Consider your spec as a calling card and not a million dollar sale…

PILE OF SCRIPTSWhen I started out on this crazy screenwriting journey, I made the same mistake many beginning screenwriters make when they complete their first specs—believing that everything they write will sell—and sell for a million dollars. When you consider that on the average about one hundred specs a year sell at the studio level and only about a quarter of the Writers Guild members report income in any given year, your specs should really be considered the necessary training ground for you to become a better screenwriter—not chances to win Hollywood’s lottery.

Trust me, I know it’s hard to accept the spec you are writing probably will not sell and may end up being only a writing sample, but you need to put your specs into perspective. If you don’t put in the necessary work with solid rewrites from constructive feedback and create professionally competitive material, your specs could end up in a drawer collecting dust, or worse a dumpster and have a negative effect on your career aspirations.

BoulderFlatSpecs are a necessary part of every screenwriter’s journey because they are the scripts you “cut your teeth on” to prepare you for when you do get hired for assignment jobs. My fifth spec is the one that opened the door to a career for me. Back in the day, a new production company optioned my screenplay and made it as their first released film. My professional relationship with the producers on the rewrites and my attitude during production helped build my reputation with them and they hired me for a series of screenwriting assignment jobs. This opened the door and launched my career. Since then I’ve been hired twenty-one times for paid assignments, some of them sadly went into “development hell,” but I’ve had fifteen of the scripts produced into films and distributed globally.

script oddsNo spec ever wastes your time because you hopefully gain precious knowledge and experience with every new screenplay. I’ve completed 37 feature-length scripts since I started screenwriting and have been paid for twenty-one of them in addition to one spec sale. My early specs were not great and I look back at them as learning experiences. I realized that I needed time to get better and learn how to compete on a professional level. The truth is that I’m still learning because as screenwriters we never stop mastering our craft. You always learn something new with every screenplay and working with every producer. This is why it’s vital to respect the process and journey otherwise the craft and the film business will humble you fast. Trust me, years of rejection and criticism just might make you decide to pick another career to pursue. I’ve had many friends who wanted to be actors and writers, and very few achieved any success in the film business today.

Also consider the genre you’re writing. Which genre drives your passion? Many of Hollywood biggest films now are multi-genre movies so they can appeal to a global audience. If you’re writing in every genre and an agent or manager asks, “What genre do you write?” What is your answer? If you replay, “Well… I write everything… horror, drama, comedy, and action.” No writer is a master at every genre and you will appear scattered. Agents want to get you on studio rewrite lists and those are genre specific. Also your first screenplay sale will probably determine the genre that you’ll be working in as you establish your career. If you sell a comedy out of the gate, your agent won’t be sending you out for horror or action assignment jobs.

hang onMoving forward on your spec journey, realize that Hollywood doesn’t owe you or me a read, a job, or a career just because we’ve put words on paper in the form of a screenplay. Sure, many have a screenplay or have tried to write one, but not everyone respects the craft or the mountain they need to climb for any shot at success. Specs are vital to your journey, but detach from their outcome and protect yourself from the reality of rejection so it doesn’t destroy your creative soul. Also remember what you write about is as important as the execution of the screenplay. My fifth spec was a difficult commercial sell because it was a historical movie about WWII and life on the home front of the United States with four ten-year olds as the protagonists. When I first shopped the script, Hollywood was not making historical films, and I kept coming up short with my submissions. Yes, it was a top 20 script in the Nicholl Fellowship, and I received positive feedback about the story and writing, but alas no sale. It took three years until it found a home with a producer and new company that wanted to make quality independent films. And it was a total of seven years from the day I typed FADE OUT of the first draft to the first day of photography. A long haul journey for sure, but I never gave up and it paid off.

Be smart about your career. Don’t waste time making the same mistakes over and over again. Always remember that it’s your responsibility to chart the course and keep your eye of the big picture. Before you start your next spec and burn precious time, consider how it figures into your overall screenwriting goals—not just the mantra that I hear from so many aspirants, “I have a good idea for a script.” Many times it’s not a good idea and if your goal is to be a horror genre screenwriter, why are you writing a romantic comedy especially when Hollywood isn’t producing that genre now? Think, plan, create a checklist, hit your goals, create a solid story treatment before you start pages, and then put your ass in a seat and fill those blank pages.

Also realize even if you do sell a script there are no guarantees. I’ve been paid to write five production ready screenplays that are in development hell, and they will probably never be made due to situations out of my control. What’s the alternative to not writing? You’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success. At least with a solid body of material you create opportunities. The rest is timing and the right project getting to the right producer.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Follow me on Twitter / Periscope: @scriptcat

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or finish a new draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website.

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Paddy Chayefsky on cutting/editing:

If it should occur to you to cut, do so. That’s the first basic rule of cutting. If you’re reading through and stop, something is wrong. Cut it. If something bothers you, then it’s bad. Cut it. If you can cut inside the speech, you’re really cutting most effectively. It’s purifying, it’s refining. Making it precise. Precision is one of the basic elements of poetry. My own rules are very simple. First, cut out all the wisdom; then cut out all the adjectives. I’ve cut some of my favorite stuff. I have no compassion when it comes to cutting. No pity, no sympathy. Some of my dearest and most beloved bits of writing have gone with a very quick slash, slash, slash. Because something was heavy there. Cutting leads to economy, precision, and to a vastly improved script.


“Starting tonight, every night in your life before you go to sleep, read at least one poem by anyone you choose. Poetry and motion pictures are twins. You’ll get more out of reading poetry than you will get out of any other kind of reading. You are people with eyes. You must find ways of extending this vision and putting it on film. As an experiment all of you could get out of here and shoot a cinematic haiku. Just go through a book of Japanese haiku and shoot a thirty-second film. They’re purely cinematic, very visual. You must read poems every night of your life in order to enable yourself to refresh your images. In forty years you’ll thank me for telling you this.”—Ray Bradbury, Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.

“Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.”– Kurt Vonnegut

Screenwriters need down time to recharge their creative batteries…

recharge your batteriesSound advice we should follow as writers. Our constant use of brain energy and visualization can burn us out quickly. Not to mention the meeting of deadlines and the sacrifices it takes to achieve those goals. One week was especially busy for me finishing a new assignment screenplay, working on a screenplay consulting job, preparing for an important upcoming meeting, and working an outline for a new movie I’m writing with a director. It’s been mentally exhausting and my noisy mind is getting too loud and the gears are grinding to a halt. I’m lucky to be aware of my situation and my need for a slight break after I complete my work.

After I completed my work, I took much-needed breaks and read, watched movies, and went for a good run. The run still represents the journey and the ability to keep a commitment with myself with regards to exercise. Writers need a sound body to have a sound mind.  It also helped in a physical way, but I also needed just to vegetate and not think about anything — especially my current projects.  I knew exactly what to do, I popped some corn and went on a Bogart tear watching The Maltese Falcon, To Have and Have Not, and The Treasure of Sierra Madre.  All were great films that inspired me to do better work.

In addition to relaxing, it’s also homework to further expose yourself to the great filmmakers of cinema. You can study where they succeeded and failed in various projects. The key to a stable and healthy creative mind is being aware of the creative lows and doing your best to recharge your creative batteries as you slip into this dangerous place. If you get stuck in the creative lows, they can make you procrastinate and avoid getting to work on your next project because you’re fresh out of ideas. You never want to go back to the well and find it dry. Avoid this soul-sucking place by immersing yourself in other artist’s works for inspiration.

When you recharge your creative batteries you’ll fill your well and will be ready to start your next magnum opus. Catch up on movies or TV shows that you’ve always wanted to see and study. I’ve recently been on a western movie tear and have watched nearly a dozen classics of the genre. I watched a masterpiece that was brought to my attention and its story structure was an inspiration. The film energized me to work on my old action spec that I’ve been tinkering with over the years. Recharge your batteries by listening to music or attending a concert, poetry reading, art exhibit or museum, sketch or paint, seek out local architecture, do something creative to breathe fresh life into your own work and feed your creative soul.

When you take your much needed break from writing, it’s okay to do something completely different to stimulate your mind and recharge your creative batteries. It’s also important to get away and take a vacation for a few days or longer. Your new experiences will add to the authenticity of your writing, so you can consider living actual research for your writing. Imagine the great ideas you’ll get from your adventures in a foreign country where new experiences can be found around every corner.

Who knows, maybe you’ll be like me and inspired or influenced by something and it will energize your creativity when you get back to your work. You’ll thank yourself the following week as you find yourself deep into meetings and deadlines, but now with a fresh perspective and a renewed sense of purpose.

Keep writing and keep the faith because if you stop writing, you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for link to my website.

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My new book now available on AMAZON.


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. It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood. CLICK ON THE BOOK COVER FOR THE LINK TO AMAZON.


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“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” — John Lubbock

“Fame and money are gifts given to us only after we have gifted the world with our best, our lonely, our individual truths.”—Ray Bradbury

“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.”—director Richard Brooks

“You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning.” – Billy Wilder