September 8, 2018 § Leave a comment
Ahhhh… that sweet aroma of victory when you finish your spec screenplay. Every word is yours, every scene is yours, every line of dialogue is yours… it’s a joyous dream world filled with everything that came from your head… and now reality hits with a spec release and if you end up working in Hollywood—it’s always a collaboration. 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 bumpy ride. If you can’t handle criticism and notes about your screenplays, don’t type FADE IN.
The 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 form. No single person makes a movie. It can take 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 and not divas. Producers, executives, agents, managers, and directors look for workhorses—screenwriters who 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 toward production. A collaborator and team player does just that without grumbling or being defensive about every change to the material. 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.
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. 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.
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 and receiving your credit. 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. 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.
Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.
Check out my new book available on AMAZON. 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 Hollywood.
“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
Consider screenplay contests as just another tool in your arsenal to get noticed—not a guarantee of a career.
July 19, 2017 § 1 Comment
Over the last decade there’s been an explosion of screenwriting contests that dangle the possibility of winning the grand prize and your big chance at exposure to some of the top players in Hollywood. Every year the top contests are filled with thousands of entries all vying for the grand prize. It seems like the more people who pursue a career in screenwriting, the more contests spring up to meet the demand for a chance at exposure. In my opinion there are only a handful of top contests worth the money because they are recognized industry-wide as legitimate and the readers and judges involved are real industry professionals of merit.
The top screenwriting contests are extremely competitive with entries from around the world. If you do win, it’s almost like winning the lottery, but you don’t always have to win the top prize to have it help your career. If you don’t win the top prize and place as a runner-up, it’s better to place in one of the top five industry recognized competitions and not in some unknown smaller contest that doesn’t garner the same credibility. It’s the difference between having your film win some award at a small, unknown festival or placing as a runner-up in Sundance or the NY Film Festival. Even placing in more recognized contests will help to get your script read. Remember—not all contests are equal.
As I’m sure you’ve discovered, every screenplay contest charges an entry fee with some upwards of $50 to $75. This is why you must do your research, read blogs, and find out as much about the contest before you send off your treasured project and hard-earned money. Anyone can start a screenwriting competition with offers of money to the winners and a chance to meet Hollywood insiders. Three months later you receive a form letter that says you didn’t win, but thanks for entering and hopes that you enter again next year. This means nothing. In fact, the rejection can be very unsettling to a writer’s psyche especially when you’ve paid money to enter and placed your trust in the contest only to have no idea who read your script. Did the contest advertise “working professionals in the film industry” as the panel of experts judging the scripts? Did they list these pros? I might take the rejection a little easier if the opinion came from someone respected as a working professional with credits. A mysterious rejection form letter and not knowing who read my script would leave me empty and wondering if it was even read at all.
I was shocked to read an online ad looking for “script readers” to help with a major screenwriting contest. I thought only industry professionals were diligently sorting through these scripts to find the best ones but apparently not. If they are using free readers, anyone with an opinion is reading your script and who knows their qualifications to spot great material. If you want that kind of consideration you can always have your friends read your script (also not a good idea). Some of these contests receive thousands of entries and the more scripts entered, the more they need a small army of readers to sort through the work. It’s your hard-earned money you might be wasting on a second-rate contest, only to get back a form letter telling you, “thanks and please enter again next year.” Ah, the dangling carrot for a shot at success.
Always make sure to read the entry forms very carefully and especially the fine print. Some contests claim rights over your work and some contests are actually companies that produce films and claim rights over the development if you win. Always protect your project by knowing what you are signing and if you don’t like the terms do not enter.
A short time after graduating from UCLA film school, I entered my fifth spec script in few competitions with the dream of winning or even placing. The competition is always fierce and the year I entered the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship there were 3,541 entries worldwide (for 2017 it was 7,102 scripts!). Back in the day, my script made it as far as the semifinals and placed in the top 1% of all entries. I received a call from Greg Beal the coordinator who told me that my script was in the next dozen scripts after the eight who received the fellowship. My script placed in the top twenty out the thousands of entries and he gave me notes and suggested that I enter again the following year.
It was then I really knew I had written something special and worthy of continuing to send out to producers. Amazingly, a year later my script was under option and then purchased thus making me a professional and making too much money to enter again.
I then entered a comedy screenplay in the Chesterfield Writers Film Project created by Paramount Studios and Steven Spielberg where my script placed in the top 50 out of thousands. Again, this was another example to show I was on the right track with my writing. The same script that nearly won the Nicholl was also one of four runners-up in the John Truby Writers Studio screenwriting contest back in the day out of hundreds of entries. I knew something good was brewing with my screenplay and it was just a matter of time to find the right producer. It’s always about timing and having your project find the right home.
At the time, the pedigree of placing in the semifinals of the Nicholl Fellowship helped to bring credibility to my script and it got me read by agents and managers. Many times it made the difference between someone reading and not reading it. Winning the fellowship would have been nice, but I was much happier that my script went on to be produced into a movie and distributed globally. I was now a professional screenwriter and sold my first spec (my fifth overall script written at the time) and it’s what launched my screenwriting assignment career.
What happens if you continue to place in screenplay contests, but you don’t win and can’t seem to use your achievements as a way to further your script’s chances of being read by producers, agents and managers? The reality is there are no guarantees, even if you do win a screenplay contest, but it certainly helps and brings validity to your talents in the eyes of the film business. The reality is that you’ll still have to fight and claw for every inch of forward movement down the field to plant your flag. You might be taking a huge step through the door by winning a screenplay contest, but the key is staying in the game and having a solid body of work to offer and being a workhorse screenwriter. You’ll realize that once you achieve some any type of success, you have to do it again, and again for it to be considered a career.
Look at contests as another tool in your arsenal to some noise, but don’t put all of your hopes and dreams into them. Get out into the world and make those necessary film industry contacts to start getting your work noticed by producers, agents, managers, and executives. Find a way to go directly to the talent if you can like actors, directors, and producers. Always consider creative ways to break through Hollywood’s gates, but don’t keep trying the same methods over and over again if they are returning the same results. That wastes precious time and helps to drive you crazy. If your specs aren’t moving your career forward, consider writing an original TV pilot or creating your own web series as a proof of concept. Think outside the box.
The top screenwriting competitions are a great way to gain much-needed exposure for beginning writers, but don’t look to them as the only way to further your career goals. If you can’t win a contest, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to land representation or your first writing job in Hollywood. Make sure to do your research on the contests, pick the more legitimate ones the industry recognizes, and read the fine print on the entry forms.
As always, keep the faith, your eye on the big picture, and keep filling your blank pages.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.
My top suggested screenwriting contests (in no special order):
*The Academy’s Nicholl Fellowships (I was in the semi-finals—the top 1%)
*Final Draft Big Break Contest
*Page International Screenwriting Awards
*Disney Writers Fellowship
*Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship
*Sundance Writers Lab
*Warner Brothers Writers Workshop
*Screen Craft’s Screenwriting contests
*BlueCat Screenplay competition
*American Zoetrope (Francis Ford Coppola)
*Slamdance Writers Competition
*Austin Film Festival
“Keep screenwriting and the winner is… YOU!”—Scriptcat
“You have to be very productive in order to become excellent. You have to go through a poor period and a mediocre period, and then you move into your excellent period. It may be very well be that some of you have done quite a bit of writing already. You maybe ready to move into your good period and your excellent period. But you shouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a very long process.”—Ray Bradbury
“It’s such an exhausting thing, you know, facing that empty page in the morning.”—Billy Wilder
“For the warrior, there is no ‘better’ or ‘worse’; everyone has the necessary gifts for his particular path.” — Paulo Coelho
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Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. It chronicles my twenty years writing professionally in Hollywood and my tips, tricks and tactics that have allowed me to stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon and the reviews.
June 8, 2017 § 1 Comment
It’s easy to fall victim to the mistakes below as beginning screenwriters navigate their way through Hollywood’s trenches. The key is to realize the journey is not a sprint, but a long haul marathon that may take years to achieve any level of success. On the journey, many pitfalls can harm a writer’s pursuit to establish a career, and you have to be aware of the common mistakes to avoid making them. Here are my “Top 5 Mistakes Beginning Screenwriters Make on Their First Screenplays.”
1.) They are desperate for a career but don’t want to put in the time or work necessary. They underestimate the craft and the competition believing that one screenplay (their first) will jump-start their career. It’s going to take three or four screenplays and many rewrites just to get a handle on the craft and discover a style.
2.) Before they commit to an idea, they don’t consider “why” they are writing their particular story or who is their audience. I’ve heard too many times, “I thought it would be a good idea for a movie.” That’s not a good enough of a reason in today’s marketplace.
3.) They don’t create a solid story treatment or outline before starting to write pages. This comes back to haunt them when they reach the middle of ACT 2 and their story goes off the tracks. Over half of the work should go into the story and that includes the characters, back story, theme, central idea, and plot.
4.) They believe that every screenplay they write is going to sell for a million dollars. The sad truth is that most of what you write is not going to sell. If a script opens a door or secures a job—that’s considered success. A screenwriter usually does not sell only specs during a career. Most working writers thrive on rewrite or assignment jobs.
5.) They eagerly rush through their script and present it to Hollywood before it’s ready. This will harm the project and a writer’s professional reputation. Patience is the key to working a screenplay into a marketable project. Anything less is wasting everyone’s time.
Your attitude and work ethic are equally as important as your talent on the screenwriter’s journey—especially at the beginning. Do your best to avoid the mistakes that can derail any screenwriter’s splendid career plans.
Keep writing and keep the faith.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.
Did you just complete your latest screenplay or draft? Do you need feedback? Is it 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.
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“A great book for anyone who ever aspired to become anything; Sanderson reminds us how important it is to have a life passion, how important it is to work hard at it, and how that, in itself, is a victory.” — J. J. Abrams, writer/producer/director
(Mission Impossible III, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
“I have known Mark my entire life, and he is absolute living proof of the grit and tenacity it takes to make it as a writer in this business. Take your first steps toward your own career by reading the words of this true fighter.”— Matt Reeves, writer/director
(Cloverfield, Let Me In, Dawn Of The Planet of the Apes, War For The Planet of the Apes)
“Mark’s work as a screenwriting guru is as thorough, as painstaking, and as insightful as his actual screenwriting was on Tides Of War, our submarine drama. As aspiring writers soon learn it’s a complex, changeable, lonely field of endeavor, so Mark provides not only valid professional advice but also meaningful emotional support for all those who stare into the abyss of an empty page. Read Mark, and your keystrokes will accelerate.”
— Brian Trenchard-Smith, producer/director
(Dead End Drive In, BMX Bandits, Drive Hard, and 40 others)
“Starting tonight, every night in your life before you go to sleep, read at least one poem by anyone you choose. Poetry and motion pictures are twins.”—Ray Bradbury
“Most writers can’t tell at the premise stage whether they’ve got a good story because they don’t have the training to see the deep structural problems in the idea before writing it as a script.”—John Truby
“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 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
“Dramatic economy, which includes the ability of a writer to cut what at one point he might have considered to be his best work ever, is one of the most important skills a writer can have. It is learned only through much experience, combined with a ruthless attitude and utter lack of sentimentality.”—Alexander MacKendrick, “Sweet Smell of Success”
December 28, 2016 § Leave a comment
It’s time again for a guest blogger here on MY BLANK PAGE! Appearing for his second time with another superb guest blog contribution… let’s welcome back U.K. screenwriter Niraj Kapur.
SCREENWRITING LESSONS LEARNED IN RECENT YEARS
by Niraj Kapur
In the last few years I’ve made three trips to L.A. for pitching events and meetings with producers. I’ve attended classes. Had a script coach. Hired script editors. Sacrificed family holidays and social time with my friends. I even had a signed contract from Electric Pictures, producers of Olympus Has Fallen and Lovelace, only to have it cancelled weeks later.
Here’s what I’ve learned which I hope create some valuable takeaways for my fellow screenwriters worldwide.
Writing, like most good professions, requires enormous investment and education. Screenwriting books, watching new movies, attending pitching events, writer’s conferences, flights from England, Uber, hiring script editors, have taken their toll, especially when you have a family to support. As successful people will tell you, “You get what you invest in.”
WRITE BIG, THINK SMALL
I’ve made the error of writing big budget commercial projects. While this has been an incredible experience and helped me develop more screenwriting skills, when I recently got mentored with a studio executive and also a top manager, they both said the same thing: “You know how to write, however, it’s going to be almost impossible to get anyone to fund a $100m script from an unknown writer” — even though I’ve had several commissions under my belt. “Focus on a small personal project, let your voice shine through. That’s what more writers should be doing, especially outside L.A.”.
NETWORK… WITH WRITERS
When I attend networking events, I’m surprised by the number of writers who speak to nobody, or else complain there are no agents to connect with. Having a writing group — or friends who are writers, is a blessing and they’ve been there for me more than any agent or producer ever has. A strong support system is vital in screenwriting when you’ve had yet another rejection or spent endless hours during the week working by yourself.
DEAL WITH THE BIG REJECTION
Getting rejected is part of the business. When you get replaced on a movie by another writer, have a contract cancelled through no fault or your own, or meet a production company that is associated with a big movie star, the pain is greater and it takes longer to recover. It’s natural to feel sorry for yourself, but don’t overindulge. Winners get back on their feet and keep fighting.
KNOW WHEN TO TAKE A BREAK
After three years of relentless work, six days a week, it’s important to take time off to regenerate, read, grow, develop, watch movies and live life. Now I’m back into the swing of screenwriting and enjoying it more than ever.
Good luck to all writers in 2017.
Niraj Kapur worked as a writer-for-hire on several kids shows on British TV with numerous screenplay commissions and options. His first movie Naachle London was released in 2012. Find him online: www.nirajkapur.com
December 12, 2016 § Leave a comment
Ah, validation. All writers have a need for recognition of their work in a positive manner. We all need a pat on the back or just a “job well done” comment every once in a while. Many times you won’t find the validation you seek on the outside, but inside yourself for walking the talk and completing a screenplay. In fact, many times the only validation will come from when they stamp your parking ticket after the meeting. I’m always suspicious of the production companies that don’t pay for a writer’s parking. You pull into the parking lot and read the rates are $2.50 (£1.63 / €2.24) every fifteen minutes—ten bucks (€ 8.96 / £6.52 ) per hour! It could be foreshadowing of a terrible ending. Sure enough, after the meeting is over they pass on your project and it’s like rubbing lemon into your paper cut as you race down the stairwell because the quarter-hour is approaching and you don’t want to blow another $2.50 unless you have to do it.
After you finish a new screenplay it’s a vulnerable period because you’re exposing your work to criticism and possibly rejection. You’re coming off a major creative high and you don’t want anyone to spoil your euphoria. And then you discover it’s difficult to find someone else who shares your level of excitement about your script. It’s a feeling of lonely disappointment as if you’re the only person who is championing your cause. Stay strong and trust in your daily disciplines to get you through.
Writing the screenplay is the first big hurdle, but waiting for the validation from feedback is another. It’s easy to take notes personally because your script is your baby and your writing exposes yourself and your talents to the world. If you can’t handle critical opinions, work on detaching from your work, as it will make the process easier for survival. Notes and changes are standard procedure with any screenplay at every level of the film business because the script is an ever-changing blueprint for a movie.
Once the producers, the director, and actors become involved there will be changes and you should welcome the creative input from your co-collaborators. These fellow artisans will bring the script to an entirely new level of creativity. The problem comes when so many changes drag down the process and you become frustrated and feel like throwing in the towel. Stay positive and focus on turning in a script that is closer to what everyone needs to produce the film. That’s your ultimate goal—production. Find the passion you had for the first draft and put that energy into shaping the new draft. You’ll please not only yourself, but also the producer and other talent your script needs to attract to get produced.
I remember when one of my films screened for the cast and crew. I attended, sat next to the stars of the film, and even shared their popcorn. The producer addressed the audience from the screen where he introduced the key players who made the film and thanked them. He mentioned the stars, director, various crew members, even the craft service guy who “made fantastic sushi.” I assumed he would mention my name, but somehow, it slipped his memory. I was embarrassed, and the stars of the film gave me a supportive look. The lights dimmed and the movie started—a movie that I wrote. CUT TO: The production company’s offices and after screening party. It was a crowded affair with many industry types and crew members. The producer found me in a crowd, marched over, and apologized to me. He said that he didn’t know that I was at the screening. Talk about validation…
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 you will be disappointed from your feedback and your high expectations may be 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. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps make your script better and teaches you collaboration as a team player.
You’re certain to experience many disappointments as you pursue a career, but do not perceive any of them as failures or setbacks. These experiences are part of a screenwriter’s journey and you’ll always succeed if you keep a positive outlook and never stop writing.
Copyright 2016 by Mark Sanderson on blog My Blank Page.
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“The reward of suffering is experience.”—Aeschylus, Ancient Greek Dramatist known as the founder of Greek Tragedy
“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 Faulkner
“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”—
Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act 1 Scene 4
“Don’t focus on where you’re not (famous or A-list writer)—focus on where you’re at—hopefully screenwriting. Regardless of success or experience, we’re all equals in front of that blank page channeling the muse.”—Scriptcat
“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”
December 9, 2016 § Leave a comment
After we submit our script to someone for a read, we go through the “waiting game.” It’s that horrible period when the lack of any reply can fester inside a screenwriter’s head, and the fear of rejection and failure can fuel negative thoughts. We get enough rejection on our journey, so why create more anxiety for ourselves during the period when someone reads our script as we wait for them to get back to us, right? We have no control over when they will respond or even their response. Hopefully, we’ve done our best work in the script and what is on the page now it represents us without any excuses. It’s a process you will repeat over your entire career.
Many times, I’ve learned that no news is just that—no news. I’ve conjured us horrible scenarios only to be proven wrong when the good news comes. As creative people, we screenwriters can imagine all kinds of unknown situations in our head, writing, filming, and editing the outcome before it happens. That’s destructive thinking and wasted energy. The way to get through this period after you submit your script to an agent, manager, production company, executive, or contest is to stay busy. It’s vital to your mental state over the long haul. Even when you do forge a career, you will submit projects to your producers or executives so it never ends. It’s how you treat the waiting period that counts and staying in control is vital to your mental survival
It helps to always stay busy with some form of writing. While your script is out and you await a response, you need to create other projects, new loglines, pitches, treatments, and work on a new screenplay. When you are busy, you won’t be obsessed with waiting for a response for those projects out in the marketplace. When the good or bad news trickles in, you won’t be destroyed by the comments or rejection because you will be too busy on your new screenplay. You open up new opportunities with every screenplay that you create. It’s vital to your creative soul to keep pressing forward and filling new blank pages.
While you are experiencing the waiting game, it helps to remember that Hollywood works on its own timetable. It’s a time warp where nothing happens as fast as you’d like and sometimes it feels like even a few steps forward takes too long. Time can burn so quickly as you pursue your screenwriting career in Hollywood. You spend so much time and energy finishing your script, once you finish how can you temper your excitement? This is what we live for as screenwriters—the excitement of completing a new project. It’s playing the game, living as a wide-eyed dreamer with hope for another chance up to the plate. It’s empowering to work on your own schedule and steer your own ship seemingly in control of your destiny.
Remember, your script is the most important thing in the world to you—but you quickly discover it’s not to everyone else. This is when a time warp happens and your reality quickly shows down to Hollywood’s schedule. It’s a strange world of fear, unknowns, half-truths, promises, good intentions, and a very long slog. Again, it helps to stay busy and working on your next great screenplay.
Even if you do land a screenplay assignment, the business side of negotiation takes time. On one assignment job, my 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 and new draft of the contract. It seems like torture, 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. This is when it helps to have patience my fellow screenwriters—learn patience. It’s a big part of the life of a screenwriter and will help on your long haul journey.
The key to surviving the “waiting game” is to empower yourself by staying busy writing. As you create a new project, the energy comes from your mind as you drive your dreams forward with your passion for storytelling. Don’t give into fear during the waiting game because that’s what it wants you to do. If you don’t hear back within your artificially created deadline, fear might creep into your creative soul and you will easily believe that you are a horrible writer if you don’t receive feedback. Avoid this destructive habit by staying busy during this period. You’re onto your next project and too busy to worry about what happens with the last. That’s empowering and puts you back in control.
Keep the faith and keep writing because if you stop, you’re guaranteed to never have any shot at success. And trust me this is a business where there are no guarantees—even when you do sell a screenplay.
Copyright 2016 by Mark Sanderson on My Blank Page.
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No, it’s not a very good story – its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside.” — Stephen King
“The single most important question, I think, that one must ask one’s self about a character is what are they really afraid of? What are they really afraid of? And if you ask that question, it’s probably for me the single best way of getting into a character. That finally is where stories are told… with a character that’s real.”—Robert Towne
“The professional understands delayed gratification. He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare… the professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep the huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.” — Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
November 5, 2016 § Leave a comment
Sometimes it takes years for the big successes to happen. During the in-between times, when you’re working hard toward your next goal, you might doubt your talent and even question if you’ll ever work again. The early failures may force you to ask, “What if my latest spec doesn’t sell?” Maybe the well has run dry for you? What if you don’t find a screenwriting job? What if you can’t find an agent or manager? What if you receive horrible feedback and they hate your screenplay? Oh, the myriad of questions that can fuel your insecurity and fear if you allow it. Sometimes, the only nourishment we have in this barren wasteland of screenwriting is our faith and the anchor of the small achievement. No matter how small. Maybe you finished your script? That’s a major achievement. Maybe you finally got a producer to give it a read? That’s another successful achievement. The ingredients of a big success are usually a range of small successes all leading up to that sale or screenwriting job that jump starts a “career.”
It’s the little successes that keep us going through the rough times. I know for me personally, what gets me through is seeing results from my forward movement—and creating new material. Every screenplay opens up new opportunities. Always be moving forward, even if it’s a few steps at a time. Sure, you’ll stumble and experience failure during your journey, but avoid falling into the self-doubt pit where the darkness of fear overshadows your burning desire to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood.
On your journey, make sure to take rejection lightly. We all suffer disappointment, but when you can accept rejection as part of the process, you can better adjust your temperament and not take the criticism personally. There’s a myriad of reasons why a producer might reject your project, but they could still like your writing. Selling a project is great, but if it doesn’t sell your writing ability can also land you a job. Think positively and train yourself to avoid the negative thoughts about your self-worth and talent. The more you think negatively, the more it becomes an emotion — and then it’s hard to separate the two. You can actually start to believe a reality that isn’t true.
Many times, it’s not always about the sale or the immediate final result. A rejection can actually be an open door and maybe it’s a “pass” now, but they like your writing and want to see more. What seemed like a failure was really a success, because you started a new relationship with a producer or executive whose door is now open to you. This is why you should always be working on your next project. Building these relationships is the key to a successful career as a working screenwriter, so don’t get depressed when your script doesn’t sell the first time out. You’ll probably have to write ten screenplays before you sell your first one.
Back in the day before I was a working screenwriter, I entered my script in the prestigious Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship with the hopes of winning one of the year-long fellowships. My script was not one of the nine finalists, but was a semi-finalist script, placing in the top 1% of all entries, and it ended up in the top twenty scripts overall out of thousands entered worldwide. They picked the top nine writers for the fellowship that year. I could have looked upon my placement as a complete failure, but I used my script’s advanced placement as a successful step forward and was able to get producers to read it because of my achievement. I eventually found a producer who saw my script’s potential, his company bought my script, produced it into a motion picture that premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, premiered on cable TV in the US, and distributed worldwide. It was a dream come true.
You can spend years working on many projects and with the right timing and project, you could get paid to write a few and some will actually be produced. It’s not going to be easy on the long haul marathon that it will take to get anything produced. More often, many projects never get produced and they become writing samples that might get you work in the future. There’s a myriad of different scenarios where the result is out of your control. So, if you’re slogging away in the trenches anyway, fighting the good fight, why not celebrate the little successes along the way?
It won’t always be a slam-dunk, but if you’re in the game and working toward your goal, you’ll get through the rough times by cherishing the little successes. A career is built on the positive steps forward, not the pursuit of one big sale. It does happen for a select and lucky few, but the more realistic journey is one built from a long series of seemingly tiny successes.
On your road to being a working screenwriter, any forward position that you’re able to hold is a triumph. Never lose ground by falling into the pit of self-doubt with debilitating fear. Stay hungry, humble, and face the challenges straight on because there’s no way around them, only through them. Once you’ve overcome the next challenge, hold that new position and use it to regroup and push even farther down the road. It’s similar to a battle and you’ll stand a better chance at survival over the long haul if you take time to celebrate the hard-earned successes —no matter how small they seem. Also, don’t focus on where you’re NOT — (famous or A-list)— focus on where you’re AT—hopefully screenwriting. Regardless of experience or success, as screenwriters we’re all equals in front of a blank page channeling the muse.
Keep filling your blank pages and keep the faith because if you stop writing you’ll never have any shot at success.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog My Blank Page.
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Need help navigating in Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years of professional screenwriting with my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.
Do you need help with your screenwriting goals? Let my on-demand webinars help. Click on the icon below for the link to my website.
“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”~ Albert Schweitzer
“Believe me that in every big thing or achievement there are obstacles — big or small — and the reaction one shows to such an obstacle is what counts not the obstacle itself.”—Bruce Lee
“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”—Ray Bradbury
“Writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die. We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout.”—Ray Bradbury