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

 

Consider screenplay contests as just another tool in your arsenal to get noticed—not a guarantee of a career.

script oddsOver 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.

Hollywood cashAs 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.

reading guyAlways 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.

Scriptcat out!

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

*Scriptaplaooza

*Austin Film Festival

PILE OF SCRIPTS

“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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Did you just complete your new screenplay? Congrats! Is it time for in-depth consultation/analysis/proofing/editing? Check out my professional consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right without excuses.

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19 FIVE STAR REVIEWS! 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.