How to avoid the disappointments that any screenwriting journey will bring…

We all have expectations after we complete a script. You know the creative high that you felt during writing and you want to let the world know that you finished.  You’re also probably coming down from that high as you turn in your draft for criticism and await feedback. Did you receive opinions that were not exactly what you expected? Many times we are pleasantly surprised, but too many other times we are let down by our expectations.

Were you disappointed they didn’t appreciate the work enough — or maybe didn’t understand it enough? It’s hard because we assume that everyone else is as excited about our screenplay as we are when we finish. If this was an assignment gig, maybe the producer felt your execution of the treatment was off?  (I’ve had this happen before). Perhaps you become down on yourself as the insecure voices scream in your head, “I’m a fraud and they’ve found out!”  You may even question what you thought was some of your best work only a week ago, but now because of the reaction feel it’s crap.  You are not alone my fellow writers.

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We all need a pat on the back or just a “job well done” once in a while… even if it comes from within and not from external opinions. Writing the script is one thing, turning over to others for feedback, or to a producer and waiting for a reply is another experience. It’s easy to take notes personally because your script is your baby and your writing exposes yourself and your talents to criticism. If you can’t handle criticism, start to work on acceptance, as it will make your journey as a working writer a lot less bumpy. You will always deal with notes and changes your entire career. It doesn’t change when you become a professional writer. In fact, more is at stake because your reputation is on the line with every project. Perhaps it will make the process easier to always remember that writing is rewriting.  Detach from the material and expectation from any outcome.  “Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu. Do not hang on every word or sentence. This trick will help you on the long haul journey of a screenwriter.

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As writers we must stay open to constructive criticism. We will always receive notes as a script is a changing blueprint for a movie. Once producers, a director and actors get involved there will be many changes and you should welcome the creative input from your co-creators on a project. These fellow artisans will bring it to an entirely new level of creativity. But if the process gets dragged down by so many changes you can become frustrated and feel like throwing in the towel. Stay positive, focused and persistent at executing the notes and turning in a better script. Find the passion you had for the first draft and put that energy into shaping a new draft that will please not only yourself, but the talent it will eventually attract.

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Along with the successes, I’ve also had to deal with disappointments and frustration throughout my writing career, but I continue to love the craft of writing. I’ve been paid to write movies that were never made and got lost in “development hell.” Imagine being told by the head of the production that your film will go into production in two months, only to find out it doesn’t happen. There are a myriad of reasons why a film doesn’t move forward—even if you wrote a terrific screenplay. These disappointments were the hardest for me to get used to when starting out as a professional screenwriter. I always thought just because they buy your script or hire you to write one it was a guarantee of a produced film. After fifteen produced films and twenty-three assignments, I know first hand the harsh realities of the film business.

I’ve been able to handle these disappointments by viewing the entire process from a larger perspective and focusing on the task at hand — to get the script into better shape and move it through the development process. If you are lucky enough to be paid to write, it becomes your job. You go to work, write all day, come back tomorrow and lather, rinse, and repeat. Writers have pages to write and without filling those blank pages there would be no script. Take your feedback seriously, but don’t take it to heart. Trust in your writing abilities and if you allow the disappointments to take you into a bad place, address your feelings but then focus on the task of executing your notes. Stay out-of-the-way of the story and put your ego aside. Writers must serve the story to the best of their creative ability. If you want to play with the big boys and girls, at some point you’re going to be bruised and beat up. It’s just the rites of passage necessary for the growth of a screenwriter.

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Part of the deal is that you want people to read your material, right? If producers or executives agree to a read, give them ample time to get back to you. A gentle nudge in a few weeks is completely acceptable, but if you contact them before, you’ll seem desperate and no one likes to be hounded. I remember a producer warned me, “Stay on me about your project, because I tend to get busy.” That’s fine. But use common sense and put yourself in their situation for a second. Your script is the most important thing in the world to you after you finish, but you have to understand that it’s not on their front burner at the moment. One E-mail or text is fine to check up — four is not.

Be open to the entire process of writing and the journey — the notes, criticism, rejections, rewrites, and even the successes. Always be writing to gain that precious experience. Detachment from the work is hard, but it helps so you’re not crushed every time you receive disappointing feedback .You don’t need to suffer any disappointments— only triumphs when you complete a project. There will always be creative highs and lows. Do your best not to allow your disappointments to be perceived as a failure and then sink into the morass of fear and insecurity in your creative soul. This will lead to the horrible act of chasing screenplay notes. Avoid this hell at all costs.

Be patient. A career does not happen overnight and part of your journey is becoming a better writer and finding your unique voice — one that producers will grow to love, trust and hopefully employ! Keep writing and keep the faith.

@Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2021 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

“The poor dope — he always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool.”

Sunset Boulevard pool
Need help on your screenwriting journey? Check out my book now available on Amazon.

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The longer you’re screenwriting, the more you realize it’s all about collaboration…

rewritingAhhhh… 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.

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

Master CoverR2-4-REV2Check 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