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

May 26, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“I FINISHED MY SCREENPLAY!”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Keep the faith and always keep filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

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

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

 

 

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

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Hollywood works on its own schedule and never yours. Practice patience to survive over the long haul…

March 9, 2020 § 2 Comments

smash head in wallOne axiom you will quickly learn is that Hollywood works on its own time — never on your schedule. Even if you are doing the necessary work, it can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall that you can’t break through. We all want the process to happen faster, but it becomes a slow burn where nothing ever happens in the time frame you hoped for or imagined.

Time can also burn so quickly as you pursue your screenwriting career. You’re working on screenplays, living life, and suddenly five years pass. After you finish a screenplay and await feedback, if you watch the clock, it can leave you hanging. Your script is the most important thing in the world to you—but you quickly discover it’s not to everyone else. You are now one of 50,000 bouncing around Hollywood looking for a home. This is when a time warp happens and you realize you’re now on Hollywood’s schedule. It’s a strange world of fear, unknowns, half-truths, liars, thieves, promises, good intentions, and sometimes a very long wait for any feedback or success.

megaphoneAs a screenwriter, you spend so much time and energy finishing a script, once you finish how can you temper your excitement? This is what screenwriters live for—the excitement of completing a new project and moving forward with establishing their careers. It’s playing the screenwriting game, living as a wide-eyed dreamer with hope for another chance up to the plate with every new screenplay. It’s empowering to work on your own schedule and steer your own ship seemingly in control of your destiny.

Remember, so much is out of your control as a screenwriter. You control the creation of your screenplay, but not much after you unleash it upon Hollywood. The journey after may become long and bumpy. Sometimes it may take years for a project to see any type of real progress. It was seven long years from the time I typed “THE END” of my fifth spec to the day the cameras rolled. You never know what adventure lies ahead for each project you complete.

As a screenwriter with dreams of working in Hollywood, you must realize every aspect of your progress will take time. First, you must master the craft and that takes time. You have to write bad first screenplays so you can get to the good ones. You have to learn the important virtue of patience, or you will live with constant anxiety and pressure for your script to move you farther down the field—or God forbid to dig you out of a financial hole. Did you ever think, “I have to sell this script to pay the rent!”  Either way, you are in for a life-long adventure.

Even if you do land a screenplay assignment, the business side of contracts and negotiations takes time.  My last contract for a script assignment went back and forth between my lawyer and the production company’s lawyer for a month. As negotiations continue on every deal point, the back and forth seemingly takes forever—and this is before you can start any work on the script. Unfortunately a holiday comes up, so it means another four or five days until a reply. It seems like torture, leaving you feeling as if you’re in the starting blocks waiting for the starter gun to go off—but it never does until you and the producer sign the contract’s final draft.  Learn and practice patience.  It’s going to help your survival over the long haul screenwriting journey.

You may also hit an inevitable slow patch on your journey as a working screenwriter, but if you keep writing you will never lose sight of your dreams. Your writing is the only thing you can control and the more you write, the better you will become. This will prepare you for when another good opportunity does come. Think of building your career over the long haul and not just looking to hook one big script sale. If you believe your first spec is going to sell and make you a million dollars, see how you feel after you write ten screenplays with no sales.

Nobdy cares about your scriptLike any difficult journey, you’ll constantly be tested to see how badly you want a career in screenwriting and how much you are willing to sacrifice to keep doing what you love to do. Sure, you’ll have failures, rejection, projects that die and never get made, and maybe other scripts languishing in development, but if the road gets bumpy, always keep the faith and your focus on the end goal—a career as a working screenwriter.

Always stay hungry, never get lazy, and keep true to your self-discipline. Don’t allow any day job or any person to derail your plans. Protect your dreams from all comers. We all need to put food in the fridge and pay our bills, but be aware of the pitfalls of a 9-5 job and how you may allow it to affect your writing.  If you have the drive and determination to go after your dreams, no day job or person will keep you away from your keyboard.  Only you can stop you from writing.

It’s a simple… writers write. Keep focused on the bigger picture. Time burns quickly in Hollywood and every move seems to take forever. Their schedule is not yours, so temper your excitement and don’t allow disappointments to crush you. Time is precious, and we don’t get it back so use your writing time wisely—protect it and don’t get too upset when a simple read of your screenplay can take months. If this happens,  focus on your next project—so you’ll always have fresh projects in the works. When you finish a script, work on a new pitch, or a treatment, and get to work on various TV and feature ideas. Keep as many projects juggling as you can because the reality is a screenwriting career does not happen overnight. If you respect this fact, you’ll have a better experience and keep your sanity over the long haul.

Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Stay humble. Learn. Keep writing!

Scriptcat out!

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

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Congrats! Time for in-depth analysis/consultation/editing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second change to make a first great impression. Make the time to get it right.

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

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“Writers, like most human beings, are adaptable creatures. They can learn to accept subordination without growing fond of it. No writer can forever stand in the wings and watch other people take the curtain calls while his own contributions get lost in the shuffle.”—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

“The problem is that being creative has glamour. People in the business end of film always say, “I want to be a producer, but a creative producer.” Or a woman I went to school with who said, “Oh, yes, I married this guy. He’s a plumber but he’s very creative.”—Woody Allen

“Directors have always been accused of rewriting unnecessarily—particularly by writers. Actually, most of the time it is deletion because a scene won’t work. You loved it in the original script, okayed it during pre-production, but when you get to the top of the second page of the scene you suddenly discover there is a resolution. It wasn’t evident until you took it in front of the camera. Oops, that’s the scene! There is no point in mucking up what is already good.”—Jerry Lewis

“Every time I go to a movie, it’s magic, no matter what the movie’s about”—Steven Spielberg

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

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The screenplay you’re writing now may not be the one, but one of many you’ll need to write…

January 29, 2020 § 1 Comment

PILE OF SCRIPTSIf you’re in this business for any length or time, you’ll realize it’s a numbers game at best to sell a screenplay. Consider the odds of selling a spec screenplay being the same as winning the lottery if you believe the numbers—nearly 50,000 projects bounce around Hollywood each year with less than 100 specs selling at the studio level in most years. The exact numbers are hard to find, but it looks like about 40 specs sold in 2018. Don’t forget about the thousands of films made without distribution that end up competing at film festivals every year with only a handful landing deals. Ah, don’t forget about the hundreds of pitches that don’t sell and the fact that the WGA 2019 employment report listed only 6,057 professional writers reporting income in fiscal year 2019 (Ends June 2019).

Yes, I also hate learning 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. And talk is cheap in Hollywood, so add that to the journey of your projects when producers or executives head their praise on your talents and your screenplay, but string you along with offers of free work as they dangle the carrot of production. 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 hurdles that are out of your control.

  • An option for little money doesn’t end up with the purchase of the script.
  • A script is purchased, the writer is 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. It’s dead after that.
  • 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.

script oddsEach 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 just completed my 39th overall screenplay 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 unleashing solid projects into the pipeline so you can attack a career on different fronts. 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 © 2020 Mark Sanderson. All rights reserved. My Blank Page blog.

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

Make the time to get it right.

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28 FIVE STAR reviews. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon and more information.

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

 

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“In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me.”—Kurt Vonnegut

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

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

“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

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

“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

Never disrespect the value of your first draft…

January 1, 2020 § 2 Comments

fade in

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

screenplay feedback equal disappointmentDo not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit. It’s just the opposite—your first draft is extremely important because the DNA of your story and characters lives in this precious first pass. I love this quote from six time Academy Award nominee screenwriter Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?):

“Good screenwriting is about carpentry. It’s a juggling of beginnings, middles and endings so they all inevitably seem to be moving correctly together. Your first draft is dangerously important. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, ‘It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.’  Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve gone in another direction.”—Ernest Lehman.

It’s true. I know from experience that it’s difficult to totally rewrite a first draft from page one into something new. Sadly, too many times it ends up becoming a jumbled mess as the foundation of the story is being altered after it’s been built. My advice is to make your first draft your best possible work at the time you write it. Act as if you’ll never get another chance to touch the screenplay. That’s not to put extra pressure on you, but to train yourself now to turn out a superb first draft—not something you just vomit out. This will prepare you for the day when you’re hired professionally on assignment and have to deliver the goods with every draft. This pays off in many ways, most importantly when you’re working for a producer, and your solid first draft secures your job and makes for a smooth development process—not development hell.  A solid draft also moves the project forward by attracting the interest of investors, a director, and actors.

praise or blameMake sure your screenplay suffers the fewest amount of changes during the development process. Trust me, you don’t want your script to get bogged down in endless rewrites that could change your script into something completely different.  It’s hard to climb out of that pit and too many times projects die a tragic death from too many drafts over a long period.

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

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2020 by Mark Sanderson. All Rights Reserved. My Blank Page blog at http://www.scriptcat.wordress.com

And speaking of first drafts… before you go… if you just completed a new screenplay and need in-depth consultation, check out my screenplay consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. T

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

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Greg Grunberg, actor and writer/producer
(actor Alias, Heroes, Big Ass Spider, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

“Mark’s book starts off as an adventurous tale of a boy’s passion and love for the world of storytelling and this world effortlessly morphs into his accomplished career as a screenwriter. He shows how passion, perseverance, and hard work not only make an amazing screenwriter, but it also strengthens one’s character. Mark cleverly creates a great story out of his journey through the world of telling stories.”

Rawle D. Lewis, writer/actor/stand-up comic (actor Cool Runnings, Spy Hard, K-Pax, The Hybrids Family)

 

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

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

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The two requirements needed to prove if they are really interested in your screenplay…

December 18, 2019 § 1 Comment

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It’s a new decade, I think about the real world survival tools for all screenwriters and “protection” immediately comes to mind. I’ve experienced this early when I was taking my lumps in Hollywood’s trenches, allowing myself to be taken advantage of because a producer or company showed “interest” in my project. You have to be careful not to allow yourself to end up in a situation doing free work on the promises of production or good intentions. It will lead you down a long road to nowhere and it usually ends up with you having wasted your precious time.

If a producer, executive, or production company shows real interest in your project, they will act accordingly like professionals and offer you either an option agreement or a contract to purchase your screenplay. Remember this mantra, “No free work for producers. Make them put some skin in the game by paying you something for your material.” If you don’t draw a line, you’ll find yourself working without payment and hoping your project someday gets made so you can get paid.

If you decide to accept their requests of making changes to your screenplay for the chance they “might” move forward, you have to weigh the risks and benefits from your decision. Each situation is different, but make sure you protect yourself from being taken advantage of by someone who baits you into endless rewrites by showing “interest.” You will discover talk and “interest come free and cheap in Hollywood.

scan4What I do see as acceptable spec work (besides you writing your own specs) is collaboration with a producer on a concept where you create a “one sheet” synopsis — exactly as it sounds, a one sheet of paper that pitches your idea for a proposed screenplay. It’s a pitch document and doesn’t take anywhere near the time it would take to actually write the screenplay. I’ve done this and I’m doing this now with producers and as they go out and pitch the concept to networks and studios. If they receive real interest and we move forward—then I’m the one who landed the assignment because it’s my idea. I couldn’t pitch at the levels my producers have access to, so it’s a terrific benefit to me and worth the risk of my time to spec. This spec work is what you do as you are pitching ideas with the hopes of selling them, but it’s much different than a producer asking you to write or re-write a screenplay and only getting paid when it’s made. That is a huge risk on your part and will tie up the material with only one producer. It may also leave you feeling like crap when it doesn’t reach production stage and they discard the project completely.

reading guyAfter signing twenty-six contracts, I have learned a screenwriter needs a good entertainment lawyer with all professional business interactions in Hollywood. This when you must have someone in your corner to fight for the best deal. Producers will respect you more and see you as a professional if you have a lawyer taking care of the negotiations instead of you. Any professional screenwriter who cares about being protected has a lawyer. Every deal is negotiable, and that’s where both sides give and take. You hear about the writer getting screwed? It only happens if you allow it.

You as the writer should always be the “good cop.” Every producer wants to know that his or her writer is a team player. So allow your lawyer to play “bad cop” and negotiate for your benefit every step of the way looking out for your best interests. In addition, your lawyer knows about the mysterious and unintelligible clauses in a contract that could end up hurting you down the line. Contracts are filled with requirements about what needs to happen on both sides, but also provisions if things go badly too.

Your lawyer can offer new deal points not originally offered in the original contract and these new changes can protect your overall deal. Maybe you never imagined the other side would agree to your terms? You’ll never know unless your lawyer asks and then it becomes how badly you want to push — and what you believe is deal breaker for you.

I signed with an entertainment law firm about ten years ago, so everything I do in my screenwriting career goes through my lawyer. Some entertainment lawyers charge by the hour and others charge a flat 5% of your income from your screenplay sale or writing assignment job. It’s worth the money, even at an hourly rate, to have someone looking out for your best interests. One missing clause in a contract or particular legal language might cost you a tremendous loss of money during the life of the project—or an added clause may hold you responsible for work you never expected to do. My lawyer recently negotiated provisions for me not offered in the original contract that would protect me if the film went on to do huge business at the box office. That’s worth any price to be legally protected.

new opportunityDuring this New Year, I hope you find tremendous opportunities with your screenplays, but also find stand up to being asked to do free spec work from producers. If that happens, hold strong to your convictions and trust that saying “no” is a powerful tool to show them you are a professional who won’t be taken advantage of to do free work. If they want to move forward with a contract, you will need to find a good entertainment lawyer. You will thank yourself for allowing someone else to negotiate the deal because you may wake up one day and find that little film you wrote for peanuts just became a certified blockbuster.  And—if you’re paying someone to protect you, that means you’re making money as a paid professional screenwriter! Isn’t that your dream anyway?

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright ©2019 by Mark Sanderson on My Blank Page blog.

Did you just finish a new screenplay or 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. You never get a second change at making a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right before you unleash it upon Hollywood.

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Check out my book now available on Amazon with 28 FIVE STAR REVIEWS. Click on the book photo for the link to Amazon.

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

 

Let every eye negotiate for itself
And trust no agent; for beauty is a witch
Against whose charms faith melteth in blood.”—Shakespeare

“Hollywood is a showman’s paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made. The publisher and the play producer are showmen too; but they exploit what is already made. The showmen of Hollywood control the making — and thereby degrade it. For the basic art of motion pictures is the screenplay; it is fundamental, without it there is nothing. Everything derives from the screenplay, and most of that which derives is an applied skill which, however adept, is artistically not in the same class with the creation of a screenplay.” — Raymond Chandler

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

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Happy ninth anniversary to my blog!

December 6, 2019 § Leave a comment

blog 9 yearsI can’t believe it’s December again and my nine-year anniversary for my blog. Time sure flies as we’re busy filling our blank pages, right? Yes, it’s my 9th 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 250 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.

As a bonus extra, I’m going to give you my list of TOP 10 DISCIPLINES TO BUILD A PROFESSIONAL REPUTATION.

It’s a given that you must have talent as a screenwriter, but if you also have a bad reputation it will harm your ability to land a job. Your reputation as a professional screenwriter will always precede you and can only be built over time as you work on various projects with producers or executives.

You must understand that everyone’s opinion about working with you matters. If you garner a reputation as being “difficult,” producers and others will choose not work with you again. Hollywood is all about working relationships and time is too precious and a lot of money is at stake on a project to deal with hassles. There are just too many other capable writers out there who are not divas and can get the job done. This is one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned on my nearly twenty year professional journey as a screenwriter—a solid reputation is vital to establishing a professional career.

Hollywood is a business of relationships and networking. People generally like to work with those people they’ve had a positive experience with in the past and who they can trust to deliver the work.  So, how do you build a solid reputation as a screenwriter?

My TOP 10 Disciplines to Build a Professional Reputation:

  1. Always deliver your best work, every time, regardless of your salary.
  2. Do you best not to be late for meetings.
  3. Always meet your contracted screenplay deadlines.
  4. Never get testy or upset about script notes or show anger about the changes.
  5. Be the ultimate team player and collaborator.
  6. Go the extra mile on every screenplay and clearly show the producers how invaluable you are to the project.
  7. If you don’t already have the natural ability—pay close attention to all details. Nobody will know the screenplay better than you will as the writer.
  8. Help the producers craft a script they can actually produce and do everything in your power to help push it through the development process.
  9. Don’t be a pain in the ass or a precious screenwriter.
  10. Be generous with your collaborators and make working with you a positive and fun experience.

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Initially, you may not receive the praise you feel that you deserve for all of your hard work.  If this happens, practice patience, as it will eventually pay off for you over the long haul. Your praise will come in the form of a payment for your writing, a produced film, and a vital part of your screenwriting career—a credit. This will lead to more jobs as you now have experience and someone who took a chance on hiring you.

You’ll always find opportunities to build your integrity as a professional screenwriter.  Every new project is a chance to build new relationships and show the producers and executives they can trust you by being a person of your word.  If you promise to do something—do it.  It’s that easy.  Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you and that your word means something.  It’s part of being a professional in all aspects of your career.

During pre-production of one of my films, I remember the director was on the location scouting and we’d keep in touch every day.  When he needed changes to the script, he’d call or E-mail me, and I would have the revisions back to him the next morning.  He knew he could trust me to deliver the changes that he needed to produce the film. Directors and producers remember these positive working relationships and it’s all part of the process to build your professional reputation. It was very gratifying for me recently hearing this director say that he ran into another director whom I worked with and they both told each other what a pleasure it was to work with me. I’ve worked hard to build my reputation over the years and it continually pays off.

handshake cartoonA bad first impression is hard to erase, so never turn in your script late and never be late for a meeting, especially if it’s your first meeting. Make sure you are always ten to fifteen minutes early and ready to go. Somehow it’s become industry standard protocol that producers or executives will always make you wait. It’s like the doctor’s office, where your appointment is for 11:00 and you’re called into the office at 11:30. As frustrating as it is, it’s their prerogative and not yours. Be known as the writer who shows up early and is always ready to go. If you’re habitually late, you’ll lose their trust and they will think, “if this writer can’t even show up on time, why would he turn in his script on schedule?” It’s a reasonable assumption.

I was recently at a very important pitch meeting at a very high-profile Hollywood production company where the executives ran thirty minutes late. The assistant came down twice from upstairs to apologize—and I was very understanding of course. There was nothing I could do but tough it out. This meeting took a month to schedule and I wasn’t about to re-schedule, as I was ready to pitch today. When they finally called me into the meeting, the executives were so apologetic and went the extra mile to accommodate me.  It adds a different dynamic to the meeting when they feel badly about making you wait.  It’s their prerogative being late, not yours.

What you can control is your own conduct as you follow the code of a professional screenwriter. Your integrity is like a muscle and you need to work on it daily. Eventually your professionalism will come naturally (if it doesn’t already) and building your reputation with integrity will become effortless. Always remember, your reputation is as important as your talent and work ethic. It’s a vital ingredient for any level of success in your overall screenwriting career, so build a reputation that will make producers want to work with you again and again.

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 the new decade and 2020!

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Need in-depth consultation on your screenplay or TV pilot? Consider my consultation services. Click the icon below for the link to my website and schedule your consultation today.

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Check out my book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success, now available on Amazon with 28 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!

 

 

 

And for the screenwriter in your life — consider my screenwriting merch at my online store. Discover my COFFEE RING CARTOONS merch hand drawn by me! Click on the photo below for the link to my store. Order early to make sure to receive it for Christmas.

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

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

“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

Scriptcat’s end of the year checklist for screenwriters…

December 3, 2019 § Leave a comment

new opportunityWho can believe the year is almost over? It will be 2020 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 6,057 WGA members reported any income last year and of those, 4,830 were in Television (annual report ending in June 2019) out of nearly 13,000 members. Check out the 2019 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 with three paid assignments and two of the films go into production in the next few months. Screenwriters are also discovering and enjoying my book, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” with 23 FIVE STAR REVIEWS on Amazon. I also offered my master class seminar “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood,” and continued to expand my screenwriting consulting business. In fact, I’m offering a holiday special with $35 off any feature screenplay or TV pilot consultation package until Dec. 31st. Now is a perfect time to get your project ready for 2020.

 

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 2020.  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 2019. 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 © 2020 by Mark Sanderson. All Rights Reserved. My Blank Page blog.

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 photo below for the link to my website and more information.

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Check out my new interview on actor/producer John Lehr’s podcast where we talk about the journey of screenwriting in Hollywood. Click on photo below for Sound Cloud link.

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Need  gifts for the screenwriter in your life? Check out my COFFEE RING CARTOONS merch at my online store by clicking on the photo below.

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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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