Communiqué from the front lines: Following disciplines to stay on target…

completing a scriptIt’s nice being back in the swing of things—having just completed the first draft of my twenty-seventh feature-length screenplay. It’s a movie for television and my twelfth paid screenwriting assignment of my career.  The longer you write you will find that every screenplay has its unique set of issues—pleasant and unpleasant surprises and continued learning experiences so you must remain fluid at all times during the adventure. Also every new working relationship with your producer or executive will be different and bring its own set of unique issues. This time around for me was an enjoyable experience.

The life of a working screenwriter is not the romanticized ideal life you may read about with fame and fortune—it’s a job and nice work when you can get it. Once the producer or executive unleashes you, it can be a bit lonely because it’s just you and the blank page until it’s done.  Strict disciplines are vital during this period because the pressure is on to deliver the goods under a specific deadline.  When the production company signed off on the treatment after a development process, it was my job to craft a screenplay that went beyond the story treatment and became the movie they wanted to make. As always, my trusty entertainment lawyer negotiated my contract and it was a relatively quick and painless experience followed by signatures and getting the green light to go to work.

The producer required me to craft a solid story treatment before I could go to pages.  This is a standard requirement from almost all producers or production companies. It’s understandable as they want to know where you will be going with the script and they do not want any surprises when you turn it in.  It also helps you to stay on target with regards to the story and your deadline.  I completed the first draft in twenty-five straight days (a few days early from my four-week requirement) and it was only possible because of my solid ten page story treatment. The screenplay should be a relative breeze to write if you’ve crafted a solid story in your treatment to follow. Again, protecting your precious writing time is also vital to the process. The forces of procrastination know when you’re writing and they will do their best to seduce you to clean the house or surf the net.

Once they accepted the treatment and it was locked, I was given the green light to start the script. Even after twenty-seven screenplays, I still get the jitters and that nervous stomach facing the blank page. It’s a blank slate and I always expect it to turn out great, but you never know until you type FADE OUT – THE END and wait for notes. No matter credits or experience, we’re all equal when we sit in front of that blank page and channel the muse.  If you think you’re bigger or better than your craft you will be humbled.  I guarantee it.  That is why I respect the process every time up to the plate because I know too well the pitfalls and roadblocks that can spring up during the adventure. And trust me, you don’t want your back up against the wall when you’re working under a contracted deadline and your reputation that got you the gig is at stake.  You must do everything possible to clear the decks and make your process work for you by following your trustworthy disciplines and using your screenwriting tools kept in your toolkit.

time warp in Hollywood

This time out, much to my dismay, I discovered that my writing schedule was a bit off.  I of course figured out my daily page count to see how much I needed to write every day if I was to make the four-week contracted deadline to turn in my first draft.  That averaged out five pages a day—not impossible and my usual clip when I’m up and running.  But, this time I stumbled a bit out of the gate and the first few days were not great. I recall the first day only writing two pages.  Okay.  No worries.  I’m settling in, right?  Day two was only three pages.  Okay, stay on target.  Seven days into the adventure, I found myself on page seventeen and now I started calculating how many days I was behind—seven days in my target is page thirty-five and I’m not there…I’m three days behind… okay, deep breaths and focus… and as you can see, this can become a vicious circle if you fall too far behind.

Okay, I didn’t panic, but utilized my experience and disciplines to fall back on and this allowed me to stay on target regardless of page count and catch up in a matter of days.  I knew that I had to wake up every day and attack this project because it’s my job. Slowly, three days behind became one day ahead of schedule.  This is the necessary training many aspirants are not doing by setting up their own deadlines and sticking to them.  Many believe it will be a leisurely breeze once they score an assignment—the same cool breeze it was for years writing their specs.  Once in the real working world, that belief will get writers in deep trouble when suddenly they wake up and find themselves twenty pages behind as their deadline looms.

rewritingAs far as writing schedule, I found the mornings getting away from me and after reading news websites, taking care of my e-mails, Tweets, other social media, the odd phone calls, it was suddenly mid-afternoon and I would start writing.  This went on for the first four days and I started to panic. This type of schedule would require me to work until at least midnight and sometimes into the wee small hours of the morning. My usual writing schedule was always starting work at around 10 AM and working until about 6 PM. The usual time required to write a feature-length script in four weeks.  So, instead of fighting against it every day, I just accepted the fact that maybe this twenty-seventh time up to the plate, my writing schedule would start in the mid-afternoon and go into the night—so be it.  As long as the pages get done, no one cares how or when you write.

As I mentioned before, the more screenplays you write, you’ll discover that each experience is unique and this was no exception.  I started hitting my stride about page forty-five and couldn’t wait until the next day to continue channeling my characters. The best comment I’ve received back so far about the script from the producer was that I nailed the characters and really had their voice down.  That made me feel good because I was feeling that during the writing.  These characters really came alive and the drama and conflict really allowed me to explore their relationships and keep pushing the story forward.

Mission accomplished as I turned in the screenplay this week and await any notes to push it closer to a production date later this year.  Again, if you do score an assignment gig, do everything possible to make your process work for you by following your trustworthy disciplines and using your screenwriting tools kept in your toolkit.  It’s go time and what every screenwriter has dreamed of—getting paid to write and getting a movie made.  It’s still a creative high and feeling of accomplishment when I finish a new screenplay. This one is no different and I look forward to starting my next assignment sometime in the near future.

Keep the faith and keep filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just finish 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 change to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

Screenplay consultation servicesCheck out my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL with weekly screenwriting videos.

Have you lost focus on the direction of your screenwriting career? Check out my on-demand webinar: 

“A Screenwriter’s Checklist:

10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game”

Where I ask ten of the honest questions every screenwriter must think about during their journey.

Click on the icon below for the link:

checklist 2

Master CoverR2-4-REV2


Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches? Check out my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years surviving professionally in Hollywood’s trenches and I share my tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve used to stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.


“Luck is a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity and delivers the goods.”—Scriptcat

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

“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

“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” —Lao Tzu

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

The art and craft of procrastination…

old specs collecting dustProcrastination. One of the biggest mistakes any screenwriter can make to avoid doing the really hard work. The fact is that screenwriting is hard to do well. As you craft your spec screenplay without a deadline, you may encounter the pitfalls of procrastination, because there is always something else to do than write, right?  Wrong. No one wants to hear your excuses. The dog did not eat your screenplay. The house doesn’t need to be cleaned. The garden doesn’t need watering. Sure, these all may be on your “to do” list, but not today.

Today, you are acting like a professional as you’ve carved out a set amount of time to write. You must always protect your precious screenwriting time, as it’s one of your most valuable assets in your screenwriting arsenal.  Pages don’t appear by themselves. Good and even great pages only come from hours of focus and discipline without distractions or interruptions. What do writers do? They write. Hell, Tolstoy had thirteen kids and he still managed to write War and Peace.

You’ll find if you sit in front of your computer long enough at the same time every day, you’ll get something accomplished. I didn’t say it would be the work of genius or God’s gift to cinema, but it definitely will be something on the blank page. And one page after another eventually adds up to 100 – 110 pages and FADE OUT. THE END.  Possibly your first screenplay or like me—my 35th. That one goes into production in March of this year.

BoulderFlatProcrastination is insidious and takes no prisoners. If you allow it to roll over you, it will destroy your precious writing time before you know it. I believe it emanates from your fear of the work, and the deeper your fear, the larger the procrastination boulders that will land in your way. When they crash down in your pathway, resist and push them back up the mountain, slide around them, under them, over them, but find a way to complete your mission and get the work done. It may feel easier not to face the blank page, but do not give in. You stop writing today and it feeds upon itself and suddenly you’ve gone a week without pages.

Now, if you’re lucky enough to be hired by a producer to write a screenplay, there can be no procrastination or excuses.  Zero. You’ve signed a contract, you’ve been paid to go to work, and you damn well had deliver the script on time. This is your primary goal. I was thinking back to a script assignment of mine from several years ago. I can laugh about it now, but then it was a true test of producing pages under a seemingly impossible deadline. Again,  I did not reply with excuses when asked to perform a task — I had to get the job done.

I was working at a pretty good pace and was on schedule. I had reached page 75 of this magnificent assignment.  I joke, but the first draft was honestly turning out pretty well. I recall it was a Thursday morning… I remember waving and dancing on a table… Lindbergh had just landed in Paris, but I digress. Wait—that’s dialogue from another movie. The producer called and gave me it to me straight with no chaser: “the German investors are coming into town and I need something to show them.” I then asked when he expects them to arrive and he quickly replies, “tomorrow.” I tried not to laugh, as he wants to show them a completed screenplay and I’m only on page 75.   Seriously? Did they just call him while they were flying over the Atlantic? I had planned to wrap the script up at around page 95 or so and at my earlier pace, that would take me another four days of writing. But the producer tells me, “just finish it somehow so I can give the script to them tomorrow!” How would you like to stare down the barrel of that request?  Yeah, me too.

Okay.  Now, you can either panic and give excuses as to why you can’t get the job done or get to the task of writing! Producers do not like to hear excuses from writers. Do you think the investors will know how I busted my hump to get the script done in a ridiculous amount of time?Never.  It’s not about getting credit for that hard work. That is what’s expected of you when you are paid to write a movie. My job is not to ask questions, it’s to get the job done.  When the Captain says “take that hill!” — I take that fu*king hill. That’s why I was hired in the first place — because I can deliver and have done in the past.

But suddenly, I found myself stuck on the wheel of fear and running in circles and getting no work done. Why was I procrastinating and taking every opportunity to do something other than finishing the script? Fear. It was my fear of not being able to march forward and finish the script under this ridiculous deadline. It was also fear that my work was going to be shit and they would finally discover that I was a fraud—they hired wrong guy for the job. Luckily, I recognized these negative thoughts of procrastination and as they pushed me away from my work, I pushed back and even harder. I pushed so hard I found myself in front of my computer getting the job done.

I don’t blame the investors for wanting to read what they’re potentially sinking their hard-earned Euros into. My concern was the hell that was now my life, as it’s my problem to get it done by sometime Friday. What’s a writer to do? Be fearless and write the fuc*ing thing, that’s what you do. I spent the rest of Thursday and pulled the old college “all nighter” and went on into mid-day Friday, but I finally typed “FADE OUT” and “THE END” and had my 101 pages.  Time to send in the draft and collapse!

I wrote nearly thirty percent of the entire script in one 24 hour period. That’s 26 pages in a day and my personal record for screenwriting page count for a single day. I never want to be part of that cockeyed caravan again, but it’s nice to know I can rise to a seemingly impossible writing task and still deliver the goods. Producers love it when you can deliver the goods. They may not say thank you, but your thanks comes when the investors sink their money into your project, you get paid and the movie is produced. Unfortunately, this script is in the deep freeze of “development” but it does make for a good story.

Please. Even if the dog ate your script, you have it on your computer. Procrastination comes from your fear. I completely understand the thinking: If you don’t write it, then you’ll never be judged or criticized. You’ll never have to face the hard fact that it’s bad. Doing nothing is the safer bet.  Wrong.  Just get the work done.  No one wants to hear the sordid details.

No procrastination.  No excuses. Get the job done and fill your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation/editing/proofing? Check out my screenwriting consultation services.  Click on the icon below for the link to my website.

Follow me on Twitter: @scriptcat & on Periscope.

Subscribe to my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL for my weekly screenwriting videos.

“It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old water-proof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write.~ Ernest Hemingway

“I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) You must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) You must do what’s important first. What’s important is the work.”—Steven Pressfield,”The War of Art”

“The professional respects Resistance.  He knows if he caves today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice likely to cave in tomorrow.  The professional knows Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished.  The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone.  He stays at work.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”