Considering a screenwriting partner? It’s not all fun and games, so choose wisely…

June 1, 2018 § Leave a comment

IMG_1059Writing is usually a solitary endeavor as we primarily sit alone at our keyboards, sometimes late at night, and peck away at our screenplays.  It can get lonely because a writer must get away from the constant distractions of the day and escape alone into the world of characters on the page.  If you’re thinking about working on a project with a writing partner and never had one before, you have to ask yourself if you both share the same work ethic and seriousness about the craft.  Is this partnership for one project or are you becoming a writing team? What happens if your project sells? Is your partner easy to work with in regards to changes and notes from producers? Do you argue about the creative direction of your screenplay? Do you both have the same creative sensibilities? What happens if you don’t sell anything for years—is your partner still going to go after the dream and how long will you both give the partnership? All good questions to consider before you both sit down and type “FADE IN.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chaplinBefore you decide to write a project with a partner, you have to ask yourself if you both share the same work ethic and bigger vision about where you both see yourselves as a creative team. It’s a business relationship first and together you will make important decisions that will affect both of your careers. If your writing partner is a friend and your business relationship goes sour, you could lose your friend and the project in the process. What if your partner decides to go another direction and quit the writing team because you aren’t selling anything? What if your partner hates to execute notes and doesn’t get along with producers? Be sure about the person you decide to include in your own career path. Also remember that any money you make will be split between you as well. That big $100,000 script sale really means $50,000 each minus agent, manager, lawyer, and of course taxes. It’s half the work, but also half the money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Double Indemnity (Directed by Billy Wilder)

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

I sat him down and explained we’d have to work together. We always met at nine o’clock, and would quit at about four-thirty. I had to explain a lot to him as we went along, but he was very helpful to me. What we were doing together had real electricity. He was a very, very good writer—but not of scripts.

One morning, I’m sitting there in the office, ten o’clock and no Chandler. Eleven o’clock. At eleven-thirty, I called Joe Sistrom, the producer of Double Indemnity, and asked, What happened to Chandler?

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

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

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

film stockScriptcat out!

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

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 with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

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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. My new book, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry. It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Available now on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link to purchase.

 

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

“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.

“To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.” – Alfred Hitchcock

“If a writer stops observing, he is finished.”—Ernest Hemingway

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

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

 

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Three more tips, tricks and tactics to help on your screenwriting journey…

April 28, 2018 § Leave a comment

alfred-hitchcockreading-script-for-the-movie-rebeccaIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, first of all—THANK YOU! I truly hope you’re busy creating new projects and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. As you may know, I’ve been adding short posts (nothing is EVER short on this blog!) and sharing various survival tips. I do speak about these tips in the over 250 articles on this blog, but this feature will be a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate Hollywood’s trenches. Follow me on Twitter (@scriptcat). and on Instagram. I’ll be posting new articles here when my time allows. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting! Okay, here are three more survival tips that will help you on your screenwriting adventure…

TIP #1: 

Find filmmaking mentors and apprentice with them. lucas & coppola on set

Another good way to do your homework with regards to learning is to find a filmmaking mentors and apprentice under them or at least have access to them as they are working. Many busy screenwriters need an assistant and they’re willing to pay an hourly wage for the job. It’s a great way for aspiring screenwriters to learn while getting paid. If you can’t find a paid position, offer your time to a working screenwriter in exchange for access to their knowledge and the whole process they go through daily. A true professional is always willing to give back and share knowledge. When you’re able to observe working professionals, be like a sponge and soak up everything you can and ask questions. I’ve been blessed over the years to work with many top professionals and veterans of the film business and a few have become my mentors. This includes directors and a few have become my mentors and friends. I’m currently working with two directors on various projects that we are developing together and will take out into the marketplace as partners. As I worked with them and collaborated on the films that I wrote, I was able to have inside and unlimited access to help build my screenwriter’s toolkit. Seeking knowledge is an ongoing discipline for every artist. Keep filling your blank pages. If you stop you’ll never have any chance at success.

TIP #2: 

Work your way to becoming a multi-hyphenate screenwriter. multi-hyphenate

Eventually to gain more creative control over your projects, you’ll need to become a multi-hyphenate filmmaker and not just a screenwriter who is a “hired gun.” This means along with your talent for creating the script you will move into producing and or directing as a way to keep your total creative vision on the project. This won’t likely happen on your first few screenplays, but eventually you can negotiate your way into being one of the key decision makers or ultimately the director whose vision takes the script to the screen. Your goal is working your way into being a double threat: A writer/producer or writer/director—or a triple threat: a writer/producer/director.

TIP #3:

When you just finish your first draft—do not immediately give it to someone for a read. Let the creative dust settle and go over it by yourself first. karloff script

Avoid the temptation to give anyone your screenplay moments after you finish it. Put it away and let it settle for a few days or even a week before giving it your first read. You’ll be coming down from your natural creative high and you don’t want anyone to harsh your buzz. It’s the necessary time a screenwriter needs to spend alone with his/her script. You’re also in a raw and vulnerable place after giving birth to new material, so you don’t want feedback now to taint your clear vision or perspective. This will only lead to chasing notes because everyone has an opinion about your work. Keep your script close. Don’t boast or talk about it. You did the work, now go and do something to celebrate. You need to enjoy the little and big successes on your long journey as a screenwriter. Keep the faith and keep filling your blank pages. Nothing is guaranteed on this screenwriting journey except one thing— if you quit writing, you’re guaranteed never have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just finish your latest screenplay or a new draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out the different packages I offer by clicking on the icon below to schedule your consultation. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right before you unleash it upon Hollywood.

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Need help to navigate Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years of screenwriting professionally in Hollywood using my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me to stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon for purchase.

 

 

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

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

“All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.”—Ernest Hemingway

“No person who is enthusiastic about his work has anything to fear from life.”—Samuel Goldwyn

I don’t think of it as an art. When it works it’s skill & craft and some unconscious ability”—Ernest Lehman

“When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb outside with a pencil and a ten cent notebook and start the whole thing over again.” — Preston Sturges

Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working.”—Michael Crichton

How to regain your confidence as a screenwriter…

January 9, 2018 § Leave a comment

guest bloggerIt’s time again for a guest blogger here on MY BLANK PAGE!

Appearing for his fifth time with another superb contribution about screenwriting in the trenches… welcome back U.K. based screenwriter Niraj Kapur.

 

“How to regain your confidence as a screenwriter” by Niraj Kapur.

You’ve been rejected by managers who say, “you’re not what we’re looking for.” A script reader requests your scripts then never returns your phone call or email. You spend hours waiting to meet an agent who doesn’t even show up despite the fact you reminded them the day before. A producer agrees to option your script, then tries to pay you less than minimum wage.

Sound familiar?

You pour heart and soul into anything you care about, you sometimes get good results.

Writing has a different set of rules. There are absolutely zero guarantees.

The internet has helped lots of artists get exposure, especially musicians. As a screenwriter, you still need a producer, director, crew and lots of investment which most writers don’t have access to.

I’ve seen talented screenwriters give up after several years of struggle and seen many slightly above average writers make it because they had family connections, childhood friends in the business, or got on well with a producer’s assistant at a party. A friend of mine who has never written in his life received a paid option because he’s best friends with an upcoming movie star. Did he spend years toiling at his craft? No, he wrote a rough treatment in a week. That’s it!

Can you imagine how that feels?

This business can easily drive you mad and knock your confidence. So how do you stay sane and how do you rebuild your confidence and find work after constant rejection?

Here’s what I did which helped me recently get a producer and director attached to my new Irish drama screenplay, Belfast Son.

  1.  Take care of your health.

Sitting down all day is not good for you and the gym isn’t for everyone. Walking 30 minutes a day is a good start. I’ve tried yoga which aches and mediation which sends me to sleep. However if that works for you, please enjoy. Reiki has worked well for maintaining my inner calm.

  1.  Take care of your nutrition.

I’ve cut out carbs at lunch and have more energy in the afternoon. I also avoid chocolate until end of the day which is torture, but worth it for the increased focus and concentration I get when writing.

  1.  Find a writing support group.

I have a group of five writers called The Gamechangers. We make it a policy that it’s a support group, so although you can whine and complain about your frustrations sometimes, it’s more important to be positive and help each other out.

  1.  Keep in touch with people who said “no.”

I contacted forty producers and agents I’ve known over the years who I liked, yet who turned down my work. I simply wrote them a letter, since hardly anyone received letters these days, telling them about my adventures attending pitching events in L.A. and that I had a new project that may interest them with a simple logline.

  • Twenty-six of them didn’t get back to me.
  • Seven replied saying were two busy.
  • Four didn’t like my concept.
  • Three of them liked my logline and asked to read my screenplay.
  • Two producers said they would like to make it
  • Only one of them actually contacted me and offered to option the screenplay.
  1.  Follow inspirational people on Twitter.

For writers:

@katherinefugate – writer of Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve.

@jakethornton – screenwriter making huge waves.

@stephenking – a master at everything he does.

@jk_rowling – no explanation needed. Simply amazing.

@bang2write – amazing resource for writers.

@indust_scripts – writing services and excellent industrial events.

For non-writers:

@barackobama – inspirational.

@Markruffalo – fighting for everyday people.

@officialjimrohn – the father of personal development

@bettemidler – biting and very funny

@sarahksilverman – compassionate, caring, very funny

  1.  Write every day.

Most writers I know have a 9-5 job. Then they try to write on top of that. When you have family commitments, that makes writing even tougher. Writing one hour a day, even 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes over lunch is better than nothing.

That’s all it took to rebuild my confidence. The producer liked my screenplay so much, he has a director on board and is now seeking financing.

Niraj casual photo

Niraj Kapur has had several screenplays optioned, sitcoms commissioned, and his movie Naachle London was released in British cinemas in 2012. His non-fiction book, Everybody Works in Sales, will be released March 20. Visit his website at www.nirajkapur.com.

The myth of “making it” in Hollywood…

January 7, 2018 § 1 Comment

bag of moneySure, everyone wants to be on the A-list at the top levels of Hollywood. It that realistic? Who knows? And what is your definition of “making it?” Having huge paydays for your screenplays and creative satisfaction? Good luck. Maybe it’s making a living in a tough business and waking up doing what you love for a living? That’s more realistic, but who knows where you will end up? Many talented writers toil away for years and never sell anything while others with less talent and drive end up working. It’s a screwy business for sure.

As working screenwriters ,we all just one project away from looking for our next job. We’re like a band of gypsies who roam from job to job trying to stay in the screenwriting game and make a living. Even if you’re writing on a TV series, the season ends, and many times so does the show when it’s cancelled. Then what? You have to find your next gig. I thought when I scored my first professional writing job that I had finally “made it.” I was able to quit my restaurant job as a waiter and I thought this was my big break. That was until the producers fired me six weeks into the gig. It happens. I didn’t “make it” but it was just another step on a very long journey. What it did was get me out of the restaurant job and I never looked back. It’s been a long haul journey to reach where I’m at currenly, but it’s due to my drive, tenacity and never giving up.  Last year I was blessed with five screenplay assignments, three of the films have premiered and distributed, one film just wrapped production last month, and I’m working on the second draft of another. It happens if you stay in the game. So, “making it” is all relative. Getting your first gig or next gig is “making it” in my opinion.

You have to shoot your dreams to the moon to even reach half way there, but know that Hollywood is a tough business to achieve any level of success. Your idea of success can’t always be about making a big sale or climbing to the A-list overnight. You won’t survive over the long haul journey if you have an “all or nothing at all” attitude. I’ve known people who would only consider themselves a success if they became an A-list talent. It wasn’t worth the tremendous effort to them to end up only making a living at their craft and not being on top. They only wanted to be superstars and nothing less. When I was pre-teen kid and making films with my friends, I only ever wanted to make a living getting paid to do what I loved to do—make movies. I’m happy waking up in the morning and getting paid to be creative.  That’s my dream come true.

And the longer you’re in the film business with its ups and downs and busy and slow periods, you may change your opinion as to what “making it” is in your mind. Few achieve the top levels of any field. Shoot for the moon, but it’s not such a bad thing to get paid to do what you love for a living too. This might require you to adjust your lofty goals of achieving A-list status. It’s okay to make a good living being an artist too. Fame, fortune, and glory are elusive in the screenwriting game.

PILE OF SCRIPTSDon’t take any successful step forward for granted because what might appear to be a tiny step forward can actually be a huge successful step in disguise. If you can get your material to assistants for consideration, it’s a new opportunity for you to plant your flag and hold new ground if they like your writing. If they pass on your script but like your writing it might feel like a failure now, but it’s something that will pay off down the road. It’s a little success and positive step forward to celebrate. Even a tiny step like meeting an assistant and keeping in touch as a new contact is a successful step.

Back in the day when I was shopping my spec around Hollywood and getting rejected at every turn, I met an assistant through a mutual contact and that assistant got his boss interested in my spec enough to option and later buy it and produce it into a movie. The assistant went on to become the president of the production company and hired me to write movies for them and later became an independent producer and hired me again for more assignment work. You never know where the tiny successes will lead, but they do add up and help you establish your experience and eventually a career.

Before I was blessed to be a working screenwriter, I entered my fifth spec script in various screenwriting contests and it ended up being a semi-finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship that year. It placed in the top 1% of all entries worldwide and was in the top twenty scripts overall, but did not end up as one of the eight finalists. I could have looked upon this as a complete failure, but I used my script’s advanced placement as a successful step forward and convinced producers to read it because of my achievement. I eventually found a producer who saw my script’s potential and his new production company bought my project and produced it into a movie.

Be aware of your negative thoughts about your self-worth as it relates to your screenwriting success or failure. The more negative thoughts you have, the more it becomes an emotion and then it’s hard to separate your thoughts from your emotions. You can actually start to believe a reality that isn’t true. Many times it’s not always about the sale or the immediate final result of a project. A rejection or “pass” now can actually be an open door later and another project because they like your writing and want to see more of your material. What seemed like a failure at first might really be a successful step because you started a new relationship with a producer or executive and now their door is open to you. This is why you must work on your next project because the key to a successful career is building these relationships with a solid body of material.

It will take at least four scripts to really find your voice and style. Screenwriting well takes time and experience, so be patient. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Completing your latest screenplay is “making it.” Keep making it and eventually you’ll land a real screenwriting job that will be the first step of a long journey to stay in the game. Don’t be depressed when your script doesn’t sell the first time out because most aspiring screenwriters rarely sell their first screenplays.

Scriptcat out!

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

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

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Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book available now on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years of professionally working as a screenwriter in Hollywood and I share my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me to stay in the game over the long haul. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

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

“I have a theory: not to bore the audience. You make pictures, in a way, for yourself, but you also make them for an audience.”—director William Wyler, Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.

“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

The reward of suffering is experience.”—Aeschylus, Ancient Greek Dramatist known as the founder of Greek Tragedy

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

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

 

 

 

The importance and fun of the on-set visit…

December 21, 2017 § Leave a comment

IMG_7080The on-set visit is always a fun experience especially if you’ve written the movie that’s being produced. This week I was blessed to visit the set of my new movie and I was lucky that it was filmed in the Los Angeles area where I reside. Many of my recent films this year have been shot out-of-state, so an on-set visit to those was prohibitive. Never underestimate the invaluable visit to the set for a priceless firsthand chance to learn the craft of filmmaking. This is important for screenwriters so they can become more production savvy.

Film-DirectorYou always learn something new when you visit the set. If you’ve written the movie, it’s a great learning experience to see how the director is actually bringing your screenplay to life. You’ll learn the realities of production and the compromises that are made daily to get the movie completed. It was nice to be welcomed to the set of my movie and finally meet the director and the stars. Everyone was so nice and it was tremendously fulfilling to hear the positive comments about my screenplay from the director, the actors, the crew and also the producer. It’s always a kick to see what you wrote come alive right in front of your eyes and to hear your dialogue being spoken by your characters.

salvador-dali-by-willy-rizzo-1If you have yet to sell a screenplay or be hired to write a movie that goes into production, find a mentor, another established writer, producer or director and pick their brain for their experience and do whatever you can to get on to a set to observe.  Utilize your important network of contacts to gain access to a film or TV series set. Visit as many sets as you can to learn the production process, but if you are the writer, stay out-of-the-way and offer no opinions unless asked.  Writers are usually not welcomed on a set as changes are always happening to your script—from actors changing dialogue to directors cutting or reworking scenes. Production is meticulously planned, but remains fluid and if the scene is not working, things change at a moment’s notice. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but suck it up because no director or actor wants to experience an upset writer on the set when they have to make changes to the script. Put aside your ego and don’t take these changes personally.  Be a team player and keep focused on bigger picture of  getting the film made. Your on set experience is an invaluable tool, but you have to accept the fact your script is a fluid blueprint and it might be changed to accommodate the production.

Your time spent on set is better than any film school because it’s real world experience.  There are real craftspeople making a real movie, hopefully one that you wrote. You may find the crews are a bit jaded and the hardest audience to please because they’ve worked on their share of bad scripts over the years.  This is why it’s refreshing to hear their honest comments because they don’t have to say anything to me.  There’s no hidden agenda behind their praise because I can’t hire them for my next film; I’m only the writer.

I’ve been extremely lucky to visit many of the sets of my produced films that I’ve written. I’m blessed to have really good relationships with the producers who hire me and in turn that good relationship extends to the directors as well. They treat me as an equal creative partner and not a pariah. I know when I step foot on the set, it’s the director’s playground and I’m not there to usurp any creative vision. My job ends when I turn in the final draft of the script. If asked, I will comment and give suggestions, but only if asked.  Otherwise, I sit back and watch because there’s always something new to learn on every project. There are literally dozens of creative artisans working on the film who are a wellspring of specialized knowledge. As a writer you should soak up as much knowledge as you can from having full access to the set. Observe, study and ask questions. Watch how the director blocks scenes and works with the actors, study how the actors shape your material and speak your dialogue, and notice how creative ideas constantly bounce around the set. The more you learn about the practical aspects of production, the more you’ll begin to make creative decisions mindful of the film.  As a bonus, you’ll become a more efficient screenwriter.

When the production machine is up to speed it’s an amazing sight to behold. But remember if you are a guest on a set, let the cast and crew eat breakfast, lunch or dinner first because they are working. Once everyone goes through the line only then should you eat your meal. The on-set visit will be one of the most satisfying experiences you will have as a screenwriter especially if you use it to your advantage to learn film production.

Keep the faith and filling your blank pages on your road to screenwriting success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog My Blank Page.

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

Check out my new interview on FILM COURAGE about screenwriting.

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

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

 

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Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book that chronicles my past twenty years of working in Hollywood using my tips, tricks and tactics to help me stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2

“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

“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

“The main thing for a writer is to find out who you are. Now, that’s not going to please everybody. You have to discover what your real talent is—what really interests you as a writer. That’s really the thing. Not how popular you can be. But what really is your metier.”—Horton Foote

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A screenwriter’s end of the year checklist: Keeping your eye on the big picture for 2018…

December 3, 2017 § 1 Comment

The Apartment bar sceneHey, soon we’ll be saying a fond farewell to 2017 and there is no turning back. I do believe it’s always a powerful tool to look back over the previous year and critically analyze the good, the bad and the ugly choices we’ve made. Leave the regrets behind and focus on your growth as a screenwriter and human being. Hopefully, you’ve learned from your failures and enjoyed your successes. Excuses abound, but what really matters is how productive have you been? Is there room for improvement? We must always adapt to survive while slogging it out in Hollywood’s trenches. 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? Sold or optioned a project? Follow your writing disciplines to stay on target?

screenwriter respect the climbThe 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 for years going 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.

PILE OF SCRIPTSToo 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. You can’t believe that every spec will sell—in fact most will not. Your new spec may not be the “one” — but one of many you’ll have to write and burn through until it jump starts your career.

Every time you write a new project on spec, you must consider how it fits into the bigger picture of your screenwriting goals. scripts 2It’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 hoping when you’re done for a huge payday? 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—but choose your material wisely. REMEMBER: What you write about is as important as how you execute it and just because you write it doesn’t mean they 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. script oddsWhen you secure a writing gig, you’ll move forward with 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. Trust 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. 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.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the odds are already stacked against you and time marches on so quickly. If you don’t believe the odds, consider that according to the Scoggins Spec Market Scorecard, only 70 specs sold at the studio level in 2016 . And only 5,227 WGA members reported any income in a year (annual report ending in June) out of nearly 9,000 members. The other half did not work. Over half of those numbers who did report income were working in television. 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 and casting your best scripts wide.

I’ve been blessed, this past year was very busy for me and I’ve pushed various projects down the field to production. In the last year, I’ve completed five screenwriting assignments—three of the films were produced, one goes into production in December 2017, and I just completed the first draft of my latest assignment and I’m turning it into the producer. I also finished my new book on surviving in Hollywood’s trenches called “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. We must stay active and not wait for others to open doors. We create new opportunities with every project that we create.

IMG_2016So, it’s never too late, even though we’re already into the new year, grab a piece of paper and if you haven’t yet, set up a game plan for 2018. Look back at 2017 and chart your successes and failures. Write down your goals you achieved and the ones you missed. Hit the ground running this year and achieve your goals every day of the week.  Treat your screenwriting like a business—it’s YOU, INC. and every decision you make affects your pathway to success. Every three months check in on your progress and keep updating your list and following your road map to success. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions: “Why am I writing this particular spec and will it serve me in the best way possible to create opportunities and open doors?” If you haven’t done this start now. Grab a piece of paper and…

1)  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? One 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.

2)  Make a list of your achievements in 2017. 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 film production or complete an internship? Find a screenwriting mentor? List anything that shows you are working toward to your goals.

3)  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.

4)  Make a list of any new contacts that you met by networking during the year.  If you have an e-mail, or the address of their company, send a holiday card. Nothing like the holidays as a good reason to reconnect, right? In January, make sure to send them a: “Midyear check in—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.

5)  If you haven’t yet, attend more networking events before the year ends. Become a member of the International Screenwriter’s Association ( ISA ) for workshops, webinars and in person events in your area. Also Final Draft hosts meetups every month with known screenwriters and offers tips and many free networking events during the year. Network on Stage32.com also—it’s free and a great place to meet fellow filmmakers. In addition, check out the Scriptwriters Network in Los Angeles. They put on networking meetings the first Friday of every month. Get out of your writing cave and meet other screenwriters and network. Make sure to support others and you will find they will help you.

6)  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 many are 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)  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. Many things slip 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.”

And keep updating these lists every three months to keep track of your progress and not allow an opportunity or contact to slip through the cracks. Keeping an eye on your career doesn’t just mean focusing on writing your latest spec and ignoring the business side of your journey. You have to multitask and keep all of these important aspects in check throughout the year. Your current spec is just one of the tools in your arsenal to use to move forward on the field.

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.  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!” And read this eye-opening essay on the current filmmaking business environment as you try to chase the Hollywood studios with your specs: “How the Death of Mid-Budget Cinema Left a Generation of Iconic Filmmakers MIA. All my best wishes for a glorious and successful journey for 2018 and may it be the best year ever.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog My Blank Page.

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

Check out my new interview on FILM COURAGE about screenwriting.

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

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

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Master CoverR2-4-REV2Check out my new 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 that have helped me stay in the game. It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

 

“You have to be very productive in order to become excellent.  You have to go through a poor period and a mediocre period, and then you move into your excellent period.  It may be very well be that some of you have done quite a bit of writing already. You maybe ready to move into your good period and your excellent period.  But you shouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a very long process.”—Ray Bradbury

“It’s such an exhausting thing, you know, facing that empty page in the morning.”—Billy Wilder

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

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

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

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

 

 

Happy 7th Anniversary to My Blank Page…

December 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

blog anniversary 7I can’t believe it’s December again and my seven-year anniversary for this blog. Time sure flies as we’re busy filling our blank pages, right? Yes, it’s my SEVENTH ANNIVERSARY and it’s been another solid year of readership and with over 16,000 views of the blog. I want to thank all of my loyal readers for a fantastic seventh year on the net. I hope my articles helped with your survival in the trenches of Hollywood as a working screenwriter. As you know, screenwriting is a long haul journey to reach any level of success, but when you know other writers are out here slugging away, fighting the good fight, and being successful, it can give you hope and strength to fill yet another blank page as you follow your dreams.

I hope 2017 has been a productive year on your screenwriting journey. I’ve been blessed keeping busy with five screenwriting assignment jobs that have resulted in three produced films—two films, “ONE SMALL INDISCRETION” and “A WEDDING TO DIE FOR” have premiered on tv, the third film “STALKED BY MY EX” premieres Friday, December 15 at 8 PM on LMN (Lifetime Movie Network).  Another film that I wrote, “THE BREAK-IN” starts production this week, and I just completed the first draft of my latest script assignment. I’ve also completed my online store that sells my COFFEE RING CARTOONS MERCHANDISE for screenwriters. Check it out as they make great gifts for the screenwriter in your life — maybe that’s you!

book-illustrationIf that wasn’t enough to keep me busy, I published my new book, A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success, earlier  this year on Amazon. 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. Click on the book cover at the left for the link to Amazon.

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

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

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

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

All my best screenwriting wishes for 2018.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 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

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