A screenwriter’s end of the year checklist: Keeping your eye on the big picture for 2018…

December 3, 2017 § 1 Comment

The Apartment bar sceneHey, soon we’ll be saying a fond farewell to 2017 and there is no turning back. I do believe it’s always a powerful tool to look back over the previous year and critically analyze the good, the bad and the ugly choices we’ve made. Leave the regrets behind and focus on your growth as a screenwriter and human being. Hopefully, you’ve learned from your failures and enjoyed your successes. Excuses abound, but what really matters is how productive have you been? Is there room for improvement? We must always adapt to survive while slogging it out in Hollywood’s trenches. 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? Sold or optioned a project? Follow your writing disciplines to stay on target?

screenwriter respect the climbThe 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 for years going 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.

PILE OF SCRIPTSToo 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. You can’t believe that every spec will sell—in fact most will not. Your new spec may not be the “one” — but one of many you’ll have to write and burn through until it jump starts your career.

Every time you write a new project on spec, you must consider how it fits into the bigger picture of your screenwriting goals. scripts 2It’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 hoping when you’re done for a huge payday? 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—but choose your material wisely. REMEMBER: What you write about is as important as how you execute it and just because you write it doesn’t mean they 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. script oddsWhen you secure a writing gig, you’ll move forward with 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. Trust 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. 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.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the odds are already stacked against you and time marches on so quickly. If you don’t believe the odds, consider that according to the Scoggins Spec Market Scorecard, only 70 specs sold at the studio level in 2016 . And only 5,227 WGA members reported any income in a year (annual report ending in June) out of nearly 9,000 members. The other half did not work. Over half of those numbers who did report income were working in television. 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 and casting your best scripts wide.

I’ve been blessed, this past year was very busy for me and I’ve pushed various projects down the field to production. In the last year, I’ve completed five screenwriting assignments—three of the films were produced, one goes into production in December 2017, and I just completed the first draft of my latest assignment and I’m turning it into the producer. I also finished my new book on surviving in Hollywood’s trenches called “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. We must stay active and not wait for others to open doors. We create new opportunities with every project that we create.

IMG_2016So, it’s never too late, even though we’re already into the new year, grab a piece of paper and if you haven’t yet, set up a game plan for 2018. Look back at 2017 and chart your successes and failures. Write down your goals you achieved and the ones you missed. Hit the ground running this year and achieve your goals every day of the week.  Treat your screenwriting like a business—it’s YOU, INC. and every decision you make affects your pathway to success. Every three months check in on your progress and keep updating your list and following your road map to success. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions: “Why am I writing this particular spec and will it serve me in the best way possible to create opportunities and open doors?” If you haven’t done this start now. Grab a piece of paper and…

1)  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? One 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.

2)  Make a list of your achievements in 2017. 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 film production or complete an internship? Find a screenwriting mentor? List anything that shows you are working toward to your goals.

3)  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.

4)  Make a list of any new contacts that you met by networking during the year.  If you have an e-mail, or the address of their company, send a holiday card. Nothing like the holidays as a good reason to reconnect, right? In January, make sure to send them a: “Midyear check in—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.

5)  If you haven’t yet, attend more networking events before the year ends. Become a member of the International Screenwriter’s Association ( ISA ) for workshops, webinars and in person events in your area. Also Final Draft hosts meetups every month with known screenwriters and offers tips and many free networking events during the year. Network on Stage32.com also—it’s free and a great place to meet fellow filmmakers. In addition, check out the Scriptwriters Network in Los Angeles. They put on networking meetings the first Friday of every month. Get out of your writing cave and meet other screenwriters and network. Make sure to support others and you will find they will help you.

6)  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 many are 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)  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. Many things slip 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.”

And keep updating these lists every three months to keep track of your progress and not allow an opportunity or contact to slip through the cracks. Keeping an eye on your career doesn’t just mean focusing on writing your latest spec and ignoring the business side of your journey. You have to multitask and keep all of these important aspects in check throughout the year. Your current spec is just one of the tools in your arsenal to use to move forward on the field.

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.  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!” And read this eye-opening essay on the current filmmaking business environment as you try to chase the Hollywood studios with your specs: “How the Death of Mid-Budget Cinema Left a Generation of Iconic Filmmakers MIA. All my best wishes for a glorious and successful journey for 2018 and may it be the best year ever.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog My Blank Page.

Also check out my YOUTUBE Channel with weekly videos offering script tips

Check out my new interview on FILM COURAGE about screenwriting.

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.

script consultation2

 

Master CoverR2-4-REV2Check out my new book. 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 that have helped me stay in the game. It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

 

“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

“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”

“Writing is very hard work, and having done both writing and directing, I can tell you that directing is a pleasure and writing is a drag… but writing is just an empty page—you start with absolutely nothing. I think writers are vastly underrated and underpaid. It’s totally impossible, thought, for a mediocre director to completely screw up a great script.”— director Billy Wilder

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

 

 

Advertisements

Tips to avoid the disappointments on your screenwriting journey…

May 17, 2017 § Leave a comment

megaphoneWe 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.

handshake cartoonWe 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.  f 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 it 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.

changeAs 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.

pitchAlong 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 disappointment 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 nine produced films and seventeen assignments, I know the hard reality.

script revision photo copyI’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, 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 writer.

alfred-hitchcockreading-script-for-the-movie-rebeccaPart 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 — the notes, criticism, rejections, rewrites and all. 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. No disappointments only triumphs when you complete a project. There will always be creative highs and lows. Do your best not to allow your disappointment 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 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!

@Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 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

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? 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.

Screenplay consultation services

My new screenwriting survival book is available on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link to preview the first chapter.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2

Editorial reviews…

“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)

“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)

“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)

“Not only have I collaborated with Mark as a writer, more importantly I have found him to be a true artist who walks his talk. Whenever the chips are down, whenever I’ve needed some creative or inspirational, perhaps technical help — even if it’s at 3:00 in the morning — Mark has been there invariably. Infallibly. As a screenwriter, director, or producer, this book is the very next best thing to having Mark in your corner at 3 A.M.”
George Mendeluk, writer/producer/director
(70 credits, over 300 hours of television, and 9 features including the epic Bitter Harvest)

“Mark is a journeyman screenwriter, my good friend and collaborator on several projects. This is a must have book of reference for those not only about to embark in a career in the entertainment industry, but also for those who want to learn from someone who’s been there and done that. Mark is extremely candid about what it takes and how hard it is to ‘make it’ in this business. This should be on everyone’s desk right next to their computer.
Greg Grunberg, actor and writer/producer
(actor Alias, Heroes, Big Ass Spider, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

REWRITES

Scriptcat’s spring screenwriting tips for your adventure in the trenches…

April 2, 2017 § Leave a comment

IMG_2616Ah, spring is in the air. The time for a fresh start when your ideas begin to bloom. I hope you’ve created new opportunities that have pushed your screenplays closer to success. Trust me, I know if can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall hoping for a breakthrough, but finding the same results of rejection and criticism. I truly hope you’re busy creating a solid body of work and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. I hope that I’ve been able to offer a few nuggets of advice that you’ve found helpful. In addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat) and my Youtube Channel .I’m also broadcasting live on the new app PERISCOPE. Check it out. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting. Okay, let’s cut to the chase and get right to the action—here are a few more useful survival tips for your journey…

TIP #1

ALWAYS ACT LIKE A PROFESSIONAL IN EVERY ACTION YOU TAKE IN HOLLYWOOD.

MARK4Act like a professional even if you’re an aspirant writing who has yet to sell something. As a screenwriter, you must consider writing a job and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional. As with any job, it comes with deadlines, requirements and expectations, so it’s good practice to follow professional disciplines as you prepare for the time when you do get paid to write. If you train yourself to work under a deadline, it’s not a shock when the producer requires you to complete a script by a certain date. It’s no longer the romanticized dream of spending endless time working on your spec to get it just right—it’s “go time” and you’re now playing in the big leagues—exactly where you belong. The producer or executive expects greatness from you and you generally have six to eight weeks to deliver the first draft and its excellence will decide if they keep you on to write a second draft, or fire you. This is not the time for a “vomit draft.” If you start meeting your own deadlines when writing your specs, it will be easier later when they pay you under contract to meet a deadline.

TIP #2

DO NOT TYPE “FADE IN” IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE CRITICISM.

praise or blameDon’t take criticism personally and realize that it’s part of the process. 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 feedback on your script is disappointing and your high expectations become 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. Learn how to filter the good notes from the bad and ugly notes. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps make your script better, helps push it closer to something a producer wants to produce, and teaches you how to collaborate as a team player so you can work again.

TIP #3

LEARN THAT TALK AND INTEREST ARE FREE AND CHEAP IN HOLLYWOOD.

quote of the dayYou’ll learn the longer you pursue a screenwriting career that talk is cheap in Hollywood and people want credit for their good intentions. Too many times the words are empty promises that end up wasting an eager and hungry writer’s time. Money makes it real. Take everything as face value for talk is the cheapest commodity in Hollywood. Many times interest in you or your script and the endless talk is just that—interest and talk. Many times meetings are just meetings. Many times a producer’s upbeat attitude about your project can become infectious. You want to believe that others see your dream and can realize it. Why not? It’s what keeps us going as screenwriters—belief in our projects and the faith that success is just around the corner. I’m sure when producers and executives tell you that your project is going into production, they just might believe it themselves, but sometimes they tell a writer this to buy more free time. Producers want to keep a writer’s interest in hanging on until they “work out the pesky financing details” and it becomes the bait for more free work. If they can’t raise the money for the budget or they have no money in their development budget, there really is no money to pay the writer. Be understanding to a certain point and look at every situation through a risk/benefit filter. Are you willing to risk your free time with free rewrites on the possible chance a project “might” get produced? Get excited when a producer gives you a contract, you both sign it and you get paid. That’s the professional way—otherwise, you can’t live on the currency of good intentions. Now get back to your blank pages. If you stop writing you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.

Keep writing and filling your pages because if you stop—you’re guaranteed to never have any shot at success. This is a business with no guarantees even when you do sell a screenplay.

@Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2If 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. My new book, “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. Available now on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link to purchase.

Visit and subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL with 28 screenwriting video tips.

Do you lack focus or haven’t set goals for the year with regards to your career? Check out my on-demand webinars.

(click on the icon below for the link to purchase or stream the videos)

checklist 2

Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

Did you just complete your latest magnum opus? Time for in-depth screenplay consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information.

Screenplay consultation services

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?” ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

“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

If you’re worried about failing, you ought to get into a different business, because statistics will tell you that sixty or seventy percent of the time you’re going to fail.  By fail I mean that the movie won’t make money.  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.“—Richard Brooks, director of Blackboard Jungle, Sweet Bird of Youth, In Cold Blood, Looking for Mr. Goodbar

Are your feature specs hitting a wall? Change up your writing to expand your chances of success…

February 12, 2017 § Leave a comment

smash head in wallOnly focusing on one writing medium can be extremely limiting to a screenwriter. It can eventually feel like you’re banging your head against a wall. You write a spec, rewrite it, and hope it’s the “one.” You send it out and it receives some positive feedback, but no sale or assignment job. You write another feature spec and go through the same process again hoping this time it’s what the studios are looking to produce. That spec doesn’t sell or gain momentum, so you start on yet another spec, and chase the same dragon again and again. Yes, specs do sell. I’m proof. I sold a spec and it opened the door to fifteen assignment jobs since. It was spec number five of my journey. Now I’ve completed my 31st script with half of those being paid assignments and half of those being produced.

The odds are astronomical to sell any feature spec especially from an unknown screenwriter with no credits. The Scoggins Spec Market Scorecard for 2016 estimated around 70 specs selling and it was an eight year low for sales. It’s also estimated that 50,000 projects bounce around Hollywood every year. It’s like stepping up to the plate and hoping for a grand slam home run every time out. Difficult at best and impossible most of the time. And the odds become worse to secure any work if a screenwriter cuts out the entire business of television or the web. I don’t mean to discourage you with these odds, but it’s to put a perspective on what you’re actually up against as you pursue a career.

Back in the day when I started pursuing my career, those working in features looked down on television as lowbrow and all of us eager film school grads focused on selling our million-dollar spec like we read about in Variety every week. I went to UCLA Film School and our alum writer/director Shane Black (Ironman 3) had sold a little script he wrote called Lethal Weapon for huge money and then he went on to a $4 million sale with The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Looking back, I should have gotten into television, as I had close friends who were running shows, but alas I focused on features and time marched on.The story of my own personal screenwriting journey? I started screenwriting back in the days when the lines were clearly defined for the mediums—either you wrote features or you wrote television. The feature agents during that period would always say, “I don’t know many people in television.” It was also a time when the networks and studios didn’t blur the lines either between the mediums or talent. A feature film actor would not be caught dead on a TV series as it would be looked as a demotion. If you wrote for both mediums, a rep would make you choose which one you wanted to pursue—but never both at the same time.

pile-of-scripts-copyAfter I graduated film school, I solely focused on writing feature screenplays on spec and my agent (s) at the time only went out to those producers and companies in the feature film world. That was fantastic, but only if you eventually did sell your specs. Otherwise it was like banging your head against a wall each time—taking a few steps forward and then falling on your face, only to go back and do it again and again only to experience the same results. I believe they call that “insanity.”

Thankfully, the business has changed and now writers are free to work in television, features, video games, and the web without being pigeonholed into just one medium. Many agree that television is going through a new golden age where the most interesting ideas and series are causing the big talent in the feature world to take notice and many enjoy doing both features and television.

Many of the biggest Hollywood directors like JJ Abrams, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Josh Whedon are now working in television and producing shows. And many of them actually go their start in television, transitioned into features and now are back working in TV. It’s no longer considered a demotion. This is why as a screenwriter trying to break into Hollywood you need to diversify your talents. Don’t just focus on writing features alone. So why keep banging your head against the wall in only one medium where your projects are not selling—for a myriad of reasons beyond your control?

scripts 2You must diversify as a screenwriter if you want to stay in the game over the long haul. Write a web series, write a half hour and hour pilot for television, or write short comedy sketches. I’ve been blessed during my career to get paid to write for all mediums: Indie feature films, TV movies, a web series, a game show, sketch comedy for a live show, and both a half hour and hour pilots for television. Many years ago, I made a decision to write projects in these different mediums and create solid specs that eventually would get me hired for coveted assignment jobs. This has allowed me to work on a regular basis because I have my material out into these worlds—not limiting myself to only the world of feature scripts where the business has changed dramatically. It’s more difficult than ever to sell an original spec given there are fewer films being made and Hollywood’s obsession is producing big-budget tent-poles that are remakes or properties they already own. It’s a huge gamble for a studio to buy a spec from an unproven writer and the idea does not have built-in global audience recognition.

So if you’ve stalled and crapped out with your feature specs, trying to get agents, managers, executives, and producers interested and finding yourself with the same results every time out, maybe you should consider changing your writing medium? It’s important to have writing experience in different mediums because if you happen to go up for a job, you’ll need the experience and a solid sample to represent you. It also opens up more possible places to work. Don’t cut yourself out of the television world or the web.

I had never written a web series before until I met a director and producer who had a fantastic idea and we formed a company to create this new project. I wrote nine episodes of the first season and the project is out to investors. It was an invaluable experience for me as a screenwriter to now have this experience and it’s a solid project that opens up even more opportunities for writing. I also just finished writing a TV sitcom pilot on assignment for a producer and luckily I had done my spec work over the years and had solid samples in that medium to represent me. My samples got me the gig because of the similar humor and tone the producer wanted and my specs showed that I could deliver.

BoulderFlatAs you probably have experienced, it’s a long slog journey to reach any level of success in this business as a screenwriter. Don’t limit your writing to only one medium because you hamper your chances to secure any writing job in this very competitive marketplace. Yes, you can excel in different mediums because you are a writer and that’s what writers do—write. Of course it will take time to prepare solid samples in the different mediums, but it will be worth the effort when you secure a job in one that leads to another. Eventually it becomes necessary to become a multi-hyphenate so you can have more creative control over your material and not just be a “hired gun” every time out. But baby steps at first—study your craft, become a solid writer, and keep writing solid material in different mediums to expand your chances for any success.

Keep writing and keep the faith because if you stop you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or maybe finish your third draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website

.Screenplay consultation services

Now available my COFFEE RING CARTOONS merchandise for screenwiters. T-shirts, mugs, mouse pads, note cards, notebooks, pint glasses, and drink coasters. Click on the photo below for the link to my online store to purchase merchandise.

mug-real-photo

“This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.”—Rod Serling

“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”

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”—Aristotle

“Give me a good script, and I’ll be a hundred times better as a director.” – George Cukor

“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.”— Stephen King

A simple “thank you” card goes a long way on your screenwriting journey…

January 12, 2017 § 2 Comments

handshake cartoonAs you slog through Hollywood’s screenwriting trenches, you must remain humble and thankful for any forward progress that you create. Be grateful for your meetings, when others want to listen to your ideas, and when others give you a hand and pull you up—even if it’s a small gesture of help. It’s about the time—that precious commodity we don’t get back as it clicks by while pursuing our dreams. When professionals take time in their busy schedules to either take a meeting, give you advice, read your script, or give you a referral—make sure they know how much you appreciate their effort on your behalf. Don’t take any of it for granted.

It may be considered “old school,” but a handwritten “thank you” card always does wonders to convey just how much you appreciate when others help move your career forward. I was reminded of this recently when a producer hired me for a quick rewrite job at the end of the year before the holidays. After I completed the job, I sent him a holiday/thank you card and mentioned that I looked forward to working with him more in the new year. I received back a reply after New Year’s that thanked me for my good work and that he too was eager to work with me in the coming months. This put me back on his radar and showed him that I took the time out of my schedule to make sure he know my appreciation. It’s little gestures like this that go a long way. I’ve always done this type of communication ever since I started my career twenty years ago and it helps.

thank you cardAnd after you take a Hollywood meeting, maybe within a week, send a written “thank you” card to the person you met with to show your gratitude and to gently remind them of you. Never send a “thank you” e-mail. Many people in today’s world pay no attention to the small details of etiquette and that’s why it’s important. It will make you stand out from the crowd and display your integrity and build your professional reputation. Executive’s assistants sort the incoming mail and the hand-written notes are always stacked on the top of the pile and read first. When the producer or executive is busy with a thousand other distractions and daily commitments, your card will arrive and you’ll be a nice blip on their radar. They’ll appreciate the gesture and recall that not only are you a talented writer, but you’re respectful of their time and the opportunity they presented you.

You’re now acting as a professional, and preparing for when they allow you to play in the their big sandbox with their toys. Sure, sometimes a meeting is just a meeting, but you have to treat every experience as the important opportunity if affords you to display yourself as a professional who offers professional quality work. As you continue these methods, they will become effortless and you’ll build a reputation that will eventually get you hired or rehired. You’ll step through the door you just opened into the coveted world of a working screenwriter in Hollywood.  Welcome, it’s a nice place to get up in the morning and get paid to write a screenplay.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Is it time for in-depth consultation before you unleash it upon Hollywood? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below.

Screenplay consultation services

My new screenwriting survival book is finally available on AMAZON – “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success.” Click on the book cover for the ink to the site.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2

Now available my COFFEE RING CARTOONS merchandise for screenwriters at my online store. T-shirts, mugs, note cards, mouse pads, pint glasses, notepads, and coasters. Click on the coffee mug below for the link to buy my products.

mug-real-photo

“The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them.  His aim is to take what the day gives him.  He is prepared to be prudent and prepared to be reckless, to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can.   He understands the field alters every day.   His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily as he can.”— Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art

“You must be confident enough to believe that you can “make it”—but humble enough to know it’s a long journey with much to learn.”—Scriptcat

“So the only environment the artist needs is whatever peace, whatever solitude, and whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost. All the wrong environment will do is run his blood pressure up; he will spend more time being frustrated or outraged. My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”—William Faulkner

“So give yourself that chance to put together the 80, 90 pages of a draft and then read it very in a nice little ceremony, where you’re comfortable, and you read it and make good notes on it, what you liked, what touched you, what moved you, what’s a possible way, and then you go about on a rewrite.”—Francis Ford Coppola

“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”

Communiqué from the trenches: Starting the year with a new gig and a challenge…

January 10, 2017 § Leave a comment

script revision photo copyI was blessed to end last year busy with two screenwriting jobs—one was a script doctor job doing a rewrite on a project that went into production in December and wrapped—and the other was a page one rewrite of a screenplay that I just completed this week. It was nice to have back-to-back jobs from a production company and producer whom I’ve worked for before. This is why your professional reputation is so vital to your longevity of your career. You want to be the “to go to” writer for a producer or production company who trusts you to deliver the goods on time. This timing of this particular job fit nicely into my schedule and a great way to start off the new year.

hang onI accepted the second job knowing it was going to be a huge challenge for me. Time was not on my side. Firstly, it was to completely rewrite a new draft of a screenplay and not use any of it—commonly called a “page one rewrite” and have it done within two weeks. Even after completing thirty-one feature-length screenplays, I still get anxious before every new project. It’s that feeling of the unknown and setting off on a new adventure that didn’t exist before. The longer you write the more tricks you know, but you still have to fill the blank page and slog through ACT TWO. I’ve been doing this long enough to practice humility in the face of the craft. I know from experience there are always unexpected surprises both good and bad. The bad ones can derail you if you allow them—and the good ones make you want to get up the next morning and get back to writing.

I signed the contact and went off to work in my workshop. This is when the shit gets real. It requited me to put in eight to ten-hour days writing a minimum of ten pages a day—and one day I even reached fourteen pages. I managed to complete this new screenplay in twelve days and beat my old record for a first draft of twenty days. It was screenplay number thirty-one on my journey to date. This latest assignment was a huge challenge for me as I’m generally not a fast writer. When I’m on an assignment, I like a pace of about five pages a day and that ends up with a screenplay in about twenty days. This assignment required me to really use my disciplines and focus every day without any distractions to meet ten solid pages. If I dropped below my page minimum for a day, I’d have to make it up the next day to meet my contracted deadline. This is why I always recommend that when you write your specs, you should always set a self-imposed deadline to train you for the time when you do get hired to write. It doesn’t hurt to train now for your future assignment jobs.

There were a few days when the writing became difficult. I couldn’t “see” the scenes and I really had to sit with the material and hunker down to focus. It’s so tempting to become distracted, leave the keyboard and venture off to do something else. I found myself being tempted daily to do this and I had to really force myself to never leave my seat. When the times got rough, I sat with the material and eventually the characters would lead the way or answer a question for me as they do every time. I would get up every morning and go back to work as if I was channeling the project. The disciplines worked for me as I turned the script in on schedule and the notes for the second pass should be coming soon.

Every job where you get paid is another step in establishing your career. If a produced film with a writing credit comes from it, so much the better. Take the work when you can get it, as there are a limited number of jobs out there and no limit on the number of screenwriters eager to do them. If you land a gig, consider yourself lucky. If you land two gigs back-to-back, consider yourself blessed and you’re doing something right.

There are no guarantees in the screenwriting game. Many projects that you write will never go through development or make it to production. This is why you need multiple projects going in the marketplace at all times for any chance that one or more will make it all the way. A project that I wrote on assignment last year was supposed to go into production in late 2016 and then it got pushed until this month. The recent news is that it has yet to get the green light and I’ll probably have to do another draft. It’s stalled right now in development hell as we call it. This is no fault of mine, but it doesn’t take the sting out of the reality that it may lapse into not being made for reasons out of my control.

So, the lesson here is don’t put all of your hopes and dreams into one project. Keep writing and creating new material so eventually one script will open a door and get you an assignment job that will keep you on the fast track of a career.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson written on blog My Blank Page. http://www.scriptcat.wordpress.com

Check out my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for over twenty-seven screenwriting videos.

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

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

Screenplay consultation services

Check out my new COFFEE RING CARTOONS merchandise for screenwriters now available on my online store. Click on the coffee mug below for the link to purchase mugs, T-shirts, pint glasses, notebooks, drink coasters and notepads.

mugs

Need a bit of help reaching your screenwriting goals? Try my on-demand webinars. They’ve available for download or rental. Click on the icon below for the link.

checklist 2

Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

 

“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

“Because so much of directing is just getting the script right. Getting the beats to play, and knowing what to emphasise. To me, screenwriting isn’t just exit, enter, speak your lines. It’s really about establishing a rhythm, and directing on paper, to some extent.”—Shane Black

“As an artist, you are always striving toward an ultimate achievement but never seem to reach it. You shoot a film, and the result could have always been better. You try again, and fail once more. In some ways I find it enjoyable. You never lose sight of your goal. I don’t do my job to make money or to break box office records, I simply try things out. What would happen if I were to achieve perfection at some point? What would I do then?” — Woody Allen for The Talk, 2012.

“There are no minor decisions in movie making. Each decision will either contribute to a good piece of work or bring the whole movie crashing down around my head many months later.”—Sidney Lumet

“When I first meet with the scriptwriter, I ask him what is the story about—what do you see—what was your intention?”—Sidney Lumet

Seeking that elusive screenwriting validation on your journey…

December 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

thAh, 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.

pitchAfter 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…

script oddsIf 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.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2016 by Mark Sanderson on blog My Blank Page.

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

Subscribe to my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL for my weekly screenwriting videos.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my professional 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…

Screenplay consultation services

Need help reaching your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinars can help. Click on the icon below for the link to the webinars for rent or purchase.

checklist

“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”

%d bloggers like this: