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

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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.

 

 

 

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

October 12, 2018 § Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

Keep screenwriting and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The on-set visit… an invaluable experience to help you become a production savvy screenwriter.

October 11, 2018 § Leave a comment

a wife betrayed 2I’ve been blessed again with my fifteenth produced film and it’s currently filming in Los Angeles. I went to the set this weekend and it was a fun experience as always.

I met the director who complimented me on the screenplay and my efficient use of story. This makes the job of directing much easier when every scene has a reason and there is no fat on the pages. The producer was there too and we chatted about my next project with him. The dream and goal is to have one film shooting as you’re hired to write another while another is distributed.

The on-set visit is always a fun experience especially if you’ve written the movie that’s being produced. The last time I was on-set was late last year when another one of my films was shooting locally. It’s a treat because many of my other films are produced out of state and travel would be out of the question. 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. You need to see first hand the realities of film production and how it relates to how you write the script.

a wife betrayed 4I also visited the “second unit” crew filming two blocks away in the same neighborhood. They were filming exteriors and scenes that did not need the lead characters or the director to supervise. The second unit director was in charge of this set. It was fun to see them piece together two houses from different parts of the neighborhood to appear as if they were across the street from each other. The magic of the movies and editing!

Another fun experience I had was meeting a group of gaffers who had worked on another one of my films last year. You quickly learn just how much of a small town Hollywood is with regards to people having worked with each other before. Separately, my good friend works as a First AC (first assistant camera) and knows our director of photography who has extensive credits. Again, a small world. You always learn something new when you visit the set and can see first hand the production realities and changes that need to be made regarding the locations.

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’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. It’s never going to be the way you envisioned because you are not directing the movie. But it’s fun to see how it turns out.

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. The director did ask my opinion about how the footage and scenes were looking and I said, “It all looks great.” And it did.

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 2018 by Mark Sanderson on his blog My Blank Page.

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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.

 

 

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.

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“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

Scriptcat’s fall screenwriting tips for your journey…

September 22, 2018 § Leave a comment

fullsizeoutput_302Ah, it’s finally the first day of autumn… the time when we move into another season and the leaves begin to fall. Summer went by in a blink, and I hope you were busy filling your blank pages on new projects.  I’ve been blessed with new script assignments and have a new film going into production at the end of next week in Los Angeles. I also have a new movie coming out over the next few months, and I’m also teaching a new seminar next week in North Hollywood and looking forward to meeting new screenwriters and talking about breaking in and staying in the game.

I hope you’ve created new opportunities that have pushed your screenplays closer to success so far this year. Trust me, I know if can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall hoping for a breakthrough, but finding the same results of rejection and criticism. I truly hope you’re busy creating a solid body of work and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. I hope that I’ve been able to offer a few nuggets of advice that you’ve found helpful. In addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), and my Youtube Channel.

I’ll be posting new tips here as much as my schedule permits in addition to new articles as the topics arise in my daily life. Dig in, as I’ve written over 200 articles on this blog and my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” is available on Amazon. I’m also broadcasting live on  PERISCOPE. Check it out. I’ve also jumped onto Instagram—find me at: marksanderson_scriptcat and visit my website FIVE O’CLOCK BLUE ENTERTAINMENT for everything else.  Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting. Okay, let’s cut to the chase and get right to the action—here are a few more useful survival tips for your journey…

TIP #1

DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY, “NO.

no kiddin largeNo. It’s a powerful word if used properly on your screenwriting journey. Or better yet, “No, thank you.” If any deal does not feel right or isn’t right for you, don’t be afraid to graciously say, “No, thank you.” Yes, even if you haven’t sold a screenplay before. Your time is more important than being locked into a crappy deal and something that could set you back. You come from a place of power when you feel that something is wrong and you don’t cave to your fears out of desperation. You will thank yourself when a better opportunity comes your way and you’re free to take it.  Trust me, producers can smell desperation in the room if a writer needs to pay the rent or needs some validation about the work. This is when you unknowingly might allow them to take advantage of you, and then you accept a crappy deal that benefits them and not you. Sure, you might need to get your foot in the door, but it doesn’t mean they have to crush your toes in the process. Any opportunity to work is a chance for you to shine, but your time is important and if you are writing at a professional level to compete, you should come into any situation with a humble confidence. So, what if you find yourself on the side of the cliff dangling by a mere finger hold and running out of time? Hang on. Climb back up and work on another script, and another, and get better and build your network of contacts. When you’re at the lowest point is when it really matters how you stay in the game because it’s much easier for you to leave the business when all hope is lost. And time keeps ticking away. It can be your greatest asset or worst enemy especially if you put an expiration date on your screenwriting dreams—“I have to make it by 30!” When you’re struggling on the side of that cliff, fight for your long term survival. Never allow them to stomp on your fingers so you fall into the void and never to live out your splendid screenwriting dreams.

TIP #2

CONSIDER YOUR SPECS AS YOUR CALLING CARDS — NOT A MILLION DOLLAR SALE.

bag of money

I know it’s hard to accept the spec you are writing now probably will not sell and may end up being only a writing sample, but you need to put your specs into perspective. If you don’t put in the necessary work with solid rewrites from constructive feedback and create professionally competitive material—your specs could end up in a drawer collecting dust or worse a dumpster and have a negative effect on your career aspirations. Specs are a necessary part of every screenwriter’s journey because they are the scripts you “cut your teeth on” to prepare you for when you do get hired for assignment jobs. My fifth spec is the one that opened the door to a career and landed me fifteen assignment jobs that followed. Be smart about your career. Don’t waste time making the same mistakes over and over again. Before you start your next spec and burn precious time, consider how it figures into your overall screenwriting goals—not just the mantra that I hear from so many aspirants, “I have a good idea for a script and I’m sure it will sell.” Many times it’s not a good idea and if your goal is to be a horror genre screenwriter, why are you writing a romantic comedy especially when Hollywood isn’t producing that genre now? Think, plan, create a checklist, hit your goals, create a solid story treatment before you start pages, and then put your ass in a seat and fill those blank pages.

TIP #3

TALK IS FREE AND CHEAP IN HOLLYWOOD!

quote of the dayYou’ll learn the longer you pursue a screenwriting career that talk is cheap in Hollywood and people want credit for their good intentions. Too many times the words are empty promises that end up wasting an eager and hungry writer’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. Many times meetings are just meetings. Many times 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. Producers 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 no money in their development budget, there really is no money to pay the writer. Be understanding to a certain point and look at every situation through a risk/benefit filter. Are you willing to risk your free time with free rewrites on the possible chance a project “might” get produced? Get excited when a producer gives you a contract, you both sign it and you get paid. That’s the professional way—otherwise, you can’t live on the currency of good intentions. Now get back to your blank pages. 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 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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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

 

Be prepared for opportunities

 

 

 

 

Always remain humble on your screenwriting journey…

July 26, 2018 § 1 Comment

PILE OF SCRIPTSHumility? It’s respecting the reality of your journey and the mountain we all climb daily to reach any level of success as screenwriters. It’s knowing you’ll never be bigger than your craft, as screenwriting is a lifelong learning process. It’s accepting there will be massive sacrifices to get even one movie produced and distributed. It’s accepting the journey is not a sprint with shortcuts but a long haul marathon with no guarantees of success. It takes three or four scripts just to learn the format and find your voice, and it may take ten scripts to sell your first one. Do yourself a huge favor early in your journey and respect these facts. The great Rod Serling said, “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.”

script oddsAlso don’t be lulled into the belief that somehow it’s going to be different for you because you’re “special” or more “talented” than the next screenwriter. Approximately 50,000 precious screenplays bounce around Hollywood every year and nobody really cares. Most of the scripts are poorly written by aspirants looking for their easy “big break” or a huge sale bringing them fame and fortune. This is why Hollywood continues to build the walls higher and higher to filter out those who are not serious about the craft. Hollywood doesn’t owe you a read, a sale, or even a career. Just because you’ve put words to paper doesn’t mean anything to the bigger Hollywood community because it’s inundated with screenplays. In fact less than 100 specs sell in any given year. In recent years, it’s been more like 70 or less. Those figures are not to scare you away from your pursuit, but a reminder to humble about the journey and what you are up against. This way, you will treat your screenwriting career pursuit with the seriousness and dedication it needs.

If you did finish your screenplay, congratulations because you’ve accomplished more than most. Usually aspirants talk about their writing process more than actually writing.  Humility also comes from knowing that you’ll have to create a solid body of work to standout. One script isn’t going to do it and ten poorly written scripts will definitely not do it. I finally made some noise with my fifth spec screenplay—it sold and was eventually made into a film and distributed. That opened the door to assignment work, and I’ve rarely written another spec since as I’ve been too busy getting paid to write.

What about competition? There is always someone who wants a career in screenwriting more than you and is willing to work harder and sacrifice more than you’ll ever be willing to do. That’s okay. Don’t worry about the outside competition, the only real competition is with yourself to become a better screenwriter with every successive script you write.

We’re all special and unique, but we all still have to learn and write our way to any type of success by doing the necessary work, to follow disciplines, drive, sacrifice, and passion. We all have to fill those blank pages to get any shot at success. Even with talent and a fantastic screenplay, there are still no guarantees of success. Screenplays that sell can get lost in development hell and never produced. Some projects even get lost in the mire of financing or losing the lead actor and they fall apart.

poor screenwriterIf you are not humble and thankful for the little successes along the way, the film business will quickly humble you. Be humble, as it will serve you well on your long journey to reach any level of success. Know the monumental journey ahead of you, respect it, and get on with the hard work of creating fresh, authentic, and unique stories that showcase your talents. The rest of it is a roll of the dice, but you have to keep rolling to stay in the game.

Keep writing and keep the faith because if you stop—you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success!

Scriptcat out!

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

Did you just finish your latest screenplay or draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression so take the time to get your script right.

 

Master CoverR2-4-REV2My new book now abailable on AMAZON.

18 FIVE STAR REVIEWS!

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 FOR THE LINK TO AMAZON.

NOW AVAILABLE!

Need screenwriting inspiration with your morning or afternoon coffee? Check out my COFFEE RING CARTOONS MERCHANDISE for screenwriters. Over a dozen different designs. Click on the photos for the link to my online store and the products offered.

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

“Just do the best you can every time.  And if you’re going to stay in the movies, and you like movies—and I love them—you’d better love them a lot, because it’s going to take all of your time.  If you want to be in the movies, it’s going to break your heart.”—Richard Brooks

When you start a movie script, it’s like entering a dark room: You may find your way around all right, but you also may fall over a piece of furniture and break your neck. Some of us can see a little better than others in the dark, but there is no guaranteeing the audience’s reaction.”—Billy Wilder

 

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