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.

 

 

 

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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

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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

Overcoming the disappointments a screenwriting journey can deliver…

June 24, 2017 § 2 Comments

guest blogger

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

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Tips to avoid the disappointments on your screenwriting journey…

May 17, 2017 § Leave a comment

megaphoneWe all have expectations after we complete a script. You know the creative high that you felt during writing and you want to let the world know that you finished.  You’re also probably coming down from that high as you turn in your draft for criticism and await feedback. Did you receive opinions that were not exactly what you expected? Many times we are pleasantly surprised, but too many other times we are let down by our expectations.

Were you disappointed they didn’t appreciate the work enough — or maybe didn’t understand it enough? It’s hard because we assume that everyone else is as excited about our screenplay as we are when we finish. If this was an assignment gig, maybe the producer felt your execution of the treatment was off?  (I’ve had this happen before). Perhaps you become down on yourself as the insecure voices scream in your head, “I’m a fraud and they’ve found out!”  You may even question what you thought was some of your best work only a week ago, but now because of the reaction feel it’s crap.  You are not alone my fellow writers.

handshake cartoonWe all need a pat on the back or just a “job well done” once in a while… even if it comes from within and not from external opinions. Writing the script is one thing, turning over to others for feedback, or to a producer and waiting for a reply is another experience. It’s easy to take notes personally because your script is your baby and your writing exposes yourself and your talents to criticism.  f you can’t handle criticism, start to work on acceptance, as it will make your journey as a working writer a lot less bumpy. You will always deal with notes and changes your entire career. It doesn’t change when you become a professional writer. In fact, more it at stake because your reputation is on the line with every project.  Perhaps it will make the process easier to always remember that writing is rewriting.  Detach from the material and expectation from any outcome.  “Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu. Do not hang on every word or sentence. This trick will help you on the long haul journey of a screenwriter.

changeAs writers we must stay open to constructive criticism. We will always receive notes as a script is a changing blueprint for a movie. Once producers, a director and actors get involved there will be many changes and you should welcome the creative input from your co-creators on a project. These fellow artisans will bring it to an entirely new level of creativity. But if the process gets dragged down by so many changes you can become frustrated and feel like throwing in the towel. Stay positive, focused and persistent at executing the notes and turning in a better script. Find the passion you had for the first draft and put that energy into shaping a new draft that will please not only yourself, but the talent it will eventually attract.

pitchAlong with the successes, I’ve also had to deal with disappointments and frustration throughout my writing career, but I continue to love the craft of writing.  I’ve been paid to write movies that were never made and got lost in “development hell.” Imagine being told by the head of the production that your film will go into production in two months, only to find out it doesn’t happen. There are a myriad of reasons why a film doesn’t move forward—even if you wrote a terrific screenplay. These disappointment were the hardest for me to get used to when starting out as a professional screenwriter. I always thought just because they buy your script or hire you to write one it was a guarantee of a produced film. After nine produced films and seventeen assignments, I know the hard reality.

script revision photo copyI’ve been able to handle these disappointments by viewing the entire process from a larger perspective and focusing on the task at hand — to get the script into better shape and move it through the development process.  If you are lucky enough to be paid to write, it becomes your job.  You go to work, write all day, come back tomorrow and lather, rinse, and repeat. Writers have pages to write and without filling those blank pages there would be no script. Take your feedback seriously, but don’t take it to heart.  Trust in your writing abilities and if you allow the disappointments to take you into a bad place, address your feelings but then focus on the task of executing your notes. Stay out-of-the-way of the story and put your ego aside. Writers must serve the story to the best of their creative ability. If you want to play with the big boys, at some point you’re going to be bruised and beat up.  It’s just the rites of passage necessary for the growth of a writer.

alfred-hitchcockreading-script-for-the-movie-rebeccaPart of the deal is that you want people to read your material, right? If producers or executives agree to a read, give them ample time to get back to you. A gentle nudge in a few weeks is completely acceptable, but if you contact them before, you’ll seem desperate and no one likes to be hounded. I remember a producer warned me, “Stay on me about your project, because I tend to get busy.” That’s fine. But use common sense and put yourself in their situation for a second.  Your script is the most important thing in the world to you after you finish, but you have to understand that it’s not on their front burner at the moment. One E-mail or text is fine to check up — four is not.

Be open to the entire process of writing — the notes, criticism, rejections, rewrites and all. Always be writing to gain that precious experience. Detachment from the work is hard, but it helps so you’re not crushed every time you receive disappointing feedback. No disappointments only triumphs when you complete a project. There will always be creative highs and lows. Do your best not to allow your disappointment to be perceived as a failure and then sink into the morass of fear and insecurity in your creative soul. This will lead to the horrible act of chasing screenplay notes.  Avoid this at all costs.

Be patient. A career does not happen overnight and part of your journey is becoming a better writer and finding your unique voice — one that producers will grow to love, trust and hopefully employ!

@Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

“The poor dope — he always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool.”

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Editorial reviews…

“I have known Mark my entire life, and he is absolute living proof of the grit and tenacity it takes to make it as a writer in this business. Take your first steps toward your own career by reading the words of this true fighter.”Matt Reeves, writer/director
(Cloverfield, Let Me In, Dawn Of The Planet of the Apes, War For The Planet of the Apes)

“A great book for anyone who ever aspired to become anything; Sanderson reminds us how important it is to have a life passion, how important it is to work hard at it, and how that, in itself, is a victory.”J. J. Abrams, writer/producer/director
(Mission Impossible III, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

“Mark’s work as a screenwriting guru is as thorough, as painstaking, and as insightful as his actual screenwriting was on Tides Of War, our submarine drama. As aspiring writers soon learn it’s a complex, changeable, lonely field of endeavor, so Mark provides not only valid professional advice but also meaningful emotional support for all those who stare into the abyss of an empty page. Read Mark, and your keystrokes will accelerate.”
Brian Trenchard-Smith, producer/director
(Dead End Drive In, BMX Bandits, Drive Hard, and 40 others)

“Not only have I collaborated with Mark as a writer, more importantly I have found him to be a true artist who walks his talk. Whenever the chips are down, whenever I’ve needed some creative or inspirational, perhaps technical help — even if it’s at 3:00 in the morning — Mark has been there invariably. Infallibly. As a screenwriter, director, or producer, this book is the very next best thing to having Mark in your corner at 3 A.M.”
George Mendeluk, writer/producer/director
(70 credits, over 300 hours of television, and 9 features including the epic Bitter Harvest)

“Mark is a journeyman screenwriter, my good friend and collaborator on several projects. This is a must have book of reference for those not only about to embark in a career in the entertainment industry, but also for those who want to learn from someone who’s been there and done that. Mark is extremely candid about what it takes and how hard it is to ‘make it’ in this business. This should be on everyone’s desk right next to their computer.
Greg Grunberg, actor and writer/producer
(actor Alias, Heroes, Big Ass Spider, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

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Learn how to execute screenplay notes effectively and stay on the project…

April 17, 2017 § Leave a comment

rewritesIt’s vital that when you’re writing your specs to also be training yourself to effectively execute screenplay notes because producers will keep you on the project if you’re able to continue help them push it through development. I’ve recently experienced this again when I completed two assignment jobs in a row for a producer. They were page one rewrites of scripts because the previous writers could not generate a production ready screenplay and the projects were stalled. I was able to execute the notes effectively and greatly reduced the development time allowing the scripts to receive a green light. One of the projects completed production and the second script was just accepted last week and sent to the network. It’s a huge jump forward toward production.

When a company has a slate of films they are scheduled to produce, they do not want anything to stand in way of the forward movement toward production. If you can be the screenwriter who executes notes and delivers production ready drafts, they will hire you again. This is your opportunity to shine and establish your professional reputation. You should realize that most of screenwriting is not the romanticized image you might have of parties, huge paydays, and premieres. It’s a job and tremendous work. Put your ego aside and get the work done. The goal when you are working is to finish the screenplay as contracted, receive your payment, and your credit. Most of my jobs on assignment have come from producers who I have worked for before. These relationships will help you establish your screenwriting career.

Writing your own spec script is one thing, being hired for a script assignment and rewriting an existing screenplay, or working from a treatment you didn’t create, and then executing script notes, is an entirely different talent. It’s an ability that you must have if you want to stay on a project and eventually see your name in the credits.

So, when you are writing your  spec, use this precious time as training for your long haul journey. Now is the time to make mistakes and write badly so that you can learn and avoid this when you finally get a professional writing assignment. If you haven’t experienced it yet on your first few screenplays, writing is all about the execution of a great story and rewriting to get it right. Even after thirty–three feature screenplay, I’m still rewriting drafts, but usually the first few drafts are solid enough and only need light polishing. This is where you want to be with your screenwriting ability if you desire to work professionally in Hollywood.

Keep writing on a regular schedule and keep the faith. It’s all talent, timing, and luck — a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity and delivers the goods.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog My Blank Page.

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“A good style must, first of all, be clear. It must not be mean or above the dignity of the subject. It must be appropriate.”—Aristotle

“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

“… In fact, when the camera is in motion, in the best-directed scenes, the audiences should not be aware of what the camera is doing. They should be following the action and the road of the idea so closely, that they shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on technically.”—John Huston

“Writing is very hard work, and having done both writing and directing, I can tell you that directing is a pleasure and writing is a drag… but writing is just an empty page—you start with absolutely nothing. I think writers are vastly underrated and underpaid. It’s totally impossible, thought, for a mediocre director to completely screw up a great script.”— director Billy Wilder, interview in Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.

 

Be careful who you bring on to help with your screenwriting career…

March 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

handshake cartoonOver the years, I’ve had both agents and managers and had good and bad experiences with both. I grimace at the wasted time in the past where I stayed with a rep who was basically wasting my time and not moving my career forward. When you’re fist starting out, you will be eager to have anyone show you interest and you will learn that talk is free and cheap in Hollywood. You will experience amazing reps who can’t “move you forward” and others who can but don’t. It’s the nature of the game. The main takeaway is that you must be careful who you entrust with establishing your career. The wrong people will waste your precious time and also may derail your overall plans. Keep your radar up for those who are not helping you but say they are doing great things.

danger development hellYou could call the following a “cautionary tale.”  I once found a manager on the internet. Yes, any story that starts out like this probably ends in tragedy. Again, this was when I started out in the business and was happy for anyone to read my stuff. Well, this cautionary tale ended with an important life lesson—always trust your instincts.  This manager and I played E-mail tag and I sent over a few scripts and he wanted to meet.  We had breakfast  (he paid) and he laid out a game plan to get me working.  I liked that he was thinking of the bigger picture and wanted to hit the ground running.  I was already working on stuff, but as always, needed to meet a larger circle of producers who might offer more writing assignments.

smash head in wallOur working relationship appeared as if it was going well until the communication began to slow on his end. Never a good sign. I was living up to the bargain on my end, working on pitches, executing his notes on my existing scripts, but I could sense that something wasn’t quite right. He had one lead on a producer that never ended up with a meeting and that was pretty much it for him. It was foreshadowing where our working relationship was going—nowhere. It fizzled out and he stopped returning calls and E-mails. It was then I learned that he was actually my neighbor who lives not more than one-hundred yards from me. He was done, baby done.

Time passed and I was at a local coffee-house, enjoying a coffee and reading the newspaper when I recognize this very same “manager.” No surprise, because I would see him around the neighborhood every once in a while but he never did recognize me, as if I wasn’t even worthy of remembering. That’s okay, my anonymity allowed me to eavesdrop on him and listen while he told the very same spiel to two young and eager looking writers.  I just listened, feeling very much undercover, as he didn’t know who I was, and I felt like leaning over and warning these guys of my experience with this bottom feeder.  Who knows, would they suffer the same fate?  Or maybe these were the guys who he would catapult into super stardom.  Bottom line, like any relationship, if it’s not working after many attempts, get out.  Your time is precious too and better to spend it working and not spinning your wheels with a rep who promises the world and delivers nothing. You’ve worked too damn hard to entrust your journey to an amateur.

You quickly learn —no one truly cares like you do about your career.  They read five pages and if it doesn’t happen, they’re done.  The only person who really does care about your career is you because you live it and sacrifice for it every day.  If you remember this fact you won’t be surprised when those people who you think have your best interests in mind—really do not.  If you write something that someone believes they can sell, they will become interested.  If you write something that has a lot of interest before you find representation—they will flock to it like a moth to a flame.

Sure, it’s great to have a rep, but you need someone who is not just along for the ride and has you doing most of the work.  You are responsible for creating new and solid material and you should never stray from that discipline even if you don’t secure representation. My old writing partner and I used to say, “Just because there is a signature on a contract doesn’t mean someone will work that much harder.”  It means if things are not working out, you both have about six months to legally end the relationship.  Remember, you can never get back wasted time because you thought your rep was pushing you as a writer and your projects, but in reality you stalled and missed so many important opportunities as a result.

Keep screenwriting and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just complete your latest magnum opus? Time for in-depth professional script consultation/editing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your script. Make the time to get it right before you unleash it upon Hollywood.

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“Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu

Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working.”—Michael Crichton

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

“The reason actors, artists, writers have agents is because we’ll do it for nothing. That’s a basic fact – you gotta do it.” —Morgan Freeman

“Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends.” —William Shakespeare

Remember Stephen King’s First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: “You don’t need one until you’re making enough for someone to steal… and if you’re making that much, you’ll be able to take your pick of good agents.” ― Stephen King

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