January 9, 2018 § Leave a comment
It’s time again for a guest blogger here on MY BLANK PAGE!
Appearing for his fifth time with another superb contribution about screenwriting in the trenches… welcome back U.K. based screenwriter Niraj Kapur.
“How to regain your confidence as a screenwriter” by Niraj Kapur.
You’ve been rejected by managers who say, “you’re not what we’re looking for.” A script reader requests your scripts then never returns your phone call or email. You spend hours waiting to meet an agent who doesn’t even show up despite the fact you reminded them the day before. A producer agrees to option your script, then tries to pay you less than minimum wage.
You pour heart and soul into anything you care about, you sometimes get good results.
Writing has a different set of rules. There are absolutely zero guarantees.
The internet has helped lots of artists get exposure, especially musicians. As a screenwriter, you still need a producer, director, crew and lots of investment which most writers don’t have access to.
I’ve seen talented screenwriters give up after several years of struggle and seen many slightly above average writers make it because they had family connections, childhood friends in the business, or got on well with a producer’s assistant at a party. A friend of mine who has never written in his life received a paid option because he’s best friends with an upcoming movie star. Did he spend years toiling at his craft? No, he wrote a rough treatment in a week. That’s it!
Can you imagine how that feels?
This business can easily drive you mad and knock your confidence. So how do you stay sane and how do you rebuild your confidence and find work after constant rejection?
Here’s what I did which helped me recently get a producer and director attached to my new Irish drama screenplay, Belfast Son.
- Take care of your health.
Sitting down all day is not good for you and the gym isn’t for everyone. Walking 30 minutes a day is a good start. I’ve tried yoga which aches and mediation which sends me to sleep. However if that works for you, please enjoy. Reiki has worked well for maintaining my inner calm.
- Take care of your nutrition.
I’ve cut out carbs at lunch and have more energy in the afternoon. I also avoid chocolate until end of the day which is torture, but worth it for the increased focus and concentration I get when writing.
- Find a writing support group.
I have a group of five writers called The Gamechangers. We make it a policy that it’s a support group, so although you can whine and complain about your frustrations sometimes, it’s more important to be positive and help each other out.
- Keep in touch with people who said “no.”
I contacted forty producers and agents I’ve known over the years who I liked, yet who turned down my work. I simply wrote them a letter, since hardly anyone received letters these days, telling them about my adventures attending pitching events in L.A. and that I had a new project that may interest them with a simple logline.
- Twenty-six of them didn’t get back to me.
- Seven replied saying were two busy.
- Four didn’t like my concept.
- Three of them liked my logline and asked to read my screenplay.
- Two producers said they would like to make it
- Only one of them actually contacted me and offered to option the screenplay.
- Follow inspirational people on Twitter.
@katherinefugate – writer of Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve.
@jakethornton – screenwriter making huge waves.
@stephenking – a master at everything he does.
@jk_rowling – no explanation needed. Simply amazing.
@bang2write – amazing resource for writers.
@indust_scripts – writing services and excellent industrial events.
@barackobama – inspirational.
@Markruffalo – fighting for everyday people.
@officialjimrohn – the father of personal development
@bettemidler – biting and very funny
@sarahksilverman – compassionate, caring, very funny
- Write every day.
Most writers I know have a 9-5 job. Then they try to write on top of that. When you have family commitments, that makes writing even tougher. Writing one hour a day, even 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes over lunch is better than nothing.
That’s all it took to rebuild my confidence. The producer liked my screenplay so much, he has a director on board and is now seeking financing.
Niraj Kapur has had several screenplays optioned, sitcoms commissioned, and his movie Naachle London was released in British cinemas in 2012. His non-fiction book, Everybody Works in Sales, will be released March 20. Visit his website at www.nirajkapur.com.
December 3, 2017 § 1 Comment
Hey, soon we’ll be saying a fond farewell to 2017 and there is no turning back. I do believe it’s always a powerful tool to look back over the previous year and critically analyze the good, the bad and the ugly choices we’ve made. Leave the regrets behind and focus on your growth as a screenwriter and human being. Hopefully, you’ve learned from your failures and enjoyed your successes. Excuses abound, but what really matters is how productive have you been? Is there room for improvement? We must always adapt to survive while slogging it out in Hollywood’s trenches. Have you become a better screenwriter and have you been able to move yourself and your projects down the field? Have you opened doors and gained new “fans” of your writing? Have you been able to gain and hold new ground? Established new relationships and contacts? Created a solid body of material in a genre to show your unique voice? Sold or optioned a project? Follow your writing disciplines to stay on target?
The responsibility for a screenwriter’s career begins and ends with the screenwriter. The hard fact: Your screenwriting career is probably the most important struggle to you and not to anyone else. Only you know the hard work and sacrifices you’ve endured for years going after your dream, so you need to protect your career path by taking responsibility for chartering the course of your career. Your time is precious and you need to constantly be moving forward and avoid the pitfalls of poor choices and negative experiences.
Too many times, I’ve heard screenwriters blame others for their own missteps or lack of success in Hollywood. Some writers look for the quick and easy way to success, but end up frustrated when their one script doesn’t sell, they have no other plans and they are not working on new material. Sure, it’s easier to soften the blow to blame the agent, manager, producer, or Hollywood itself for not getting your film made, but screenwriters need to step up and take more control over their choices. You can’t believe that every spec will sell—in fact most will not. Your new spec may not be the “one” — but one of many you’ll have to write and burn through until it jump starts your career.
Every time you write a new project on spec, you must consider how it fits into the bigger picture of your screenwriting goals. It’s a risk when you write a spec and you are rolling the dice with your precious time. Did you just have a “fun idea” for a movie and thought it would sell, so you decided to spend months writing it hoping when you’re done for a huge payday? This is not an effective use of your time. If it’s your passion project and you must write it—do it and hopefully you’ve executed it properly and your passion will be there on the page—but choose your material wisely. REMEMBER: What you write about is as important as how you execute it and just because you write it doesn’t mean they will “love it.” You’ll only figure this out after you meander through four or five scripts that don’t achieve the plateaus you had expected or do not sell. You’ll be forced to take a step back and examine your reasoning for embarking on the journey with each project.
If you’ve been successfully making noise with a particular genre, continue to establish yourself as an expert in that genre. When you secure a writing gig, you’ll move forward with steady work because you’ll be known for a genre. There is nothing wrong with being pigeonholed as a screenwriter. It means you’ll work and build up your résumé in a genre that you hopefully enjoy writing. Trust me, bouncing around for years with different scripts in different genres hoping that something sticks is a fool’s endeavor. I’ve been there. When something eventually hits and is a success, the producers will want more of the same from you in the way of screenwriting assignments—the bread and butter or working screenwriters. There is no shame in steady work. I find sometimes aspirants believe they’ll hold out and will only go with a script that is “their vision” and somehow it’s “selling out” to take a job offered writing something that maybe isn’t their favorite choice of material—but it’s a foot in the door.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the odds are already stacked against you and time marches on so quickly. If you don’t believe the odds, consider that according to the Scoggins Spec Market Scorecard, only 70 specs sold at the studio level in 2016 . And only 5,227 WGA members reported any income in a year (annual report ending in June) out of nearly 9,000 members. The other half did not work. Over half of those numbers who did report income were working in television. Think about those odds for a moment and then get back to work. And if you add the non-union screenwriters working… it can boggle the mind with more stats and there are no stats for non-union screenwriters working or not working. The main issue is that you must stay busy creating projects and casting your best scripts wide.
I’ve been blessed, this past year was very busy for me and I’ve pushed various projects down the field to production. In the last year, I’ve completed five screenwriting assignments—three of the films were produced, one goes into production in December 2017, and I just completed the first draft of my latest assignment and I’m turning it into the producer. I also finished my new book on surviving in Hollywood’s trenches called “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. We must stay active and not wait for others to open doors. We create new opportunities with every project that we create.
So, it’s never too late, even though we’re already into the new year, grab a piece of paper and if you haven’t yet, set up a game plan for 2018. Look back at 2017 and chart your successes and failures. Write down your goals you achieved and the ones you missed. Hit the ground running this year and achieve your goals every day of the week. Treat your screenwriting like a business—it’s YOU, INC. and every decision you make affects your pathway to success. Every three months check in on your progress and keep updating your list and following your road map to success. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions: “Why am I writing this particular spec and will it serve me in the best way possible to create opportunities and open doors?” If you haven’t done this start now. Grab a piece of paper and…
1) Make a list of all viable projects. Completed scripts and what condition they are in—ready to be read, needs a rewrite, needs a polish, only a first draft, etc. Add to the list any fleshed out pitches, log lines, one sheets, beat sheets or treatments. This is important if you cross paths with an agent or manager. They want to see you busy and prolific on your own. What do you have to offer? One script only and nothing as a follow-up? You’ll need a solid body of work to standout and it will take time to craft these projects.
2) Make a list of your achievements in 2017. Scrutinize the successes and failures so you can see where you need to pick up the slack in areas where you need to focus in the new year. List any accolades—did you win or place in a significant screenwriting competition? Did you option or sell a screenplay? Did you graduate from film school? Did you make any films, short movies or a webseries on your own? Did you work on a film production or complete an internship? Find a screenwriting mentor? List anything that shows you are working toward to your goals.
3) Make a list of potential deadlines for any rewrites or new ideas. Keep true to these self-imposed deadline as if they were real screenwriting jobs. Do not deviate from the commitment for anyone or any external forces. Trust me, either on purpose or by mistake, people will try to derail your schedule and will think it’s not that important because you’re writing on spec. It is that important. It’s vital training for the time when you finally do get a job on assignment and you’ll know how to keep a deadline under any conditions. Find respected screenwriting contests that you may want to enter and use their entry dates as a goal and deadlines to finish your new material.
4) Make a list of any new contacts that you met by networking during the year. If you have an e-mail, or the address of their company, send a holiday card. Nothing like the holidays as a good reason to reconnect, right? In January, make sure to send them a: “Midyear check in—hope this finds you well—this is what I’m doing” e-mail. It will put you back on their radar and if you list a few interesting projects, they might bite and ask for a read.
5) If you haven’t yet, attend more networking events before the year ends. Become a member of the International Screenwriter’s Association ( ISA ) for workshops, webinars and in person events in your area. Also Final Draft hosts meetups every month with known screenwriters and offers tips and many free networking events during the year. Network on Stage32.com also—it’s free and a great place to meet fellow filmmakers. In addition, check out the Scriptwriters Network in Los Angeles. They put on networking meetings the first Friday of every month. Get out of your writing cave and meet other screenwriters and network. Make sure to support others and you will find they will help you.
6) If you don’t already, read scripts on a regular basis. Good scripts, bad scripts, classics—read! You’ll be surprised how much you learn from reading screenplays. Be careful of the screenplays that are posted during award season. Do not try to emulate their style as many are written in a protected bubble of development and were not specs, so they can get away with many things regarding format that you cannot with a spec from an unknown writer. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” —Stephen King.
7) If you don’t already, read screenwriting blogs, books, articles and film websites with news about the film industry. You must do your homework on a daily basis and not expect your representation (if you’re lucky to have an agent or manager) to do it for you. Many things slip through the cracks and information is priceless currency in Hollywood. It can mean the difference between getting in a door with a meeting that could land you the next job that launches your career. A game plan helps you allocate your precious time wisely. It shows that you’re your serious about your career and treating your screenwriting as a professional—not just willy-nilly writing a script and hoping it will sell on its own merits. It’s rare that one script makes a career. It’s always one script that opens the door, but you’ll probably have to write five or six to get to that “ONE.”
And keep updating these lists every three months to keep track of your progress and not allow an opportunity or contact to slip through the cracks. Keeping an eye on your career doesn’t just mean focusing on writing your latest spec and ignoring the business side of your journey. You have to multitask and keep all of these important aspects in check throughout the year. Your current spec is just one of the tools in your arsenal to use to move forward on the field.
The overnight success is usually a series of little successes along the way that lead up to continued success. You have to consider how everything you do regarding your career fits into your bigger overall goals. Your career aspirations can’t live or die by one project and you can’t focus on “the one” and hope it unlocks the gates of Hollywood. It’s always going to be a numbers game with horrible odds of success. Even if you sell a screenplay, there are no guarantees and still so many hurdles to jump.
The good news is—the more quality material you create, the better chance you have of garnering interest and that may lead to a sale or assignment work. Keep your eye on the big picture. It’s like what Bruce Lee said in Enter the Dragon, “It’s like a finger-pointing a way to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!” And read this eye-opening essay on the current filmmaking business environment as you try to chase the Hollywood studios with your specs: “How the Death of Mid-Budget Cinema Left a Generation of Iconic Filmmakers MIA.“ All my best wishes for a glorious and successful journey for 2018 and may it be the best year ever.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog My Blank Page.
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Check out my new book. If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism 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. “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry that have helped me stay in the game. It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.
“You have to be very productive in order to become excellent. You have to go through a poor period and a mediocre period, and then you move into your excellent period. It may be very well be that some of you have done quite a bit of writing already. You maybe ready to move into your good period and your excellent period. But you shouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a very long process.”—Ray Bradbury
“It’s such an exhausting thing, you know, facing that empty page in the morning.”—Billy Wilder
“Seeking support from friends and family is like having your people gathered around at your deathbed. It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye. Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work. In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
“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
You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it. But the best writing is certainly when you are in love. If it is all the same to you I would rather not expound on that.”—Ernest Hemingway
“Most directors do not want to rewrite the script. They have more pressing commitments on the sound stage. The writer’s best insurance against a rewrite is to have an understanding of the directorial problems. Write a scene that can’t be played, no matter how beautiful the words or thoughts, is begging for a revamp.”—Jerry Lewis
December 3, 2017 § Leave a comment
I can’t believe it’s December again and my seven-year anniversary for this blog. Time sure flies as we’re busy filling our blank pages, right? Yes, it’s my SEVENTH ANNIVERSARY and it’s been another solid year of readership and with over 16,000 views of the blog. I want to thank all of my loyal readers for a fantastic seventh year on the net. I hope my articles helped with your survival in the trenches of Hollywood as a working screenwriter. As you know, screenwriting is a long haul journey to reach any level of success, but when you know other writers are out here slugging away, fighting the good fight, and being successful, it can give you hope and strength to fill yet another blank page as you follow your dreams.
I hope 2017 has been a productive year on your screenwriting journey. I’ve been blessed keeping busy with five screenwriting assignment jobs that have resulted in three produced films—two films, “ONE SMALL INDISCRETION” and “A WEDDING TO DIE FOR” have premiered on tv, the third film “STALKED BY MY EX” premieres Friday, December 15 at 8 PM on LMN (Lifetime Movie Network). Another film that I wrote, “THE BREAK-IN” starts production this week, and I just completed the first draft of my latest script assignment. I’ve also completed my online store that sells my COFFEE RING CARTOONS MERCHANDISE for screenwriters. Check it out as they make great gifts for the screenwriter in your life — maybe that’s you!
If that wasn’t enough to keep me busy, I published my new book, A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success, earlier this year on Amazon. The book has been a long haul journey to write and shares my twenty years of experiences in Hollywood’s trenches with advice about forging your own career with my tips, tricks and tactics to say in the game. Click on the book cover at the left for the link to Amazon.
If you haven’t yet, check out my screenwriting YOUTUBE CHANNEL where I post weekly script videos with my tips, tricks and tactics to help you survive in Hollywood’s trenches. I have twenty seven videos uploaded to help with your screenwriting survival in the trenches. I also provide on-demand webinars from my Pivotshare Channel to help you reach your screenwriting goals.The webinars make great holiday gifts for the aspiring screenwriter in your life. And as you complete your latest magnum opus, if you find yourself in need of professional screenplay consultation, check out my screenplay consultation services. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay.
As the year ends, take some time to reflect on your experiences — celebrate your successes, analyze your mistakes and failures, and adapt to find new strategies that can move you and your projects forward down the paying field. Always set realistic goals and do whatever you need to go after them with passion. Remember, it’s later than you think, and life passes quickly while you attempt great things with your screenwriting career.
My sincere thanks for your support of this blog. Remember to always respect the craft, keep the faith, write from a passion for the work and not seeking fame and fortune, and remember—if you stop writing, you’re guaranteed to never have a shot at any success.
See you on Twitter/Periscope and the big and small screen.
All my best screenwriting wishes for 2018.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.
“… a basic “must” for every writer: A simple solitude—physical & mental.”—Rod Serling
“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
Hemingway said it best, “I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.“
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”—Pablo Picasso
“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
July 25, 2017 § Leave a comment
Many 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.
It’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.
It’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.
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.
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.
“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
July 24, 2017 § Leave a comment
It’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
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
June 24, 2017 § 2 Comments
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
June 20, 2017 § Leave a comment
Summer 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!
This 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.
Sometimes, 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.
Do 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.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson – originally published on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.
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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