Three more tips to help you navigate your screenwriting journey…

February 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

megaphoneI hope you’ve made some noise with your screenplays and pushed yourself closer to establishing a career. As you know, you’ll need to create a solid body of work to standout in this very competitive marketplace. In addition to this blog, I also offer nuggets of advice on Twitter (@scriptcat) and my Youtube Channel . Dig in on this blog, as I’ve written over 200 articles with screenwriting advice. I also broadcast live on PERISCOPE.

Okay, here are three more tips…

TIP #1     ACT LIKE A PRO—ALWAYS!

MARK4Act like a professional even if you’re an aspirant writing your specs. 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           ENJOY THE LITTLE SUCCESSES ALONG THE WAY.

scan4Sometimes, the only nourishment we have in this barren wasteland of screenwriting is our faith and the anchor of the small achievement. No matter how small. Maybe you finished your script? That’s a major achievement. Maybe you finally got a producer to give it a read? That’s another successful achievement. The ingredients of a big success are usually a range of small successes all leading up to that sale or screenwriting job that jump starts a “career.” It’s the little successes that keep us going through the rough times. I know for me personally, what gets me through is seeing results from my forward movement and creating new material. Every screenplay opens up new opportunities. Always be moving forward, even if it’s a few steps at a time. Sure, you’ll stumble and experience failure during your journey, but avoid falling into the self-doubt pit where the darkness of fear overshadows your burning desire to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

 

TIP #3           YOUR FIRST DRAFT IS DANGEROUSLY IMPORTANT.

fade inDo not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit. It’s just the opposite—your first draft is extremely important because the DNA of your story and characters lives in this precious first pass. I love this quote from six-time Academy Award nominee screenwriter Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?): “Good screenwriting is about carpentry. It’s a juggling of beginnings, middles and endings so they all inevitably seem to be moving correctly together. Your first draft is dangerously important. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, “It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.”  Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve gone in another direction.”—Ernest Lehman. It’s true. I know from experience that it’s difficult to totally rewrite a first draft from page one into something new. Sadly, too many times it ends up becoming a jumbled mess as the foundation of the story is being altered underneath the story. My advice is to make your first draft your best possible work at the time. When writing it, act as if you’ll never get another chance to touch the screenplay. You should use your specs as training to turn out a superb first draft to prepare you for the day when you’re hired on assignment. This pays off in many ways, most importantly when you’re working for a producer and your solid first draft secures the interest of investors, a director, and actors. A solid first draft will also keep you on the assignment and not replaced by another screenwriter. Make sure your screenplay suffers the fewest amount of changes during the development process. Trust me, you don’t want your script to get bogged down in development hell. It’s hard to climb out of that pit and too many times projects die a tragic death from too many drafts over a long period of time.

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson – originally published on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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“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

“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

“If there ever was one analogy for what a screenwriter must accomplish, it’s this: To create a source of life, to find the bedrock of a given idea, to prevent most of the work from evaporating.”—FX Feeney

 

If you can’t handle criticism, rejection, and failure… don’t type FADE IN…

January 30, 2017 § Leave a comment

rejectionYou’ll do yourself a big favor by dealing with rejection, criticism, and failure at the start of your journey because you’ll have to deal with these big three your entire career. The process doesn’t get easier even when you finally do become a working professional either. It actually gets more difficult, as there is more at stake because you’re getting paid and it’s your career with credits and a reputation on the line. The expectations are much higher and your “failure” at this professional level could cost you the job, a lot of money, and your reputation.

This is why early in your screenwriting journey, you must recognize the only part of this crazy business that you really do have control over is the process of your screenwriting. Only you control if you sit down and create new material or not and much of everything else is out of a screenwriter’s control. Even if you do sell a project, there are a myriad of scenarios out of your control that can kill it from moving forward: Lack of financing, a change in the marketplace, the executives get fired and the company loses interest, talent pulls out to do something else, or the producers change their minds about moving forward. So much can happen before a script goes into production. It’s a business with “No guarantees”—even with a contract and a start date.

Insecurities and fear still creep in, but you learn to deal with these negative emotions because you’ve been writing for years and know your strengths and weaknesses. Expectations are high of professionals, so you learn how to write under a deadline at the top of your game and deliver quality material. You’ll become a team player, an expert at delivering rewrites efficiently and fixing the script without ego. The professional writer can’t be upset about criticism or rejection—those emotions can’t get in the way of the process of screenwriting—there’s just too much at stake.

script oddsYou also need to accept the hard reality that you may toil away writing scripts for years that no one will ever buy. I’m not trying to be a killjoy, but alert you to the reality of the business. Many beginning screenwriters believe their journey will be different—they will sell their first script and end up with a three-picture deal without much effort and they won’t have to write for years to become a master at their craft. That may happen, but the odds are against you and the film business has a funny way of humbling screenwriter’s with unrealistic attitudes.

It’s a competitive and crowded marketplace with nearly 50,000 scripts bouncing around Hollywood in any given year and only 5,159 professional screenwriters in the WGAw reported any income last year—the other half did not work. Much of your early material will probably not sell but help build and establish you into an excellent screenwriter. Even when you do manage an option or sale, the project could languish in development hell where you get paid, but doesn’t make it to the big or small screen. Every script you complete makes you a better writer, even if it doesn’t sell. Your goal is a continual mastering of your craft. Knowing these pitfalls will help you survive the journey for the long haul.

pitchWhen you do receive feedback and it’s very critical or brutal, don’t look at it as failure and become insecure. Don’t allow yourself to go to a dark place feeling, “Look at the amount of notes. It proves that I’m a horrible writer and I’ll never work or sell a script.”  Use the experience at motivation to fix the script or move to writing your next project. Most likely your first screenplay will be a bit of a mess and that’s okay. It may take you five or six scripts to even discover yourself as a screenwriter—exploring your strengths, weaknesses, and your style. I didn’t make any noise until my fourth spec script and looking back on it now, I cringe at my beginner’s mistakes and poor choices. It wasn’t until six years out of film school and my fifth spec script that finally put me on the map with my first sale and eventual produced film.

As a screenwriter you will also have to stay open to constructive criticism. You will always receive notes as a screenplay is an ever-changing blueprint for a movie—even more in the development process. 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. You’ll need to be a team player and “ultimate collaborator” in the true definition of the word and this is the opportunity to show everyone your value to the project. There still is a good chance that the project can get dragged down by so many changes and you become frustrated and feel like throwing in the towel. Stay positive and work through these harrowing times. Stay 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 and keep interested.

As for rejection and failure, embrace them because there is no escape from it on your screenwriting journey. The times when you fail are tests to see if you really have what it takes to endure the long slog of establishing a career as a working screenwriter. Failure and success is the Yin and Yang of any artistic journey. We can only cherish the hard work it takes to achieve success, because we’ve been able to take the punches and body blows that failure delivers. If you listen to any successful person, they will discuss the many failures they’ve experienced, perhaps years of failure to get to the success you see from them today.

smash head in wallStare failure down and do not be afraid of it. Every “failure” is a chance to learn and ultimately it’s all your point of view about it anyway, right? You may see that not selling your script as failure, but what if it became a solid writing sample that got you a screenwriting assignment job? How would that original “failure” look to you now? When “failure” does come, and it will, you’ll be ready and take the blows and you’ll get back up, stare at the blank page and start the process all over again.  Failure loves to knock out screenwriters, it hates those who get before a “ten count” and start screenwriting again.

As you navigate this crazy film business, know that your screenwriting journey is a long marathon to any type of success and forging a career usually doesn’t happen overnight. If you are in this for the long haul, it will require tremendous patience and endless tenacity. You’ll have to learn how to deal with rejection, criticism, and failures along the way to your successes. Even becoming a better writer does not happen overnight and requires you to continually write, learn and create projects that will ultimately not sell.

Your journey as a screenwriter will be a series of failures and mistakes, triumphs and successes, and when added up will hopefully lead to a career as a working screenwriter in Hollywood. The process will be long and difficult, but if you have patience and respect for your craft and the challenges ahead, you can focus on your love for the craft and your projects and not the urgency of success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 Written by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or new draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Let my screenwriting consultation services help you push your script to a release draft. Click on the blue icon below for the link to my website.

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“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen”—Joseph Campbell

“Screenwriting is such a very special branch of literature. In some ways, it’s closer to the poetic form than it is to the dramatic. A lot of writers think that they write down to an audience if they do a motion-picture script.”—John Huston

“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

“There are two kinds of scenes: Pet the Dog Scene & Kick the Dog scene. The studio always wants a “Pet the Dog” scene so everybody can tell who the hero is.”—Paddy Chaydfsky

“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

“People come to you and say, “Boy we love your work. We love this and we want to buy it.” Then, as soon as they buy it, the teeth come out. You become not the father of the work, but the stepfather. All of a sudden, you’re an outsider, a villain. I have often said to people, “Look, I’ll do the script for free for you if you’ll shoot my mistakes instead of yours. My mistakes are better.”—Ray Bradbury, interview in Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.

Accept new screenwriting challenges and push yourself out of your comfort zone…

January 24, 2017 § Leave a comment

BoulderFlatAs screenwriters, we constantly need to challenge ourselves and not be afraid of criticism, rejection, and failure. This is how we’ll grow as writers. Even after working as a screenwriting professional for the last twenty years, I was recently reminded of this when I faced my own professional challenge. I was hired as a script doctor to do a page one rewrite of an existing screenplay that is going into production in a month. The gig required me to complete a new first draft in less than two weeks. My fastest record before was twenty days, so I asked myself if I could finish this new script in less time? Regardless, it was the contracted job and I accepted the challenge. I wanted to push myself and really stretch my abilities. This was my 31 st feature screenplay that I’ve written on my journey to date, and the one thing I’ve learned is that every time up to the plate is a different experience. I never forget this and it keeps me humble at the enormity of the craft and I respect it completely.

The longer you write, the more tricks you learn, but you still have to fill the blank page. This new gig required me to put in eight to ten-hour days and writing a minimum of ten pages a day—and one day I even wrote fourteen pages. I managed to complete this new screenplay in twelve days—a major accomplishment for me. And it was a solid first draft that received positive feedback from the buyers and the executives. I just completed the rewrite and it’s moving out of development and into pre-production.

We as writers need to constantly take chances and push ourselves out of our comfort zone. It’s easy to get comfortable and not take risks or accept bigger challenges. Don’t become a lazy screenwriter. Avoid this at all costs. This is particularly important with regards to the material you write. Take chances with your material and don’t fear rejection or failure. Never stop challenging yourself because this will keep you growing as a screenwriter.  If you fail miserably, use the experience to learn and get better the next time.

salvador-dali-by-willy-rizzo-1In addition, a full and interesting life is a vital part of any screenwriter’s ongoing journey. If you’re not observing life and have your creative radar set to detect even subtle events in the real world, how are you doing to write with honesty? You never know when you’ll observe a person or an interaction that will spawn an idea for a project or maybe another one in the future. Don’t just regurgitate what you’ve seen in other movies and television—experience life first hand and bring back real stories from your fantastic adventures. When you’re out in the world, listen closely to how people speak, study how they act  and react, and constantly record your findings. I collect my observations and write them into a small notebook that I call my “writing arsenal.” I carry it in my briefcase with my laptop and I record various thoughts, ideas, and lines of dialogue that might end up in my current projects or another script some day. My own life experiences also get logged into my writing arsenal.

The journey of any artist is a lifelong adventure and a huge part of the creative process is pushing yourself, accepting challenges, and experiencing life—the good and the bad. You can’t write honestly unless you’ve really lived with the ups and downs. The great Orson Welles, in conversation with Peter Bogdanovich in the book This Is Orson Welles said, “The great danger for any artist is to find himself comfortable. It’s his duty to find the point of maximum discomfort, to search it out.”

If you stop learning and being curious, you are finished.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Is it time for in-depth consultation? If you need a second opinion check out my consultation services. Click on the blue icon below for the link to my website and schedule a consultation.

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The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.  The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” — Joseph Campbell

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

“The time we have alone; the time we have in walking; the time we have in riding a bicycle; are the most important times for a writer. Escaping from a typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give your subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level.”—Ray Bradbury

“There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.”—Ernest Hemingway

 

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When you type FADE OUT – THE END, then it will be time for you to go.

 

 

Desperation… avoid it on your screenwriting journey…

January 22, 2017 § Leave a comment

desperateIf you’re new to the screenwriting game, the longer it takes to sell a screenplay, the more desperate you might get after you face your first series of rejections and setbacks. Precious time passes quickly while you write new projects, send them out, and receive feedback—good or bad. It’s a long haul process and success doesn’t happen overnight.

As time passes, you learn the hard reality that it might take ten scripts to sell your first one.  Are you working at a job that you hate and look for a script sale to save you?  Do you have rent or a house payment due and look for your new script to pay the bills next month? Have you written five scripts that you thought were your best work only to receive less than stellar reviews and no real forward progress?  Have you entered contests only to receive rejection letters? Have you written another script only to learn nobody else loves it as much as you do?  All of these scenarios can breed desperation. Avoid it at all costs.

script oddsThe key is not to hang on to your screenwriting dreams with a white knuckle grip. This will cause you to become desperate when things don’t go your way. You have to realize that it’s going to take years of perfecting your craft to reach any level of success—and it doesn’t come easy. There are approximately 50,000 projects bouncing around Hollywood every year and in 2016 only about 70 specs sold (Scoggins Spec Market Scorecard for 2016). This is not to scare you but to humble you about the mountain that you climb every time you send a script into the marketplace.

It goes without saying, but you need to be doing the work necessary to compete in a very crowded marketplace. One script is not going to do it, but two or three might. In fact, the script you’re working on now might not be “the one” but one of many that you’ll have to write. It’s a numbers game at best and you have to find the right project for the right producer at the right time. It never happens overnight.

What can get you through the entire process is enjoying the little successes along the way. A career is mostly never made up of one big success, but a series of small successes that lead to establishing a career. Beware—producers can also smell a screenwriter’s desperation. This could put you in a situation where you allow someone to take advantage of you with a bad deal. You might accept it because you believe that you’ll never find another producer who wants to buy your screenplay. Muster the courage to move on if a deal isn’t right for you. You will live to write another day. All good things happen at the right time if you allow it.

Do your best to avoid becoming a desperate screenwriter. Focus on creating new material and sending it out into the marketplace only when it’s ready. Don’t look for your screenplay to save your life or your crappy situation. Hollywood works on its own time table and you can’t be anxious about establishing a career. Accept that criticism, rejection and failure are part of the screenwriting process and be open to changes on your screenplay. Strive to write screenplays that can compete in a crowded marketplace.  Become a team player and collaborator and producers will value your input to the project and keep you around.

Keep the faith and keep working on new projects. Be prolific! It’s necessary to sell even one screenplay.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson written on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just finish your new screenplay? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.

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

“The film (The Power and the Glory) made a lot of enemies. Writers at that time worked in teams, like piano movers. And my first solo script was considered a distinct menace to the profession.”Preston Sturges

When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”—Stephen King

“Not only do you attack each scene as late as is possible, you attack the entire story the same way.”—William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade.

“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

 

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Practice patience… Hollywood runs on its own schedule.

January 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

hang onTime can burn so quickly as you pursue your screenwriting career in Hollywood. After you finish a screenplay and await feedback, if you watch the clock it can leave you hanging. Your script is the most important thing in the world to you—but you quickly discover it’s not to everyone else. This is when a time warp happens and you realize you’re now on Hollywood’s schedule. It’s a strange world of fear, unknowns, half-truths, promises, good intentions, and sometimes a very long wait for any feedback.

As a screenwriter, you spend so much time and energy finishing a script, once you finish how can you temper your excitement? This is what we live for as screenwriters—the excitement of completing a new project and moving forward with establishing your career. It’s playing the screenwriting game, living as a wide-eyed dreamer with hope for another chance up to the plate with every new screenplay. It’s empowering to work on your own schedule and steer your own ship seemingly in control of your destiny.

The journey after completing your script may become long and bumpy. Sometimes it may take years for a project to see any type of real progress. It was seven long years from the time I typed “THE END” of my fifth spec to the day the cameras rolled. You never know what adventure lies ahead for each project you complete. As a screenwriter with dreams of working in Hollywood, you must realize every aspect of your progress will take time. You have to learn the important virtue of patience, or you will live with constant anxiety and pressure for your script to move you farther down the field—or God forbid to dig you out of a financial hole. Did you ever think, “I have to sell this one!”  Either way, you are in for quite an adventure.

Even if you do land a screenplay assignment, the business side of negotiation takes time.  My last contract for a script assignment went back and forth between my lawyer and the production company’s lawyer for a month. As negotiations continue on every deal point, the back and forth seemingly takes forever—and this is before you can start any work on the script. Unfortunately a holiday comes up, so it means another four or five days until a reply. It seems like torture, feeling as if you’re in the starting blocks waiting for the starter gun to go off—but it never does until you and the producer sign the contract’s final draft.  Learn patience.  It’s a vital part of your survival over the long haul screenwriting journey.

You may hit a slow patch on your journey as a working screenwriter, but if you keep writing you will never lose sight of your dreams. Your writing is the only thing you can control and the more you write, the better you will become. This will prepare you for when your opportunity does come. Think of building your career over the long haul and not just looking to hook one big script sale. If you believe your first spec is going to sell and make you a million dollars, see how you feel after you write ten screenplays with no sales.

smash head in wallLike any difficult journey, you’ll constantly be tested to see how badly you want a career in screenwriting and how much you are willing to sacrifice to keep doing what you love to do.  Sure, you’ll have failures, rejection, projects that die and never get made, and maybe other scripts languishing in development, but if the road gets bumpy, always keep the faith and your focus on the end goal—a career as a working screenwriter.

Always stay hungry, never get lazy, and keep true to your self-discipline. Don’t allow any day job or any person to derail your plans. Protect your dreams from all comers. We all need to put food in the fridge and pay our bills, but be aware of the pitfalls of a 9-5 job and how you may allow it to affect your writing.  If you have the drive and determination to go after your dreams, no day job or person will keep you away from your keyboard.  Only you can stop you from writing.

Writers write. Keep focused on the bigger picture.  Time burns quickly in Hollywood and every move seems to take forever. Their schedule is not yours, so temper your excitement and don’t allow disappointments to crush you. Time is precious, and we don’t get it back so use your writing time wisely—protect it and don’t get too upset when a simple read of your screenplay can take months. If this happens,  focus on your next project—so you’ll always have fresh projects in the works. When you finish a script, work on a new pitch, or a treatment, and get to work on various TV and feature ideas. Keep as many projects juggling as you can because the reality is a screenwriting career does not happen overnight. If you respect this fact, you’ll have a better experience and keep your sanity over the long haul.

Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Stay humble. Learn. Keep writing!

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog My Blank Page.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Congrats! Time for in-depth analysis/consultation/editing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second change to make a first great impression. Make the time to get it right.

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“Writers, like most human beings, are adaptable creatures. They can learn to accept subordination without growing fond of it. No writer can forever stand in the wings and watch other people take the curtain calls while his own contributions get lost in the shuffle.”—Rod Serling

“The well is where your “juice” is. Nobody knows what it is made of, least of all yourself. What you know is if you have it, or you have to wait for it to come back.”—Ernest Hemingway

“The problem is that being creative has glamour. People in the business end of film always say, “I want to be a producer, but a creative producer.” Or a woman I went to school with who said, “Oh, yes, I married this guy. He’s a plumber but he’s very creative.”—Woody Allen

“Directors have always been accused of rewriting unnecessarily—particularly by writers. Actually, most of the time it is deletion because a scene won’t work. You loved it in the original script, okayed it during pre-production, but when you get to the top of the second page of the scene you suddenly discover there is a resolution. It wasn’t evident until you took it in front of the camera. Oops, that’s the scene! There is no point in mucking up what is already good.”—Jerry Lewis

“Every time I go to a movie, it’s magic, no matter what the movie’s about”—Steven Spielberg

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.

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“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

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“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

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