Communique from the front lines: The ebb and flow of a screenwriting career…

August 28, 2017 § Leave a comment

PILE OF SCRIPTSIf you’re blessed enough to find regular work as a screenwriter, you’ll experience both slow and busy periods for work. It’s the ebb and flow of the film business. If you can survive the slow periods, you can move forward to your next jobs and establish a career. One sold screenplay and no job to follow it up is a horrible place to be. Time passes quickly and so does the money.

The key to a career and staying in the game is using your last job to secure your next. The more projects you have out there working for you the better. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and two or three will follow each other into production. Other times something you sold that languished in development will come alive and get produced much later than expected. The best times are when you have a script going into production and you’re already writing your next assignment.

Equally as important is having enough solid contacts who trust you because you’ve worked for them before. The rest is just timing—being the writer they call and having the job be yours to turn down or accept. It takes years to build up these important relationships and this is why building your professional reputation is vital to your success. Producers, directors, and production companies like to work with people whom they can trust and they’ve worked with before. You want to be one of those people on their list.

Last year I wrote one screenplay that will go into production in October of this year. It was a slow year until the end and then things really picked up. It’s nice to be so busy starting from the first of this year. I feel blessed. It’s another example of the importance of maintaining solid professional relationships in the film business with producers and production companies. My last three jobs were mine to turn down. I was available and blessed they came my way. In the past nine months, I’ve completed three screenwriting assignment jobs for the same production company and each film was produced. The most recent film wrapped two weeks ago. That will be a total of four produced movies in nine months. One of the films, “One Small Indiscretion” just premiered on LMN to fantastic ratings coming in #6 for the night.

I went on to consult with a director on his screenplay for his next film and it’s now out to investors.  And with only a short period of “down” time, I was just offered a new assignment job from a different producer whom I’ve worked with before. I spent the past three weeks completing the story treatment for that film (my 18th assignment) and I await my marching orders to start pages for the first draft.

rewritesThe 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 hires you and then 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 signs off on the treatment, it’s your job to craft a screenplay that becomes the movie they want to make. As always, my trusty entertainment lawyer negotiates all of my contracts and it’s a relatively quick and painless experience followed by signatures and getting the green light to go to work.

It’s generally the way a working screenwriter works. You secure an assignment job, hopefully work on every draft until production, and move on to work again with the same producer or another in your network. I’m blessed that I don’t have to go far to look for work and it’s helps not having to convince someone new that I’m the writer for the job. Again, this takes experience and time.

script oddsI remain humble and grateful for the steady work that comes my way.  I know how competitive this business is and the thousands of screenwriters chasing the limited number of writing jobs. I have to admit, even after thirty-three completed feature screenplays, I still get the jitters and that nervous stomach facing a new project and the blank page. I always expect it to turn out great, but you never know until you type FADE OUT – THE END and wait for your producer’s 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 or the film business, 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 on assignment 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.

It’s still a creative high and feeling of accomplishment when I finish a new screenplay and turn it into the producer or executive. It’s also fulfilling because it’s how I make my living—something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a child. These past three scripts were no different and I look forward to starting this new screenplay within a week. It’s back to the blank page and the life of a working screenwriter.

Keep the faith, practice your disciplines, and keep filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog My Blank Page.

Did you just finish your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation?  Check out my services by clicking on the 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.

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Do you need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years working as a professional screenwriter in Hollywood and shares my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

 

 

 

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

“Hollywood is Hollywood. There’s nothing you can say about it that isn’t true, good or bad. And if you get into it, you have no right to be bitter—you’re the one who sat down, and joined the game.” —Orson Welles

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

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

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

 

FADE IN

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The serious questions to ask before you pursue a screenwriting career…

July 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

BoulderFlatMany aspiring screenwriters have huge dreams of success on Hollywood’s pantheon of A-list screenwriters. Why not shoot for the highest levels? It’s easy—they did it, right? The reality is that it’s a tough business to achieve any level of success. While knowing this, many aspirants still believe that it’s going to be easy to forge a successful career and pursue it completely unprepared. This will lead to frustration, rejection, and a huge waste of precious time. It’s easy to piss away five years due to disrespecting the craft and the level of work it takes only to end up having nothing of merit to show for your effort. Preparation is vital to staying in the screenwriting game. This starts with self-reflection and asking the hard questions that must be answered.

Are you willing to do what it takes and spend the time, maybe years of work and sacrifice, to craft a solid body of work to compete? Are you a collaborator and team player? Are you writing, reading, and learning so you’ll become an excellent screenwriter? Do you have the drive and tenacity to weather the storm of criticism, rejection, and failure during the years it may take to secure even one successful job?

Remember that no one forced you to choose this screenwriting dream. It’s yours and you must be responsible for it. No one else can go after it for you. Being a screenwriter is not for the thin-skinned or for those looking for a shortcut to success. Ask yourself the honest questions about why you are pursuing a career in screenwriting. Realize that you must stay in the game over the long haul to have any shot at success. It’s a fool’s endeavor to seek fame and fortune, but if screenwriting is your life’s work and passion, you will find a way around any obstacles to succeed.

And what about time? It’s your greatest asset or your worst enemy. It depends on how you use your precious time to write uninterrupted and become productive. That’s why I ask aspirants if they have an artist’s mentality — or the insanity to believe that even as they stare into the dark void of the unknown, their burning passion will guide them across yet another hurdle.

Iscript oddst’s a numbers game at best and you’ll burn through a pile of specs before one finally either sells or lands you a screenwriting assignment. This is why it’s so important to always have many projects in various stages of writing, development or the idea and pitching stage. The urgency we feel as writers for a read or to sell scripts is always pushed back by the reality of the film business and the bizarre amount of time it takes for anything to happen. Any movement on your projects will always take longer than you ever expected. A career will probably take many years to forge. This is why you never want to stake your future on just one project because the odds selling anything are rare. You don’t need to put yourself in a the horrible position where you need to sell a script to get you out of debt or to save you from a day job that you hate.

As you travel on your screenwriting journey, the image that you project is extremely important and you should keep up an image of success. You do this by being busy and creating a solid body of material to show prospective agents, managers, producers and executives that you are a work horse with something to offer. Never give them a chance to think of you as a diva who believes he or she is God’s gift to cinema. It’s the team player and collaborator who always works again. The pain in the ass gets branded as “difficult” and wonders why the work has dried up.

Also remember, after you finish your spec screenplay, unleashing it upon Hollywood becomes the most important driving force in your life — unfortunately unless it’s an assignment job where the producer is waiting for you to deliver the project, no one cares. They just don’t give a sh*t. I’m not being cynical, just honest. You’re now part of the other 50,000 scripts registered at the Writers Guild every year and without representation, you too must figure a way to catapult it over the wall and into someone’s compound for a read. This entire process of writing, rewriting, to finding representation takes a long time and requires tremendous patience. Especially if you’re working a day job you hate and you see your script as your way out and into the life of a working screenwriter. I don’t suggest putting this kind of heavy pressure on yourself, as it will make you stressed and even more impatient.

eclipseIt’s a long road to becoming a working screenwriter and forging a career usually doesn’t happen overnight. My personal journey took me six years after film school to secure my first professional writing job and seven years until my fifth spec sold and was produced. I talk about this, my start in the film business, and details about my new screenwriting book on the fantastic new podcast Eclipse the Script If you are in this for the long haul, it will require tremendous patience. Even becoming a better writer does not happen overnight and requires you to continually write, learn and create projects that you will sadly discover will ultimately never sell. It also helps once reach a professional plateau not to become lazy. Always push yourself out of your comfort zone as this is the only place where growth happens.

Make sure before you start your journey, that you ask yourself the honest questions about why you’re screenwriting. Prepare to meet the challenges that will come your way on your journey as a screenwriter.  They will be a series of failures and mistakes, triumphs, and little successes that when added up will open a door that hopefully leads to a steady career as a working screenwriter in Hollywood. The process will be long and difficult, but if you have patience, you do the work necessary and respect for the mountain you’re climbing, you’ll focus more on your love for the craft and not the urgency of success.

Keep filling your blank pages and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

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

Did you just finish your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website. Bonus offer!  If you pay for a consultation from me, you will receive a pass-code to get five free script reads, MP3’s of any script you send to Script Speaker. They will return your script read aloud on an MP3 to listen on the go. Sign up for an account and receive three free script credits, plus five more from me for a total of eight.

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Check out my new screenwriting book, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years of professional screenwriting in Hollywood’s trenches and I’ll share with you my tips, tricks and tactics to help you stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

 

 

 

Need inspiration with your morning coffee? Check out my new line of merchandise for screenwriters called The Coffee Ring Cartoon series. You can purchase coffee mugs, T-shirts, drinking glasses, note pads, note cards, notebooks, mouse pads, and more. Click on the photo below for the link to my online store to purchase items.

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“Any good director gets a professional family when he starts a film. They immediately check him out to discover how much information he possesses. They also want to know if he has balls. They will challenge him the first day and every day until the wrap-s-unless he proves he knows what he’s doing.”—Jerry Lewis

“There are two kinds of scenes: Pet the Dog Scene & Kick the Dog scene. The studio always wants a “Pet the Dog” scene so everybody can tell who the hero is.”—Paddy Chaydfsky

“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

The main thing for a writer is to find out who you are. Now, that’s not going to please everybody. You have to discover what your real talent is—what really interests you as a writer. That’s really the thing. Not how popular you can be. But what really is your metier.”—Horton Foote

Guest blogger Niraj Kapur: “How I turned my screenplay into a movie…”

July 24, 2017 § Leave a comment

guest bloggerIt’s time again for a guest blogger here on MY BLANK PAGE! Appearing for his fourth time with another superb contribution about screenwriting in the trenches… let’s welcome back U.K. screenwriter Niraj Kapur.

 

In 1991, at the tender age of 19, I decided to be a screenwriter. Like most people, I thought writing was easy.

My first screenplay was an Irish love story called Secret Love and it sold after contacting only two producers.

Naturally, I thought writing was the easiest job in the world and flew to London from my small town in Northern Ireland.

My next script didn’t sell and the director of Secret Love wasn’t impressed by my attempts to rewrite, so he dropped the project. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents and friends who I swore I would never return home to until I won the Oscar.

So, I went on the dole, the American equivalent of welfare. Worst time of my life. I became a hermit and lived like a pauper on £33 a week, approx. $40 a week.

After a year, my father flew over and was shocked at my lifestyle. Freezing tiny flat, crime-ridden area and a large rat who would occasionally run around the kitchen uninvited.

Dad advised me that to be successful in any profession, I needed training.

Writing is no exception.

He kindly gave me $2,000 — so I invested in Michael Hauge and Robert McKee seminars, bought screenwriting books, went to every networking event and invested in a good script editor.

In 1998, I signed a development deal. For an unknown British writer to have one was unique. It was Rory Bremnar’s company, Vera. Had the opportunity to meet so many talented producers, directors and agents, write full time and get paid.

A year later, Vera decided to work on other projects. That’s how the business works. It’s nothing personal. Priorities change.

Nobody returned my calls or wanted to meet me. I went back to full-time office work, feeling sorry for myself since my dream had died. Then my wife told me she was pregnant.

Being a father gives you a positive view on life and lots of writing material. I spent months writing sample kids shows and after a year of calling every kids tv producer, I found work writing for CBBC, Nick Jnr, and Channel 5. Over 17 pilots were written, got paid for several of them and was hired to write for other shows, working to tight deadlines and producers’ notes, an invaluable lesson.

In 2004, I had the confidence to go back to screenwriting and wrote a female comedy that would change my life, Knights in Shining Armour.

In 2006, it won a writing award. Then three different producers wanted to option it in 2007.

It was important this movie got produced, and producers rarely guarantee that, so I sold it to Neville Rashid who had an idea to make it into a Bollywood family drama musical with a guarantee to produce it in five years.

Neville worked his guts out to raise the money. It was shot in London, I was invited on set, was treated wonderfully by cast and crew, and went to the red-carpet premiere. I only recognised 30% of the movie as mine. It was released in 2012. Here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftwUGemp6Jw

Naachle London broke even and played in cinemas across the UK. Seeing your name on a movie poster is a dream come true. Seeing it on the big screen was simply awesome.

Every agent, producer and director was invited. Nobody in the industry turned up.

Unable to find work, I turned my back on the UK and spend a few years flying to LA which you can read about here: https://scriptcat.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/overcoming-the-disappointments-a-screenwriting-journey-can-deliver/

Many valuable lessons were learned, just as important today as they were many years ago.

  • Treat your writing like a career and invest in it like a degree.
  • Don’t think you know everything.
  • Writing is writing, no matter what genre or what platform.
  • Never give up. If I can make it, anyone can.

As Jeffrey Katzenberg once said, “if you they throw you out the front door, go in the back door. If they throw you out the back door, go in through the window.

by Niraj Kapur

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Niraj Kapur worked as a writer-for-hire on several kids shows on British TV with numerous screenplay commissions and options. His first movie Naachle London was released in 2012. Find him online: www.nirajkapur.com

How do you handle criticism, rejection, and failure on your screenwriting journey?

June 29, 2017 § Leave a comment

if you can't handle criticismThe big three... criticism, rejection, and failure. How have you been dealing with them? Do you bristle at every note or suggested change to your screenplay? Are you defensive about your screenwriting?  If you start working professionally with this attitude, you will be branded as “difficult” and probably will find it hard to work again. What about rejection? Nobody likes to have their hard work rejected, but let’s face it… it’s a competitive business and that’s why it’s called the “film business.” It’s a business with all of the concerns and planning that any business requires. And how about failure? Who likes to fail? Especially at something we love to do like screenwriting. Failure is the Yin to the Yang of success. You can’t have one without the other, so get used to the ups and downs that a screenwriting career brings.

Screenwriting is a sweat equity task as you write your specs, but it changes to financial equity when you get paid professionally. The only way to become an excellent screenwriter is to take the criticism, rejection, and failure and learn from it. If you stay open and want to grow, you will use these perceived setbacks as opportunities to learn and come back stronger the next time. You’ll have to overcome these hurdles and others if you want to pursue a screenwriting career in Hollywood. As you suffer the blows from responses like “no,” you also will also hear “maybe” and that can lead to a “yes.”

No one said this journey was going to be easy. The 2016 Scoggins Report listed only about 70 specs selling to Hollywood last year. That’s out of the 50,000 or so projects registered with the WGA every year. And don’t forget that half of those WGA writers don’t report any income in any given year. Horrible odds, right? I don’t write this to scare you away from your dream, but to humble you and show you the need for respecting the craft and the journey.

Don’t take criticism personally and realize that it’s part of the process. If you’re going to play in the majors, you’re competing with the best and you must accept that sometimes you won’t find the validation you need. Many times feedback on your script is disappointing and your high expectations become squashed. Your ego’s bruised, beaten to a pulp and you to doubt your talent and chances for success. This is not a business for the thin of skin or anyone who can’t handle the struggles of a screenwriting career.

script oddsYou can’t think that just because you sit down and write a screenplay that anyone cares. You have to make them care by writing something truly unique and amazing. A screenplay that stands out from the piles of crap that bounce around every year looking for a home. You may be an excellent screenwriter with superb screenplays. Good. That’s the starting point these days. Good isn’t good enough to compete—you have to be excellent and even then you have no guarantee of success. There are about ten thousand other excellent professional screenwriters in the WGA who can also write a superb screenplay. If you add those who are struggling to become a professional, it’s probably tens of thousands of screenwriters. It’s your job to build your connections, keep writing, always have a game plan, and fight to secure that first job or your next.

When you start working professionally, it’s all about executing the notes. Don’t take the criticism personally, because feedback is a rite of passage necessary for the growth of any aspiring screenwriter. If you want to survive over the long haul of a career, you’ll need to toughen up and build your courage to endure disappointment criticism, rejection, and failure. Learn how to filter the good notes from the bad and ugly notes. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps make your script better, helps push it closer to something a producer wants to produce, and teaches you how to collaborate as a team player so you can work again.

That’s always been my goal—to work professionally and get paid for something I love to do. I’ve been blessed to achieve my goal seventeen times with paid assignments and one spec sale. It hasn’t been easy, but I learned early on that criticism comes with the job.  Hell, my spec sale screenplay was rejected by the most powerful agency in Hollywood at the time, but it went on to find the right producer who made the film that starred an Academy Award nominated actor. You never know. Get a handle on the criticism, rejection, and failure because if they stop you from writing and you give up, you’ll never know just how close you came from a break that opened the door to success.

Keep on writing and detach from your work. It makes the journey much easier over the long haul.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or new draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Let my screenwriting consultation services help you push your script to a release draft. Click on the icon below for the link to my website.

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Do you need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years of professional screenwriting and I teach you my tips, tricks and tactics that help me stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

 

 

 

Check out my COFFEE RING CARTOONS merchandise for screenwriters! New designs on products now available at my online store. Click on the photo of the mug below for the link to purchase items like mugs, T-shirts, note cards, notepads, mouse pads, drinking glasses, and drink coasters.

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“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

“There are two kinds of scenes: Pet the Dog Scene & Kick the Dog scene. The studio always wants a “Pet the Dog” scene so everybody can tell who the hero is.”—Paddy Chaydfsky

RESPECT THE CRAFT

Overcoming the disappointments a screenwriting journey can deliver…

June 24, 2017 § 2 Comments

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It’s time again for a guest blogger here on MY BLANK PAGE! Appearing for his third time with another superb contribution about screenwriting in the trenches… let’s welcome back U.K. screenwriter Niraj Kapur.

“Overcoming the disappointments a screenwriting journey can deliver.”

By Niraj Kapur

 

In 2012, my movie Naachle London was released in cinemas across England.

Written in 2004, it won a writing award in 2006 and was optioned in 2007. Eventually, I sold it to a producer who changed it from a fun British romantic comedy into a Bollywood Family Drama Musical.

Although I only recognised 30% of the final movie as mine, it was an honour to spend a day on set receiving warm wishes from the cast and crew, attend a red carpet screening in London and have my name on the movie poster and trailer which you can see on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftwUGemp6Jw

I told hundreds of agents and producers about the premiere, convinced that after 20 years of options, commissions, setbacks and “almost making it” I would finally get my big break.

Not a single agent or producer turned up. Not a single job offer came in.

I was devastated.

After months of self-pity, my wife recommended Hollywood, since most of my favourite writers, directors and movies are American.

18 months after hiring an industry screenwriting coach and two script editors, I flew to L.A. to attend conferences and pitching events, armed with two screenplays.

The biggest regret in my career is that I never invested enough in learning, so I re-read the classics — Michael Hauge, Syd Field and Robert McKee, attended valuable classes from Pilar Alessandra, Jen Grisanti, Lee Jessup and pitched managers, agents or producers (MAP) at exciting events like Story Expo, Great American Pitchfest, and Fade In.

I pitched about 80 MAP and got 27 requests.

Eclectic Pictures, producers of Olympus Has Fallen and Lovelace, asked me into the offices after my first event to pitch the team and a deal was in place to buy my action screenplay.

My dreams were coming true.

The screenplay contract could be cancelled within 30 days of signing and on day 28, Eclectic Pictures cancelled due to internal issues.

18 out of 26 MAP didn’t read my scripts, despite me sending thank you cards and waiting several weeks before following up. Months after my emails weren’t returned, I tried phoning.

My calls were not taken. I even heard one producer say, ”Tell him I’m not there”.

The remaining 8 MAP said, “It wasn’t what they’re looking for” which offers no help whatsoever.

Having sacrificed holidays, a big promotion in my 9-5 job, time with my wife and daughter and taking a bank loan and credit cards worth £15,000 (approx. $20,000), I was devastated.

Dorothy Parker once said, “Hollywood is the only place in the world you can die of encouragement”.

The one smart thing I did was form a writing group who have been incredibly supportive. When you get rejected, fellow artists understand you better than anyone else.

Trying to figure out what went wrong, I paid for mentoring sessions through Stage 32 with Circle of Confusion and an executive at Lionsgate. Both were helpful and advised me to stop writing commercial Hollywood movies. Be unique, write something small and personal in England and get recognised that way.

Having spent 3 years learning to write big budget commercial projects and Americanise my language, it was back to basics.

Belfast Son — a father/son drama with a twist and Till Death Do Us Part, a female-driven horror movie are the results from the last 16 months.

I had to swallow a lot of pride, experience discomfort, endure sleepless nights and miss the glorious sunshine of L.A., although this made me a better writer.

My Hollywood career hasn’t worked out the way I planned, however, I didn’t give up on my dreams, I’ve simply changed how I got there.

Of course, let’s see how the industry reacts…

Written by Niraj Kapur

Niraj Kapur worked as a writer-for-hire on several kids shows on British TV with numerous screenplay commissions and options. His first movie Naachle London was released in 2012. Find him online: www.nirajkapur.com

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Twitter: @Nirajwriter

Scriptcat’s summer tips for your screenwriting journey…

June 20, 2017 § Leave a comment

DSCN2560Summer is finally here! Time for script contests, pitch fests, writing conferences, and a definite change in the weather. I hope you’ve made some noise with your screenplays so far this year and pushed yourself closer to establishing a career. As you know, you’ll need to create a solid body of work to standout in this very competitive marketplace. In addition to this blog, I also offer nuggets of advice on Twitter (@scriptcat) and my screenwriting Youtube Channel . Dig in on this blog, as I’ve written over 200 articles with screenwriting advice, I have a new book available on Amazon called “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success,” and I also broadcast live on PERISCOPE.

Okay, here are three more tips to help you through the summer screenwriting season…

TIP #1     ACT LIKE A PRO—ALWAYS!

MARK4This goes without saying — but I’ll say it anyway: Act like a professional even if you’ve never been paid. As a screenwriter, you must consider writing a job, and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional. As with any job, it comes with deadlines, requirements and expectations, so it’s good practice to follow professional disciplines as you prepare for the time when you do get paid to write. If you train yourself to work under a deadline, it’s not a shock when the producer requires you to complete a script by a certain date. It’s no longer the romanticized dream of spending endless time working on your spec to get it just right—it’s “go time” and you’re now playing in the big leagues—exactly where you belong. The producer or executive expects greatness from you and you generally have six to eight weeks to deliver the first draft and its excellence will decide if they keep you on to write a second draft, or fire you. This is not the time for a “vomit draft.” If you start meeting your own deadlines when writing your specs, it will be easier later when they pay you under contract to meet a deadline.

 

TIP #2           IT’S A LONG JOURNEY. ENJOY THE LITTLE SUCCESSES ALONG THE WAY.

scan4Sometimes, the only nourishment we have in this barren wasteland of screenwriting is our faith and the anchor of the small achievement. No matter how small. Maybe you finished your script? That’s a major achievement. Maybe you finally got a producer to give it a read? That’s another successful achievement. The ingredients of a big success are usually a range of small successes all leading up to that sale or screenwriting job that jump starts a “career.” It’s the little successes that keep us going through the rough times. I know for me personally, what gets me through is seeing results from my forward movement and creating new material. Every screenplay opens up new opportunities. Always be moving forward, even if it’s a few steps at a time. Sure, you’ll stumble and experience failure during your journey, but avoid falling into the self-doubt pit where the darkness of fear overshadows your burning desire to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

 

TIP #3           YOUR FIRST DRAFT IS DANGEROUSLY IMPORTANT.

fade inDo not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit or you first need to produce a “vomit” draft. 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. Make 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 many times projects die a tragic death from too many drafts over a long period of time.

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson – originally published on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or a new draft? Are you “written out” and need a professional opinion about your script?  Is it time for in-depth consultation before you unleash it upon Hollywood? Check out my consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.

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Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue your screenwriting career? My new book is available on Amazon, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success: Tips, tricks and tactics to survive as a working screenwriter in Hollywood.”  Click on the book cover below for the link to Amazon.

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“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

“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

“If there ever was one analogy for what a screenwriter must accomplish, it’s this: To create a source of life, to find the bedrock of a given idea, to prevent most of the work from evaporating.”—FX Feeney

PILE OF SCRIPTS

Q & A interview with Hollywood screenwriter Jim Vines…

June 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

You’ve been a working screenwriter for a number of years. What inspired you to write your novel, Luigi’s Chinese Delicatessen? How did you come up with the premise?

LCD cover picI had become pretty burned out on the whole screenwriting thing. Not just the writing of scripts, but all the wheeling and dealing with filmmakers, agents, and managers. I was just worn out. As much as I really enjoy writing screenplays, I needed another creative writing outlet. I had written all sorts of things—a play, a web series, a non-fiction book, blogs—but I had yet to tackle a novel. It would have to be about something I knew well. So I came up with a story about a young guy who goes to L.A. to become a screenwriter. Once I started writing, the story just poured out of me. Many have asked, “Is the novel autobiographical?” I always say, “Ninety-seven percent of it is a work of fiction—and no, I’m not telling you which 3% is truth.” But Luigi’s is a real Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride through Hollywood, and readers seem to be enjoying it.

How was writing a novel different from your experiences as a screenwriter—and did you enjoy the experience?

When you write a screenplay, you have to stay within certain parameters, and it all tends to be fairly rigid. It can also be difficult exploring a character’s inner feelings and inner thoughts. As I wrote Luigi’s, I felt free to go anywhere I wanted. I could really delve into Trent’s emotions and I could explore moments in his existence that I would never be able to do in a screenplay. I loved every bit of writing that book, I really did.

Do you plan to turn your novel into a screenplay—and have you ever adapted a book before?

I’ve had a few people tell me it would make a cool cable or web series. I did have a producer contact me about a year ago, expressing an interest in adapting the novel into some sort of series, but I never heard back from him after that initial contact. Well, as they say, that’s show biz! As for adapting books: Yup, I’ve adapted four novels into screenplays. One was an early experiment, just to see if I could do it, and the other three were paid assignments. It’s a real challenge boiling a 350-page novel into a 110-page screenplay. It’s fun, but definitely a challenge.

Do you plan to write more novels in the future?

Yup, I sure do! In fact, right now I have three novels in various stages of development, including a sequel to Luigi’s Chinese Delicatessen, which is presently about one-fourth of the way completed.

Do you have other books available?

jim book cover

 

In 2006 I published a book entitled Q & A: The Working Screenwriter – An In-the-Trenches Perspective of Writing Movies in Today’s Film Industry. It’s a compilation of interviews I did with 16 working screenwriters, including David J. Schow (The Crow), Stephen Susco (The Grudge) John Rogers (The Core) and Brent Maddock (Tremors and Short Circuit). It’s available as a paperback and e-book on Amazon, The Writer’s Store…all the usual places.

 

Do you have advice for other screenwriters who are considering writing a novel?

Just keep in mind that you’re doing an awful lot of writing. A screenplay is typically in the 17- to 18,000-word range, give or take. A novel is a minimum of 60,000 words; and depending on the genre you’re writing, you could easily surpass 100,000 words. But if you love what you’re writing—as I did—word count isn’t a huge problem. So if you feel you have a novel in you, you should definitely go for it!

 

Vines, pub picJim Vines has been a professional screenwriter and script consultant since the early 1990s. He has optioned and sold several of his screenplays and has been commissioned to pen and rewrite scripts for numerous U.S. and Canadian producers. His thriller The Perfect Tenant has aired regularly on American and foreign cable television since its release in 2000.  In 2006 he published Q & A: The Working Screenwriter, a book of interviews with 16 professional screenwriters. Jim is the author of The Working Screenwriter and Jim Vines Presents, two popular writing blogs. His comedic 2-act play Downwind of the Cannery has been staged by three separate theater companies. He also created and wrote a Web series, was a guest speaker at the Scriptwriters Network in Los Angeles, and won the Best Writer award at the 2014 Shockfest Film Festival. Also in 2014: a movie produced from his horror screenplay House at the End of the Drive was completed and currently awaits distribution. In 2015, he published his first novel, Luigi’s Chinese Delicatessen, which is the saga of a young man trying to make his mark in Hollywood. He presently has three other book projects in development and occasionally takes on screenwriting assignments.

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