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.

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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

“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

The importance of your screenwriting momentum…

February 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

smash head in wallIt happens to all screenwriters eventually. You’re working along on at a good clip, maybe writing five or more pages a day, and then a giant barrier drops in your way. Your writing comes to a crashing halt and you’ve lost that precious momentum.

You know the positive feeling momentum can bring. It’s when you have to shut down your writing for the day, but you can’t wait until the next morning to get back to work. It feels like your characters are waiting for you to get them into the next scene and they are frozen until you do. This day-to-day schedule and working in the zone to finish is momentum—the force that propels your writing forward and enables you to complete your screenplay on a schedule. Never underestimate the energy that comes with screenwriting momentum. You reconnect with the material the next day and the next and this is how you complete a project quickly.

The problem comes with life gets in the way of your schedule. You skip one day of writing… and this leads to two days… and three… you get the idea. When you’re finally able to get back to the writing, it can be difficult to put yourself back into that creative space and “see” the movie again that you’re writing. If you allow barriers to block your precious writing time, you will derail the project and may never finish. I know many aspiring screenwriters who are still trying to complete their first screenplay after years of stops and starts. There is always something else to do than write—especially when it gets difficult.

time warp in HollywoodOnce you start working professionally, you can also lose momentum on a project when the producer or production company takes longer with their notes than you expect. This can derail your splendid career plans but also your creative process. If you want to work as a professional screenwriter and keep your sanity, you have to accept that Hollywood runs on its own schedule. Yes, your contract will have provisions about when your script is due and the producer’s reading period for notes, but the process can take longer than you’re used to when you wrote your specs alone. Don’t allow this shift in momentum to throw you off your game. Your ability to jump back onto a project and execute notes will show producers that you are a professional who can deal with any screenwriting situation.

I have a project in development and I’ve done three drafts on it, but I have not heard from the producer in five months to find out if it’s moving forward or not. When I eventually have to do another draft, I’ll need to acquaint myself with the script again because it’s been so long between the rewrites. This loss of momentum is hard to deal with unless you have experienced it before. I prefer when it’s only a few weeks between drafts and that allows me to keep sharp on the script that I’m writing.

When writing your specs, this is your training ground to keep up your momentum. This also goes for the pursuit of your career. Every day, do something that contributes to moving farther down the field where you can plant your flag. It’s all about gaining new ground with contacts and new projects. Most of the time, this will involve creating a solid body of work to standout, but it also includes networking and learning.

If you slip and allow a barrier to derail your scheduled writing time, procrastination and distractions will keep you from completing your pages. You want to see concrete results and feel like you’re constantly moving forward toward your end goal—becoming a working screenwriter. Momentum is a precious energy that screenwriters need to not only complete their screenplays but also to establish their careers.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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“I’ve often been asked why the film industry hasn’t generated more acting talent. The answer is simple: the men at the top do not care. They live on the basis of product being made today. There is a sad but true saying in the industry: “Is it good?” “No, but we’ll have it Friday.”—Jerry Lewis

“… In fact, when the camera is in motion, in the best-directed scenes, the audiences should not be aware of what the camera is doing. They should be following the action and the road of the idea so closely, that they shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on technically.”—John Huston

“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.

“Just tell the story, physically and visually. Don’t censor. Let the final form come last.”—director Carol Reed

“Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”—Ray Bradbury

“I don’t think of it as an art. When it works it’s skill & craft & some unconscious ability”—Ernest Lehman

think it takes and really takes

What you think it takes — and what it takes to reach any level of success.

 

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.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or a new draft? Are you “written out” and need a professional opinion about your script?  Is it time for in-depth consultation before you unleash it upon Hollywood? Check out my consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.

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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

 

masater po

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

 

freddy screenwriter

 

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

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