Learn how to execute screenplay notes effectively and stay on the project…

April 17, 2017 § Leave a comment

rewritesIt’s vital that when you’re writing your specs to also be training yourself to effectively execute screenplay notes because producers will keep you on the project if you’re able to continue help them push it through development. I’ve recently experienced this again when I completed two assignment jobs in a row for a producer. They were page one rewrites of scripts because the previous writers could not generate a production ready screenplay and the projects were stalled. I was able to execute the notes effectively and greatly reduced the development time allowing the scripts to receive a green light. One of the projects completed production and the second script was just accepted last week and sent to the network. It’s a huge jump forward toward production.

When a company has a slate of films they are scheduled to produce, they do not want anything to stand in way of the forward movement toward production. If you can be the screenwriter who executes notes and delivers production ready drafts, they will hire you again. This is your opportunity to shine and establish your professional reputation. You should realize that most of screenwriting is not the romanticized image you might have of parties, huge paydays, and premieres. It’s a job and tremendous work. Put your ego aside and get the work done. The goal when you are working is to finish the screenplay as contracted, receive your payment, and your credit. Most of my jobs on assignment have come from producers who I have worked for before. These relationships will help you establish your screenwriting career.

Writing your own spec script is one thing, being hired for a script assignment and rewriting an existing screenplay, or working from a treatment you didn’t create, and then executing script notes, is an entirely different talent. It’s an ability that you must have if you want to stay on a project and eventually see your name in the credits.

So, when you are writing your  spec, use this precious time as training for your long haul journey. Now is the time to make mistakes and write badly so that you can learn and avoid this when you finally get a professional writing assignment. If you haven’t experienced it yet on your first few screenplays, writing is all about the execution of a great story and rewriting to get it right. Even after thirty–three feature screenplay, I’m still rewriting drafts, but usually the first few drafts are solid enough and only need light polishing. This is where you want to be with your screenwriting ability if you desire to work professionally in Hollywood.

Keep writing on a regular schedule and keep the faith. It’s all talent, timing, and luck — a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity and delivers the goods.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog My Blank Page.

Did you just complete your new screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my screenplay consultation services. Click on the icon below for the link to my website for more information.  You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay.

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“A good style must, first of all, be clear. It must not be mean or above the dignity of the subject. It must be appropriate.”—Aristotle

“A good writer should know as near everything as possible. Naturally he will not. A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge. There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.”—Ernest Hemingway

“… In fact, when the camera is in motion, in the best-directed scenes, the audiences should not be aware of what the camera is doing. They should be following the action and the road of the idea so closely, that they shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on technically.”—John Huston

“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, interview in Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.

 

Scriptcat’s spring screenwriting tips for your adventure in the trenches…

April 2, 2017 § Leave a comment

IMG_2616Ah, spring is in the air. The time for a fresh start when your ideas begin to bloom. I hope you’ve created new opportunities that have pushed your screenplays closer to success. 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’m also broadcasting live on the new app PERISCOPE. Check it out. 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

ALWAYS ACT LIKE A PROFESSIONAL IN EVERY ACTION YOU TAKE IN HOLLYWOOD.

MARK4Act like a professional even if you’re an aspirant writing who has yet to sell something. As a screenwriter, you must consider writing a job and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional. As with any job, it comes with deadlines, requirements and expectations, so it’s good practice to follow professional disciplines as you prepare for the time when you do get paid to write. If you train yourself to work under a deadline, it’s not a shock when the producer requires you to complete a script by a certain date. It’s no longer the romanticized dream of spending endless time working on your spec to get it just right—it’s “go time” and you’re now playing in the big leagues—exactly where you belong. The producer or executive expects greatness from you and you generally have six to eight weeks to deliver the first draft and its excellence will decide if they keep you on to write a second draft, or fire you. This is not the time for a “vomit draft.” If you start meeting your own deadlines when writing your specs, it will be easier later when they pay you under contract to meet a deadline.

TIP #2

DO NOT TYPE “FADE IN” IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE CRITICISM.

praise or blameDon’t take criticism personally and realize that it’s part of the process. If you’re going to play in the majors, you’re competing with the best and you must accept that sometimes you won’t find the validation you need. Many times feedback on your script is disappointing and your high expectations become squashed. Your ego’s bruised, beaten to a pulp and you to 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. If you want to survive over the long haul of a career, you’ll need to toughen up and build your courage to endure disappointment criticism and rejection. Learn how to filter the good notes from the bad and ugly notes. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps make your script better, helps push it closer to something a producer wants to produce, and teaches you how to collaborate as a team player so you can work again.

TIP #3

LEARN THAT TALK AND INTEREST ARE 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 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2If 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.

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Do you lack focus or haven’t set goals for the year with regards to your career? Check out my on-demand webinars.

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

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

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

Another writing dream realized… my new screenwriting book.

March 12, 2017 § Leave a comment

sullivans-travels-052The journey of every artist is unique, and your survival depends on being confident enough to believe that you can make it, but remaining humble and respecting that it’s a marathon climb to any level of success. It starts with your passion to take an idea and follow it through to completion. I was reminded of this again when I embarked on my journey to write my first book—something that could help aspiring screenwriters avoid the many pitfalls that a screenwriting career will bring. It was truly another dream realized. The book grew out of my twenty years of professional screenwriting in Hollywood’s trenches, where I’ve been blessed to work and collaborate with many top professionals including Academy Award® winning producers, veteran directors, and Academy Award®, Emmy®, and Golden Globe® acting nominees.

Many of these filmmaking veterans have become my close friends and mentors, and the priceless knowledge I’ve learned from them has certainly helped make me the filmmaker that I am today. My interest in writing a book grew from my desire to pay it forward, as they have done with me, by sharing my own journey with my successes and failures that started when I was just eleven years old and made films with my friends.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2My hope with this book is that by sharing my experiences and disciplines, other screenwriters can avoid the many pitfalls and survive in the trenches as they pursue their own screenwriting journey to success. I want to inspire and drive them to realizing their own dreams like I’ve been able to achieve. Over time and with experience, screenwriters find their unique style by using their own techniques and disciplines to help establish their careers.

Once your creative spark is ignited, only you can extinguish it, so use your passion to keep your dream alive and protect it from those naysayers who whisper their own fears into your ears. Write every day, remain humble, respect and master your craft, and become a prolific screenwriter. As you work toward achieving success, your courage, tenacity, and talent will generate magical moments you could never have imagined possible.

Check out my new book, A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success: Tips, Tricks and Tactics to Survive as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood, now available on Amazon.

Scriptcat out!

Need a dose of screenwriting inspiration with your morning coffee? Check out my COFFEE RING CARTOONS merchandise at my online store. Click on the photo below for the link to browse and purchase.

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

“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

“The well is where your “juice” is. Nobody knows what it is made of, least of all yourself. What you know is if you have it, or you have to wait for it to come back.”—Ernest Hemingway

 

Be careful who you bring on to help with your screenwriting career…

March 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

handshake cartoonOver the years, I’ve had both agents and managers and had good and bad experiences with both. I grimace at the wasted time in the past where I stayed with a rep who was basically wasting my time and not moving my career forward. When you’re fist starting out, you will be eager to have anyone show you interest and you will learn that talk is free and cheap in Hollywood. You will experience amazing reps who can’t “move you forward” and others who can but don’t. It’s the nature of the game. The main takeaway is that you must be careful who you entrust with establishing your career. The wrong people will waste your precious time and also may derail your overall plans. Keep your radar up for those who are not helping you but say they are doing great things.

danger development hellYou could call the following a “cautionary tale.”  I once found a manager on the internet. Yes, any story that starts out like this probably ends in tragedy. Again, this was when I started out in the business and was happy for anyone to read my stuff. Well, this cautionary tale ended with an important life lesson—always trust your instincts.  This manager and I played E-mail tag and I sent over a few scripts and he wanted to meet.  We had breakfast  (he paid) and he laid out a game plan to get me working.  I liked that he was thinking of the bigger picture and wanted to hit the ground running.  I was already working on stuff, but as always, needed to meet a larger circle of producers who might offer more writing assignments.

smash head in wallOur working relationship appeared as if it was going well until the communication began to slow on his end. Never a good sign. I was living up to the bargain on my end, working on pitches, executing his notes on my existing scripts, but I could sense that something wasn’t quite right. He had one lead on a producer that never ended up with a meeting and that was pretty much it for him. It was foreshadowing where our working relationship was going—nowhere. It fizzled out and he stopped returning calls and E-mails. It was then I learned that he was actually my neighbor who lives not more than one-hundred yards from me. He was done, baby done.

Time passed and I was at a local coffee-house, enjoying a coffee and reading the newspaper when I recognize this very same “manager.” No surprise, because I would see him around the neighborhood every once in a while but he never did recognize me, as if I wasn’t even worthy of remembering. That’s okay, my anonymity allowed me to eavesdrop on him and listen while he told the very same spiel to two young and eager looking writers.  I just listened, feeling very much undercover, as he didn’t know who I was, and I felt like leaning over and warning these guys of my experience with this bottom feeder.  Who knows, would they suffer the same fate?  Or maybe these were the guys who he would catapult into super stardom.  Bottom line, like any relationship, if it’s not working after many attempts, get out.  Your time is precious too and better to spend it working and not spinning your wheels with a rep who promises the world and delivers nothing. You’ve worked too damn hard to entrust your journey to an amateur.

You quickly learn —no one truly cares like you do about your career.  They read five pages and if it doesn’t happen, they’re done.  The only person who really does care about your career is you because you live it and sacrifice for it every day.  If you remember this fact you won’t be surprised when those people who you think have your best interests in mind—really do not.  If you write something that someone believes they can sell, they will become interested.  If you write something that has a lot of interest before you find representation—they will flock to it like a moth to a flame.

Sure, it’s great to have a rep, but you need someone who is not just along for the ride and has you doing most of the work.  You are responsible for creating new and solid material and you should never stray from that discipline even if you don’t secure representation. My old writing partner and I used to say, “Just because there is a signature on a contract doesn’t mean someone will work that much harder.”  It means if things are not working out, you both have about six months to legally end the relationship.  Remember, you can never get back wasted time because you thought your rep was pushing you as a writer and your projects, but in reality you stalled and missed so many important opportunities as a result.

Keep screenwriting and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just complete your latest magnum opus? Time for in-depth professional script consultation/editing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your script. Make the time to get it right before you unleash it upon Hollywood.

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“Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu

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

“The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them.  His aim is to take what the day gives him.  He is prepared to be prudent and prepared to be reckless, to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can.  He understands the field alters every day.  His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily as he can.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“The reason actors, artists, writers have agents is because we’ll do it for nothing. That’s a basic fact – you gotta do it.” —Morgan Freeman

“Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends.” —William Shakespeare

Remember Stephen King’s First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: “You don’t need one until you’re making enough for someone to steal… and if you’re making that much, you’ll be able to take your pick of good agents.” ― Stephen King

procrastination

How many feature scripts will you write without success until you consider a new direction?

February 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

pile-of-scripts-copy“Specs! We must write and sell feature specs! All specs, all the time! It’s the ONLY way! We’re going to sell feature spec screenplays for huge paydays—like we read about in Variety!” This is what my fellow film school friends and I believed back in the day as we started pursing our dreams. Yes, feature specs are a necessary component to your learning and training as a screenwriter, but you have to put the process in perspective.

So, you want to be a feature screenwriter? How many spec screenplays have you written that are solid samples and can compete in a very crowded marketplace? It will take time to create a solid body of material that properly represents you as a professional. Maybe a few of your specs placed in competitions? Obviously, it’s better to win, but if you placed in the semi-finals or closer it’s worth a mention. Okay, but are you also pursuing agents and managers? Sending out query letters?  Are you networking with assistants and other lower level players who will be your entry into the system? What if you don’t live in Hollywood? It makes it more difficult to have your ear to the ground and meet those people necessary to help with your screenwriting journey.

charlie_chaplin02Did you write a handful of specs… and rewrite them… and rewrite them with various notes from friends, contests, or professional feedback? Are your specs scattered in different genres? Are you building a reputation in a particular genre, or are you spending your time trying to be prolific in multiple genres? Comedy is difficult and some screenwriters are not good at comedy. That’s okay if you figure that out early. It’s not okay if you’re not good at comedy and waste your time writing six specs that end up going nowhere. Other writers are great with action while some might be horrible at horror. You have to find a genre that drives your passion, otherwise you’re scattering yourself thin and you’ll find that it’s hard to be prolific in all genres. And most likely the first spec you sell will dictate the genre you’ll be writing from then on.

Screenplay contests are a great way to judge your writing against hundreds or potentially thousands of other writers—but it’s still a protected bubble. It’s not the “real” world of Hollywood where estimates say around 50,000 projects bounce around yearly. Unless your script wins or places in the top percentage of screenplay contest entries, it doesn’t really mean anything. Sure, it can help you judge your writing if that’s what you need, but is it worth the continual expense year after year? Last year maybe you placed in the top 1,000 and this year you placed in the top 750? What does that actually mean? You’re marching closer to success? If you just write your script better this next pass, you just might place in the top 500 next year? It’s madness and chasing an elusive dragon.

A good friend of mine landed in 3rd place in one of the biggest screenplay contests around, but it did nothing for his career. He didn’t get any press from the contest and never even took a meeting as a result. Even “winning” a contest doesn’t guarantee instant success. Sure, you might receive money and some meetings, but you still have to convince someone to buy your screenplay or hire you to write one. The work never ends with “winning.” It just begins.

smash head in wallRita Mae Brown in her book Sudden Death said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” It’s the same as going to the hardware store every day for bread. You hope that someday, they will stock bread and the accusations of your insanity will be proven wrong. Similarly, writing script after script and hoping to sell one could be called insanity. Sure, it’s what screenwriters need to do, but how long are you willing to write feature screenplays without any real evidence of forward movement? Five scripts without a sale or being hired for an assignment? Ten specs? Fifteen? As many as it takes?

A few honest questions:

  1. Are you only writing huge budgeted specs and chasing Hollywood’s ten-pole dreams?
  2. Are you hitting a higher wall every time out?
  3. Are you writing simpler, more indie ideas that are lower budgeted and could actually get made?
  4. Do you have a limit on the number of feature specs you don’t sell when you’ll change direction and write something else—or are you going to continue on the same routine, year after year, without a change or adaptation?
  5. Faith and optimism are necessary, but can you be realistic about the film business, the odds, and if your pursuit of a career is really gaining momentum or not?
  6. Are you willing to consider writing TV pilots, hour and half hour, or a web series on spec in addition?

Time passes fast as you pursue a career and life can get in the way. Writing other mediums could create more opportunities for work. I’ve been blessed that most of my writing work comes from feature-length assignments, so my sole focus was on feature screenplays until about five years ago when I started to craft spec original TV pilots with show bibles. I started to get the hang of the writing for half hour and hour episodic TV and even dabbled writing the first season of an original web series with nine episodes. Later, I turned that web series into an hour pilot. I started to take TV pilot pitch meetings too that opened up  new opportunities. One of my spec comedy TV pilots actually landed me a paid writing assignment with a producer who hired me to write a half hour comedy pilot and the show bible. She asked for a writing sample that was similar in humor to what she wanted, so I gave her my original spec comedy half hour pilot. She loved the writing and my sample got me the job.

It all comes down to cost of time vs. benefit. If you find that feature screenplay writing is taking up all of your time with little to show as a result, maybe writing in another medium could be the answer. You never know when your different works will open new doors that lead to paid work.

Either way, keep writing and getting better. What’s the alternative to not writing? You’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success. At least with a solid body of material you practice your craft and create opportunities—the rest is timing and the right project getting to the right producer.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Look for my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” coming in March to Amazon.com

Screenplay contest deadlines are fast approaching. Did you just complete your latest screenplay or a new draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my professional services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website to schedule a consultation. 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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“Take a person like Picasso, you know, who does double profiles and has gone through cubism and God knows what, but he knows every muscle in the human body. If you ask him to draw the figure of a man or a woman, there wouldn’t be a muscle out of place. You’ve got to know your craft in order to express the art.”—Alfred Hitchcock

“What’s unique about screenwriting is that it’s an act of prophecy. The screenwriter is a bit of the Gypsy with a crystal ball. You say, I’m writing this on a page and it’s going to be blown up on a screen so damned big that you believe it, with actors I don’t know if anybody’s going to get, in settings I don’t know where and how they can be done; and it’s going to turn out this way…” You’re guessing. There’s a big of Gypsy in you. An act of prophecy.”—Robert Towne

“Masters and those who display a high level of creative energy are simply people who manage to retain a sizable portion of their childhood spirit despite the pressures and demands of adulthood.”—Robert Greene, “Mastery”

“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen”—Joseph Campbell

“Screenwriting is such a very special branch of literature. In some ways, it’s closer to the poetic form than it is to the dramatic. A lot of writers think that they write down to an audience if they do a motion-picture script.”—John Huston

MORE QUOTES FOR TODAY

Does your idea fit into Hollywood’s business model?

February 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

scan4If you’ve ever pitched your ideas to producers and executives, you quickly learn there is a huge difference between art and commerce. It’s a given your ideas must be creative and artistic, but do they fit into the business model of the producer or executive you are pitching? As they listen to your ideas, they will be primarily be thinking if they can take your idea to their bosses, and does their parent studio or network make your kind of movie or series? You need to know this going into the meeting so you don’t waste their time with ideas that are completely off the mark. The same goes for your spec screenplays. It’s a hell of a lot easier to pitch an idea and have it rejected, than working on a script for six months that ends up rejected because of the story. You can easily tweak a pitch, but a screenplay will need to be rewritten. Time passes quickly as you pursue a career. You must learn how to use time efficiently for the biggest result. Don’t toil away on a screenplay that is taking you nowhere. What’s the point?  Move on to another. If you’re writing screenplays that are not selling or opening the necessary doors, maybe it’s time to reconsider what you’re writing. It’s as important as “how” you write it.

rewritesWhen you start screenwriting on assignment, you will be very aware of the difference between “art” and Hollywood. Yes, there is room for artistic merit, but the screenplay has to match the notes from a variety of people above your pay grade. Everyone from the producers, executives, a director, and the buyers. Sure, you probably would have written the screenplay differently as your spec, but you don’t have that luxury now—you are under a contract and a mandate to follow a story treatment that either you created or it was given to you. This is a “work for hire” job and most screenwriters who actually do work for a living do so with screenplay assignment jobs. If that’s a harsh reality for you, remember that you can protect your lofty ideals by staying at your day job and watching other screenwriters live out their dreams.

You also need to know the type of movies or series that were recently picked up or are in development. If you are pitching a movie, make sure it’s not something that is in development or in production especially with a big name talent attached. Your idea will also have a much tougher time to make it through and you’ll waste precious time. Years ago, my then writing partner and I wrote a movie on spec based on a true story. Our manager sent it out only to learn that an “A-list” actor had a similar project set up at a major production company. Apparently, he had always wanted to play this real character and was taking the steps to do just that. Do you think our script moved forward? A script from two unknown writers? No, but the production company actually requested to read our script, probably to see their competition . It didn’t help for our sale and our script quickly became a writing sample.  You can’t win every time out, but you try with solid material.

You also don’t want to pitch ideas that are similar to movies or TV series that did not do well. Imagine you pitch your idea to a company that just had a movie bomb or a series get cancelled and your idea is very close to their last nightmare. I doubt you’ll get another shot with that company as there are plenty of other writers who did their homework and will pitch ideas they need. This is why knowledge is precious currency in Hollywood.

I pitched a producer who has direct openings at two networks. She loved my idea and wants to take me to the networks to pitch, but enlightened me about what each network would look for in my story and where I need to focus on those elements in my pitch. This is invaluable information. An example is that one network is looking for stories to have a “feature movie” feel and a bigger scope but done on a budget. My story needs to have that feel otherwise no matter how good my idea, it won’t be a good fit into their business model and most likely they will pass. You have one shot up to the plate and you’d better do your homework on your potential buyers before you enter the game.

I immediately fixed my pitch to highlight each network’s interest in my particular type of story and will highlight those elements when I go into the meetings. It’s the same story, but now with a bit of tinkering, it fits each network’s mold.   The producer also informed me what parts of my story might be a turn off, so I took out those elements and will be pitching a story that will attract and not detract. There are subtle differences to every producer’s needs and it’s an ebb and flow based on if their last movie or series was a success or failure.

Hollywood producers can be extremely picky about what they buy to develop. Production companies and networks have a very narrow scope of the material they would produce and you must bring them ideas, stories and scripts that fit their business model. Always have your ear to the ground, read the trades, read online entertainment sites, and talk to your contacts because information is king. It can mean the difference between scoring a job or losing out.

pile-of-scripts-copyAs a working writer you constantly need to come up with new ideas and write more scripts even if nothing gets produced. The goal is to keep getting better as a screenwriter. If you’re frustrated that your genius idea is being changed after you sell it… welcome to the film business. You can fight if you want… or you can make the best of the situation and establish a reputation as a team player and collaborator. Your calling cards are your screenplays that can get you in front of the producers and executives to show them you’re the writer they need for that open assignment. The more you write and receive feedback the better you become as a screenwriter. Equally as important, the more you are out pitching and making the necessary contacts, it’s then only a matter of time when you will snag a writing job and start your career as a working screenwriter.

“A.B.W.” – Always be writing! And rewriting!

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

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“International box office now accounts for nearly 80% of a theatrical release’s total take. If you want to play with the big boys and girls in the studios, you’ll have to write scripts that play to a global audience.”—Scriptcat

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

“The motion picture made in Hollywood, if it is to create art at all, must do so within such strangling limitations of subject and treatment that it is a blind wonder it ever achieves any distinction beyond the purely mechanical slickness of a glass and chromium bathroom.” —Raymond Chandler

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

“… I am interested only in the fact that as a result of it there is no such thing as an art of the screenplay, and there never will be as long as the system lasts, for it is the essence of this system that it seeks to exploit a talent without permitting it the right to be a talent. It cannot be done; you can only destroy the talent, which is exactly what happens – when there is any to destroy.” — Raymond Chandler

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Are your feature specs hitting a wall? Change up your writing to expand your chances of success…

February 12, 2017 § Leave a comment

smash head in wallOnly focusing on one writing medium can be extremely limiting to a screenwriter. It can eventually feel like you’re banging your head against a wall. You write a spec, rewrite it, and hope it’s the “one.” You send it out and it receives some positive feedback, but no sale or assignment job. You write another feature spec and go through the same process again hoping this time it’s what the studios are looking to produce. That spec doesn’t sell or gain momentum, so you start on yet another spec, and chase the same dragon again and again. Yes, specs do sell. I’m proof. I sold a spec and it opened the door to fifteen assignment jobs since. It was spec number five of my journey. Now I’ve completed my 31st script with half of those being paid assignments and half of those being produced.

The odds are astronomical to sell any feature spec especially from an unknown screenwriter with no credits. The Scoggins Spec Market Scorecard for 2016 estimated around 70 specs selling and it was an eight year low for sales. It’s also estimated that 50,000 projects bounce around Hollywood every year. It’s like stepping up to the plate and hoping for a grand slam home run every time out. Difficult at best and impossible most of the time. And the odds become worse to secure any work if a screenwriter cuts out the entire business of television or the web. I don’t mean to discourage you with these odds, but it’s to put a perspective on what you’re actually up against as you pursue a career.

Back in the day when I started pursuing my career, those working in features looked down on television as lowbrow and all of us eager film school grads focused on selling our million-dollar spec like we read about in Variety every week. I went to UCLA Film School and our alum writer/director Shane Black (Ironman 3) had sold a little script he wrote called Lethal Weapon for huge money and then he went on to a $4 million sale with The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Looking back, I should have gotten into television, as I had close friends who were running shows, but alas I focused on features and time marched on.The story of my own personal screenwriting journey? I started screenwriting back in the days when the lines were clearly defined for the mediums—either you wrote features or you wrote television. The feature agents during that period would always say, “I don’t know many people in television.” It was also a time when the networks and studios didn’t blur the lines either between the mediums or talent. A feature film actor would not be caught dead on a TV series as it would be looked as a demotion. If you wrote for both mediums, a rep would make you choose which one you wanted to pursue—but never both at the same time.

pile-of-scripts-copyAfter I graduated film school, I solely focused on writing feature screenplays on spec and my agent (s) at the time only went out to those producers and companies in the feature film world. That was fantastic, but only if you eventually did sell your specs. Otherwise it was like banging your head against a wall each time—taking a few steps forward and then falling on your face, only to go back and do it again and again only to experience the same results. I believe they call that “insanity.”

Thankfully, the business has changed and now writers are free to work in television, features, video games, and the web without being pigeonholed into just one medium. Many agree that television is going through a new golden age where the most interesting ideas and series are causing the big talent in the feature world to take notice and many enjoy doing both features and television.

Many of the biggest Hollywood directors like JJ Abrams, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Josh Whedon are now working in television and producing shows. And many of them actually go their start in television, transitioned into features and now are back working in TV. It’s no longer considered a demotion. This is why as a screenwriter trying to break into Hollywood you need to diversify your talents. Don’t just focus on writing features alone. So why keep banging your head against the wall in only one medium where your projects are not selling—for a myriad of reasons beyond your control?

scripts 2You must diversify as a screenwriter if you want to stay in the game over the long haul. Write a web series, write a half hour and hour pilot for television, or write short comedy sketches. I’ve been blessed during my career to get paid to write for all mediums: Indie feature films, TV movies, a web series, a game show, sketch comedy for a live show, and both a half hour and hour pilots for television. Many years ago, I made a decision to write projects in these different mediums and create solid specs that eventually would get me hired for coveted assignment jobs. This has allowed me to work on a regular basis because I have my material out into these worlds—not limiting myself to only the world of feature scripts where the business has changed dramatically. It’s more difficult than ever to sell an original spec given there are fewer films being made and Hollywood’s obsession is producing big-budget tent-poles that are remakes or properties they already own. It’s a huge gamble for a studio to buy a spec from an unproven writer and the idea does not have built-in global audience recognition.

So if you’ve stalled and crapped out with your feature specs, trying to get agents, managers, executives, and producers interested and finding yourself with the same results every time out, maybe you should consider changing your writing medium? It’s important to have writing experience in different mediums because if you happen to go up for a job, you’ll need the experience and a solid sample to represent you. It also opens up more possible places to work. Don’t cut yourself out of the television world or the web.

I had never written a web series before until I met a director and producer who had a fantastic idea and we formed a company to create this new project. I wrote nine episodes of the first season and the project is out to investors. It was an invaluable experience for me as a screenwriter to now have this experience and it’s a solid project that opens up even more opportunities for writing. I also just finished writing a TV sitcom pilot on assignment for a producer and luckily I had done my spec work over the years and had solid samples in that medium to represent me. My samples got me the gig because of the similar humor and tone the producer wanted and my specs showed that I could deliver.

BoulderFlatAs you probably have experienced, it’s a long slog journey to reach any level of success in this business as a screenwriter. Don’t limit your writing to only one medium because you hamper your chances to secure any writing job in this very competitive marketplace. Yes, you can excel in different mediums because you are a writer and that’s what writers do—write. Of course it will take time to prepare solid samples in the different mediums, but it will be worth the effort when you secure a job in one that leads to another. Eventually it becomes necessary to become a multi-hyphenate so you can have more creative control over your material and not just be a “hired gun” every time out. But baby steps at first—study your craft, become a solid writer, and keep writing solid material in different mediums to expand your chances for any success.

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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

“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”

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”—Aristotle

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

“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.”— Stephen King

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