Three more tips, tricks and tactics to help on your screenwriting journey…

April 28, 2018 § Leave a comment

alfred-hitchcockreading-script-for-the-movie-rebeccaIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, first of all—THANK YOU! I truly hope you’re busy creating new projects and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. As you may know, I’ve been adding short posts (nothing is EVER short on this blog!) and sharing various survival tips. I do speak about these tips in the over 250 articles on this blog, but this feature will be a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate Hollywood’s trenches. Follow me on Twitter (@scriptcat). and on Instagram. I’ll be posting new articles here when my time allows. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting! Okay, here are three more survival tips that will help you on your screenwriting adventure…

TIP #1: 

Find filmmaking mentors and apprentice with them. lucas & coppola on set

Another good way to do your homework with regards to learning is to find a filmmaking mentors and apprentice under them or at least have access to them as they are working. Many busy screenwriters need an assistant and they’re willing to pay an hourly wage for the job. It’s a great way for aspiring screenwriters to learn while getting paid. If you can’t find a paid position, offer your time to a working screenwriter in exchange for access to their knowledge and the whole process they go through daily. A true professional is always willing to give back and share knowledge. When you’re able to observe working professionals, be like a sponge and soak up everything you can and ask questions. I’ve been blessed over the years to work with many top professionals and veterans of the film business and a few have become my mentors. This includes directors and a few have become my mentors and friends. I’m currently working with two directors on various projects that we are developing together and will take out into the marketplace as partners. As I worked with them and collaborated on the films that I wrote, I was able to have inside and unlimited access to help build my screenwriter’s toolkit. Seeking knowledge is an ongoing discipline for every artist. Keep filling your blank pages. If you stop you’ll never have any chance at success.

TIP #2: 

Work your way to becoming a multi-hyphenate screenwriter. multi-hyphenate

Eventually to gain more creative control over your projects, you’ll need to become a multi-hyphenate filmmaker and not just a screenwriter who is a “hired gun.” This means along with your talent for creating the script you will move into producing and or directing as a way to keep your total creative vision on the project. This won’t likely happen on your first few screenplays, but eventually you can negotiate your way into being one of the key decision makers or ultimately the director whose vision takes the script to the screen. Your goal is working your way into being a double threat: A writer/producer or writer/director—or a triple threat: a writer/producer/director.

TIP #3:

When you just finish your first draft—do not immediately give it to someone for a read. Let the creative dust settle and go over it by yourself first. karloff script

Avoid the temptation to give anyone your screenplay moments after you finish it. Put it away and let it settle for a few days or even a week before giving it your first read. You’ll be coming down from your natural creative high and you don’t want anyone to harsh your buzz. It’s the necessary time a screenwriter needs to spend alone with his/her script. You’re also in a raw and vulnerable place after giving birth to new material, so you don’t want feedback now to taint your clear vision or perspective. This will only lead to chasing notes because everyone has an opinion about your work. Keep your script close. Don’t boast or talk about it. You did the work, now go and do something to celebrate. You need to enjoy the little and big successes on your long journey as a screenwriter. Keep the faith and keep filling your blank pages. Nothing is guaranteed on this screenwriting journey except one thing— if you quit writing, you’re guaranteed never have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just finish your latest screenplay or a new draft? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out the different packages I offer by clicking on the icon below to schedule your consultation. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right before you unleash it upon Hollywood.

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Need help to navigate Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years of screenwriting professionally in Hollywood using my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me to stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon for purchase.

 

 

Need help keeping focus on your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinar can help. Click on the photo below for the link for the streaming rental.

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Click the photo above for the link to the webinar.

The time we have alone; the time we have in walking; the time we have in riding a bicycle; are the most important times for a writer. Escaping from a typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give your subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level.”—Ray Bradbury

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?”― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

“All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.”—Ernest Hemingway

“No person who is enthusiastic about his work has anything to fear from life.”—Samuel Goldwyn

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

“When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb outside with a pencil and a ten cent notebook and start the whole thing over again.” — Preston Sturges

Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working.”—Michael Crichton
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The myth of “making it” in Hollywood…

January 7, 2018 § 1 Comment

bag of moneySure, everyone wants to be on the A-list at the top levels of Hollywood. It that realistic? Who knows? And what is your definition of “making it?” Having huge paydays for your screenplays and creative satisfaction? Good luck. Maybe it’s making a living in a tough business and waking up doing what you love for a living? That’s more realistic, but who knows where you will end up? Many talented writers toil away for years and never sell anything while others with less talent and drive end up working. It’s a screwy business for sure.

As working screenwriters ,we all just one project away from looking for our next job. We’re like a band of gypsies who roam from job to job trying to stay in the screenwriting game and make a living. Even if you’re writing on a TV series, the season ends, and many times so does the show when it’s cancelled. Then what? You have to find your next gig. I thought when I scored my first professional writing job that I had finally “made it.” I was able to quit my restaurant job as a waiter and I thought this was my big break. That was until the producers fired me six weeks into the gig. It happens. I didn’t “make it” but it was just another step on a very long journey. What it did was get me out of the restaurant job and I never looked back. It’s been a long haul journey to reach where I’m at currenly, but it’s due to my drive, tenacity and never giving up.  Last year I was blessed with five screenplay assignments, three of the films have premiered and distributed, one film just wrapped production last month, and I’m working on the second draft of another. It happens if you stay in the game. So, “making it” is all relative. Getting your first gig or next gig is “making it” in my opinion.

You have to shoot your dreams to the moon to even reach half way there, but know that Hollywood is a tough business to achieve any level of success. Your idea of success can’t always be about making a big sale or climbing to the A-list overnight. You won’t survive over the long haul journey if you have an “all or nothing at all” attitude. I’ve known people who would only consider themselves a success if they became an A-list talent. It wasn’t worth the tremendous effort to them to end up only making a living at their craft and not being on top. They only wanted to be superstars and nothing less. When I was pre-teen kid and making films with my friends, I only ever wanted to make a living getting paid to do what I loved to do—make movies. I’m happy waking up in the morning and getting paid to be creative.  That’s my dream come true.

And the longer you’re in the film business with its ups and downs and busy and slow periods, you may change your opinion as to what “making it” is in your mind. Few achieve the top levels of any field. Shoot for the moon, but it’s not such a bad thing to get paid to do what you love for a living too. This might require you to adjust your lofty goals of achieving A-list status. It’s okay to make a good living being an artist too. Fame, fortune, and glory are elusive in the screenwriting game.

PILE OF SCRIPTSDon’t take any successful step forward for granted because what might appear to be a tiny step forward can actually be a huge successful step in disguise. If you can get your material to assistants for consideration, it’s a new opportunity for you to plant your flag and hold new ground if they like your writing. If they pass on your script but like your writing it might feel like a failure now, but it’s something that will pay off down the road. It’s a little success and positive step forward to celebrate. Even a tiny step like meeting an assistant and keeping in touch as a new contact is a successful step.

Back in the day when I was shopping my spec around Hollywood and getting rejected at every turn, I met an assistant through a mutual contact and that assistant got his boss interested in my spec enough to option and later buy it and produce it into a movie. The assistant went on to become the president of the production company and hired me to write movies for them and later became an independent producer and hired me again for more assignment work. You never know where the tiny successes will lead, but they do add up and help you establish your experience and eventually a career.

Before I was blessed to be a working screenwriter, I entered my fifth spec script in various screenwriting contests and it ended up being a semi-finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship that year. It placed in the top 1% of all entries worldwide and was in the top twenty scripts overall, but did not end up as one of the eight finalists. I could have looked upon this as a complete failure, but I used my script’s advanced placement as a successful step forward and convinced producers to read it because of my achievement. I eventually found a producer who saw my script’s potential and his new production company bought my project and produced it into a movie.

Be aware of your negative thoughts about your self-worth as it relates to your screenwriting success or failure. The more negative thoughts you have, the more it becomes an emotion and then it’s hard to separate your thoughts from your emotions. You can actually start to believe a reality that isn’t true. Many times it’s not always about the sale or the immediate final result of a project. A rejection or “pass” now can actually be an open door later and another project because they like your writing and want to see more of your material. What seemed like a failure at first might really be a successful step because you started a new relationship with a producer or executive and now their door is open to you. This is why you must work on your next project because the key to a successful career is building these relationships with a solid body of material.

It will take at least four scripts to really find your voice and style. Screenwriting well takes time and experience, so be patient. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Completing your latest screenplay is “making it.” Keep making it and eventually you’ll land a real screenwriting job that will be the first step of a long journey to stay in the game. Don’t be depressed when your script doesn’t sell the first time out because most aspiring screenwriters rarely sell their first screenplays.

Scriptcat out!

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

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for more information and the link to my website.

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Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book available now on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years of professionally working as a screenwriter in Hollywood and I share my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me to stay in the game over the long haul. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

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“So the only environment the artist needs is whatever peace, whatever solitude, and whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost. All the wrong environment will do is run his blood pressure up; he will spend more time being frustrated or outraged. My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”—William Faulkner

“I have a theory: not to bore the audience. You make pictures, in a way, for yourself, but you also make them for an audience.”—director William Wyler, Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.

“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

The reward of suffering is experience.”—Aeschylus, Ancient Greek Dramatist known as the founder of Greek Tragedy

“Unlimited budgets make for a lack of precise decision-making.”—producer Lynda Obst in her new book: Sleepless in Hollywood

“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

 

 

 

The importance and fun of the on-set visit…

December 21, 2017 § Leave a comment

IMG_7080The on-set visit is always a fun experience especially if you’ve written the movie that’s being produced. This week I was blessed to visit the set of my new movie and I was lucky that it was filmed in the Los Angeles area where I reside. Many of my recent films this year have been shot out-of-state, so an on-set visit to those was prohibitive. Never underestimate the invaluable visit to the set for a priceless firsthand chance to learn the craft of filmmaking. This is important for screenwriters so they can become more production savvy.

Film-DirectorYou always learn something new when you visit the set. If you’ve written the movie, it’s a great learning experience to see how the director is actually bringing your screenplay to life. You’ll learn the realities of production and the compromises that are made daily to get the movie completed. It was nice to be welcomed to the set of my movie and finally meet the director and the stars. Everyone was so nice and it was tremendously fulfilling to hear the positive comments about my screenplay from the director, the actors, the crew and also the producer. It’s always a kick to see what you wrote come alive right in front of your eyes and to hear your dialogue being spoken by your characters.

salvador-dali-by-willy-rizzo-1If you have yet to sell a screenplay or be hired to write a movie that goes into production, find a mentor, another established writer, producer or director and pick their brain for their experience and do whatever you can to get on to a set to observe.  Utilize your important network of contacts to gain access to a film or TV series set. Visit as many sets as you can to learn the production process, but if you are the writer, stay out-of-the-way and offer no opinions unless asked.  Writers are usually not welcomed on a set as changes are always happening to your script—from actors changing dialogue to directors cutting or reworking scenes. Production is meticulously planned, but remains fluid and if the scene is not working, things change at a moment’s notice. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but suck it up because no director or actor wants to experience an upset writer on the set when they have to make changes to the script. Put aside your ego and don’t take these changes personally.  Be a team player and keep focused on bigger picture of  getting the film made. Your on set experience is an invaluable tool, but you have to accept the fact your script is a fluid blueprint and it might be changed to accommodate the production.

Your time spent on set is better than any film school because it’s real world experience.  There are real craftspeople making a real movie, hopefully one that you wrote. You may find the crews are a bit jaded and the hardest audience to please because they’ve worked on their share of bad scripts over the years.  This is why it’s refreshing to hear their honest comments because they don’t have to say anything to me.  There’s no hidden agenda behind their praise because I can’t hire them for my next film; I’m only the writer.

I’ve been extremely lucky to visit many of the sets of my produced films that I’ve written. I’m blessed to have really good relationships with the producers who hire me and in turn that good relationship extends to the directors as well. They treat me as an equal creative partner and not a pariah. I know when I step foot on the set, it’s the director’s playground and I’m not there to usurp any creative vision. My job ends when I turn in the final draft of the script. If asked, I will comment and give suggestions, but only if asked.  Otherwise, I sit back and watch because there’s always something new to learn on every project. There are literally dozens of creative artisans working on the film who are a wellspring of specialized knowledge. As a writer you should soak up as much knowledge as you can from having full access to the set. Observe, study and ask questions. Watch how the director blocks scenes and works with the actors, study how the actors shape your material and speak your dialogue, and notice how creative ideas constantly bounce around the set. The more you learn about the practical aspects of production, the more you’ll begin to make creative decisions mindful of the film.  As a bonus, you’ll become a more efficient screenwriter.

When the production machine is up to speed it’s an amazing sight to behold. But remember if you are a guest on a set, let the cast and crew eat breakfast, lunch or dinner first because they are working. Once everyone goes through the line only then should you eat your meal. The on-set visit will be one of the most satisfying experiences you will have as a screenwriter especially if you use it to your advantage to learn film production.

Keep the faith and filling your blank pages on your road to screenwriting success.

Scriptcat out!

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

Also check out my YOUTUBE Channel with weekly videos offering script tips

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Did you just complete 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.

 

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

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“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

“There are no minor decisions in movie making. Each decision will either contribute to a good piece of work or bring the whole movie crashing down around my head many months later.”—Sidney Lumet

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

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

August 28, 2017 § 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

rewritesThe life of a working screenwriter is not the romanticized ideal life you may read about with fame and fortune—it’s a job and nice work when you can get it. Once the producer or executive hires you and then unleashes you, it can be a bit lonely because it’s just you and the blank page until it’s done. Strict disciplines are vital during this period because the pressure is on to deliver the goods under a specific deadline. When the production company signs off on the treatment, it’s your job to craft a screenplay that becomes the movie they want to make. As always, my trusty entertainment lawyer negotiates all of my contracts and it’s a relatively quick and painless experience followed by signatures and getting the green light to go to work.

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

script oddsI remain humble and grateful for the steady work that comes my way.  I know how competitive this business is and the thousands of screenwriters chasing the limited number of writing jobs. I have to admit, even after thirty-three completed feature screenplays, I still get the jitters and that nervous stomach facing a new project and the blank page. I always expect it to turn out great, but you never know until you type FADE OUT – THE END and wait for your producer’s notes. No matter credits or experience, we’re all equal when we sit in front of that blank page and channel the muse.  If you think you’re bigger or better than your craft or the film business, you will be humbled. I guarantee it. That is why I respect the process every time up to the plate because I know too well the pitfalls and roadblocks that can spring up during the adventure. And trust me, you don’t want your back up against the wall when you’re working on assignment under a contracted deadline and your reputation that got you the gig is at stake. You must do everything possible to clear the decks and make your process work for you by following your trustworthy disciplines and using your screenwriting tools kept in your toolkit.

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

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

Scriptcat out!

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

Did you just finish your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation?  Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website and more information.  You never get a second change to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

FADE IN

Top 5 mistakes beginning screenwriters make on their first screenplays…

June 8, 2017 § 1 Comment

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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.”

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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.
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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.

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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

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