On your screenwriting journey don’t be afraid to say, “No.”

January 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

pitchNo. It’s a powerful word if used properly on your screenwriting journey. Or better yet, “No, thank you.” If you stay in the screenwriting game long enough you will encounter the ups and downs of the business. During the successful times when you’re working and your scripts get produced, it’s magical, but you must prepare for the Yin & Yang of the journey. There will be times when you’re scraping the bottom and it feels like nobody wants to return your calls. Or you might feel trapped in a cycle where you just can’t push any one project forward enough to actually see money or production.

hang onSo, what if you find yourself on the side of the cliff dangling by a mere finger hold and running out of time? Hang on. Climb back up and work on another script, and another, and get better and build your network of contacts. When you’re at the lowest point is when it really matters how you stay in the game because it’s much easier for you to leave the business when all hope is lost. And time keeps ticking away. It can be your greatest asset or worst enemy especially if you put an expiration date on your screenwriting dreams—“I have to make it by 30!” When you’re struggling on the side of that cliff, fight for your long term survival. Never allow them to stomp on your fingers so you fall into the void and never to live out your splendid screenwriting dreams.

praise or blameTrust me, producers can smell desperation in the room if a writer needs to pay the rent or needs some validation about the work. This is when you unknowingly might allow them to take advantage of you and then you accept a crappy deal that benefits them and not you. Sure, you might need to get your foot in the door, but it doesn’t mean they have to crush your toes in the process. Any opportunity to work is a chance for you to shine, but your time is important and if you are writing at a professional level to compete, you should come into any situation with a humble confidence.

In the Wild West, a gunslinger could spot other gunslingers by the way they handled themselves and by the execution of their work. The same goes for professionals in Hollywood. Pros can spot another pro just by the title page on a screenplay. They have a built-in radar to weed out the amateurs and aspirants by recognizing their inexperience and bad screenwriting. And if you’re desperate, you just might consider taking a bad working situation just to move forward. Do not. Many times the job “is what it is” meaning there is no chance of advancement when it’s done, just more of the same. Or if you get fired with no credit it really doesn’t help your career anyway. In fact maybe next time they tell you that your pay is less because their business model has changed. If you’re meeting with a producer who complains about working with bad writers and bemoans about not having much of a development budget, it’s a major red flag.

sullivans-travels-052I know, it’s difficult to walk away because it may feel like that producer is the only person interested and at least their interest is something. Some interest is better than the script file sitting in your hard drive, right? No. It’s talk until you both sign the contract and the check clears. Unfortunately, money does make it real. And if the interest from just one person is the “only game in town,” that doesn’t really give you much leverage for any type of negotiation. If you tell them, “Nobody else is interested in my script,” you’re sunk and they’ve got you. Never let anyone know the real status of your project unless they are ready to offer a contract and money. Until then you have it “at a handful of companies around town and it’s being considered.” Even if two of the companies passed, in your discussion it’s still over there and they haven’t gotten back to you yet. This buys you more time—but not much. Hopefully, they won’t ask you more details, but if they do have a real answer because they will check up and it’s a small town.

The only consideration should be the risk factor for you and that includes the payment, your time, and if it detracts from other more important work. Also realize the markings of a good deal and when it’s the best that you’re going to get. You might blow it a few times before you realize what you can and can’t push for at your level. It’s best to let your lawyer, agent or manager handle the back and forth negotiations of any deal. If you don’t have anyone on your team, consult friends who are more established in the film business for advice. They’ve been through the process for years and will tell you what to do and not to do.

BoulderFlatThe reality is you’ll probably make less money on your first few jobs until you can get established, show a successful movie and then can negotiate for a better deal. If any deal does not feel right or isn’t right for you, don’t be afraid to graciously say, “No, thank you.” Yes, even if you haven’t sold a screenplay before. Your time is more important than being locked into a crappy deal and something that could set you back. You come from a place of power when you feel that something is wrong and you don’t cave to your fears out of desperation. You will thank yourself when a better opportunity comes your way and you’re free to take it.

Keep writing and learning because it you stop you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2016 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting videos.

Follow me on Twitter @scriptcat and Periscope.

Did you just finish you latest screenplay? Congrats! Do you need in-depth analysis, editing, proofing? Check out my consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.  You’ll never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

Screenplay consultation services

Need help keeping focus on your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinars can help, “A Screenwriter’s Checklist.” Part One and Two are $9.99 each and available as a download or a streaming rental.

Click on the photo below for the link.

checklist 2

Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

Now available my COFFEE RING CARTOONS merchandise at my online store. Check out my T-shirts, mugs, pint glasses, drink coasters, notebooks, note cards, and mouse pads.

Click on the photo below for the link to my online store to purchase.

mug-real-photo

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

“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

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

“All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.”—Ernest Hemingway

“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

The ten warning signs you’re still a screenwriting aspirant…

January 1, 2016 § 1 Comment

The_EndOkay, 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.

hollywood boulevardThe 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.

Scriptcat out!

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

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

Screenplay consultation services

Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book available on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2

Are you having trouble reaching your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinar can help? “A Screenwriter’s Checklist: 10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game.” Now available as a streaming rental. Click on the icon below for the link to rent it.

checklist 2

Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

Follow and subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for my screenwriting videos.

1df7ffa9b08c4ed0ba660687daf4e1c2

 

“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

Searchers-Final-Shot

On your first screenplays don’t tackle stories beyond your ability…

December 28, 2015 § 1 Comment

smash head in wallMy real world advice to beginning screenwriters is… don’t write stories that are beyond your capacity at this point on your journey. You must be aware of your screenwriting ability and accept what you can and cannot write at this time. I find that too many beginning writers try and go after the massive budget Hollywood tent-pole story ideas for their first screenplays with the hopes to compete against A-list Hollywood writers. It’s a huge waste of time and energy as the studios already have proven A-listers who have box office mega hits and the credits to write the movies that we generally see in the multiplexes. All of the super hero movies are assignment jobs from ideas and franchises the studio already owns. And when 50,000 scripts bounce around Hollywood every year with only under 100 spec sales at the studio level, the odds are horrible for a sale.

When writing specs, I try to persuade beginning screenwriters to write something smaller in scope with regards to story. When beginners work on their first or second screenplays, they are still learning the craft as they go and also forging their own unique style. It takes at least four or five scripts to hit your groove and really understand your strengths and weaknesses as a screenwriter. As you’re becoming a better screenwriter by writing bad specs, making mistakes and learning how to execute notes, you can’t focus on competing with the A-listers with scripts that are basically learning tools. Early on in every screenwriter’s journey we’re still discovering our identity and ability as screenwriters. We need that precious time to learn our craft. When you’re finally writing at a professional level only then can you write something more challenging and stretch your abilities.

script page and keyboardWhen starting on your first screenplays, I suggest writing more personal stories. I hate to use this cliché, but focus on character driven stories where you can really showcase your talent for creating relationships between people. Every story that you write should be driven by characters, but some stories end up being more focused on plot. Yes, structure and story are equally important, but if you can’t create memorable and unique characters that can interact you will be lost. Showcase your talents with your passion for a story and let it show though on the page. If you’re chasing the big budget tent-pole ideas you’ll probably be fabricating characters, tropes and stories that feel inauthentic because they’re only a rehash of other movies that you’ve seen.

If you write a story about an FBI agent who deals with a serial killer, did you do research on serial killers or FBI agents, bureau procedures, and how agents think and talk? Did your research include reading books or interviewing an FBI agent? My point about authenticity is that without extensive research or living in the characters minds, the scripts and stories will feel inauthentic because the experiences are drawn from other movies or TV shows the writer has seen before. This perpetuates clichés and keeps them alive.

I’m talking about spec screenplays and not assignment jobs—they’re a completely different experience. When you work on assignment, you must please producers or executives who must please their bosses at the studio or network, or please the buyer, or the investor, and even the director must please the producer to create a commercial product on schedule and on budget. Filmmaking is a business first and millions of dollars is on the line with every project.

When writing specs, try to pick stories that can showcase the best of your writing abilities with story structure and equally as important, character development, motivation and emotion. Too many times I read specs that feel inauthentic like they are just rehashing “Hollywood” scenes that the writer only knows from movies and not from real life. Inject your personal life and experiences into your stories to make them unique. If you want to say something or cause people to think, write a personal story and strive to make the emotions leap off the page. This is what will attract talent and move the script forward more than you just trying to roll the dice and hope Hollywood wants another movie about a super hero or alien. Again, I’m talking about specs from unknown screenwriters with no credits—and that’s most of the writers trying to break into Hollywood.

You usually get one chance to dazzle them with your script, so you must be writing at a professional level with a solid screenplay to compete. Anything less is a waste of everyone’s time. You also must have the patience to weather the long haul journey while you’re learning your craft and getting muddy as you slog it out in Hollywood’s trenches. They will be filled with rejection, criticism and failure, but it’s all part of the process. Patience helps, but if you can’t accept this reality, your frustration and anger will spoil any splendid dreams of a career.

What separates those aspirants who see screenwriting as an easy way to fame and fortune from those writers who have a professional mindset? It’s a respect for the difficulty of writing, the discipline to create the necessary work, and going after dreams even in the face of the incredible odds to reach any level of success. Keep true to yourself and always write with a passion for your work, but when first staring out keep it simple and don’t tackle stories beyond your ability.

Scriptcat out!

Follow me on Twitter & Periscope: @scriptcat

Also subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for my weekly screenwriting videos.

Is it time for in-depth professional screenplay consultation for your feature or TV script? Check out my services. Click on the icon below for the link to my website.

Screenplay consultation services

Need help keeping focus on your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinar can help. Click on the photo below for the link for the streaming rental.

checklist 2

Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

“It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.” — JJ Abrams

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

“All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.”—Ernest Hemingway

“No person who is enthusiastic about his work has anything to fear from life.”—Samuel Goldwyn

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

“Then our writers when they have made some money increase their standard of living and they are caught. They have to write to keep up their establishments, their wives, and so on, and they write slop. It is slop not on purpose but because it is hurried. Because they write when there is nothing to say or no water in the well. Because they are ambitious. Then, once they have betrayed themselves, they justify it and you get more slop.”—Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa, page 23.

“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

“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

rejection

Three more tips, tricks and tactics for your screenwriting journey…

December 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

BoulderFlatIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, first of all—THANK YOU! I truly hope you’re busy creating and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. As you may know, I’ve been adding short posts (nothing is EVER short on this blog!) and sharing various survival tips. I do speak about these in over 180 articles on this blog, but this feature will be a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate your screenwriting journey. Follow me on Twitter (@scriptcat) and I’ll be posting new articles here from time to time. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting! Okay, here are three more survival tips that will help you on your screenwriting adventure…

TIP #1

Find filmmaking mentors and apprentice with them. lucas & coppola on setAnother good way to do your homework with regards to learning is to find a filmmaking mentors and apprentice under them or at least have access to them as they are working. Many busy screenwriters need an assistant and they’re willing to pay an hourly wage for the job. It’s a great way for aspiring screenwriters to learn while getting paid. If you can’t find a paid position, offer your time to a working screenwriter in exchange for access to their knowledge and the whole process they go through daily. A true professional is always willing to give back and share knowledge. When you’re able to observe working professionals, be like a sponge and soak up everything you can and ask questions. I’ve been blessed over the years to work with many top professionals and veterans of the film business and a few have become my mentors. This includes directors and a few have become my mentors and friends. I’m currently working with two directors on various projects that we are developing together and will take out into the marketplace as partners. As I worked with them and collaborated on the films that I wrote, I was able to have inside and unlimited access to help build my screenwriter’s toolkit. Seeking knowledge is an ongoing discipline for every artist. Keep filling your blank pages. If you stop you’ll never have any chance at success.

TIP #2

Work your way to becoming a multi-hyphenate screenwriter. multi-hyphenateEventually to gain more creative control over your projects, you’ll need to become a multi-hyphenate filmmaker and not just a screenwriter who is a “hired gun.” This means along with your talent for creating the script you will move into producing and or directing as a way to keep your total creative vision on the project. This won’t likely happen on your first few screenplays, but eventually you can negotiate your way into being one of the key decision makers or ultimately the director whose vision takes the script to the screen. Your goal is working your way into being a double threat: A writer/producer or writer/director—or a triple threat: a writer/producer/director.

TIP #3:

When you just finish your first draft—do not immediately give it to someone for a read. Let the creative dust settle and go over it by yourself first. karloff script Avoid the temptation to give anyone your screenplay moments after you finish it. Put it away and let it settle for a few days or even a week before giving it your first read.  You’ll be coming down from your natural creative high and you don’t want anyone to harsh your buzz. It’s the necessary time a screenwriter needs to spend alone with his/her script. You’re also in a raw and vulnerable place after giving birth to new material, so you don’t want feedback now to taint your clear vision or perspective. This will only lead to chasing notes because everyone has an opinion about your work. Keep your script close. Don’t boast or talk about it. You did the work now do something to celebrate. You need to enjoy the little and big successes on your long journey as a screenwriter. Keep the faith and keep filling your blank pages. Nothing is guaranteed, but if you quit you’re guaranteed never have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

Subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting videos.

Follow me on Twitter @scriptcat and Periscope.

Look for my new book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success coming this spring on Amazon.

Did you just finish you latest screenplay? Congrats! Do you need in-depth analysis, editing, proofing? Check out my consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.  You’ll never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

Screenplay consultation services

Need help keeping focus on your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinar can help. Click on the photo below for the link for the streaming rental.

checklist 2

Click the photo above for the link to the webinar.

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

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

“All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.”—Ernest Hemingway

“No person who is enthusiastic about his work has anything to fear from life.”—Samuel Goldwyn

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

“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

Just because you write it doesn’t mean Hollywood has to buy it…

June 2, 2015 § 1 Comment

poor screenwriterThis reality was one of the hardest lessons to learn when I began screenwriting. I thought like many aspirants do, that just because I finished a new screenplay that someone would care and it would sell. It took about five specs into my journey to figure out that it takes many projects in the marketplace for one to succeed. I’ll admit those early scripts were not amazing and it took me years to write at a professional level to compete. Many times on your journey it’s a long dry period where no project moves forward and you can’t get anyone to read it. Other times every script you push garners interest and some brush close to a sale or option. It’s the ebb and flow as you pursue a screenwriting career.

After I began getting paid professionally to write screenplays, some ended up in development and did not get produced, while others moved forward into production. My eighth produced film goes into production next month and it was my thirteenth paid assignment job. I’ve had one spec sale (that was produced) and thirteen assignments out of twenty-eight total screenplays written on my journey. Out of my fourteen professional projects, eight have been produced. That’s slightly over a 50% production rate on everything I’ve written professionally.

It’s been along haul with many ups and downs and proof that not every project you write—even when you’re paid—will end up begin produced and distributed. You will learn that each project you write has its unique journey to failure or success. When you finish a screenplay, so much of the after process is out of your control and you have to let go and detach from any outcome. What is within your control is filling your blank pages, every day and creating a solid body of work to standout. This also helps build your writing experience and ability to sit for six hours a day and create.

script oddsAlways remember that selling a screenplay is a numbers game at best. Consider the odds of selling a spec screenplay the same as winning the lottery and if you believe the numbers—nearly 40,000 projects bounce around Hollywood each year with just over 100 specs selling at the studio level most years. Hollywood released 692 movies in theaters domestically in 2014. Don’t forget about the thousands of films without distribution that end up competing at film festivals every year with only a handful landing deals. Sundance had 4,057 films entered in 2014 and only 119 got in and about 27 got distribution deals. Ah, don’t forget about the hundreds of pitches that don’t sell. They’re worse because they struggle out there in the ether with the producer or executive debating if the writer can deliver the goods as pitched.

The script you are writing now, unless it’s a paid assignment, is probably a spec and you have to look at it as one of many you’ll have to write to reach any level of success. Always look at the bigger picture of a career. Your latest spec is a tool to build your writing experience and it becomes an example of your work. It’s shows the best of your ability and talent and the writing sample can land you a screenwriting assignment gig. That’s the bread and butter of working screenwriters. Trust me, you won’t sell specs your entire career.

This is why you must have multiple projects, pitches and treatments in the marketplace at any given time for chance that one might—and I stress might—find interest and move farther down the playing field. And talk is cheap in Hollywood, so add that to the journey of your projects when producers or executives head their praise on your talents and your screenplay, but string you along with offers of free work as they dangle the carrot of production.

Interest, even when you receive a payday, doesn’t always guarantee your film goes on to being a produced film. Sure, money makes their interest real, but your project still must jump over hurdles that are out of your control.

  • An option for little money doesn’t end up with the purchase of the script.
  • A script is purchased, the writer is fired, and it’s rewritten so many times it languishes in development hell and never gets produced.
  • A script is close to being financed when suddenly the investors pullout, the producer loses the money and the star as a result.
  • A project is put on hold because of scheduling conflicts.
  • A project isn’t produced due to changing global marketplace factors. It’s cheaper NOT to make the film than take a risk.

Sometimes a spec that didn’t sell two years ago can find a new home, but it’s a long haul journey for any project to find a producer or executive who likes it enough to move forward in some way. The project must also survive the dicey minefield of the development process and with luck, move into production.

Even when a film is produced, there still is no guarantee of success either. How many films considered a “guaranteed hit” end up a bomb at the box office? It happens every weekend. Look at the recent film Tomorrowland with a big Hollywood star. It underperformed at the box office to date making only $133 million worldwide and cost $190 million to produce. A film usually has to make about three times its budget to go into profits. As you see there are many hurdles that are out of a screenwriter’s control, but the one thing in your control is creating a solid body of work and putting it in the pipeline with the goal of having one move forward down the field to production. This is why you can’t be a “one script wonder” and burn out after a few drafts of your first screenplay.

That’s okay. Take your lumps and move onto generating your next logline, pitch or treatment and hopefully another job. Never forget that Hollywood is a business and screenwriting is a profession with the same dilemmas of other jobs. Your goal is staying in the game and being hired again and again to write screenplays to establish a career. It may take writing a half-dozen projects for one to finally sell or get you assignment work, but every new script is a new opportunity or a missed opportunity–it depends on how you play it.

And while you are writing your specs, practice the discipline of patience during this period of your journey. I find many beginning screenwriters are too eager to sell their first script for a million dollars—like it’s just that easy. It’s not just that easy. And you need to respect your craft and practice it every day. You’ll need the time to fail and write badly before you can become an excellent screenwriter, execute notes and work on a schedule under pressure. You don’t want a yellow belt in screenwriting—you want to achieve a Grand Master 4th degree Black Belt—and to do this you’ll need to train by writing every day.

boxerThe only way you’ll be able to do this is to keep to a tight writing schedule. You’ll need to protect your precious writing time. Stephen King calls it “closing your door.” When your door is closed, it means that you are writing. You have to take your career seriously and become a master at scheduling your time. If you dabble at your career, time becomes your enemy, it passes quickly while projects burn out and life gets in the way of your most splendid screenwriting dreams. If you keep the pipeline always filled with your best work you will create opportunities and have a shot at success.

If you have a solid body of work and you’re always creating new projects, you will be more attractive to an agent or manager as they can see you are not a “one script wonder” but a workhorse. They don’t like divas and love writers who write and create the product. As you build up your projects, you’ll be working on your craft and becoming a better screenwriter in the process. And as it’s extremely difficult to sell a project, you’ll want to increase your odds by unleashing solid projects into the pipeline so you can attack a career on different fronts. Remember that just because you write it doesn’t mean Hollywood has to buy it. Eventually one great script will slip through and find the right producer and that will jump-start your screenwriting career.

Practice humility and never believe that just because you put words on paper you’re entitled to a read, a sale or a career. Your script must be amazing on every level—that’s the minimum standard. Good is not good enough. You have to be excellent. If not, the film business will humble you. Your script is one of thousands trying to compete and get produced. Standout and make Hollywood notice you by writing an amazing screenplay that showcases your unique talents.

Keep on writing and keep the faith!

Scriptcat out!

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

Make the time to get it right.

Screenplay consultation services

Follow me on Twitter: @scriptcat & on Periscope!

Subscribe to my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting videos.

“Masters and those who display a high level of creative energy are simply people who manage to retain a sizable portion of their childhood spirit despite the pressures and demands of adulthood.”—Robert Greene, “Mastery”

“As an artist, I feel that we must try many things — but above all we must dare to fail.”
—John Cassavetes

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

“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

You’ll need multiple projects in the marketplace at all times for any chance at success…

March 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

a projects journeyIt’s a numbers game at best. Consider the odds of selling a spec screenplay the same as winning the lottery if you believe the numbers—nearly 40,000 projects bounce around Hollywood each year with just over 100 specs selling at the studio level most years. Hollywood released  728 movies in theaters domestically in 2016. Only 42 spec sold as of September 2016. Don’t forget about the thousands of films without distribution that end up competing at film festivals every year with only a handful landing deals. Ah, don’t forget about the hundreds of pitches that don’t sell and the fact that the WGA 2016 employment report listed only 5,159 professional writers reporting income in 2016 (Ends June 2016). They’re worse because they struggle out there in the ether with the producer or executive debating if the writer can deliver the goods as pitched.

Yes, I also hate learning about the odds, but it’s a reality that must be considered so you know the mountain that you must climb with every new screenplay. It also makes you humble knowing it’s not going to be easy. This is an example of why you must have multiple projects, pitches and treatments in the marketplace at any given time for chance that one might—and I stress might—find interest and move farther down the playing field. And talk is cheap in Hollywood, so add that to the journey of your projects when producers or executives head their praise on your talents and your screenplay, but string you along with offers of free work as they dangle the carrot of production. Interest, even when you receive a payday, doesn’t always guarantee your film goes on to being a produced film. Sure, money makes their interest real, but your project still must jump over hurdles that are out of your control.

  • An option for little money doesn’t end up with the purchase of the script.
  • A script is purchased, the writer is fired, and it’s rewritten so many times it languishes in development hell and never gets produced.
  • A script is close to being financed when suddenly the investors pullout, the producer loses the money and the star as a result.
  • A project is put on hold because of scheduling conflicts.
  • A project isn’t produced due to changing global marketplace factors. It’s cheaper NOT to make the film than take a risk.

Each project you create will have a shelf life and travel on its own unique journey to either failure or success. Sometimes a spec that didn’t sell two years ago can find a new home, but it’s a long haul journey for any project to find a producer or executive who likes it enough to move forward in some way. The project must also survive the dicey minefield of the development process and with luck, move into production. Even when a film is produced, there still is no guarantee of success either. How many films considered a “guaranteed hit” end up a bomb at the box office? It happens every weekend. As you see there are many hurdles that are out of a screenwriter’s control, but the one thing in your control is creating a solid body of work and putting it in the pipeline with the goal of having one move forward down the field to production. This is why you can’t be a “one script wonder” and burn out after a few drafts of your first screenplay.

poor screenwriterI just completed my 31st overall screenplay that is my 15th paid assignment and it’s still hard work and humbling. One of the hardest lessons that I had to learn when I finally started being paid to write screenplays was that not every project that I wrote was going to be produced. Many projects that I was hired to write ended up in development hell, not from anything I did, but because of a variety of circumstances out of my control. These projects remain viable with production ready drafts, but might never get off the shelf and into production. That’s okay. Take your lumps and move onto generating your next logline, pitch or treatment and hopefully another job.

Never forget that Hollywood is a business and screenwriting is a profession with the same dilemmas of other jobs. Your goal is staying in the game and being hired again and again to write screenplays to establish a career. It may take writing a half-dozen projects for one to finally sell or get you assignment work, but every new script is a new opportunity or a missed opportunity–it depends on how you play it. The other harsh reality is that you will need plenty of time to master your craft and be writing at a professional level with at least four or five solid projects that can be out in the marketplace competing with the thousands of others. This is why I stress the practice of patience during this period of your journey. I find many beginning screenwriters are too eager to sell their first script for a million dollars—like it’s just that easy. It’s not just that easy. And you need to respect your craft and practice it every day. You’ll need the time to fail and write badly before you can become an excellent screenwriter, execute notes and work on a schedule under pressure. You don’t want a yellow belt in screenwriting—you want to achieve a Grand Master 4th degree Black Belt—and to do this you’ll need to train by writing every day.

boxer

The only way you’ll be able to do this is to keep to a tight writing schedule. You’ll need to protect your precious writing time from distraction and procrastination. Stephen King calls it “closing your door.” When your door is closed, it means that you are writing. You have to take your career seriously and become a master at scheduling your time. If you dabble at your career, time becomes your enemy, it passes quickly while projects burn out and life gets in the way of your most splendid screenwriting dreams. If you keep the pipeline always filled with your best work you will create opportunities and have a shot at success. If your body of work includes feature-length original screenplays and if they don’t sell, the scripts can become solid writing samples that can get you assignment work.  If you want to work in television, your body of work should include your original TV pilots to show an agent, manager, producer or executive your unique voice. It used to be that you needed to write a spec episode of an existing series, but now agents and managers look for original material to get a handle on the writer’s talent and unique voice. And for both feature films and TV continue to craft your pitches for ideas that you want to write.

If you have a solid body of work and you’re always creating new projects, you will be more attractive to an agent or manager as they can see you are not a “one script wonder” but a workhorse. They don’t like divas and love writers who write and create the product. As you build up your projects, you’ll be working on your craft and becoming a better screenwriter in the process. And as it’s extremely difficult to sell a project, you’ll want to increase your odds by unleashing solid projects into the pipeline so you can attack a career on different fronts. Eventually one script will slip through and stick and it will jump-start your screenwriting career.

Keep writing because if you stop—you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

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

Follow me on Twitter / Periscope: @scriptcat

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

Make the time to get it right.

Screenplay consultation services

Subscribe to my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting videos.

My new COFFEE RING CARTOONS Merchandise for screenwriters is now available on my online store. Mugs, T-shirts, mouse pads, note cards, pint glasses, and coasters. Click on the photo below for the link to my online store.

mug-real-photo

Losing focus on your screenwriting goals this year? Maybe my archived webinar can help:
A SCREENWRITER’S CHECKLIST Part 1 & 2

Available for rental and download just $9.99 each. Click on the icon below for the link…

checklist 2

“In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me.”—Kurt Vonnegut

“You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it. But the best writing is certainly when you are in love. If it is all the same to you I would rather not expound on that.”—Ernest Hemingway

“Most directors do not want to rewrite the script. They have more pressing commitments on the sound stage. The writer’s best insurance against a rewrite is to have an understanding of the directorial problems. Write a scene that can’t be played, no matter how beautiful the words or thoughts, is begging for a revamp.”—Jerry Lewis

“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

“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

“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

poor screenwriter

Scriptcat’s 3 tasty screenwriting tips for your journey…

February 13, 2015 § 1 Comment

sullivans-travels-052As you may know, I’ve been adding short posts and sharing various survival tips on the blog in addition to the full articles. This feature offers a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate your screenwriting journey. So, in addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), I’ll be posting new tips here as part of an ongoing series.  Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting!

When I consult on screenplays for screenwriters, I can’t tell you how many issues I repeatedly find that harm the overall screenplay. It will live or die by 1,000 tiny details.  I know with a little knowledge and insight on the part of the screenwriter, these issues could be easily cleaned up and push the script to a professional level. It only takes one or two issues that repeatedly appear to make your project go from a “RECOMMEND” to a “PASS.” And you get one shot to make a first great impression. Take the time to get it right.

Okay, three more survival tips that may help you on the long marathon on your journey as a screenwriter…

#1 )   As you navigate on this slow climb to success, do not judge yourself as a writer only by an agent or manager’s opinion of your work. 

feedback equals disappointmentI once received feedback back in the day on my script from an agent who held court at a powerful and mighty agency. He actually hated my screenplay—this was a script that placed in the top 1% of the Academy’s prestigious Nicholl Fellowship at the Motion Picture Academy. It was a top 20 script that year in competition and it eventually went on to being produced and distributed worldwide. Who knows the reasoning behind any given feedback? Bad day, fight with wife or girlfriend/boyfriend, bias against the genre or storyline, not interested in the genre, similar film bombed at the box office, who knows? I think we as writers know in our hearts if something we’ve written is good, clear and is authentic writing. Get in touch with writing the truth and scripts that represent your unique voice.

#2 )  As you’re screenwriting, keep the intimate details of your work to yourself.

never believe them untl the check clearsDo not continually talk about the status of your projects, your “writing process,” or how each project is moving forward.  Hollywood has a bizarre time warp that works on its own schedule. Every project will take longer than you ever expected and you don’t need people thinking that you’re blowing smoke when you talk about the status of your material. The truth is that it takes an incredible amount of time for any script to find a home and eventually get produced—if ever. Sometimes the less you say about your progress the better. We all have our own inner voice of self-doubt, but why give fodder to your critics and skeptics who will use it to squash your dreams? They’ll even taint any good news you share and use it to belittle your success because they didn’t have the guts to risk everything to pursue their own dreams. They enjoy raining on your parade instead. Protect your dreams and cut the naysayers out of your life. Keep your work close to the vest until it’s finished.

#3 )   Don’t be a “one-script wonder” and believe that one script will make your career.

spec scriptsBecome a writing workhorse who constantly writes new material because it’s a numbers game at best and you are up against tremendous odds of selling anything. Always have ready a new pitch, synopsis, treatment and script to offer.  Hollywood is a business, and agents and managers size you up to see your career potential. They want you to work and need the material to send into the pipeline. That means you may write five or six scripts before ANYTHING happens that moves you forward in a real and positive way. It wasn’t until my fourth spec screenplay out of college that made some noise for me and it was my fifth spec that received an option and went on to be produced into a film. You also need to be good in a room while pitching your ideas — and you’ll need to execute the notes well and write under the pressure of deadlines. Be a team player and don’t bristle at criticism. This is all part of being a professional screenwriter.  Potential reps will look for these traits because your potential employers will as well. Hollywood is such a fickle business where years can pass between jobs, writers are “hot” and then not, and life can get in the way and derail even the best attempts at a career. Respect the craft and the journey or it will humble you.

Keep on writing and keep the faith— @Scriptcat out!

Subscribe to my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting video tips.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation before you unleash it upon Hollywood? Check out my services by clicking the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information. You get one shot to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

Screenplay consultation services

It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.” — JJ Abrams

“Reading, in the showbiz game, is work. Drudgery even—antithetical, I might argue, to why most writers toil. We write to be read. Hopefully enjoyed. Even to later be complimented. But most importantly, we’d like to know that we entertained. That the reader either laughed or was moved to tears or struck by some worthy emotion summoned by the strings of words we’ve chosen.”—screenwriter Doug Richardson.

It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.”—Telamon of Arcadia, mercenary, 5th Century B.C.

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

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

“If a writer stops observing, he is finished.”—Ernest Hemingway

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with marathon of a screenwriter’s career at My Blank Page.

%d bloggers like this: