When you put yourself out there and keep doing the necessary work… opportunities will come your way.

The longer you chase your dream of being a professional screenwriter and slug it out in Hollywood’s trenches, the more you’ll realize just how difficult it is to sell a screenplay and if you do, to sustain a career. The years pass by fast, and Hollywood definitely works on its own schedule — never the schedule of an eager writer looking to sell a big spec or start a career. I offer this reality check only to keep you humble, focused on the necessary work, and always keeping your eye on the bigger picture of where you are going with your pursuits. A screenplay written without the thought of what it can do for you with regards to your ultimate career goals can be an exercise in futility.  If you want to be a horror genre screenwriter and that is your passion, don’t write a romantic comedy.  Stick to what you love to write and a genre that is your passion — and write the hell out of it.  You’ll be looked upon as less “scattered” when it’s time to get you on the studio rewrite lists for jobs. Agents and managers can also understand what you can do better than if you showed up with a western, romantic comedy, drama, sci-fi, and action screenplay. How can a writer be good at all genres? Most likely they are not.

Now let’s examine the role of a good opportunity that can help start your screenwriting career.  First of all, I believe you create new opportunities with every new screenplay. When your script is completely ready to be sent out and compete in the marketplace, it will serve as your “calling card” to showcase the best of your abilities. It’s rare your screenplay will sell on the first time out, but it can secure you a meeting or open a door with a production company. This can lead to a script assignment job — the bread and butter of working screenwriters. Today the business is all about intellectual property and developing existing books, news events, and even re-making old films. But the key is recognizing a good opportunity when it comes your way.

A few years ago, I took a rewrite job with a producer and because I did so well with the job, the producer hired me three more times — two were other rewrites and one was a script assignment of my own. I could have turned down the original rewrite job because I had to share credit (never an issue with me) with the original writer. I decided to jump in with both feet and plant my flag to showcase my ability to save the project that was floundering. You never know where one opportunity will lead and what doors it will open.


I recently had this discussion with a screenwriter who asked if he should continue to focus on writing his big-budget specs and hoping for a major sale, or should he write lower budgeted films at a company where he has a solid connection. I told him that fewer that 100 specs a year sell in Hollywood. In fact in 2021 only 34 specs sold. And if you consider the 50,000 scripts registered at the Writer’s Guild every year, the odds of selling a major spec to a studio as an unknown writer… well, you’d might have a better chance at winning the lottery. You have to seriously ask yourself what is the best use of your time.  Yes, some writers are willing to hold out, year after year, writing big budget specs as unknowns, hoping for a miracle sale to happen and hitting a wall every time out. As the years fly past, this pursuit can really affect one’s mental and financial health. Or, if you have an opportunity to write a movie with a company where it will get made, why not take that easier opportunity? You never know where your job will lead and you can build on the opportunity. What if you write a few successful movies for them, and then you ask to move into producing? Or maybe directing? And you’re learning production while you’re getting paid. As an unknown writer, you’d never have those opportunities at a major studio to start with your first movie.

And looking at the bigger picture, most writers end up where they never imagined. Your career will never be what you imagined when you were pounding out your specs at home. You have to seize upon a good opportunity to get past the gates, and then what you do with that opportunity is the most important thing. I told this writer to take the writing job with the company, low budget or not, because it’s real. Money makes it real. Not some promises of “interest” or talk of possibly an option. He will be a paid and credited screenwriter, and that goes a hell of a long way to getting the next job over someone who has never been paid to write anything. It’s also building those vital relationships as he will be working closely with producers and the directors. These relationships are vital to building the foundation of a screenwriting career.

At the start, someone has to take a chance on you. If you deliver the goods and have a productive working relationship, that’s when they offer you another job, and hopefully another — and that’s called a career. It’s being paid to do what you love for a living. Trust me, producers like working with writers whom they can trust.

Every screenwriter has their own idea of  “making it” and what a dream career looks like. I say you have to continue to “make it” with every new job after the first one. It’s not the romanticized idea of what a screenwriter’s life is like. There is no down time to rest. The hardest part of the journey is selling that first screenplay or being offered your first assignment job. Once you have a credited film, it’s a lot easier to find your next job because someone has already taken a chance on you. Always consider all opportunities that come your way. You probably won’t be paid a lot for your first few jobs, but you have to build the foundation of a career first before it can flourish.

Keep the faith, and keep filling your blank pages on your road to success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2022 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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 (Dawn Of The Planet of the Apes, War For The Planet of the Apes, The Batman)

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Time is a screenwriter’s greatest asset to use or worst enemy working against you…

hang onAs you travel along on your screenwriting journey, you’ll discover that time can drag on and on while you write your screenplays. Time is a screenwriter’s greatest asset to use or worst enemy.  If we don’t have the proper amount of protected time to write—we don’t create the solid body of work necessary to compete. Also time burns quickly in Hollywood. It can take years for your script to find the right producer, network or studio. My fifth spec screenplay was the one that “launched” my career, it was optioned, went into development, finally sold and produced and distributed.  But that took six years out of film school and two years after that until the first day of production. A long haul journey indeed.

So, the best discipline you can master early in you screenwriting journey is being mindful of time.  As writers we must regard our writing time as precious and do everything in our power to protect our working time from the forces of interruption and procrastination.  I know many non-writers who do not regard writing as real work and believe it’s just playtime like coloring with crayons because it’s creative. Ah, they don’t know any better. They’ve never tried to write a feature length screenplay.

“You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it.”—Ernest Hemingway

And you do have to be ruthless about it. An ex-girlfriend used to tell me that I could “always write on the weekends” as if writing was not part of my daily routine or schedule.  If I have a deadline for a screenwriting assignment and friends invite me out and I turn them down, they always think I’m making up excuses when in reality, I’m actually working.  Sometimes I don’t get weekends off. One time I had to work for twenty-four hours straight to complete a script, as the producer notified me the investors were in town and wanted to see a draft the following day.  I carved out the time and protected every moment by not answering the phone or spending time on the net.  I sacrificed, protected my writing time and completed the assignment.

“The telephone and visitors are the work destroyers.”—Ernest Hemingway

IMG_1059When I’m working on a script assignment, it is a job and I try my best to write six to eight hours a day — every day.  If I get ahead on pages, that’s great… but if I get behind… it will even out if the work is done every day. That’s the type of schedule it takes to complete a script by a set deadline and dabbling a few hours here and there will not do it.  Writing is all about routines and schedules and when the writing gets hard, I know writers are easily distracted.  I’ll admit it happens to me often.  This is dangerous because when distracted, writers tend to procrastinate and ultimately stop writing.  This is the time when others chip away at our precious writing time and lead us astray.  We actually do want to go out and have a good time, it’s just we have work to do and there will be no pages completed unless we sit down and write.

As a writer, you must consider writing a job and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional.  It’s good practice and prepares you for the time when you do get paid to write and the producer requires you to complete the script on a deadline.  It’s no longer the romanticized dream of endless time to work on your spec—it’s go time as you have a schedule and a contract.  The producer or executive expects greatness from you in six to eight weeks.  You’ll already have this priceless experience if you stick to your own schedule by protecting your writing time from interruption and distraction.

the-isolatorWe have more things to distract us writers today than ever before, so it helps to turn off your phone and stay off the web.  Choosing the right place to write will also help you to protect your precious writing time.  If you’re constantly interrupted as you write at home, consider working at the library, a coffee shop or even renting a small space to write.  As renting an office can become pricy, many paid workspaces have sprung up where you can buy membership access to a quiet working environment.  When a producer hired me last year to write a script, he bought me a membership to a writer’s workspace appropriately called The Office  and I was extremely productive every day.  The Office is on the westside of Los Angeles and specifically caters to screenwriters who take their writing time very seriously.  They even enforce a no cell phone or talking policy for all members.  It’s a terrific spot for hard-core writers who take their craft seriously. If you’re there—you are there to write. As a result, I completed the script in a month because I was able to work uninterrupted. Look for a “creative space” in your city.

The longer you write the more you’ll get to know yourself better as a writer.  You discover your strengths and weaknesses, if you write fast or slow, and if you’re easily distracted or if you can work in a crowded coffee shop. When the writing gets difficult, time becomes your enemy as you never know each day if your creative juices will flow or dry up.  Do yourself a favor and always protect your precious writing time from the forces of interruption.  You’ll keep on schedule, writing will become a habit, and you will be more productive than ever before.

Now get back to your blank pages. If you stop writing you’re guaranteed never to have ANY chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2016 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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“… a basic “must” for every writer: A simple solitude—physical & mental.”—Rod Serling

“Being an artist means not having to avert one’s eyes.”—Akira Kurosawa

Stephen King with advice from his old newspaper editor John Gould: “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

“Don’t think of it as art, think of it as work.”—Paddy Chayefsky

Hemingway said it best, I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”—Pablo Picasso

hang on