REVIEWS on Amazon. I also taught my master class seminar “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood,” and continued to expand my screenwriting consulting business.

IMG_2016So, it’s never too late, even though the year is nearly over, to grab a piece of paper and if you haven’t yet, set up a game plan for 2019.  Hit the ground running and achieve your goals every day of the week. Treat your screenwriting like a business—because it’s YOU, INC. and every decision you make affects your pathway to success. Ask yourself the hard questions: “Why are you writing this particular spec and will it serve you in the best way possible to create opportunities and open doors?”

Here are seven steps in my checklist to prepare for the new year:

1)  SCREENPLAYS! Make a list of all viable projects. Completed scripts and what condition they are in: ready to be read, needs a rewrite, needs a polish, only a first draft, etc.  Add to the list any fleshed out pitches, log lines, one sheets, beat sheets or treatments. This is important if you cross paths with an agent or manager. They want to see you busy and prolific on your own. What do you have to offer? Do you have script only and nothing as a follow-up? You’ll need a solid body of work to standout and it will take time to craft these projects. It’s dangerous to be impatient and go out with a screenplay without having another solid project to back it up.

2)  ACHIEVEMENTS!  Make a list of your achievements in 2018. Scrutinize the successes and failures so you can see where you need to pick up the slack in areas where you need to focus in the new year. List any accolades—did you win or place in a significant screenwriting competition? Did you option or sell a screenplay? Did you graduate from film school?  Did you make any films, short movies, or a webseries on your own?  Did you work on a production or take an internship? List anything that shows you are working toward to your goals.

3)  SOLID CONTACTS! Make a list of any new contacts that you met by networking during the year. In January, make sure to send them a “First of the year—hope this finds you well—this is what I’m doing” e-mail. It will put you back on their radar and if you list a few interesting projects, they might bite and ask for a read. Also, instead of always asking for help, BE a good contact too. It’s not all one-sided.

4)  DEADLINES!  Make a list of potential deadlines for any rewrites or new ideas. Keep true to these self-imposed deadline as if they were real screenwriting jobs. Do not deviate from the commitment for anyone or any external forces. Trust me, either on purpose or by mistake, people will try to derail your schedule and will think it’s not that important because you’re writing on spec. It is that important. It’s vital training for the time when you finally do get a job on assignment and you’ll know how to keep a deadline under any conditions. Find respected screenwriting contests that you may want to enter and use their entry dates as a goal and deadlines to finish your new material.

5)  NETWORKING! If you haven’t yet, start attending networking events in the new year. Become a member of the International Screenwriter’s Association ( ISA ) for workshops, webinars and in person events in your area. Join Scriptwriter’s Network and they have seminars and meetups every month in Los Angeles. Network on Stage32.com and also Final Draft hosts meetups every month with known screenwriters and offers tips and many free networking events during the year. Get out of your writing cave and meet other screenwriters and network.  Help others and you will find they will help you.

6)  READ, READ, READ! If you don’t already, read scripts on a regular basis. Good scripts, bad scripts, classics—read! You’ll be surprised how much you learn from reading screenplays. Be careful of the screenplays that are posted during award season. Do not try to emulate their style as most were written in a protected bubble of development and were not specs, so they can get away with many things regarding format that you cannot with a spec from an unknown writer.  “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” —Stephen King.

7)  HOMEWORK! If you don’t already, read screenwriting blogs, books, articles and film websites with news about the film industry. You must do your homework on a daily basis and not expect your representation (if you’re lucky to have an agent or manager) to do it for you. A lot of vital information slips through the cracks and information is priceless currency in Hollywood. It can mean the difference between getting in a door with a meeting that could land you the next job that launches your career.

A game plan helps you allocate your precious time wisely. It shows that you’re your serious about your career and treating your screenwriting as a professional—not just willy-nilly writing a script and hoping it will sell on its own merits. It’s rare that one script makes a career. It’s always one script that opens the door, but you’ll probably have to write five or six to get to that “ONE.” The overnight success is usually a series of little successes along the way that lead up to continued success.  You have to consider how everything you do regarding your career fits into your bigger overall goals.

Your career aspirations can’t live or die by one project and you can’t focus on “the one” and hope it unlocks the gates of Hollywood. It’s always going to be a numbers game with horrible odds of success. Even if you sell a screenplay, there are no guarantees and still so many hurdles to jump. The good news is—the more quality material you create, the better chance you have of garnering interest and that may lead to a sale or assignment work. It’s always about the right project to the right producer at the right time. That’s why you stay in the game by continuing to write and get better. Keep your eye on the big picture.  It’s like what Bruce Lee said in Enter the Dragon, “It’s like a finger pointing a way to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!”

All my best wishes for a glorious and successful new year that is a blank slate for you to fill as you wish.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Also check out my YOUTUBE Channel with weekly videos offering script tips.

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. Hit the ground running in the New Year with a solid project.

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“It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.” — JJ Abrams

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then.”—William Falukner

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”—William Falukner

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” —Lao Tzu

“Your screenwriting career is not a Dali-esque delusion, but the result of work, talent, focus, sacrifice, patience and luck. And we know that luck is a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity.”—Scriptcat

Happy 8th anniversary to MY BLANK PAGE!

December 3, 2018 § Leave a comment

eight year anniversaryI can’t believe it’s December again and my eight-year anniversary for my blog. Time sure flies as we’re busy filling our blank pages, right? Yes, it’s my EIGHTH ANNIVERSARY here and it’s been another solid year of readership of the blog. I want to thank you all my loyal readers for a fantastic eight years on the net. I hope my over 200 articles helped with your survival in the trenches of Hollywood as a working screenwriter. As you know, screenwriting is a long haul journey to reach any level of success, but when you know other writers are out here slugging away, fighting the good fight, and being successful, it can give you hope and strength to fill yet another blank page as you follow your dreams.

I hope 2018 has been a productive year on your screenwriting journey. I’ve been blessed keeping busy with two screenwriting assignment jobs that were produced — one just premiered on TV and the second film is in post production and will be released early next year. I’m about to start another

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I  also presented my new seminar “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood” to a group of  creatives in North Hollywood and the complete video is now online. Click on the photo at the left for the link to the Film Courage YouTube channel.

 

 

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If that wasn’t enough, I’ve been busy promoting my book, A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success, now available on Amazon with 19 five-star reviews. The book has been a long haul journey to write and shares my twenty years of experiences in Hollywood’s trenches with advice about forging your own career with my tips, tricks and tactics to say in the game. Makes a great holiday gift too so put in your order early!

If you haven’t yet, check out my screenwriting YOUTUBE CHANNEL where I post weekly script videos with my tips, tricks and tactics to help you survive in Hollywood’s trenches. I have thirty-five videos uploaded to help with your screenwriting survival in the trenches. And as you complete your latest magnum opus, if you find yourself in need of professional screenplay consultation, check out my screenplay consultation services. I’m offering a holiday discount of $25 until December 31st. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay.

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

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

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

All my best screenwriting wishes for 2019.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

 

 

 

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