Accept new screenwriting challenges and push yourself out of your comfort zone…

January 24, 2017 § Leave a comment

BoulderFlatAs screenwriters, we constantly need to challenge ourselves and not be afraid of criticism, rejection, and failure. This is how we’ll grow as writers. Even after working as a screenwriting professional for the last twenty years, I was recently reminded of this when I faced my own professional challenge. I was hired as a script doctor to do a page one rewrite of an existing screenplay that is going into production in a month. The gig required me to complete a new first draft in less than two weeks. My fastest record before was twenty days, so I asked myself if I could finish this new script in less time? Regardless, it was the contracted job and I accepted the challenge. I wanted to push myself and really stretch my abilities. This was my 31 st feature screenplay that I’ve written on my journey to date, and the one thing I’ve learned is that every time up to the plate is a different experience. I never forget this and it keeps me humble at the enormity of the craft and I respect it completely.

The longer you write, the more tricks you learn, but you still have to fill the blank page. This new gig required me to put in eight to ten-hour days and writing a minimum of ten pages a day—and one day I even wrote fourteen pages. I managed to complete this new screenplay in twelve days—a major accomplishment for me. And it was a solid first draft that received positive feedback from the buyers and the executives. I just completed the rewrite and it’s moving out of development and into pre-production.

We as writers need to constantly take chances and push ourselves out of our comfort zone. It’s easy to get comfortable and not take risks or accept bigger challenges. Don’t become a lazy screenwriter. Avoid this at all costs. This is particularly important with regards to the material you write. Take chances with your material and don’t fear rejection or failure. Never stop challenging yourself because this will keep you growing as a screenwriter.  If you fail miserably, use the experience to learn and get better the next time.

salvador-dali-by-willy-rizzo-1In addition, a full and interesting life is a vital part of any screenwriter’s ongoing journey. If you’re not observing life and have your creative radar set to detect even subtle events in the real world, how are you doing to write with honesty? You never know when you’ll observe a person or an interaction that will spawn an idea for a project or maybe another one in the future. Don’t just regurgitate what you’ve seen in other movies and television—experience life first hand and bring back real stories from your fantastic adventures. When you’re out in the world, listen closely to how people speak, study how they act  and react, and constantly record your findings. I collect my observations and write them into a small notebook that I call my “writing arsenal.” I carry it in my briefcase with my laptop and I record various thoughts, ideas, and lines of dialogue that might end up in my current projects or another script some day. My own life experiences also get logged into my writing arsenal.

The journey of any artist is a lifelong adventure and a huge part of the creative process is pushing yourself, accepting challenges, and experiencing life—the good and the bad. You can’t write honestly unless you’ve really lived with the ups and downs. The great Orson Welles, in conversation with Peter Bogdanovich in the book This Is Orson Welles said, “The great danger for any artist is to find himself comfortable. It’s his duty to find the point of maximum discomfort, to search it out.”

If you stop learning and being curious, you are finished.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.  The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” — Joseph Campbell

“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling

“The time we have alone; the time we have in walking; the time we have in riding a bicycle; are the most important times for a writer. Escaping from a typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give your subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level.”—Ray Bradbury

“There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.”—Ernest Hemingway

 

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When you type FADE OUT – THE END, then it will be time for you to go.

 

 

Communiqué from the trenches: Starting the year with a new gig and a challenge…

January 10, 2017 § Leave a comment

script revision photo copyI was blessed to end last year busy with two screenwriting jobs—one was a script doctor job doing a rewrite on a project that went into production in December and wrapped—and the other was a page one rewrite of a screenplay that I just completed this week. It was nice to have back-to-back jobs from a production company and producer whom I’ve worked for before. This is why your professional reputation is so vital to your longevity of your career. You want to be the “to go to” writer for a producer or production company who trusts you to deliver the goods on time. This timing of this particular job fit nicely into my schedule and a great way to start off the new year.

hang onI accepted the second job knowing it was going to be a huge challenge for me. Time was not on my side. Firstly, it was to completely rewrite a new draft of a screenplay and not use any of it—commonly called a “page one rewrite” and have it done within two weeks. Even after completing thirty-one feature-length screenplays, I still get anxious before every new project. It’s that feeling of the unknown and setting off on a new adventure that didn’t exist before. The longer you write the more tricks you know, but you still have to fill the blank page and slog through ACT TWO. I’ve been doing this long enough to practice humility in the face of the craft. I know from experience there are always unexpected surprises both good and bad. The bad ones can derail you if you allow them—and the good ones make you want to get up the next morning and get back to writing.

I signed the contact and went off to work in my workshop. This is when the shit gets real. It requited me to put in eight to ten-hour days writing a minimum of ten pages a day—and one day I even reached fourteen pages. I managed to complete this new screenplay in twelve days and beat my old record for a first draft of twenty days. It was screenplay number thirty-one on my journey to date. This latest assignment was a huge challenge for me as I’m generally not a fast writer. When I’m on an assignment, I like a pace of about five pages a day and that ends up with a screenplay in about twenty days. This assignment required me to really use my disciplines and focus every day without any distractions to meet ten solid pages. If I dropped below my page minimum for a day, I’d have to make it up the next day to meet my contracted deadline. This is why I always recommend that when you write your specs, you should always set a self-imposed deadline to train you for the time when you do get hired to write. It doesn’t hurt to train now for your future assignment jobs.

There were a few days when the writing became difficult. I couldn’t “see” the scenes and I really had to sit with the material and hunker down to focus. It’s so tempting to become distracted, leave the keyboard and venture off to do something else. I found myself being tempted daily to do this and I had to really force myself to never leave my seat. When the times got rough, I sat with the material and eventually the characters would lead the way or answer a question for me as they do every time. I would get up every morning and go back to work as if I was channeling the project. The disciplines worked for me as I turned the script in on schedule and the notes for the second pass should be coming soon.

Every job where you get paid is another step in establishing your career. If a produced film with a writing credit comes from it, so much the better. Take the work when you can get it, as there are a limited number of jobs out there and no limit on the number of screenwriters eager to do them. If you land a gig, consider yourself lucky. If you land two gigs back-to-back, consider yourself blessed and you’re doing something right.

There are no guarantees in the screenwriting game. Many projects that you write will never go through development or make it to production. This is why you need multiple projects going in the marketplace at all times for any chance that one or more will make it all the way. A project that I wrote on assignment last year was supposed to go into production in late 2016 and then it got pushed until this month. The recent news is that it has yet to get the green light and I’ll probably have to do another draft. It’s stalled right now in development hell as we call it. This is no fault of mine, but it doesn’t take the sting out of the reality that it may lapse into not being made for reasons out of my control.

So, the lesson here is don’t put all of your hopes and dreams into one project. Keep writing and creating new material so eventually one script will open a door and get you an assignment job that will keep you on the fast track of a career.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson written on blog My Blank Page. http://www.scriptcat.wordpress.com

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“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

“Because so much of directing is just getting the script right. Getting the beats to play, and knowing what to emphasise. To me, screenwriting isn’t just exit, enter, speak your lines. It’s really about establishing a rhythm, and directing on paper, to some extent.”—Shane Black

“As an artist, you are always striving toward an ultimate achievement but never seem to reach it. You shoot a film, and the result could have always been better. You try again, and fail once more. In some ways I find it enjoyable. You never lose sight of your goal. I don’t do my job to make money or to break box office records, I simply try things out. What would happen if I were to achieve perfection at some point? What would I do then?” — Woody Allen for The Talk, 2012.

“There are no minor decisions in movie making. Each decision will either contribute to a good piece of work or bring the whole movie crashing down around my head many months later.”—Sidney Lumet

“When I first meet with the scriptwriter, I ask him what is the story about—what do you see—what was your intention?”—Sidney Lumet

Communiqué from the screenwriting trenches: The invaluable opportunity of script doctor work…

November 21, 2016 § Leave a comment

script revision photo copyIf you are lucky enough to establish a screenwriting career and build a professional reputation, other opportunities may come from “script doctor” work. This job includes being hired to come onto a project and do the necessary rewrites to push it through development. Most of the time the previous screenwriter  either had another commitment and could not continue on the project, or the screenwriter was “written out” and couldn’t execute the notes as requested. I’ve been hired to do this type of rewrite work three times before and it’s an invaluable opportunity to work with producers and directors. It also helps to build your solid reputation as someone they can go to help

I just signed last week for another script doctor job, my second with a production company that hired me last year to do the same thing. This new job came my way because of my solid working relationship with the company and the producer. They trust me to deliver the goods on time because I’ve proven myself to them before. The film goes into production in three weeks, so I have to be available to turn around the rewrites quickly. The scheduling was perfect because I have a break from a script assignment job and will be returning to that almost when this new film starts production.

It took me six days to execute the notes for my first rewrite. I just completed the next pass and that only took me two days. I’ll be working on any and all changes up until production begins. Many times these rewrite jobs don’t offer credit or shared credit, but that’s okay. The real importance is that the producer and director know that I was able to help them to execute the changes necessary to start the film as scheduled.

The rewrite jobs really offer an invaluable working experience to deconstruct a screenplay and put in new elements to make it work. It also gives you experience on working through the pre-production process and what changes a screenplay needs to go through. It’s also helpful that I’m completely detached because it’s not my screenplay. What doesn’t work has to be changed for the benefit of the overall project. I’m also facilitating the producer and director’s notes. At this point, it is all about making the script production ready.

This is why it’s extremely important to learn how to execute screenplay notes properly. No writer enjoys being rewritten, but the harsh realities of the business dictate when the writer is unable to deliver, producers go with a writer who can adequately make the changes necessary to push the project along toward production. You eventually want to be the “go to” person who they will hire on a regular basis.

This latest job continues my solid working relationship with the production company and allows me to pitch my own ideas and present story treatments to them. If you want steady work, it’s vital to build your professional reputation with producers and directors. According to the Scoggins Report, in 2015 only 93 specs sold and as of September of this year only 47 specs have sold, so you won’t be selling specs your entire career. A spec will open the door for assignment work and possibly rewrite jobs too. As they say, work begets work and it’s absolutely true. There are plenty of hungry screenwriters out there competing for fewer jobs, so if you can land any screenwriting job consider yourself blessed.

The only guarantee is that if you stop writing you’ll never have any shot at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2016, by Mark Sanderson on My Blank Page.

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“Believe me that in every big thing or achievement there are obstacles — big or small — and the reaction one shows to such an obstacle is what counts not the obstacle itself.”—Bruce Lee

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

“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”—Ray Bradbury

“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

“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

 

The importance of your first draft…

October 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

fade inI remember my first feature-length screenplay. I got lost somewhere in the barren wasteland of ACT 2 and felt like I would never reach the end. Now, thirty screenplays later, I have a better grasp on the process, but it’s always a new and different experience every time you type FADE IN. I respect this fact. Early on in my journey, I thought it would be screenwriting would be an easy experience, and I was humbled every time by the enormity of the craft.

Do not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit. It’s just the opposite—your first draft is extremely important because the DNA of your story and characters lives in this precious first pass. I love this quote from six time Academy Award nominee screenwriter Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?):

“Good screenwriting is about carpentry. It’s a juggling of beginnings, middles and endings so they all inevitably seem to be moving correctly together. Your first draft is dangerously important. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, “It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.”  Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve gone in another direction.”—Ernest Lehman

It’s true. I know from experience that it’s difficult to totally rewrite a first draft from page one into something new. Sadly, too many times it ends up becoming a jumbled mess as the foundation of the story is being altered underneath the story. My advice is to make your first draft your best possible work at the time. When writing it, act as if you’ll never get another chance to touch the screenplay. You should use your specs as training to turn out a superb first draft to prepare you for the day when you’re hired on assignment. This pays off in many ways, most importantly when you’re working for a producer and your solid first draft secures the interest of investors, a director, and actors. A solid first draft will also keep you on the assignment and not replaced by another screenwriter.

praise or blameMake sure your screenplay suffers the fewest amount of changes during the development process. Trust me, you don’t want your script to get bogged down in development hell. It’s hard to climb out of that pit and too many times projects die a tragic death from too many drafts over a long period of time.

I’m not suggesting that you agonize over every word, but treat your first draft with the seriousness it deserves. A solid first draft will help with faster rewrites because you’re not reinventing story lines, but you’re doing a “clean up” job. You want to avoid situations where your first draft is shit and you have to do a page one rewrite instead of a clean up. When you start working on paid screenwriting assignments, you will not have the luxury of turning in a crappy first draft. The producer or executive will expect the best possible draft that matches the accepted story treatment. Anything less will endanger your chances of getting a chance at draft two and staying on the project through production.

Avoid a “vomit” draft because you can use that precious time to work it into something excellent. Why not? A sold first draft also helps lessen massive rewrites on the successive drafts. Good luck and keep screenwriting.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Sanderson 10.24.2016 on My Blank Page blog at http://www.scriptcat.wordress.com

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“Ideas are born from what is smelled, heard, seen, experienced, felt, emotionalized.”—Rod Serling.

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible adventures.”—Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”—Joseph Campbell

 

“Screenwriting is such a very special branch of literature. In some ways, it’s closer to the poetic form than it is to the dramatic. A lot of writers think that they write down to an audience if they do a motion-picture script.”—John Huston

“When I first meet with the scriptwriter, I ask him what is the story about—what do you see—what was your intention?”—Sidney Lumet

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – wholeheartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” — Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing, 1916

“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.”—Rudyard Kipling, “If”

Five honest questions screenwriters must answer about their screenwriting…

October 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

script revision photo copyIf your passion drives you to embark on this crazy marathon of a screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professional code and ability to endure criticism, rejection and failure over the long haul. The odds may be stacked against you, but the way to standout in this very competitive business is to create a solid body of work and build a reputation as a team player and collaborator. The rest is just luck—a prepared screenwriter who meets with an opportunity and delivers the goods.

Here are five honest questions about the craft of screenwriting that aspiring screenwriters must answer before they jump in and pursue a career… and here we go..

  • Have you mastered screenplay format?  I find many aspiring writers have a serious lack of knowledge or respect about screenplay format.  It’s what separates the professional from the amateur. Producers, directors, and executives will immediately recognize that if you didn’t have enough respect for your craft to know proper format, you’re not a professional. I’ve seen too many times screenwriters being rejected after writing a spec because it was rushed and not well-written. Some screenwriters will stubbornly believe that their screenplay will sell just off the idea alone and they don’t have to do the hard work. In reality, good ideas are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, it’s the execution of an effective screenplay that counts.

 

  •  Are you overwriting your screenplay?  I’ve read too many scripts that are micro managed and result in a bloated screenplay. Do you describe the wallpaper and give directions to the actors like: “He sighs, shrugs his shoulders, rolls his eyes, smiles and turns?” Many new screenwriters feel the need to micromanage every scene. Stop doing this. Producers and executives hate to read—funny in a business where the script is so important, but they like to see a lot of “white” on the page.  This means the fewer words the better and it’s the job of the screenwriter to stay the hell out-of-the-way of the story. You are here to service the story not the other way around.

 

  • Do you respect story and screenplay structure?  I find some beginning writers have a lack of respect for the treatment/step outline/beat sheet and how it related to the screenplay structure. This arrogance will get you into trouble when you end up in barren wasteland of Act 2, and you become lost on page sixty, or with a hundred and fifty-page script with no idea where to cut. Your screenplay dies from 1,000 little format, story and structure issues. It’s all about the attention to the little details. I can start reading a script and by the first page know it’s from an amateur. The producers and executives will notice too.

 

  • Have you accepted this fact:  Screenwriting is all about execution and rewriting? Hollywood is full of good ideas and the winning formula is: good idea + execution of good idea = amazing viable screenplay. It all comes down to being able to execute a good idea into an even better script. Many beginning writers believe their first draft is perfect and needs no rewrites.  Reality check ahead. After I read someone’s magnum opus and they tell me it took six months to write it without a treatment or even a step outline, I grimace and realize they just don’t understand the process. A reader or producer will stop reading and become frustrated after the first few pages. Detach from the material and it will be much easier to cut it to the bone. When they do give you suggestions and notes do not bristle and defend every word. You’ll be branded as “difficult” and you’ll find it hard to work if you can’t shake that reputation. Rewrites will be a huge part of your screenwriting journey.

 

  • Are you willing to give the time necessary to create a viable body of work? We all want overnight success with the least amount of effort, right? A screenwriting career is as easy as falling out of bed in the morning into a three picture deal. Wrong. It can take years and a half-dozen screenplays to achieve any level of success as a working screenwriter—or maybe never. You’ll need time to fail and write badly so you can get on to doing your best work. You need to think of your career as your life’s journey and continually learn, study, and work at becoming a better screenwriter. You want to become a master of your craft at the top of your game. This is the level of performance necessary to compete in a very crowded marketplace where no one really gives a shit about your precious screenplay. There are 30,000 – 50,000 scripts/ideas/pitches fighting to sell every year before yours does.

 

Format starts with your cover page. It’s the little details that will show if you know what you are doing or not. If any of these hard and fast rules are not followed, your script will likely have a much harder time getting through the pipeline and will end up as a doorstop, or in the recycling bin without a read. This will close doors, harm your reputation and your project. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to do your best work and don’t unleash the script before it’s ready.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

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It’s a funny thing about life if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.”—W. Somerset Maugham

“Do it for joy and you can do it forever” ―Stephen King

The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art” “.

.. The payoff of playing-the-game-for-money is not the money (which you may never see anyway, even after you turn pro). The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude. It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind that shows up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day.” — Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.”—Rod Serling

Scriptcat’s super screenwriting tips, tricks & tactics for your Hollywood adventure…

March 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

script page and keyboard copyI hope you’ve been creating new opportunities that have pushed your screenplays closer to success. Trust me, I know if can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall hoping for a breakthrough, but finding the same results of rejection and criticism. I truly hope you’re busy creating a solid body of work and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. I hope that I’ve been able to offer a few nuggets of advice that you’ve found helpful. In addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), my Youtube Channel . I’ll be posting new tips here every month in addition to new articles. Dig in as I’ve written over 180 articles on this blog. I’m also broadcasting live on the new app PERISCOPE. Check it out. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting. Okay, let’s cut to the chase and get right to the action—here are a few more useful survival tips for your journey…

TIP #1

KEEP THE INTIMATE DETAILS ABOUT YOUR WORK TO YOURSELF.

never believe them untl the check clearsI see too many screenwriters doing this and expending precious energy and opening themselves up to early criticism. Do 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.

TIP #2

PROTECT YOUR PRECIOUS WRITING TIME.

boxerTime is a screenwriter’s greatest asset or worst enemy—it depends on how to you use it. Carve out a writing schedule and stick to it. You need to protect your precious writing time and treat it like a job because it will be exactly the same when you finally do get paid—but you’ll have the added pressure of being under contract, being paid and having the producer expecting “great things!” When you sit down to write, you’ve probably experienced the battle to defend your time against the forces of procrastination and interruption. Hemingway said, “Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.” Working every day, even if it’s for a short period of time, creates discipline. The longer you write the more you’ll get to know yourself better as a writer.  You’ll discover your strengths and weaknesses, if you write fast or slow, and if you’re easily distracted or if you can work in a crowded coffee shop. When the writing gets difficult, time becomes your enemy as you never know each day if your creative juices will flow or dry up. Do yourself a favor and always protect your precious writing time from the forces of interruption and distraction. You’ll keep on schedule, writing will become a habit, and you will be acting like the professional you’ve become.

TIP #3

TALK IS CHEAP IN HOLLYWOOD!

quote of the dayYou’ll learn the longer you pursue a screenwriting career that talk is cheap in Hollywood and people want credit for their good intentions. Too many times the words are empty promises that end up wasting an eager and hungry writer’s time. Money makes it real. Take everything as face value for talk is the cheapest commodity in Hollywood. Many times interest in you or your script and the endless talk is just that—interest and talk. Many times meetings are just meetings. Many times a producer’s upbeat attitude about your project can become infectious. You want to believe that others see your dream and can realize it. Why not? It’s what keeps us going as screenwriters—belief in our projects and the faith that success is just around the corner. I’m sure when producers and executives tell you that your project is going into production, they just might believe it themselves, but sometimes they tell a writer this to buy more free time. Producers want to keep a writer’s interest in hanging on until they “work out the pesky financing details” and it becomes the bait for more free work. If they can’t raise the money for the budget or they have no money in their development budget, there really is no money to pay the writer. Be understanding to a certain point and look at every situation through a risk/benefit filter. Are you willing to risk your free time with free rewrites on the possible chance a project “might” get produced? Get excited when a producer gives you a contract, you both sign it and you get paid. That’s the professional way—otherwise, you can’t live on the currency of good intentions. Now get back to your blank pages. If you stop writing you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.

Keep writing and filling your pages because if you stop—you’re guaranteed to never have any shot at success. This is a business with no guarantees even when you do sell a screenplay.

@Scriptcat out!

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

“The 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

“Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard. When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.”—Florida State University’s Anders Ericsson

If you’re worried about failing, you ought to get into a different business, because statistics will tell you that sixty or seventy percent of the time you’re going to fail.  By fail I mean that the movie won’t make money.  Just do the best you can every time.  And if you’re going to stay in the movies, and you like movies—and I love them—you’d better love them a lot, because it’s going to take all of your time.  If you want to be in the movies, it’s going to break your heart.“—Richard Brooks, director of Blackboard Jungle, Sweet Bird of Youth, In Cold Blood, Looking for Mr. Goodbar

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling

Micromanaging your screenplay comes from inexperience and fear…

January 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

handsMany beginning screenwriters work so hard at keeping a tight grip on every line of dialogue and action that it results in micromanaging at the highest level. It comes from inexperience and the fear that actors, the producer or director will not understand the scene or the dialogue properly so the screenwriter feels the need to overwrite and hammer the ideas home. The writer doesn’t trust his or her writing and this insecurity sucks the air out of the script. It’s obvious the writer is directing from the page and that’s not our job. We should stay the hell out of the way of the characters and story. When reading a really amazing screenplay, it’s like you don’t notice that someone actually wrote the script. The same goes for a really believable acting performance. The acting appears effortless because it’s not obvious and looks easy. One of the hardest abilities to master as a screenwriter is to stay out of the way and not handle every line or action with a stranglehold as you still need to put your unique imprint on the script.

I recently read a screenplay where the writer described every bit of action between most lines of dialogue and also added emotional descriptions to help give the dialogue a “line reading” for the actor or script reader. This will result in an overwritten screenplay, but also one that showcases the writer’s inexperience and insecurity. If your character must exit or enter the scene of course you need to describe that action, but not the excruciating details that include: “rolls eyes, shrugs shoulders, grits teeth, blushes, folds arms, blinks, breathes heavily, smiles, and even stands “up.” Are you laughing because you’re guilty of this? Trust me, actors do not enjoy reading this heavy-handed writing and it’s a bit insulting to their craft. It’s the writer directing from the page on how to play the scene if a character is upset: “Jack walks to the window, looks out, inhales deeply, thinks for a beat and folds his arms as he’s upset with Harold’s unexpected news.” This is not screenwriting.

Trust me, the actors will find the right emotional business that will come out of the scene and the dialogue—and what is not written. The subtext beneath and between the lines is the actor’s playground and allows them the myriad of actions the character takes based upon their motivations and emotional state at the moment. You set the scene and let the other artists elevate your material to a higher level. I’ve been the recipient of this when an Academy Award nominee co-starred in one of my films. He added some improvised lines to a scene and it became the biggest laugh in the movie. I still get people asking me if I wrote that line of dialogue and I reply that it was not me, but his improvised line.

I’ve been lucky to work around Academy Award and Emmy nominated actors who have starred in some of the films that I’ve written and I’ve learned so much watching them on the set. If you give them a well-written scene they will elevate it and add more than you’d expect. Imagine telling your Academy Award nominee or winner that he or she needs to “blush” on cue when saying a line of dialogue. It’s like you’re training a dog to sit on command. Avoid this because it does not give you the image of a professional screenwriter, but a nervous and inexperienced aspirant.

220px-MadworldposterI’m reminded of a famous Spencer Tracy acting story from director Stanley Kramer. He tells of directing Tracy in the classic comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Tracy did not like heavy-handed direction and only wanted Kramer to tell him where he was needed at the end of the scene. Kramer told Tracy the scene ended with him at the door of the office. The camera rolled and Tracy started off behind his desk and said his dialogue as he made his way around the office toward the door. He paused at points along the way and created every action himself as part of his “business” in character. He didn’t need a screenwriter telling him to pause next to the chair, glance out the window, look at his hat, consider his wife, or scratch his nose.

In my experience, the micromanaging can come in the production draft when the producer or director needs you to really punch things up and the specific details are necessary for them to actually make the film. I once worked with a producer who wanted me (in my opinion) to overwrite and micromanage the script, but there was a good reason, he was not going to be on location in another country so he really wanted to make that important details not be overlooked during the fast production schedule.

script pageSo, I had to adapt my screenwriting style to facilitate the job, but it was in a protected bubble of development so it’s okay. The script was not a spec out there representing me and my ability. It was a green-lit film and I was now part of a team and my job was whatever it took to help get the film produced. When you write specs you want to put your best image forward and your screenplay represents your talents if you are an unknown entity without credits. You can break all rules after your screenplay is purchased. That is why I tell writers to be careful when reading the “Oscar nominated” scripts, as they are written in a protected bubble and have been through the development process. By the time you read the script it’s the final production draft or the scripts were written by the directors, so all bets are off because they can do whatever they need to create a working blueprint to shoot the movie.  Nothing is left to chance.

When you’re starting out writing your specs, avoid having a white knuckle grip on the scenes, every line of dialogue or too much description where you tell us rather than show us. Don’t tell an actor to “blink” as an emotion, not unless it’s some type of secret code system worked out between characters and two blinks means danger. You have to find more effective ways of screenwriting to get your point across without micromanaging the work.

Keep writing and learning because if you stop you are guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

Scriptcat (Mark Sanderson) out!

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“Given the choice between trivial material brilliantly told versus profound material badly told, an audience will always choose the trivial told brilliantly.  Master storytellers know how to squeeze life out of the least of things, while poor storytellers reduce the profound to the banal.  You may have the insight of a Buddha, but if you cannot tell story, your ideas turn dry as chalk.”—Robert McKee, “Story”

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”—Stephen King

“Dramatic economy, which includes the ability of a writer to cut what at one point he might have considered to be his best work ever, is one of the most important skills a writer can have. It is learned only through much experience, combined with a ruthless attitude and utter lack of sentimentality.”—Alexander MacKendrick, The Lady Killers, Sweet Smell of Success.

“A good writer should know as near everything as possible. Naturally he will not. A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge. There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.”—Ernest Hemingway

Your first draft is dangerously important.  Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, “It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.” Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve already gone in another direction.  The longer you can hold off putting a word down on paper, the better you are. ” Rewriting is largely cleaning up things that aren’t clear to you, or trying to shorten a scene that’s too long, or realizing now that you’ve written scenes at the end of the story, maybe the scenes at the beginning should be a little different to help set up a scene that comes at the end.“—Ernest Lehman, Screenwriter of Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

 

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