Scriptcat’s survival tips for your screenwriting journey…

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, first of all—THANK YOU!  I truly hope you’re busy creating and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey and you’ve been able to take away a few nuggets of advice that helped. As you may know, I’ve been adding short posts (nothing is EVER short on this blog!) and sharing various survival tips. I do speak about these in the various articles on this blog, but this new feature will be a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate your screenwriting journey. So, in addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), I’ll be posting new tips here from time to time. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting!

Okay, three more survival tips that will help you on your screenwriting adventure…

TIP #1

Do yourself a favor early on your screenwriting journey: Always work from a solid step outline or story treatment before you start pages. Trust me, you will be training yourself for the future. Treatments, beat sheets and step outlines are an important process that prepare you to write the script.  If you’re getting paid as a professional writer for a script assignment, it’s standard practice the producer or executive will require you in the contract to create one of these structured documents before they’ll allow you to start the script.  Only a fool leaves on a journey without the proper road map, supplies and a clear vision of the destination. The same goes for your screenplay. I’ve read so many scripts that run of steam in that barren wasteland of ACT TWO and the writer has no clue how to get the characters across those fifty or so pages. Writing an extensive treatment is similar to doing a pre-draft of your script.  It gives you the chance to explore your story and get to know your characters before you set out on a journey of a hundred pages with them.  If you embrace the treatment process and craft a solid framework for your story, it will help serve as your road map to a successful first draft.

TIP #2

Be willing to make the time necessary to create a viable body of work.  Practice patience, Grasshopper. We all want overnight success with the least amount of effort, right?  You read or hear about a first time writer selling a script for a million dollars? You think a screenwriting career is as easy as falling out of bed in the morning into a three-picture deal? Wrong. It usually takes years of rejection and learning while you toil away writing at a half-dozen screenplays to achieve any level of success as a working screenwriter—or maybe never. You’ll need time to fail, be rejected and write bad screenplays so you can get on to doing your best work. You need to think of your career as your life’s journey and continually learn, study, and work at becoming a better screenwriter. You want to become a master of your craft at the top of your game.  When you consider that only 4,510 Writers Guild Members reported any income last year and half of the guild did not work, you’ll need to be screenwriting at the highest levels necessary to compete in a very competitive and crowded marketplace.

TIP #3

Image is everything! As you travel on your screenwriting journey, the image that you project is extremely important and you should keep up an image of success. You do this by being busy and creating a solid body of material to show prospective agents, managers, producers and executives that you are a work horse with something to offer. Never give them a chance to think of you as a diva who believes he or she is God’s gift to cinema. It’s the team player and collaborator who always works again. The pain in the ass gets branded as “difficult” and wonders why the work has dried up.

Keep screenwriting and filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2021 by Mark Sanderson. All rights reserved on My Blank Page blog.

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

“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman

“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling

“Everyone holds his fortune in his own hands, like a sculptor the raw material he will fashion into a figure. But it’s the same with that type of artistic activity as with all others: We are merely born with the capacity to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated.”—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

So, you want to work as a screenwriter? Get ready to collaborate…

Completing your screenplayAhhhh… that sweet aroma of victory when you finish your spec screenplay. It’s your vision — every word, scene, and line of dialogue is yours… it’s a joyous dream world filled with everything that came from your head. Now reality hits with a spec release and if you end up working in Hollywood—it’s always a collaboration with compromises. The moment you unleash your script for others to read, you will receive notes, good, bad and ugly and open yourself up to criticism. It’s hard when they burst your protected spec bubble, and you realize that just because you write a screenplay doesn’t mean anyone has to like it or produce it. Time to toughen up and strap yourself in for the reality of the journey’s bumpy ride. If you can’t handle criticism and notes about your screenplays, don’t type FADE IN.

handshake cartoonThe key to survival as a writer, and working in Hollywood if you do land a job, is mastering the fine art of collaboration. Filmmaking by its nature is a collaborative art. No single person makes a movie. It can take up to one hundred people or more to make a decent budgeted film. So accepting the concept of collaboration is vital to your survival over the long haul. No screenplay scene or line of dialogue—or any screenplay—is worth losing a job over because you don’t want to collaborate. Professionals want to work with other professionals who are not difficult.

Producers, executives, agents, managers, and directors look for screenwriters that go above and beyond and realize the opportunities they have landed. If you want to work in this crazy business where it’s nearly impossible to get anything produced on any size screen — detach and get the script produced. You want to be the “go to person” who helps the producer, executive, and director move the project through the development phase into production. A collaborator and team player does just that without grumbling or being defensive about every change to the material. Drop the ego when you walk through the door or pick up that phone. Your experience and attitude can determine if you’ll stay on the project or be fired. Have you learned how to take constructive criticism and mastered the ability to execute producer’s notes—and not gripe and grimace during the experience? If not, learn it now.

Most producers and executives have their radar up to detect if a screenwriter is easy or difficult when it comes time for the rewrites. They test you when you don’t expect it. Can you pass the test? The minute you’re viewed as problem, you’ll be branded as “difficult” and it’s a hard to dispel that reputation. The next step? You lose the job, and they hire another writer who is a collaborator.

Your professional reputation is vital to your overall success. Hollywood is a small town when it comes to people knowing each other. The producer I’m working with now knows and has worked with everyone I’ve worked with in the past. If word gets out that a producer or director had a difficult working relationship with you, it can mean the death of your next job — or your career. Let’s dispel that old stereotype and prove them all wrong. We’re the writers who want to work and make it all happen. Make a point to clearly show the producers how invaluable you are to the project and why they need to keep you around. As you’re the screenwriter, be the repository of knowledge about the script for the director, producer, and actors.

rewritesCollaboration doesn’t mean that you only say “yes” to every note and don’t intelligently discuss the changes. I’ve been in situations where I’m the only line of defense for the screenplay as my producer had to focus on another film. I was in a notes meeting with the other producers whom I’ve never met or worked with before, and they were in another country so we had to Skype our meeting. They wanted to dramatically change the ending of the screenplay, and I politely defended the work with clear examples of why that would be a bad idea. They listened… after a long pause, I received the comment, “Okay, let’s keep it. Moving on…” BAM! So, was I going to do that with every note? Of course not, but you have to pick and choose your battles wisely. I think producers also don’t want writers who are not thinking about the story and defending it with clear evidence, not just defending the work due to their ego.

Do everything you can to help the producers craft the script they need and  lend all of your support to get the movie competed. That’s the end game—getting your movie produced, receiving the production bonus, and receiving your credit.smash head in wall Initially, you may not receive the praise or validation you feel that you deserve for all of your hard work. I know it feels like you’re banging your head against a wall and coming up short. If this happens, patience is a good discipline to follow, 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.  Produced film credits will determine your payment quote for your next project and secure you as a working professional. You’ll always find opportunities to be a collaborator team player and build your integrity as a professional screenwriter.

Collaborate! 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. Some of the best collaborations I’ve had are with the directors of the scripts that I’ve written. I’m helping make their job easier and they respect me as the writer. Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you, that your word means something, and you are a willing and able collaborator. Your talent is equally as important as your professional work ethic and your attitude. These are the characteristics of a professional screenwriter and your reputation of being a the ultimate collaborator will precede you.

Keep filling your blank pages because if you stop writing, you’ll never have a shot at any success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright ©2020 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE. All rights reserved.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2Check out my new book available on AMAZON with 32 five star reviews. Click the book cover for the link.

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 Hollyw

Did you just complete a new draft or screenplay? Time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression. Spend the time to get your script right.



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“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” — John Lubbock

“Fame and money are gifts given to us only after we have gifted the world with our best, our lonely, our individual truths.”—Ray Bradbury

“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.”—director Richard Brooks

“You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning.” – Billy Wilder