Top 5 mistakes beginning screenwriters make on their first screenplays…

June 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

PILE OF SCRIPTS

It’s easy to fall victim to the mistakes below as beginning screenwriters navigate their way through Hollywood’s trenches. The key is to realize the journey is not a sprint, but a long haul marathon that may take years to achieve any level of success. On the journey, many pitfalls can harm a writer’s pursuit to establish a career, and you have to be aware of the common mistakes to avoid making them. Here are my “Top 5 Mistakes Beginning Screenwriters Make on Their First Screenplays.”

1.)  They are desperate for a career but don’t want to put in the time or work necessary. They underestimate the craft and the competition believing that one screenplay (their first) will jump-start their career. It’s going to take three or four screenplays and many rewrites just to get a handle on the craft and discover a style.

2.)  Before they commit to an idea, they don’t consider “why” they are writing their particular story or who is their audience. I’ve heard too many times, “I thought it would be a good idea for a movie.” That’s not a good enough of a reason in today’s marketplace.

3.)   They don’t create a solid story treatment or outline before starting to write pages. This comes back to haunt them when they reach the middle of ACT 2 and their story goes off the tracks. Over half of the work should go into the story and that includes the characters, back story, theme, central idea, and plot.

4.)  They believe that every screenplay they write is going to sell for a million dollars. The sad truth is that most of what you write is not going to sell. If a script opens a door or secures a job—that’s considered success. A screenwriter usually does not sell only specs during a career. Most working writers thrive on rewrite or assignment jobs.

5.)  They eagerly rush through their script and present it to Hollywood before it’s ready. This will harm the project and a writer’s professional reputation. Patience is the key to working a screenplay into a marketable project. Anything less is wasting everyone’s time.

Your attitude and work ethic are equally as important as your talent on the screenwriter’s journey—especially at the beginning. Do your best to avoid the mistakes that can derail any screenwriter’s splendid career plans.

Keep writing and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or draft? Do you need feedback? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression.

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Social_Cover_FINALI’m excited to offer a bonus with my screenwriting consultation services. Script Speaker has partnered with me to offer five free script credits to have your screenplay transferred into an MP3 so you can listen to it on the go.  Sign up for a free Script Speaker account and receive three free script credits — and after my consultation, I’ll give you a password that will give you an additional FIVE script credits for MP3’s of your screenplays. Click on the icon above for the link to their website.

 

It’s been many years in the making, but finally my new screenwriting survival book is available on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon and preview the first chapter.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2A 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)

“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)

“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)

 

RESPECT THE CRAFT

“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.”—Ray Bradbury

“Most writers can’t tell at the premise stage whether they’ve got a good story because they don’t have the training to see the deep structural problems in the idea before writing it as a script.”—John Truby

“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

“The well is where your “juice” is. Nobody knows what it is made of, least of all yourself. What you know is if you have it, or you have to wait for it to come back.”—Ernest Hemingway

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

Sunset Boulevard pool

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Do you need feedback? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression.

Screenplay consultation services

My new screenwriting survival book is available on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link to preview the first chapter.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2

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)

REWRITES

Are your feature specs hitting a wall? Change up your writing to expand your chances of success…

February 12, 2017 § Leave a comment

smash head in wallOnly focusing on one writing medium can be extremely limiting to a screenwriter. It can eventually feel like you’re banging your head against a wall. You write a spec, rewrite it, and hope it’s the “one.” You send it out and it receives some positive feedback, but no sale or assignment job. You write another feature spec and go through the same process again hoping this time it’s what the studios are looking to produce. That spec doesn’t sell or gain momentum, so you start on yet another spec, and chase the same dragon again and again. Yes, specs do sell. I’m proof. I sold a spec and it opened the door to fifteen assignment jobs since. It was spec number five of my journey. Now I’ve completed my 31st script with half of those being paid assignments and half of those being produced.

The odds are astronomical to sell any feature spec especially from an unknown screenwriter with no credits. The Scoggins Spec Market Scorecard for 2016 estimated around 70 specs selling and it was an eight year low for sales. It’s also estimated that 50,000 projects bounce around Hollywood every year. It’s like stepping up to the plate and hoping for a grand slam home run every time out. Difficult at best and impossible most of the time. And the odds become worse to secure any work if a screenwriter cuts out the entire business of television or the web. I don’t mean to discourage you with these odds, but it’s to put a perspective on what you’re actually up against as you pursue a career.

Back in the day when I started pursuing my career, those working in features looked down on television as lowbrow and all of us eager film school grads focused on selling our million-dollar spec like we read about in Variety every week. I went to UCLA Film School and our alum writer/director Shane Black (Ironman 3) had sold a little script he wrote called Lethal Weapon for huge money and then he went on to a $4 million sale with The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Looking back, I should have gotten into television, as I had close friends who were running shows, but alas I focused on features and time marched on.The story of my own personal screenwriting journey? I started screenwriting back in the days when the lines were clearly defined for the mediums—either you wrote features or you wrote television. The feature agents during that period would always say, “I don’t know many people in television.” It was also a time when the networks and studios didn’t blur the lines either between the mediums or talent. A feature film actor would not be caught dead on a TV series as it would be looked as a demotion. If you wrote for both mediums, a rep would make you choose which one you wanted to pursue—but never both at the same time.

pile-of-scripts-copyAfter I graduated film school, I solely focused on writing feature screenplays on spec and my agent (s) at the time only went out to those producers and companies in the feature film world. That was fantastic, but only if you eventually did sell your specs. Otherwise it was like banging your head against a wall each time—taking a few steps forward and then falling on your face, only to go back and do it again and again only to experience the same results. I believe they call that “insanity.”

Thankfully, the business has changed and now writers are free to work in television, features, video games, and the web without being pigeonholed into just one medium. Many agree that television is going through a new golden age where the most interesting ideas and series are causing the big talent in the feature world to take notice and many enjoy doing both features and television.

Many of the biggest Hollywood directors like JJ Abrams, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Josh Whedon are now working in television and producing shows. And many of them actually go their start in television, transitioned into features and now are back working in TV. It’s no longer considered a demotion. This is why as a screenwriter trying to break into Hollywood you need to diversify your talents. Don’t just focus on writing features alone. So why keep banging your head against the wall in only one medium where your projects are not selling—for a myriad of reasons beyond your control?

scripts 2You must diversify as a screenwriter if you want to stay in the game over the long haul. Write a web series, write a half hour and hour pilot for television, or write short comedy sketches. I’ve been blessed during my career to get paid to write for all mediums: Indie feature films, TV movies, a web series, a game show, sketch comedy for a live show, and both a half hour and hour pilots for television. Many years ago, I made a decision to write projects in these different mediums and create solid specs that eventually would get me hired for coveted assignment jobs. This has allowed me to work on a regular basis because I have my material out into these worlds—not limiting myself to only the world of feature scripts where the business has changed dramatically. It’s more difficult than ever to sell an original spec given there are fewer films being made and Hollywood’s obsession is producing big-budget tent-poles that are remakes or properties they already own. It’s a huge gamble for a studio to buy a spec from an unproven writer and the idea does not have built-in global audience recognition.

So if you’ve stalled and crapped out with your feature specs, trying to get agents, managers, executives, and producers interested and finding yourself with the same results every time out, maybe you should consider changing your writing medium? It’s important to have writing experience in different mediums because if you happen to go up for a job, you’ll need the experience and a solid sample to represent you. It also opens up more possible places to work. Don’t cut yourself out of the television world or the web.

I had never written a web series before until I met a director and producer who had a fantastic idea and we formed a company to create this new project. I wrote nine episodes of the first season and the project is out to investors. It was an invaluable experience for me as a screenwriter to now have this experience and it’s a solid project that opens up even more opportunities for writing. I also just finished writing a TV sitcom pilot on assignment for a producer and luckily I had done my spec work over the years and had solid samples in that medium to represent me. My samples got me the gig because of the similar humor and tone the producer wanted and my specs showed that I could deliver.

BoulderFlatAs you probably have experienced, it’s a long slog journey to reach any level of success in this business as a screenwriter. Don’t limit your writing to only one medium because you hamper your chances to secure any writing job in this very competitive marketplace. Yes, you can excel in different mediums because you are a writer and that’s what writers do—write. Of course it will take time to prepare solid samples in the different mediums, but it will be worth the effort when you secure a job in one that leads to another. Eventually it becomes necessary to become a multi-hyphenate so you can have more creative control over your material and not just be a “hired gun” every time out. But baby steps at first—study your craft, become a solid writer, and keep writing solid material in different mediums to expand your chances for any success.

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or maybe finish your third 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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“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

“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”

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”—Aristotle

“Give me a good script, and I’ll be a hundred times better as a director.” – George Cukor

“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.”— Stephen King

The importance of your screenwriting momentum…

February 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

smash head in wallIt happens to all screenwriters eventually. You’re working along on at a good clip, maybe writing five or more pages a day, and then a giant barrier drops in your way. Your writing comes to a crashing halt and you’ve lost that precious momentum.

You know the positive feeling momentum can bring. It’s when you have to shut down your writing for the day, but you can’t wait until the next morning to get back to work. It feels like your characters are waiting for you to get them into the next scene and they are frozen until you do. This day-to-day schedule and working in the zone to finish is momentum—the force that propels your writing forward and enables you to complete your screenplay on a schedule. Never underestimate the energy that comes with screenwriting momentum. You reconnect with the material the next day and the next and this is how you complete a project quickly.

The problem comes with life gets in the way of your schedule. You skip one day of writing… and this leads to two days… and three… you get the idea. When you’re finally able to get back to the writing, it can be difficult to put yourself back into that creative space and “see” the movie again that you’re writing. If you allow barriers to block your precious writing time, you will derail the project and may never finish. I know many aspiring screenwriters who are still trying to complete their first screenplay after years of stops and starts. There is always something else to do than write—especially when it gets difficult.

time warp in HollywoodOnce you start working professionally, you can also lose momentum on a project when the producer or production company takes longer with their notes than you expect. This can derail your splendid career plans but also your creative process. If you want to work as a professional screenwriter and keep your sanity, you have to accept that Hollywood runs on its own schedule. Yes, your contract will have provisions about when your script is due and the producer’s reading period for notes, but the process can take longer than you’re used to when you wrote your specs alone. Don’t allow this shift in momentum to throw you off your game. Your ability to jump back onto a project and execute notes will show producers that you are a professional who can deal with any screenwriting situation.

I have a project in development and I’ve done three drafts on it, but I have not heard from the producer in five months to find out if it’s moving forward or not. When I eventually have to do another draft, I’ll need to acquaint myself with the script again because it’s been so long between the rewrites. This loss of momentum is hard to deal with unless you have experienced it before. I prefer when it’s only a few weeks between drafts and that allows me to keep sharp on the script that I’m writing.

When writing your specs, this is your training ground to keep up your momentum. This also goes for the pursuit of your career. Every day, do something that contributes to moving farther down the field where you can plant your flag. It’s all about gaining new ground with contacts and new projects. Most of the time, this will involve creating a solid body of work to standout, but it also includes networking and learning.

If you slip and allow a barrier to derail your scheduled writing time, procrastination and distractions will keep you from completing your pages. You want to see concrete results and feel like you’re constantly moving forward toward your end goal—becoming a working screenwriter. Momentum is a precious energy that screenwriters need to not only complete their screenplays but also to establish their careers.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or a new draft? Did you need a second opinion about your writing? Check out my screenplay consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second change to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

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Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

“I’ve often been asked why the film industry hasn’t generated more acting talent. The answer is simple: the men at the top do not care. They live on the basis of product being made today. There is a sad but true saying in the industry: “Is it good?” “No, but we’ll have it Friday.”—Jerry Lewis

“… 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

“Not only do you attack each scene as late as is possible, you attack the entire story the same way.”—William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade.

“Just tell the story, physically and visually. Don’t censor. Let the final form come last.”—director Carol Reed

“Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”—Ray Bradbury

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

think it takes and really takes

What you think it takes — and what it takes to reach any level of success.

 

Practice patience… Hollywood runs on its own schedule.

January 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

hang onTime can burn so quickly as you pursue your screenwriting career in Hollywood. After you finish a screenplay and await feedback, if you watch the clock it can leave you hanging. Your script is the most important thing in the world to you—but you quickly discover it’s not to everyone else. This is when a time warp happens and you realize you’re now on Hollywood’s schedule. It’s a strange world of fear, unknowns, half-truths, promises, good intentions, and sometimes a very long wait for any feedback.

As a screenwriter, you spend so much time and energy finishing a script, once you finish how can you temper your excitement? This is what we live for as screenwriters—the excitement of completing a new project and moving forward with establishing your career. It’s playing the screenwriting game, living as a wide-eyed dreamer with hope for another chance up to the plate with every new screenplay. It’s empowering to work on your own schedule and steer your own ship seemingly in control of your destiny.

The journey after completing your script may become long and bumpy. Sometimes it may take years for a project to see any type of real progress. It was seven long years from the time I typed “THE END” of my fifth spec to the day the cameras rolled. You never know what adventure lies ahead for each project you complete. As a screenwriter with dreams of working in Hollywood, you must realize every aspect of your progress will take time. You have to learn the important virtue of patience, or you will live with constant anxiety and pressure for your script to move you farther down the field—or God forbid to dig you out of a financial hole. Did you ever think, “I have to sell this one!”  Either way, you are in for quite an adventure.

Even if you do land a screenplay assignment, the business side of negotiation takes time.  My last contract for a script assignment went back and forth between my lawyer and the production company’s lawyer for a month. As negotiations continue on every deal point, the back and forth seemingly takes forever—and this is before you can start any work on the script. Unfortunately a holiday comes up, so it means another four or five days until a reply. It seems like torture, feeling as if you’re in the starting blocks waiting for the starter gun to go off—but it never does until you and the producer sign the contract’s final draft.  Learn patience.  It’s a vital part of your survival over the long haul screenwriting journey.

You may hit a slow patch on your journey as a working screenwriter, but if you keep writing you will never lose sight of your dreams. Your writing is the only thing you can control and the more you write, the better you will become. This will prepare you for when your opportunity does come. Think of building your career over the long haul and not just looking to hook one big script sale. If you believe your first spec is going to sell and make you a million dollars, see how you feel after you write ten screenplays with no sales.

smash head in wallLike any difficult journey, you’ll constantly be tested to see how badly you want a career in screenwriting and how much you are willing to sacrifice to keep doing what you love to do.  Sure, you’ll have failures, rejection, projects that die and never get made, and maybe other scripts languishing in development, but if the road gets bumpy, always keep the faith and your focus on the end goal—a career as a working screenwriter.

Always stay hungry, never get lazy, and keep true to your self-discipline. Don’t allow any day job or any person to derail your plans. Protect your dreams from all comers. We all need to put food in the fridge and pay our bills, but be aware of the pitfalls of a 9-5 job and how you may allow it to affect your writing.  If you have the drive and determination to go after your dreams, no day job or person will keep you away from your keyboard.  Only you can stop you from writing.

Writers write. Keep focused on the bigger picture.  Time burns quickly in Hollywood and every move seems to take forever. Their schedule is not yours, so temper your excitement and don’t allow disappointments to crush you. Time is precious, and we don’t get it back so use your writing time wisely—protect it and don’t get too upset when a simple read of your screenplay can take months. If this happens,  focus on your next project—so you’ll always have fresh projects in the works. When you finish a script, work on a new pitch, or a treatment, and get to work on various TV and feature ideas. Keep as many projects juggling as you can because the reality is a screenwriting career does not happen overnight. If you respect this fact, you’ll have a better experience and keep your sanity over the long haul.

Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Stay humble. Learn. Keep writing!

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog My Blank Page.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Congrats! Time for in-depth analysis/consultation/editing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second change to make a first great impression. Make the time to get it right.

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“Writers, like most human beings, are adaptable creatures. They can learn to accept subordination without growing fond of it. No writer can forever stand in the wings and watch other people take the curtain calls while his own contributions get lost in the shuffle.”—Rod Serling

“The well is where your “juice” is. Nobody knows what it is made of, least of all yourself. What you know is if you have it, or you have to wait for it to come back.”—Ernest Hemingway

“The problem is that being creative has glamour. People in the business end of film always say, “I want to be a producer, but a creative producer.” Or a woman I went to school with who said, “Oh, yes, I married this guy. He’s a plumber but he’s very creative.”—Woody Allen

“Directors have always been accused of rewriting unnecessarily—particularly by writers. Actually, most of the time it is deletion because a scene won’t work. You loved it in the original script, okayed it during pre-production, but when you get to the top of the second page of the scene you suddenly discover there is a resolution. It wasn’t evident until you took it in front of the camera. Oops, that’s the scene! There is no point in mucking up what is already good.”—Jerry Lewis

“Every time I go to a movie, it’s magic, no matter what the movie’s about”—Steven Spielberg

Scriptcat’s Top 10 Disciplines to Build Your Professional Reputation as a Screenwriter…

August 21, 2016 § Leave a comment

megaphoneIt’s a given that you must have talent as a screenwriter, but if you also have a bad reputation it will harm your ability to land a job. Your reputation as a professional screenwriter will always precede you and can only be built over time as you work on various projects with producers or executives.

You must understand that everyone’s opinion about working with you matters. If you garner a reputation as being “difficult,” producers and others will choose not work with you again. Hollywood is all about working relationships and time is too precious and a lot of money is at stake on a project to deal with hassles. There are just too many other capable writers out there who are not divas and can get the job done. This is one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned on my nearly twenty year professional journey as a screenwriter—a solid reputation is vital to establishing a professional career.

Hollywood is a business of relationships and networking. People generally like to work with those people they’ve had a positive experience with in the past and who they can trust to deliver the work.  So, how do you build a solid reputation as a screenwriter?

TOP 10 Disciplines to Build a Professional Reputation:

  1. Always deliver your best work, every time, regardless of your salary.
  2. Never be late for meetings.
  3. Always meet your contracted screenplay deadlines.
  4. Never get testy or upset about script notes or show anger.
  5. Be the ultimate team player and collaborator.
  6. Go the extra mile on every screenplay and clearly show the producers how invaluable you are to the project.
  7. If you don’t already have the natural ability—pay close attention to all details. Nobody will know the screenplay better than you will.
  8. Help the producers craft a script they can actually produce and do everything in your power to help push it through the development process.
  9. Don’t be a pain in the ass or a diva.
  10. Be generous with your collaborators and make working with you a positive and fun experience.

 

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Initially, you may not receive the praise you feel that you deserve for all of your hard work.  If this happens, practice patience, as it will eventually pay off for you over the long haul. Your praise will come in the form of a payment for your writing, a produced film, and a vital part of your screenwriting career—a credit. This will lead to more jobs as you now have experience and someone who took a chance on hiring you.

You’ll always find opportunities to build your integrity as a professional screenwriter.  Every new project is a chance to build new relationships and show the producers and executives they can trust you by being a person of your word.  If you promise to do something—do it.  It’s that easy.  Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you and that your word means something.  It’s part of being a professional in all aspects of your career.

During pre-production of one of my films, I remember the director was on the location scouting and we’d keep in touch every day.  When he needed changes to the script, he’d call or E-mail me, and I would have the revisions back to him the next morning.  He knew he could trust me to deliver the changes that he needed to produce the film. Directors and producers remember these positive working relationships and it’s all part of the process to build your professional reputation. It was very gratifying for me recently hearing this director say that he ran into another director whom I worked with and they both told each other what a pleasure it was to work with me. I’ve worked hard to build my reputation over the years and it continually pays off.

handshake cartoonA bad first impression is hard to erase, so never turn in your script late and never be late for a meeting, especially if it’s your first meeting. Make sure you are always ten to fifteen minutes early and ready to go. Somehow it’s become industry standard protocol that producers or executives will always make you wait. It’s like the doctor’s office, where your appointment is for 11:00 and you’re called into the office at 11:30. As frustrating as it is, it’s their prerogative and not yours. Be known as the writer who shows up early and is always ready to go. If you’re habitually late, you’ll lose their trust and they will think, “if this writer can’t even show up on time, why would he turn in his script on schedule?” It’s a reasonable assumption.

I was recently at a very important pitch meeting at a very high-profile Hollywood production company where the executives ran thirty minutes late. The assistant came down twice from upstairs to apologize—and I was very understanding of course. There was nothing I could do but tough it out. This meeting took a month to schedule and I wasn’t about to re-schedule, as I was ready to pitch today. When they finally called me into the meeting, the executives were so apologetic and went the extra mile to accommodate me.  It adds a different dynamic to the meeting when they feel badly about making you wait.  It’s their prerogative being late, not yours.

What you can control is your own conduct as you follow the code of a professional screenwriter. Your integrity is like a muscle and you need to work on it daily. Eventually your professionalism will come naturally (if it doesn’t already) and building your reputation with integrity will become effortless. Always remember, your reputation is as important as your talent and work ethic. It’s a vital ingredient for any level of success in your overall screenwriting career, so build a reputation that will make producers want to work with you again and again.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just finish your latest screenplay? Time for in-depth consultation? 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 screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

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Need help reaching your screenwriting goals? Check out my on-demand webinar “A Screenwriter’s Checklist” and “So, you want to be a screenwriter? Now what?” — now available from my streaming website.

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Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as a working screenwriter? Check out my new book available now on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link.

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Check out my screenwriting YOUTUBE CHANNEL with 27 videos.

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“Writers, like most human beings, are adaptable creatures. They can learn to accept subordination without growing fond of it. No writer can forever stand in the wings and watch other people take the curtain calls while his own contributions get lost in the shuffle.”—Rod Serling

“The well is where your “juice” is. Nobody knows what it is made of, least of all yourself. What you know is if you have it, or you have to wait for it to come back.”—Ernest Hemingway

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

 

Beware… talk and “interest” are free and cheap in Hollywood…

August 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

quote of the dayYou’ll learn this hard reality the longer you pursue a screenwriting career — talk is cheap in Hollywood and people want credit for their good intentions. Too many times the words are empty promises and “interest” in a screenplay becomes a tool for producers to string along hungry and desperate writers.

BUT — money makes it real. Seriously. Producers need to put some skin in the game otherwise you are walking a narrow plank and it’s easy for them to change their minds because there is no risk.You’ve taken all of the risk by spending time writing your screenplay and allowing it to be with only the producer exclusively without an option or money. And then the charade continues when they ask for changes without paying anything for your effort and time.

How many times has a producer, agent or manager asked to read your screenplay and you never hear from them again. Three months later you feel bad contacting them only to find out they have “been swamped with work.” The sad truth is… you’ll quickly learn that somehow they will never have the free time to read your precious magnum opus. BUT – they want credit for their good intentions of asking you to read your script. It’s the actual follow through that’s impossible.

So you may ask, “What is the key to survive over the long haul?” Well, a positive outlook, tenacity, faith, respect for the craft and your journey, and a solid body of work. Also you must take all news about your projects as face value. As I always say, “Don’t believe them until the check clears.” Even then, many projects don’t make it to production so you will never receive the coveted production bonus.

megaphoneAlso many times interest in you or your script and the endless talk is just that—interest and talk. Many times meetings are just meetings. Many times a producer’s upbeat attitude about your project can become infectious. You want to believe that others see your dream and can realize it. Why not? It’s what keeps us going as screenwriters—belief in our projects and the faith that success is just around the corner. I’m sure when producers and executives tell you that your project is going into production, they just might believe it themselves, but sometimes they tell a writer this to buy more free time.I’ve had the head of a production company tell me to my face that my film was going into production in six weeks. Uh, right… but during the next six months something happened and it wasn’t the production.

Many producers want to keep a writer’s interest in hanging on until they “work out the pesky financing details” and it becomes the bait for more free work. If they can’t raise the money for the budget or they have no money in their development budget, there really is no money to pay the writer. Be understanding to a certain point and look at every situation through a risk/benefit filter. Are you willing to risk your free time with free rewrites on the possible chance a project “might” get produced? You only get taken advantage of if you allow it and many times it comes from the writer’s fear and desperation. Once they smell desperation and blood is in the water… it never turns out well for the screenwriter.

what it takes screenwriting

What you think it takes & what it really does take to reach any level of success.

Another good discipline for survival over the long haul journey is to keep the intimate details of your project’s movement or lack of movement to yourself. I’ve been guilty of announcing to the world when the first stages of movement happen only to see the project collapse and then having to explain the sordid details. I see too many screenwriters doing this and expending precious energy and opening themselves up to early criticism. Do not continually talk about the status of your projects, your “writing process,” or how each project is moving forward or is not. Hollywood has a bizarre time warp that works on its own schedule. Every project will take longer than you ever expected and you don’t need people thinking that you’re blowing smoke when you talk about the status of your material. The truth is that it takes an incredible amount of time for any script to find a home and eventually get produced—if ever. Sometimes the less you say about your progress the better. We all have our own inner voice of self-doubt, but why give fodder to your critics and skeptics who will use it to squash your dreams? They’ll even taint any good news you share and use it to belittle your success because they didn’t have the guts to risk everything to pursue their own dreams. They enjoy raining on your parade instead. Protect your dreams and cut the naysayers out of your life. Keep your work close to the vest until it’s finished.

Get excited when a producer gives you a contract, you both sign it and you get paid. That’s the professional way—otherwise, you can’t live on the currency of good intentions and phony interest. Now get back to your blank pages and proceed with optimistic caution. If you stop writing you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Is it time for in-depth screenplay consultation? Click on the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information on my services.

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Need help reaching your screenwriting career goals? Check out my on-demand webinar “A Screenwriter’s Checklist: 10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game” now available as a streaming rental. Parts 1 & 2 are $9.99 each. Click on the icon below for the link to the webinar rental website.

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Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

 

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

“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.

“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

“Yes, screenwriting is character, story and structure, but it’s also about feel… like you’re working with emotional clay.” — Scriptcat

“It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.” — JJ Abrams

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