January 1, 2016 § 1 Comment
Okay, it’s one thing to finish a screenplay and another to understand the complexities of how it fits into forging a career or what I call “the bigger picture.” Sure, a completed screenplay is an accomplishment to be celebrated, but you have to realize it’s only the beginning of a long journey. If you’ve completed a few screenplays, congratulations. Now get back to work because it’s always going to be about the work. Writing the perfect screenplay is elusive at best, but we can still try, right? Every time out is a chance to get better and learn while you build your screenwriting arsenal.
If also you lack humility on this adventure and think it’s an easy road, the film business will humble you and fast. According to the 2016 Scoggins Report, only 70 spec screenplays sold in Hollywood. Also there are approximately 50,000 scripts bouncing around Hollywood every year and half of the Writers Guild doesn’t report any income and those are writers with professional credits.
Consider your first screenplay as a training tool and one of many that you’ll have to write badly to get to a place where you’re writing at a professional level to compete. Specs usually end up being your calling card instead of a million dollar sale. Also realize now that everything you write is not going to sell. It might take ten scripts and four drafts of each to have one open the door for a job.
The pursuit of a Hollywood screenwriting career, especially in today’s film business, is not for the thin of skin or for anyone looking to achieve easy fame and fortune. I wish you the best of luck if that’s your intention. There are better careers that pay more on a regular basis instead of going from script to script with many never getting produced or you paid. Honestly, no one cares who wrote the screenplay when they see a film at the multiplex. They’re going to see the stars or the story and hopefully your name is still on the end product and you haven’t been fired or have to share credit.
If you’re calling yourself a screenwriter but without credits, do you have four or five solid screenplays written, other pitches, one sheets, or treatments and have you done the training necessary to compete? Professionalism is an attitude, work ethic and discipline that shows you are serious about your screenwriting even if you haven’t sold anything yet.
Time to check the list…
THE TEN WARNING SIGNS YOU’RE STILL AN ASPIRANT:
1 . You don’t spend the time necessary to become a better screenwriter because you still believe it’s easy to establish a career.
2. You’re writing beyond your ability at this point in your screenwriting journey because you want to sell a Hollywood tent-pole before you’re ready.
3. Your writing is only a rehash of what you’ve seen before in movies and on television and not something unique to your voice.
4. You lack the patience to master your craft and want success to come fast without sacrifice.
5. You’re not open to notes, you’re defensive about criticism on your screenplay and bristle at the suggestion of cutting anything. You have not learned how to be a collaborator and team player with professionals.
6. You haven’t accepted it’s a long haul journey to reach any level of success in the film business and believe it’s going to be different for you because you are the “chosen one”– it’s just that Hollywood hasn’t chosen you yet.
7. You don’t learn from your mistakes and you’re doomed to repeat them.
8. You constantly bemoan, “The producers, executives and agents don’t know what they’re talking about. I see the movies out there and I can do better.” If so, why haven’t you sold anything?
9. You feel entitled to success just because you’ve completed a script and expect Hollywood to grant you a big sale and a career.
10. You do more talking about your “writing” than actually writing.
If you’re guilty of any of the signs on this list, consider making immediate changes to your attitude and game plan. Hollywood is filled with screenwriters and the odds of establishing a career and being paid regularly are horrible, but it does happen. Respect the craft and the journey because that’s what professionals do and you don’t want to be stuck aspiring for success.
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“Don’t focus on where you’re not (famous or A-list writer)—focus on where you’re at—hopefully screenwriting. Regardless of success or experience, we’re all equals in front of that blank page channeling the muse.”—Scriptcat
“‘I never feel the need to discuss my work with anyone. No, I am too busy writing it. It has got to please me and if it does I don’t need to talk about it. If it doesn’t please me, talking about it won’t improve it, since the only thing to improve it is to work on it some more. I am not a literary man but only a writer. I don’t get any pleasure from talking shop.”—William Faulkner
“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
November 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
If you haven’t experienced it yet, being with an audience and watching a produced movie that you’ve written on the big or small screen is something to behold. It truly makes up for all the tenacity, hard work, and sacrifices that we make as screenwriters on our long haul journey to success. We know first hand the years of writing it took to secure the job, doing the rewrites, possibly doing on set rewrites, and now we get to experience the successful collaboration of hard work and creativity. Does it guarantee the result is always perfect? Nothing is ever perfect. It’s surprising movies get made with all the moving parts that have to work at the same time. If you’re in the film business long enough, you’ll learn to let go of any regrets you may have about the finished movie and just enjoy the fruits of your labor—a produced film distributed to a global audience.
When you write a screenplay on assignment you must please the producer first. He or she is your boss, but also has a boss to please—the studio, the network or the overseas buyers. You’re blessed if you get hired to write a movie and it’s produced and distributed. If you repeat the process it’s called a career. If the film is financially successful in the theaters or it garners terrific ratings on television, you might get another chance to work for the producers. These are the precious moments we screenwriters aspire to live—to be paid, credited and have a global audience see the finished product. I know how difficult it was to get to this moment in my career and I’ve never taken my journey for granted.
When I had my first movie produced, I thought the world was going to stop and everyone would care about my huge accomplishment and the next day life would dramatically change. Sadly, it was disappointing to find out the world kept spinning and I had to get back to work to achieve the same accomplishment—again. When I woke up the next morning after the big première… food tasted the same, bills still had to be paid, and I had to get busy and find my next screenwriting gig.
Ah, the romanticized image of the working screenwriter is shattered by the reality of staying in the game.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome experience to have a film that you write get produced and distributed to a global audience, but don’t expect everyone to consider it as important as you do—or expect anyone to care about your career as much as you do. They don’t really know what it takes to get the job done—years studying the craft of screenwriting and dealing with rejection, criticism and failure while creating screenplays that may never sell until one day you unlock the combination to Hollywood’s gates and they allow you to enter. Or the reality there are probably hundreds of writers who would kill to have the same opportunity. Those who don’t know the journey of a screenwriter didn’t sacrifice and do the massive amount of work necessary to gain experience, follow strict disciplines, and live a writer’s life while never knowing if your next project will sell—and that’s okay. We chose this life, right? It’s OUR DREAM not anyone else’s.
Our validation comes from our credit that we see on the big or small screen and knowing that we’ve beat the incredible odds where most fail to even get one film produced. After the well-deserved celebrations, it’s time to get busy as the life of a working screenwriter is not glamorous—it’s the reality of an artisan’s journey crafting new projects over and over until you secure another job.
I’ve had eight films produced and fourteen screenplay assignment jobs. Of my produced films, one film was my original spec and the other seven were assignments. I’m blessed, two of those films have been produced in the last ten months and one film premiered in Canada on The Movie Network and last September Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) premiered it in the United States.
It’s a thriller called “MOTHER OF ALL LIES” starring Francesca Eastwood and Jennifer Copping that I wrote on assignment. It’s now airing internationally in France and Spain.
“Adopted teenager Sara goes in search of her birth mother Abby, only to find the woman in prison for bank robbery and manslaughter. In an upcoming parole hearing, Sara helps Abby win release, and decides to spend the summer with her before leaving for college. But Sara soon finds herself in danger as her mother returns to her former partner in crime, Carl and when he ends up dead, both Abby and Sara will be wanted for murder—hunted by the police and Carl’s cohorts.”
My latest film, “MOMMY’S LITTLE GIRL” starring Fiona Gubelmann (Wilfred) premiered to huge ratings on LIFETIME NETWORK here in the U.S. back in March. The logline: “Finally reunited with her mother, Teresa, 10-year-old Sadie is thrilled to leave behind the life of isolation she had with her resentful, strict grandmother. But Sadie’s obsession with fitting in, both with her new family and at her new school, is disrupted by her homicidal tendencies.”
It’s always fun to have movies airing globally to audiences. It makes up for all of the hard work, sacrifice and up and downs of the journey.
Keep screenwriting and keep the faith because if you stop writing you’re guaranteed to never have any shot a success.
Follow me on Twitter/Periscope/Vine: @scriptcat
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Did you just finish your latest screenplay and need consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website and more information.
Need help with your screenwriting goals? Check out my on-demand webinar “A Screenwriter’s Checklist: 10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game” now available as a streaming rental Pivotshare. Click on the icon below for the link to Pivotshare’s site. Parts One & Part Two of the webinar are each $14.99 and available as a streaming rental for 30 days.
“It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.”—JJ Abrams
“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
“When you start a movie script, it’s like entering a dark room: You may find your way around all right, but you also may fall over a piece of furniture and break your neck. Some of us can see a little better than others in the dark, but there is no guaranteeing the audience’s reaction.”—Billy Wilder
Don’t limit yourself to one storytelling medium. Write them all and diversify to have any shot at success…
October 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
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.
After 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.”
And only focusing on one medium is extremely limiting to a screenwriter. The odds are astronomical to sell any spec especially from an unknown, uncredited screenwriter. 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 writer cuts out the entire business of television. Back in the day, 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.
Thankfully, the business has changed and now writers are free to work in television, features 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. The Scoggins Report Spec Market Scorecard for 2015 listed only 93 feature scripts selling in Hollywood. Horrible odds, right? So why keep banging your head against the wall in only one medium where your projects are not selling—for a myriad of reasons?
You 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. 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 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.
As 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.
Did you just complete your latest screenplay or maybe finish your third draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website.
Subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting video advice.
Have you lost focus on your screenwriting goals this year? Maybe my on-demand webinar can help, “A SCREENWRITER’S CHECKLIST” available for streaming rental. Click the icon below for the link to the website.
“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
“There is no point in having sharp images when you’ve fuzzy ideas.” – Jean-Luc Godard
Most writers can’t tell at the premise stage whether they’ve got a good story because they don’t have the training to see the deep structural problems in the idea before writing it as a script.”—John Truby
“It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.” — JJ Abrams
“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then.”—William Faulkner
“You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it. But the best writing is certainly when you are in love. If it is all the same to you I would rather not expound on that.”—Ernest Hemingway
July 6, 2015 § 1 Comment
We’re blessed on MY BLANK PAGE once again to have writer/producer/director Christine Conradt back for her second time as a guest blogger with a fantastic article about her transition from being a screenwriter/producer into directing her first feature.
Why I Decided to Direct After Writing Movies for 15 Years.
by Christine Conradt
“Action!” I yelled and slid the white painter’s mask back up over my nose and mouth as my voice echoed through the dark, dank corridors of the ‘dungeon.’ Tucked back into a dusty corner, squeezed up against my script supervisor, Katie, one of the co-producers, Noel, and Patrick, Lauren, and John—hair, makeup, and wardrobe, respectively, my eyes flicked back and forth between two monitors as I watched the actress struggle to free herself from the grip of the actor that was kidnapping her in another room.
Our dungeon was the basement of the Herald Examiner Building in downtown Los Angeles, now under renovation to become office spaces and condos— and it didn’t require much dressing. A labyrinth of low-ceiling hallways and cages, it was built in 1915 and housed William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper printing business until 1989. After that, it became one of L.A.’s most filmed locations. My movie, would be, sadly, one of the last to be shot there.
My actors duck past the second camera cinematographer charged with getting a low-angle shot of the action and disappear from my monitors. The only sound now is the hum of the overhead Tungstens. I wait a few seconds and call “Cut! Same thing again!” The set becomes a flurry of activity with props being reset, my DOP calling out orders for lights to be adjusted, and the glam crew making the actors look the way they did before the struggle ever started. Dan, the First AD, peeks around the corner and waits for my instructions. “Tell Camera B to stay on John this time and A to get a safety.”
“Got it,” he says and disappears as quickly as he came. A few moments pass and I know he relayed my instructions because Camera B focuses on Dan as he steps onto John’s mark for a frame check. I sit down next to Noel and discuss the following day’s preliminary call sheet, waiting for the next question to come my way. In an odd way, that’s what being a director is all about—answering questions.
From the outside, I’m sure we appear to be a well-oiled machine—churning out scenes and takes like the dinosaur printing presses once did in this same basement a century ago. But inside, I’m nervous as hell. We are two hours behind schedule and we’re only four hours into our day. It’s our last day at this location and carrying scenes would be impossible. On top of that, we have a complicated chase to shoot after lunch and will lose an hour wrapping out. Everyone knows this and the pressure is on. Especially on me, because at the end of it all, if we don’t make our days, it’s the director’s fault.
And yet, despite the pressure and the nerves and the dust in the air that covered our sweaty skin in grit, I’m feeling exhilarated. This is my first foray into directing a feature— and I’m actually pulling it off! After fifteen years of enjoying a successful writing career, with 45 produced movies to my name, I needed that shot of adrenalin. I was getting burned out. Professionally and personally, I needed to grow and stretch and be inspired, and directing a film that I also penned, accomplished all of that and more.
Being a writer/director is both a rewarding and frustrating experience. So many times on set, it dawned on me how incredibly different it is to write than direct. I felt I was awakening certain aspects of my brain that had been slacking off for decades. When you write, you imagine in such detail how each scene will play out. You go over and over it in your head as you rewrite and hone dialog. It’s a fantasy, really. Writing is purely creative. You create the set, the characters, and the mise-en-scene in your own brain where it’s completely perfect. The actors deliver every line precisely the way you imagine it, the shots flow seamlessly, the lighting and timing is perfect. Fantasy.
Directing, on the other hand, is the process of merging that fantasy with reality. In real life, the locations you get are most likely not the ones you originally imagined, the actors need to be directed, shots are compromised by the need to shoot around c-stands and lights. It’s creative, but it’s creative problem-solving. It’s like staring at a Kandinsky for five minutes then being handed a pencil and paper and asked to reproduce it without looking. You get close most of the time. Sometimes you don’t come close at all and that’s frustrating. And then at other times, it comes out perfect—better than you even imagined it. The stars somehow align: the actors bring something new to their characters that you hadn’t thought of, the DOP suggests a shot that’s more interesting that what you planned, and everything that’s supposed to work a certain way actually does! Those moments, the ones where you realize this is even better than what you fantasized, are magical. And you’ll never feel them as a writer; only as a director.
Prior to directing The Bride He Bought Online, I thought I preferred the purely creative process of sitting alone behind my computer and inventing a world and all the people (or creatures) in it. And I still love it. I don’t think I could ever give it up. But like most artists, I needed to expand. I needed to make new mistakes and try new things. I needed to forgive myself for those mistakes and learn from them. And in doing that, I not only became a better writer, but I discovered a new passion. And passion is what drives creative people. We thrive on rebirth. It’s just who we are.
The Bride He Bought Online premieres on Lifetime Network July 18 at 8 PM ET/PT. For more information and on-set photos, check out the film’s Facebook page, my FB page or Twitter #TheBrideHeBoughtOnline. And yes, there’s an IMDB page too.
Movie Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBrideHeBoughtOnline
Director Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ScreenwriterChristineConradt
Christine Conradt, a graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, has been involved in production and development since 1996. She has earned writing and producing credits on more than 45 indie films and TV movies and just directed her first feature. Her movies have aired on Lifetime, LMN, USA, and Fox. She also offers script consultation services. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter @CConradt.
June 7, 2015 § Leave a comment
Yes… that sweet aroma of victory when you finish your spec screenplay. Every word is yours, every scene is yours, every line of dialogue is yours… it’s a joyous dream world filled with everything that came from your head… and now reality hits with a spec release and working in Hollywood—it’s always a collaboration. The moment you unleash your script for others to read you will receive notes, good, bad and ugly and open yourself up to criticism. It’s hard when they burst your protected spec bubble and you realize that just because you write a screenplay doesn’t mean anyone has to like it or produce it. Time to toughen up and strap yourself in for the bumpy ride.
The key to working and working again in Hollywood if you do land a job? Collaboration and teamwork. It’s vital to your survival over the long haul. No screenplay scene or line of dialogue—or any screenplay—is worth losing a job over. Professionals want to work with other professionals and not divas. Producers, executives, agents, managers, and directors look for workhorses—screenwriters who go above and beyond and realize the opportunities they have landed. If you want to work in this crazy business where it’s nearly impossible to get anything produced on any size screen—detach and get the script produced. You want to be the “go to person” who helps the producer, executive and director move the project through the development phase toward production. A collaborator and team player does just that.
Your experience and attitude can determine if you’ll stay on the project or be fired. Have you learned how to take constructive criticism and mastered the ability to execute producer’s notes—and not gripe and grimace during the experience? Do you turn in your work on schedule or early? This is the delicate art of being a team player. It’s a necessary discipline for any real chance at success in Hollywood. A team player, not a temperamental diva, usually stays on a project longer and many times, through production. The constant barrage of notes and changes can make screenwriters frustrated and angry. They can feel totally out of control and like they’re just around to do the “grunt” work of writing. Avoid the temptation to go down a destructive pathway with these valid emotions.
Don’t become “difficult” or branded a pain in the ass to work around. Producers will hire a talented team player over a pain in the ass that has no regard for professionalism. Hollywood is a business of relationships and networking. People in Hollywood generally like to work with those people they’ve had a positive experience with in the past. So, always deliver your best work, every time, regardless of your salary and don’t ever gripe about the changes. Unfortunately, most producers have their radar up to detect if a screenwriter is easy or difficult when it comes time for the rewrites. They test you when you don’t expect it. Can you pass the test? The minute you’re viewed as problem, you’ll be branded as “difficult” and it’s a hard to dispel that reputation.
Hollywood is a small town when it comes to people knowing each other and if word gets out that a producer or director had a difficult working relationship with you it can mean the death of your next job. Let’s dispel that old stereotype and prove them all wrong. We’re the writers who want to work and make it all happen. Make a point to clearly show the producers how invaluable you are to the project and why they need to keep you around. As you’re the screenwriter, be the repository of knowledge about the script for the director, producer and actors.
Do everything you can to help the producers craft the script they need and lend all of your support to get the movie competed. That’s the end game—getting your movie produced and receiving your credit. Initially, you may not receive the praise or validation you feel that you deserve for all of your hard work. I know it feels like you’re banging your head against a wall and coming up short. If this happens, patience is a good discipline to follow, as it will eventually pay off for you over the long haul. Your praise will come in the form of a payment for your writing, a produced film, and a vital part of your screenwriting career—a credit. Produced film credits will determine your payment quote for your next project and secure you as a working professional. You’ll always find opportunities to be a collaborator team player and build your integrity as a professional screenwriter.
Every new project is a chance to build new relationships and show the producers and executives they can trust you by being a person of your word. If you promise to do something—do it. This is the mantra of a team player. It’s that easy. Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you, that your word means something and you are a team player. Your talent is equally as important as your professional work ethic and your attitude. These are the characteristics of a professional screenwriter and your reputation of being a team player will precede you. Keep filling your blank pages because if you stop writing, you’ll never have a shot at any success. Scriptcat out!
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Did you just finish your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my professional services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.
Check out my archived webinar now available for streaming rental:
“A Screenwriter’s Checklist: 10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game.”
“When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost—and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.”— T.S. Eliot
“Don’t focus on where you’re not (famous or A-list writer)—focus on where you’re at—hopefully screenwriting. Regardless of success or experience, we’re all equals in front of that blank page channeling the muse.”—Scriptcat
“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 “People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich.”—William Faulkner “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
“Collaborative effort requires sharing that tiny little space which we reserve for ourselves. We’ve got to bring it out and share it for a while, even if we put it back afterward.”—Stanley Kramer
May 20, 2015 § 2 Comments
I recently spoke to a screenwriter friend of mine who asked me about making changes to his spec from his agent’s notes. He obviously wasn’t happy with the prospect of reworking the script and wanted to know if this was a customary procedure. My advice was—make the changes. I told him this was the agent’s first test to see if my friend was a team player and collaborator when it came to changes. If my friend bristles at every note the agent gives, how would he react if the agent secures him a job and he flips out when the producer or executive gives notes? My friend could shoot himself in the foot early on by the way he reacts to his agent’s suggestions.
It’s been my experience that many agents don’t take a lot of time to give notes and managers tend to do this more because of their development or production backgrounds. I told my friend that it’s a question of how much he is willing to change his script and risk that the changes will help the agent feel confident about sending it out. You must remember, agents need to feel confident with the material they send out because it’s their reputation on the line with the producers and executives, and if they send out something that is substandard and it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t look good for their image.
Also depending on the size of the agency, the agent has a boss who is looking to see if the agent is commissioning and how many clients are selling and working. Also don’t forget that coveted holiday bonus or the invite to the agency’s Bermuda retreat. If an agent’s ten clients are not working and the agent can’t sell anything from them or secure jobs, how will that look to the agency or the business? The agent’s sensibilities will be in question and it’s a downward spiral from there.
Generally, I’ve had my managers give me more detailed notes than any agent. Usually my managers came from a production or development background and could actually help with story and getting the script ready to unleash upon Hollywood. My agents in the past had very little notes (not sure if that was good or bad) and once my agent was confident enough in my script to send it out to forty production companies. Yes, the script was “sent out wide” as they say on a Wednesday with a strategy forged by my agent and manager at the time with hopes for a bidding war.
Unfortunately at the time, my writing partner and I were uncredited and unknown screenwriters, and no producer really stepped up to the plate to buy our script by Friday at 5:00 PM. Needless to say it was a long and brutal weekend after that. On that Monday, the responses came in and mostly positive, but no sale. We heard that a few of the producers took our script to the studio level where they had their deals and it was considered, but again looking back the script was not strong enough to garner a sale. We took nearly a dozen meetings as a result, pitched our new idea and got back to writing.
After our big send out, our agent at the time asked us, “What other specs do you have?” Luckily we did have another comedy spec and he agreed to send it out, but to only ten companies. It was a lackluster strategy and again, that script didn’t garner a sale, but more meetings and opened doors. At this point our agent was pretty much done with us—and it felt like we were clinging by a mere finger hold outside on the agency’s tenth story patio waiting to be pushed. This is when my writing partner pitched our agent an old idea that he dusted off right there in the office. My eyes went wide as I didn’t know he was going to do that and went along for the ride. After the big song and dance, spinning plates and jumping through hoops, our agent ponders the pitch for a moment, his eyes go wide and he tells us: “GO WRITE THAT MOVIE!”
So, for next six weeks we hammered out that movie. We completed a first draft and our manager sent it to our agent and it took him three weeks to read it. This was not a good omen. Finally, the phone rang and it was our manager with the bad news, “Yeah, he read your new spec. He didn’t really care for it and said, ‘It’s not for me.'” BZZZT. That was our agent’s way of telling our manager and us that he was done trying to break us into the biz. He now had two clients who had two specs that did not sell and a new script that wasn’t what he expected. It was time to cut us loose. We learned a valuable lesson the hard way.
It’s a delicate dance and you risk offending an agent or manager if you refuse to make changes in your script. Now, you must believe that the changes will make the script more marketable and easier to compete professionally, but who ever knows? I’ve been in situations where you make the changes and the agent reads the next draft and it turns him off even more. At this point you can’t tell your agent, “Yeah, but these were your notes that I executed.” It doesn’t matter because you live or die by what’s on the page regardless of who suggested the changes. It’s the writer who ultimately gets the blame for the misdirection not the person who foisted a bunch of lame ideas upon the writer.
It’s always a long haul journey to reach any level of screenwriting success. You’ll get burned, cheated, rejected, criticized, ridiculed, and a myriad other forms of disrespect, but if you have someone in your corner whose interest helps champion your script, weigh the risks and benefits.
My friend is an aspiring screenwriter with no credits and agents don’t like to break unknown writers. Agents love writers who have credits and are working, as it makes them easier to sell and send out for jobs. It’s rare that your spec is “the one” that agents have looked for all of their careers—no offense. The reality is it’s just another one in the pile and heat will garner more of their interest than if they have to work from scratch and develop a script with you that could take months. What if the writer isn’t capable of executing the agent’s notes? This could be another test for the agent to see if the writer does land a job, will he/she be able to execute the producer’s notes and stay on the job or get fired? If a writer gets fired, it doesn’t look good for the agent’s reputation either—and of course it damages the writer’s reputation too by getting canned.
If an agent wants to develop your script with you, strongly consider doing the work necessary to make the agent feel confident about sending out your spec. It’s also a test to see if you are a client who is open to changes and is a team player. You must have multiple projects in the marketplace at all times and not be a one-script wonder—and when your spec goes out and doesn’t sell—lather, rinse and repeat. That’s how it works, your spec opens doors, you pitch and plant your flag and get them to say “come back” and you write a new script and go out with another and another until something breaks— or they break you!
Keep screenwriting and filling your blank pages because if you stop—you’ll never have any chance at success.
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“… That’s why an artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, artists over time acquire modesty and humility. They may, some of them, conduct themselves flamboyantly in public. But alone with the work they are chase and humble. They know they are not the source of the creations they bring into being. They only facilitate. They carry. They are the willing and skilled instruments of the gods and goddesses they serve.“—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”—William Falukner
“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” ― Stella Adler
“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”— William S. Burroughs
“When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb outside with a pencil and a ten cent notebook and start the whole thing over again.” — Preston Sturges
“Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working.”—Michael Crichton
January 31, 2015 § 1 Comment
Like any discipline in life, it’s usually one “thing” at a time, one rep of a workout, one-minute, one day, or one step after another for any journey. Follow your screenwriting disciplines the same way. If you stop and think about the entire one-hundred or so pages at once, it can overwhelm you. Focus on the scene in front of you, but also be aware of how it relates to the bigger story and the journey of your protagonist. Do not stray from your writing schedule and step by step, you will finish your script if you stick with it every day.
Nice and easy does it every time. You’ll soon find that every trip up to the blank page is a different experience and every script is an adventure with its own unique set of triumphs and failures. It does get easier with experience, but even as I just completed the first draft of my 30th feature-length screenplay (my fourteenth assignment), it’s the same process as it was on my first script. Anxiety, a little bit of fear of the unknown, and the faith to leap off the cliff and know it’s going to be okay coming down.
You never know how it’s going to go until you type FADE IN and set off on that journey. Never take the process for granted or believe that you know everything—you will always be surprised and humbled by the craft. Sometimes the writing comes easy, other times it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. When the writing becomes difficult and you’re hitting a creative wall, remember there’s no way around it, you can only break through it by focusing on the project and making a breakthrough happen. If you avoid the writing because it gets difficult, that breeds procrastination and it’s a disaster for any writer.
When the writing becomes hard, a long time friend of mine who is a writer/director exclaims, “It’s crap!” Yes, and the worst thing is to know that you’re writing “crap” and just slogging through putting words on paper, hoping to fix it in the next draft. You may have heard the moronic phrase sometimes used on a film production, “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it in post.” The reality is—you can’t fix it in post. The same goes for your first draft.
This is why I’m not a fan of the “vomit” draft where you just spew out whatever comes into your mind and worry about it later. I don’t have that luxury when I work on my screenplay assignment jobs for producers, as they’ve hired me to write a fantastic first draft based upon a super tight story treatment. You should get into the habit of making your first draft as good as possible to train yourself for the time when you do land an assignment job. You certainly don’t want to find out on your first job that the producer wants you to do a “page one” rewrite of your first draft because it was substandard. Make it as amazing as you possibly can. Why not?
I believe the first imprint on those virgin blank pages will forge the DNA of the screenplay—or at least it should. If you are following a tightly structured treatment your first draft is a relative breeze. Nail it the best you can the first time out and avoid the pitfalls of stumbling into a horrible trap of development hell. It’s hard to go another direction with the story in another draft, and you’ll need years of experience being able to execute screenplay notes and successful rewrites—or be fired.
Screenplays live or die by their execution and good screenwriting always includes rewriting. Here is the formula: A good idea + a bad script from that idea = an unsuccessful screenplay and screenwriter. Screenwriting is rewriting and don’t forget it. Trust me, you might have seven more drafts to follow as the producer or executive may suddenly have a genius thought on a different story direction.
One page at a time. If you write every day, you’ll be in the zone and will not to lose momentum. You’re also training for the long haul marathon to reach any level of success. If you take a day off you’ll think, “why not two days? Maybe three?” And suddenly, you’re stumbling to get back to your screenplay. If you have other commitments, make sure to carve out your precious writing time and protect your schedule from distraction or interruption. Keep a tight schedule and do not stray from it as writers need the uninterrupted time to dream, write and get the job done.
In private correspondence the great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed, “even if I didn’t write anything, I made sure I sat down at my desk every single day and concentrated.” Chandler gave himself the physical stamina a professional writer needs, quietly strengthening his willpower. This sort of daily training was indispensable to him. A writer needs to write something every day. The more you write—the better you will become.
Five pages a day is a finished script in twenty days — actually my fastest record of completing a first draft for an assignment. You can do it and meet your deadlines if you just keep filling your blank pages, one after another. I completed my latest first draft assignment job in twenty-six days because I worked from a detailed treatment, so I already had done much of the heavy lifting figuring out the story and the structure. The fun part was fleshing out the story and letting the characters come to life, breathe and send them on their journey.
Once you sign on for a script assignment, you lose the leisure time you may have had with your spec to craft every word perfectly. You’re now under the gun and the clock is ticking. The producer expects a draft by the scheduled delivery date and you are getting paid under a deadline. It’s a very different experience from working on your spec only when you get inspired or maybe a half hour a day. If you’ve been hired professionally, you are in work mode and the producer is paying you to deliver the goods. I once had to write 26 pages in 24 hours to complete a script so the producer could show it to the German investors who just flew into town—it was a screenwriting nightmare, but I did it.
I never want to deal with a nightmare scenario like that again, but at least I know if my back is against the wall, I can deliver the goods even under a ridiculous deadline. We know writing is hard work and difficult to do well. Don’t stress about the bigger picture, just keep your focus on the scene you’re writing at this moment, and fill your blank pages, one page at a time.
Keep the faith and if you stop writing, you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.
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Did you just finish your new screenplay? Congrats. Screenwriting is all about the execution and is it time for screenplay consultation/editing/proofing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information.
“Writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die. We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout.”—Ray Bradbury
“The professional understands delayed gratification. He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare… the professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep the huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
“What I’m saying is that is it frustrating. If a painter paints a picture, he can scrape it off and do it again, if he doesn’t like it. In a film, it will cost you forty thousand dollars to do that again, just for that once scene that didn’t come out the way you wanted. All the time I hear young filmmakers say, “But I’ll never make a compromise.” Baloney! All of life is a compromise. It’s one succession of compromises after another.”—Stanley Kramer
“Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can assume great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. They acquired greatness, became “geniuses” (as we put it), through qualities the lack of which no one who knew what they were would boast of: they all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.” —Friedrich Nietzsche