Always set and meet deadlines when writing your specs…

February 26, 2018 § Leave a comment

hang onAh, the march of time and the dreaded specter of deadlines. It can be the downfall of writers because they haven’t yet trained themselves to achieve their best results with a specific due date. As a screenwriter, time can be your greatest asset or worst enemy, it’s how you decide to respect the time given to write a project. You’ll face deadlines your entire life and more importantly as you’re screenwriting. Sure, you can spend copious amounts of time on your specs with an open-ended schedule that doesn’t include a specific finish date, but you’re not training yourself for the time when you do finally land a screenplay assignment job with a payday and a concrete deadline.

Use your specs as training tools to learn the craft of screenwriting, find your unique writer’s “voice,” and to practice writing a screenplay under a self-imposed deadline. Don’t look at your specs as million dollar sales. The odds are astronomical of selling a spec. In fact, most years only around 100 specs or less sell at the studio level in Hollywood out of an estimated 50,000 registered yearly with the Writers Guild. When I first started writing screenplays, I mistakenly believed that everything that I wrote would sell. I was quickly humbled and it wasn’t until my 5th spec that finally sold. Yes, I’ve sold one spec in my career, but that opened the door to highly coveted assignment work and has blossomed into 19 paid assignments that have produced 13 films so far and 2 paid TV pilot assignments. Specs are the training tools for you to learn and master screenwriting. Yes, a few of them might end up being winners, but the first four or five will be a mess. After that, you hope that your best work will make some noise and get you hired to write a screenplay for a producer or executive.

rewritesThis is why meeting deadlines are vital to your success as a working screenwriter. When you land an assignment job, you’ll sign a contract and agree to complete the screenplay within a specific time frame. Producers don’t want to be stuck in development hell for years and they too have deadlines to meet. Once you sign the contract, you’re off to the keyboard and will have to produce a kick ass (no vomit drafts allowed here) screenplay in usually  four to eight weeks, depending on your contract. I’ve done it as fast as two weeks for a first draft but mostly four weeks.

You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve if you write every day following a solid story treatment. You have to learn how to be your most creative under the pressure of a deadline, while still writing as if you’re unaware of it. Professional screenwriters are professionals because a producer or executive pays them to get the job done—on time—every time. I always try to turn in my assignments a day or two before they are due, just to show that I’m at the top of my game.

If you’re blessed to work regularly and forge a screenwriting career, the reality is that it’s your job and how you make your living—and deadlines are now a fact of life. It’s not some romantic ideal of writing when you feel like it, but the reality that paid work comes from you filling blank pages—either of your own creation or from ideas that producers pay you to write. That’s what is known as a “working screenwriter.” That’s always been my goal since I started making films as a wide-eyed eleven year old kid—to work as a filmmaker in Hollywood. I’ve now been able to live my dream many times over during the past twenty years of my career.

IMG_1059Playwright, novelist and screenwriter Patty Chayefsky once said, “Artists don’t talk about art. Artists talk about work. If I have anything to say to young writers, it’s stop thinking of writing as art. Think of it as work.” If you start treating it as your job and meeting self-imposed deadlines, even if you do have a day job, you will begin to act in a professional way. This includes disciplines you must practice and master to prepare you for when it finally does become your job. If you dabble in screenwriting, it’s like sticking your pinkie into the Pacific Ocean. You’ll need to jump off the cliff without fear and plunge into the abyss with all of your might. Screenwriting professionals follow strict disciplines used to help guide them on their journey to success.

Disciplines like…

1. Set up self-imposed deadlines when writing your specs. Meet your writing page count every day and every week—even if it means working on weekends. Can you write a kick ass first draft in four weeks? Eight weeks? You’ll have to train yourself to be a fast writer who can deliver quality under the pressure of a deadline. If you stick to a regular schedule with self-imposed deadlines, maybe with a day job you can even write one or two feature specs a year. Once it’s your job, you will create under the pressure of a contracted deadline, so train now to get used to this reality.

2. Do the writing necessary to create a solid body of material that will represent you and compete in a competitive marketplace. One script will not do it and it might take five scripts over ten years to see any level of success in the film business. Remember, time is a writer’s greatest asset or worst enemy—it depends on how it’s used.

3. Look at the big picture of your screenwriting career goals and set up a yearly master plan. Make a project list of ideas, pitches, treatments, finished scripts and set deadlines and stick to them. Make a list of your contacts and where you submitted your scripts in the past. When you complete a new script and it’s completely ready for a read, follow-up with your network and offer them your latest creation. Lather, rinse and repeat. That’s how you will eventually sell something or get hired for an assignment.

4. Be humble and know that it’s a long climb to reach the top of the mountain you’re climbing. It’s your dream and no one forced you to choose this path, so take responsibility daily and hone your writing skills to reach the next plateau. Professionals respect the craft and climb the mountain every day. Sure it’s fraught with the pitfalls of rejection, criticism and failure, but a professional soldiers on in the face of adversity and for every two steps back, takes four steps forward.

Treat your screenwriting like a job and you’ll be acting as a professional and preparing yourself for the time when you do finally score the gig that opens the door to a career.

It’s a business with no guarantees—even if you do sell your screenplay. So keep writing, meeting your deadlines, and keep the faith because if you stop, you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.

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Master CoverR2-4-REV2

Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue your screenwriting career? Check out my book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” that charts my past twenty years of professional screenwriting in Hollywood and I share my tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve used to stay in the game. It’s now available on Amazon. Click on the book cover for the link for more information.

 

 

 

“Writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die. We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout.”—Ray Bradbury

“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action. Do it or don’t do it… creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.  The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” — Joseph Campbell

“My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.”—Ray Bradbury

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The long haul journey to reach any level of screenwriting success…

January 30, 2018 § Leave a comment

mark super8 copyIf you’re lucky, the spark of creativity strikes when you are young. It’s a time to explore your artistic interests with eyes open wide and a fearless hunger to create.  It’s the time for pure creativity without any negative filters. You may explore a range of artistic endeavors before you’re lucky enough to discover the one that brings you the most joy.  It’s exciting as you experience a passion for your work—the motivating force that makes you wake up in the morning with eager anticipation of creating something again.  It soon becomes an important part of who you are as a person.

It also helps to grow up in a family where both parents encourage and support your creative endeavors. My parents knew too well a life of regrets from never fully going after their dreams. They both grew up in the same small town in families that didn’t support or nurture their artistic passions and as a result, their dreams were never allowed to thrive. My parents encouraged my brother and me to dreambig. They always told us they never wanted to stifle our artistic interests like their parents had done to them. Sure, they knew it’s risky to follow a dream, but they believed it was worth it for us to try to achieve what they did not. They just wanted us to be happy.

Neither of my parents nor any of my extended family was in the film industry. I had to make my breaks the old-fashioned way—hard work, discipline, tenacity, resolute faith, and a pitbull’s mentality to make it. Nepotism certainly helps to cut you a break in Hollywood, but luck helps—and luck is when you’re offered an opportunity and you’re prepared to do the job.  You’ll only succeed if you’ve mastered your craft and you can deliver the goods as a professional.  Being raised by two encouraging and supportive parents definitely was the necessary ingredient for me to pursue my creative endeavors and eventually make screenwriting my career. You’re blessed if you can find your calling in life as your job because it doesn’t feel like a job—it’s pleasure to go to work every day.

sullivans-travels-052The journey of every artist is unique, and your survival depends on being confident enough to believe that you can make it, but remaining humble and respecting that it’s a marathon climb to any level of success. It starts with your passion to take an idea and follow it through to completion. I was reminded of this again when I embarked on my journey to write my first book—something that could help aspiring screenwriters avoid the many pitfalls that a screenwriting career will bring. It was truly another dream realized. The book grew out of my twenty years of professional screenwriting in Hollywood’s trenches, where I’ve been blessed to work and collaborate with many top professionals including Academy Award® winning producers, veteran directors, and Academy Award®, Emmy®, and Golden Globe® acting nominees.

Many of these filmmaking veterans have become my close friends and mentors, and the priceless knowledge I’ve learned from them has certainly helped make me the filmmaker that I am today. My interest in writing a book grew from my desire to pay it forward, as they have done with me, by sharing my own journey with my successes and failures that started when I was just eleven years old and made films with my friends.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2My hope with this book is that by sharing my experiences and disciplines, other screenwriters can avoid the many pitfalls and survive in the trenches as they pursue their own screenwriting journey to success. I want to inspire and drive them to realizing their own dreams like I’ve been able to achieve. Over time and with experience, screenwriters find their unique style by using their own techniques and disciplines to help establish their careers.

Once your creative spark is ignited, only you can extinguish it, so use your passion to keep your dream alive and protect it from those naysayers who whisper their own fears into your ears. Write every day, remain humble, respect and master your craft, and become a prolific screenwriter. As you work toward achieving success, your courage, tenacity, and talent will generate magical moments you could never have imagined possible.

Check out my new book, A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success: Tips, Tricks and Tactics to Survive as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood, now available on Amazon.

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)

 

Scriptcat out!

Need a bit of help with your latest screenplay? Could it be time for in-depth consultation before you unleash it upon Hollywood? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website.

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Need a bit of screenwriting advice with your morning coffee? Check out my COFFEE RING CARTOONS merchandise for screenwriters now at my online store. New merch up on the site! Coffee mugs, T-shirts, mouse pads, notebooks, glassware, and note cards. Click on the photo below for the link to my online store.

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“Writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die. We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout.”—Ray Bradbury

“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action. Do it or don’t do it… creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.  The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” — Joseph Campbell

“My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.”—Ray Bradbury

How to regain your confidence as a screenwriter…

January 9, 2018 § Leave a comment

guest bloggerIt’s time again for a guest blogger here on MY BLANK PAGE!

Appearing for his fifth time with another superb contribution about screenwriting in the trenches… welcome back U.K. based screenwriter Niraj Kapur.

 

“How to regain your confidence as a screenwriter” by Niraj Kapur.

You’ve been rejected by managers who say, “you’re not what we’re looking for.” A script reader requests your scripts then never returns your phone call or email. You spend hours waiting to meet an agent who doesn’t even show up despite the fact you reminded them the day before. A producer agrees to option your script, then tries to pay you less than minimum wage.

Sound familiar?

You pour heart and soul into anything you care about, you sometimes get good results.

Writing has a different set of rules. There are absolutely zero guarantees.

The internet has helped lots of artists get exposure, especially musicians. As a screenwriter, you still need a producer, director, crew and lots of investment which most writers don’t have access to.

I’ve seen talented screenwriters give up after several years of struggle and seen many slightly above average writers make it because they had family connections, childhood friends in the business, or got on well with a producer’s assistant at a party. A friend of mine who has never written in his life received a paid option because he’s best friends with an upcoming movie star. Did he spend years toiling at his craft? No, he wrote a rough treatment in a week. That’s it!

Can you imagine how that feels?

This business can easily drive you mad and knock your confidence. So how do you stay sane and how do you rebuild your confidence and find work after constant rejection?

Here’s what I did which helped me recently get a producer and director attached to my new Irish drama screenplay, Belfast Son.

  1.  Take care of your health.

Sitting down all day is not good for you and the gym isn’t for everyone. Walking 30 minutes a day is a good start. I’ve tried yoga which aches and mediation which sends me to sleep. However if that works for you, please enjoy. Reiki has worked well for maintaining my inner calm.

  1.  Take care of your nutrition.

I’ve cut out carbs at lunch and have more energy in the afternoon. I also avoid chocolate until end of the day which is torture, but worth it for the increased focus and concentration I get when writing.

  1.  Find a writing support group.

I have a group of five writers called The Gamechangers. We make it a policy that it’s a support group, so although you can whine and complain about your frustrations sometimes, it’s more important to be positive and help each other out.

  1.  Keep in touch with people who said “no.”

I contacted forty producers and agents I’ve known over the years who I liked, yet who turned down my work. I simply wrote them a letter, since hardly anyone received letters these days, telling them about my adventures attending pitching events in L.A. and that I had a new project that may interest them with a simple logline.

  • Twenty-six of them didn’t get back to me.
  • Seven replied saying were two busy.
  • Four didn’t like my concept.
  • Three of them liked my logline and asked to read my screenplay.
  • Two producers said they would like to make it
  • Only one of them actually contacted me and offered to option the screenplay.
  1.  Follow inspirational people on Twitter.

For writers:

@katherinefugate – writer of Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve.

@jakethornton – screenwriter making huge waves.

@stephenking – a master at everything he does.

@jk_rowling – no explanation needed. Simply amazing.

@bang2write – amazing resource for writers.

@indust_scripts – writing services and excellent industrial events.

For non-writers:

@barackobama – inspirational.

@Markruffalo – fighting for everyday people.

@officialjimrohn – the father of personal development

@bettemidler – biting and very funny

@sarahksilverman – compassionate, caring, very funny

  1.  Write every day.

Most writers I know have a 9-5 job. Then they try to write on top of that. When you have family commitments, that makes writing even tougher. Writing one hour a day, even 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes over lunch is better than nothing.

That’s all it took to rebuild my confidence. The producer liked my screenplay so much, he has a director on board and is now seeking financing.

Niraj casual photo

Niraj Kapur has had several screenplays optioned, sitcoms commissioned, and his movie Naachle London was released in British cinemas in 2012. His non-fiction book, Everybody Works in Sales, will be released March 20. Visit his website at www.nirajkapur.com.

A screenwriter’s end of the year checklist: Keeping your eye on the big picture for 2018…

December 3, 2017 § 1 Comment

The Apartment bar sceneHey, soon we’ll be saying a fond farewell to 2017 and there is no turning back. I do believe it’s always a powerful tool to look back over the previous year and critically analyze the good, the bad and the ugly choices we’ve made. Leave the regrets behind and focus on your growth as a screenwriter and human being. Hopefully, you’ve learned from your failures and enjoyed your successes. Excuses abound, but what really matters is how productive have you been? Is there room for improvement? We must always adapt to survive while slogging it out in Hollywood’s trenches. Have you become a better screenwriter and have you been able to move yourself and your projects down the field? Have you opened doors and gained new “fans” of your writing? Have you been able to gain and hold new ground? Established new relationships and contacts? Created a solid body of material in a genre to show your unique voice? Sold or optioned a project? Follow your writing disciplines to stay on target?

screenwriter respect the climbThe responsibility for a screenwriter’s career begins and ends with the screenwriter. The hard fact: Your screenwriting career is probably the most important struggle to you and not to anyone else. Only you know the hard work and sacrifices you’ve endured for years going after your dream, so you need to protect your career path by taking responsibility for chartering the course of your career. Your time is precious and you need to constantly be moving forward and avoid the pitfalls of poor choices and negative experiences.

PILE OF SCRIPTSToo many times, I’ve heard screenwriters blame others for their own missteps or lack of success in Hollywood. Some writers look for the quick and easy way to success, but end up frustrated when their one script doesn’t sell, they have no other plans and they are not working on new material. Sure, it’s easier to soften the blow to blame the agent, manager, producer, or Hollywood itself for not getting your film made, but screenwriters need to step up and take more control over their choices. You can’t believe that every spec will sell—in fact most will not. Your new spec may not be the “one” — but one of many you’ll have to write and burn through until it jump starts your career.

Every time you write a new project on spec, you must consider how it fits into the bigger picture of your screenwriting goals. scripts 2It’s a risk when you write a spec and you are rolling the dice with your precious time. Did you just have a “fun idea” for a movie and thought it would sell, so you decided to spend months writing it hoping when you’re done for a huge payday? This is not an effective use of your time. If it’s your passion project and you must write it—do it and hopefully you’ve executed it properly and your passion will be there on the page—but choose your material wisely. REMEMBER: What you write about is as important as how you execute it and just because you write it doesn’t mean they will “love it.” You’ll only figure this out after you meander through four or five scripts that don’t achieve the plateaus you had expected or do not sell. You’ll be forced to take a step back and examine your reasoning for embarking on the journey with each project.

If you’ve been successfully making noise with a particular genre, continue to establish yourself as an expert in that genre. script oddsWhen you secure a writing gig, you’ll move forward with steady work because you’ll be known for a genre. There is nothing wrong with being pigeonholed as a screenwriter. It means you’ll work and build up your résumé in a genre that you hopefully enjoy writing. Trust me, bouncing around for years with different scripts in different genres hoping that something sticks is a fool’s endeavor. I’ve been there. When something eventually hits and is a success, the producers will want more of the same from you in the way of screenwriting assignments—the bread and butter or working screenwriters. There is no shame in steady work. I find sometimes aspirants believe they’ll hold out and will only go with a script that is “their vision” and somehow it’s “selling out” to take a job offered writing something that maybe isn’t their favorite choice of material—but it’s a foot in the door.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the odds are already stacked against you and time marches on so quickly. If you don’t believe the odds, consider that according to the Scoggins Spec Market Scorecard, only 70 specs sold at the studio level in 2016 . And only 5,227 WGA members reported any income in a year (annual report ending in June) out of nearly 9,000 members. The other half did not work. Over half of those numbers who did report income were working in television. Think about those odds for a moment and then get back to work. And if you add the non-union screenwriters working… it can boggle the mind with more stats and there are no stats for non-union screenwriters working or not working. The main issue is that you must stay busy creating projects and casting your best scripts wide.

I’ve been blessed, this past year was very busy for me and I’ve pushed various projects down the field to production. In the last year, I’ve completed five screenwriting assignments—three of the films were produced, one goes into production in December 2017, and I just completed the first draft of my latest assignment and I’m turning it into the producer. I also finished my new book on surviving in Hollywood’s trenches called “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. We must stay active and not wait for others to open doors. We create new opportunities with every project that we create.

IMG_2016So, it’s never too late, even though we’re already into the new year, grab a piece of paper and if you haven’t yet, set up a game plan for 2018. Look back at 2017 and chart your successes and failures. Write down your goals you achieved and the ones you missed. Hit the ground running this year and achieve your goals every day of the week.  Treat your screenwriting like a business—it’s YOU, INC. and every decision you make affects your pathway to success. Every three months check in on your progress and keep updating your list and following your road map to success. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions: “Why am I writing this particular spec and will it serve me in the best way possible to create opportunities and open doors?” If you haven’t done this start now. Grab a piece of paper and…

1)  Make a list of all viable projects. Completed scripts and what condition they are in—ready to be read, needs a rewrite, needs a polish, only a first draft, etc.  Add to the list any fleshed out pitches, log lines, one sheets, beat sheets or treatments. This is important if you cross paths with an agent or manager. They want to see you busy and prolific on your own. What do you have to offer? One script only and nothing as a follow-up? You’ll need a solid body of work to standout and it will take time to craft these projects.

2)  Make a list of your achievements in 2017. Scrutinize the successes and failures so you can see where you need to pick up the slack in areas where you need to focus in the new year. List any accolades—did you win or place in a significant screenwriting competition? Did you option or sell a screenplay? Did you graduate from film school? Did you make any films, short movies or a webseries on your own? Did you work on a film production or complete an internship? Find a screenwriting mentor? List anything that shows you are working toward to your goals.

3)  Make a list of potential deadlines for any rewrites or new ideas. Keep true to these self-imposed deadline as if they were real screenwriting jobs. Do not deviate from the commitment for anyone or any external forces. Trust me, either on purpose or by mistake, people will try to derail your schedule and will think it’s not that important because you’re writing on spec. It is that important. It’s vital training for the time when you finally do get a job on assignment and you’ll know how to keep a deadline under any conditions. Find respected screenwriting contests that you may want to enter and use their entry dates as a goal and deadlines to finish your new material.

4)  Make a list of any new contacts that you met by networking during the year.  If you have an e-mail, or the address of their company, send a holiday card. Nothing like the holidays as a good reason to reconnect, right? In January, make sure to send them a: “Midyear check in—hope this finds you well—this is what I’m doing” e-mail. It will put you back on their radar and if you list a few interesting projects, they might bite and ask for a read.

5)  If you haven’t yet, attend more networking events before the year ends. Become a member of the International Screenwriter’s Association ( ISA ) for workshops, webinars and in person events in your area. Also Final Draft hosts meetups every month with known screenwriters and offers tips and many free networking events during the year. Network on Stage32.com also—it’s free and a great place to meet fellow filmmakers. In addition, check out the Scriptwriters Network in Los Angeles. They put on networking meetings the first Friday of every month. Get out of your writing cave and meet other screenwriters and network. Make sure to support others and you will find they will help you.

6)  If you don’t already, read scripts on a regular basis. Good scripts, bad scripts, classics—read! You’ll be surprised how much you learn from reading screenplays. Be careful of the screenplays that are posted during award season. Do not try to emulate their style as many are written in a protected bubble of development and were not specs, so they can get away with many things regarding format that you cannot with a spec from an unknown writer. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” —Stephen King.

7)  If you don’t already, read screenwriting blogs, books, articles and film websites with news about the film industry. You must do your homework on a daily basis and not expect your representation (if you’re lucky to have an agent or manager) to do it for you. Many things slip through the cracks and information is priceless currency in Hollywood. It can mean the difference between getting in a door with a meeting that could land you the next job that launches your career. A game plan helps you allocate your precious time wisely. It shows that you’re your serious about your career and treating your screenwriting as a professional—not just willy-nilly writing a script and hoping it will sell on its own merits. It’s rare that one script makes a career. It’s always one script that opens the door, but you’ll probably have to write five or six to get to that “ONE.”

And keep updating these lists every three months to keep track of your progress and not allow an opportunity or contact to slip through the cracks. Keeping an eye on your career doesn’t just mean focusing on writing your latest spec and ignoring the business side of your journey. You have to multitask and keep all of these important aspects in check throughout the year. Your current spec is just one of the tools in your arsenal to use to move forward on the field.

The overnight success is usually a series of little successes along the way that lead up to continued success.  You have to consider how everything you do regarding your career fits into your bigger overall goals. Your career aspirations can’t live or die by one project and you can’t focus on “the one” and hope it unlocks the gates of Hollywood. It’s always going to be a numbers game with horrible odds of success. Even if you sell a screenplay, there are no guarantees and still so many hurdles to jump.

The good news is—the more quality material you create, the better chance you have of garnering interest and that may lead to a sale or assignment work.  Keep your eye on the big picture.  It’s like what Bruce Lee said in Enter the Dragon, “It’s like a finger-pointing a way to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!” And read this eye-opening essay on the current filmmaking business environment as you try to chase the Hollywood studios with your specs: “How the Death of Mid-Budget Cinema Left a Generation of Iconic Filmmakers MIA. All my best wishes for a glorious and successful journey for 2018 and may it be the best year ever.

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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Master CoverR2-4-REV2Check out my new book. If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism and ability to endure criticism, rejection, and failure over the long haul. The odds may be stacked against you, but the way to standout in this very competitive business is to create a solid body of work and build a reputation as a team player and collaborator. The rest is just luck — a prepared screenwriter who meets with an opportunity and delivers the goods. “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry that have helped me stay in the game. It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

 

“You have to be very productive in order to become excellent.  You have to go through a poor period and a mediocre period, and then you move into your excellent period.  It may be very well be that some of you have done quite a bit of writing already. You maybe ready to move into your good period and your excellent period.  But you shouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a very long process.”—Ray Bradbury

“It’s such an exhausting thing, you know, facing that empty page in the morning.”—Billy Wilder

“Seeking support from friends and family is like having your people gathered around at your deathbed. It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye. Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work. In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“Writing is very hard work, and having done both writing and directing, I can tell you that directing is a pleasure and writing is a drag… but writing is just an empty page—you start with absolutely nothing. I think writers are vastly underrated and underpaid. It’s totally impossible, thought, for a mediocre director to completely screw up a great script.”— director Billy Wilder

You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it. But the best writing is certainly when you are in love. If it is all the same to you I would rather not expound on that.”—Ernest Hemingway

“Most directors do not want to rewrite the script. They have more pressing commitments on the sound stage. The writer’s best insurance against a rewrite is to have an understanding of the directorial problems. Write a scene that can’t be played, no matter how beautiful the words or thoughts, is begging for a revamp.”—Jerry Lewis

 

 

The serious questions to ask before you pursue a screenwriting career…

July 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

BoulderFlatMany aspiring screenwriters have huge dreams of success on Hollywood’s pantheon of A-list screenwriters. Why not shoot for the highest levels? It’s easy—they did it, right? The reality is that it’s a tough business to achieve any level of success. While knowing this, many aspirants still believe that it’s going to be easy to forge a successful career and pursue it completely unprepared. This will lead to frustration, rejection, and a huge waste of precious time. It’s easy to piss away five years due to disrespecting the craft and the level of work it takes only to end up having nothing of merit to show for your effort. Preparation is vital to staying in the screenwriting game. This starts with self-reflection and asking the hard questions that must be answered.

Are you willing to do what it takes and spend the time, maybe years of work and sacrifice, to craft a solid body of work to compete? Are you a collaborator and team player? Are you writing, reading, and learning so you’ll become an excellent screenwriter? Do you have the drive and tenacity to weather the storm of criticism, rejection, and failure during the years it may take to secure even one successful job?

Remember that no one forced you to choose this screenwriting dream. It’s yours and you must be responsible for it. No one else can go after it for you. Being a screenwriter is not for the thin-skinned or for those looking for a shortcut to success. Ask yourself the honest questions about why you are pursuing a career in screenwriting. Realize that you must stay in the game over the long haul to have any shot at success. It’s a fool’s endeavor to seek fame and fortune, but if screenwriting is your life’s work and passion, you will find a way around any obstacles to succeed.

And what about time? It’s your greatest asset or your worst enemy. It depends on how you use your precious time to write uninterrupted and become productive. That’s why I ask aspirants if they have an artist’s mentality — or the insanity to believe that even as they stare into the dark void of the unknown, their burning passion will guide them across yet another hurdle.

Iscript oddst’s a numbers game at best and you’ll burn through a pile of specs before one finally either sells or lands you a screenwriting assignment. This is why it’s so important to always have many projects in various stages of writing, development or the idea and pitching stage. The urgency we feel as writers for a read or to sell scripts is always pushed back by the reality of the film business and the bizarre amount of time it takes for anything to happen. Any movement on your projects will always take longer than you ever expected. A career will probably take many years to forge. This is why you never want to stake your future on just one project because the odds selling anything are rare. You don’t need to put yourself in a the horrible position where you need to sell a script to get you out of debt or to save you from a day job that you hate.

As you travel on your screenwriting journey, the image that you project is extremely important and you should keep up an image of success. You do this by being busy and creating a solid body of material to show prospective agents, managers, producers and executives that you are a work horse with something to offer. Never give them a chance to think of you as a diva who believes he or she is God’s gift to cinema. It’s the team player and collaborator who always works again. The pain in the ass gets branded as “difficult” and wonders why the work has dried up.

Also remember, after you finish your spec screenplay, unleashing it upon Hollywood becomes the most important driving force in your life — unfortunately unless it’s an assignment job where the producer is waiting for you to deliver the project, no one cares. They just don’t give a sh*t. I’m not being cynical, just honest. You’re now part of the other 50,000 scripts registered at the Writers Guild every year and without representation, you too must figure a way to catapult it over the wall and into someone’s compound for a read. This entire process of writing, rewriting, to finding representation takes a long time and requires tremendous patience. Especially if you’re working a day job you hate and you see your script as your way out and into the life of a working screenwriter. I don’t suggest putting this kind of heavy pressure on yourself, as it will make you stressed and even more impatient.

eclipseIt’s a long road to becoming a working screenwriter and forging a career usually doesn’t happen overnight. My personal journey took me six years after film school to secure my first professional writing job and seven years until my fifth spec sold and was produced. I talk about this, my start in the film business, and details about my new screenwriting book on the fantastic new podcast Eclipse the Script If you are in this for the long haul, it will require tremendous patience. Even becoming a better writer does not happen overnight and requires you to continually write, learn and create projects that you will sadly discover will ultimately never sell. It also helps once reach a professional plateau not to become lazy. Always push yourself out of your comfort zone as this is the only place where growth happens.

Make sure before you start your journey, that you ask yourself the honest questions about why you’re screenwriting. Prepare to meet the challenges that will come your way on your journey as a screenwriter.  They will be a series of failures and mistakes, triumphs, and little successes that when added up will open a door that hopefully leads to a steady career as a working screenwriter in Hollywood. The process will be long and difficult, but if you have patience, you do the work necessary and respect for the mountain you’re climbing, you’ll focus more on your love for the craft and not the urgency of success.

Keep filling your blank pages and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just finish your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website. Bonus offer!  If you pay for a consultation from me, you will receive a pass-code to get five free script reads, MP3’s of any script you send to Script Speaker. They will return your script read aloud on an MP3 to listen on the go. Sign up for an account and receive three free script credits, plus five more from me for a total of eight.

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Check out my new screenwriting book, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years of professional screenwriting in Hollywood’s trenches and I’ll share with you my tips, tricks and tactics to help you stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

 

 

 

Need inspiration with your morning coffee? Check out my new line of merchandise for screenwriters called The Coffee Ring Cartoon series. You can purchase coffee mugs, T-shirts, drinking glasses, note pads, note cards, notebooks, mouse pads, and more. Click on the photo below for the link to my online store to purchase items.

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“Any good director gets a professional family when he starts a film. They immediately check him out to discover how much information he possesses. They also want to know if he has balls. They will challenge him the first day and every day until the wrap-s-unless he proves he knows what he’s doing.”—Jerry Lewis

“There are two kinds of scenes: Pet the Dog Scene & Kick the Dog scene. The studio always wants a “Pet the Dog” scene so everybody can tell who the hero is.”—Paddy Chaydfsky

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

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

CHECK OUT THE 2018 STORYTELLING WORKSHOP organized by the Aegean Film Festival taking place this July 2018.

Explore new approaches to discovering the stories quietly dwelling within you in a captivating environment in Greece.Develop the skills to cultivate budding ideas and to nurture sparks into flames.
Immerse yourself in a collective process with experienced writer-consultants and emerge with your own, unique stories.
Take part in the primal experience of bonfire storytelling on a beach on the borderland of Europe.
Travel both in body and in spirit to the birthplace of Democracy and to the island of the Apocalypse.

The 2018 Storytelling Workshop is organised by the Aegean Film Festival and takes place in two phases during a 12 day period in July: Phase one in Athens and phase two on the island of Patmos, in parallel with the 2018 Aegean Film Festival. The Festival itself is a celebration of global cinema in a profoundly Greek backdrop, the islands of the Aegean.

The Workshop is designed to stimulate the work of scriptwriters and authors, directors and creative producers, employing experienced script consultants, in small groups of 10-15 participants, and using a process of collective dynamics and individualised focus. It uses video and narration as tools for the elaboration and evaluation of storytelling proposals, as well as various toolbox techniques.
The Workshop facilitates the creative process by providing room and board, travel and Festival passes for a care-free experience, allowing participants to immerse themselves in the task at hand: idea generation and storytelling!
The 2018 Storytelling Workshop is designed and operated in cooperation with the European film lab Le Group Ouest and the Aegean Film Lab. For more information please follow the link by clicking on the photos below.

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Guest blogger Niraj Kapur: “How I turned my screenplay into a movie…”

July 24, 2017 § Leave a comment

guest bloggerIt’s time again for a guest blogger here on MY BLANK PAGE! Appearing for his fourth time with another superb contribution about screenwriting in the trenches… let’s welcome back U.K. screenwriter Niraj Kapur.

 

In 1991, at the tender age of 19, I decided to be a screenwriter. Like most people, I thought writing was easy.

My first screenplay was an Irish love story called Secret Love and it sold after contacting only two producers.

Naturally, I thought writing was the easiest job in the world and flew to London from my small town in Northern Ireland.

My next script didn’t sell and the director of Secret Love wasn’t impressed by my attempts to rewrite, so he dropped the project. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents and friends who I swore I would never return home to until I won the Oscar.

So, I went on the dole, the American equivalent of welfare. Worst time of my life. I became a hermit and lived like a pauper on £33 a week, approx. $40 a week.

After a year, my father flew over and was shocked at my lifestyle. Freezing tiny flat, crime-ridden area and a large rat who would occasionally run around the kitchen uninvited.

Dad advised me that to be successful in any profession, I needed training.

Writing is no exception.

He kindly gave me $2,000 — so I invested in Michael Hauge and Robert McKee seminars, bought screenwriting books, went to every networking event and invested in a good script editor.

In 1998, I signed a development deal. For an unknown British writer to have one was unique. It was Rory Bremnar’s company, Vera. Had the opportunity to meet so many talented producers, directors and agents, write full time and get paid.

A year later, Vera decided to work on other projects. That’s how the business works. It’s nothing personal. Priorities change.

Nobody returned my calls or wanted to meet me. I went back to full-time office work, feeling sorry for myself since my dream had died. Then my wife told me she was pregnant.

Being a father gives you a positive view on life and lots of writing material. I spent months writing sample kids shows and after a year of calling every kids tv producer, I found work writing for CBBC, Nick Jnr, and Channel 5. Over 17 pilots were written, got paid for several of them and was hired to write for other shows, working to tight deadlines and producers’ notes, an invaluable lesson.

In 2004, I had the confidence to go back to screenwriting and wrote a female comedy that would change my life, Knights in Shining Armour.

In 2006, it won a writing award. Then three different producers wanted to option it in 2007.

It was important this movie got produced, and producers rarely guarantee that, so I sold it to Neville Rashid who had an idea to make it into a Bollywood family drama musical with a guarantee to produce it in five years.

Neville worked his guts out to raise the money. It was shot in London, I was invited on set, was treated wonderfully by cast and crew, and went to the red-carpet premiere. I only recognised 30% of the movie as mine. It was released in 2012. Here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftwUGemp6Jw

Naachle London broke even and played in cinemas across the UK. Seeing your name on a movie poster is a dream come true. Seeing it on the big screen was simply awesome.

Every agent, producer and director was invited. Nobody in the industry turned up.

Unable to find work, I turned my back on the UK and spend a few years flying to LA which you can read about here: https://scriptcat.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/overcoming-the-disappointments-a-screenwriting-journey-can-deliver/

Many valuable lessons were learned, just as important today as they were many years ago.

  • Treat your writing like a career and invest in it like a degree.
  • Don’t think you know everything.
  • Writing is writing, no matter what genre or what platform.
  • Never give up. If I can make it, anyone can.

As Jeffrey Katzenberg once said, “if you they throw you out the front door, go in the back door. If they throw you out the back door, go in through the window.

by Niraj Kapur

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Niraj Kapur worked as a writer-for-hire on several kids shows on British TV with numerous screenplay commissions and options. His first movie Naachle London was released in 2012. Find him online: www.nirajkapur.com

Consider screenplay contests as just another tool in your arsenal to get noticed—not a guarantee of a career.

July 19, 2017 § 1 Comment

script oddsOver the last decade there’s been an explosion of screenwriting contests that dangle the possibility of winning the grand prize and your big chance at exposure to some of the top players in Hollywood. Every year the top contests are filled with thousands of entries all vying for the grand prize. It seems like the more people who pursue a career in screenwriting, the more contests spring up to meet the demand for a chance at exposure. In my opinion there are only a handful of top contests worth the money because they are recognized industry-wide as legitimate and the readers and judges involved are real industry professionals of merit.

 

The top screenwriting contests are extremely competitive with entries from around the world. If you do win, it’s almost like winning the lottery, but you don’t always have to win the top prize to have it help your career. If you don’t win the top prize and place as a runner-up, it’s better to place in one of the top five industry recognized competitions and not in some unknown smaller contest that doesn’t garner the same credibility. It’s the difference between having your film win some award at a small, unknown festival or placing as a runner-up in Sundance or the NY Film Festival.  Even placing in more recognized contests will help to get your script read. Remember—not all contests are equal.

Hollywood cashAs I’m sure you’ve discovered, every screenplay contest charges an entry fee with some upwards of $50 to $75. This is why you must do your research, read blogs, and find out as much about the contest before you send off your treasured project and hard-earned money. Anyone can start a screenwriting competition with offers of money to the winners and a chance to meet Hollywood insiders. Three months later you receive a form letter that says you didn’t win, but thanks for entering and hopes that you enter again next year. This means nothing. In fact, the rejection can be very unsettling to a writer’s psyche especially when you’ve paid money to enter and placed your trust in the contest only to have no idea who read your script. Did the contest advertise “working professionals in the film industry” as the panel of experts judging the scripts?  Did they list these pros? I might take the rejection a little easier if the opinion came from someone respected as a working professional with credits. A mysterious rejection form letter and not knowing who read my script would leave me empty and wondering if it was even read at all.

I was shocked to read an online ad looking for “script readers” to help with a major screenwriting contest. I thought only industry professionals were diligently sorting through these scripts to find the best ones but apparently not. If they are using free readers, anyone with an opinion is reading your script and who knows their qualifications to spot great material. If you want that kind of consideration you can always have your friends read your script (also not a good idea). Some of these contests receive thousands of entries and the more scripts entered, the more they need a small army of readers to sort through the work. It’s your hard-earned money you might be wasting on a second-rate contest, only to get back a form letter telling you, “thanks and please enter again next year.” Ah, the dangling carrot for a shot at success.

reading guyAlways make sure to read the entry forms very carefully and especially the fine print. Some contests claim rights over your work and some contests are actually companies that produce films and claim rights over the development if you win. Always protect your project by knowing what you are signing and if you don’t like the terms do not enter.

 

A short time after graduating from UCLA film school, I entered my fifth spec script in few competitions with the dream of winning or even placing. The competition is always fierce and the year I entered the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship there were 3,541 entries worldwide (for 2017 it was 7,102 scripts!). Back in the day, my script made it as far as the semifinals and placed in the top 1% of all entries. I received a call from Greg Beal the coordinator who told me that my script was in the next dozen scripts after the eight who received the fellowship. My script placed in the top twenty out the thousands of entries and he gave me notes and suggested that I enter again the following year.

It was then I really knew I had written something special and worthy of continuing to send out to producers. Amazingly, a year later my script was under option and then purchased thus making me a professional and making too much money to enter again.

I then entered a comedy screenplay in the Chesterfield Writers Film Project created by Paramount Studios and Steven Spielberg where my script placed in the top 50 out of thousands. Again, this was another example to show I was on the right track with my writing. The same script that nearly won the Nicholl was also one of four runners-up in the John Truby Writers Studio screenwriting contest back in the day out of hundreds of entries. I knew something good was brewing with my screenplay and it was just a matter of time to find the right producer. It’s always about timing and having your project find the right home.

At the time, the pedigree of placing in the semifinals of the Nicholl Fellowship helped to bring credibility to my script and it got me read by agents and managers. Many times it made the difference between someone reading and not reading it. Winning the fellowship would have been nice, but I was much happier that my script went on to be produced into a movie and distributed globally. I was now a professional screenwriter and sold my first spec (my fifth overall script written at the time) and it’s what launched my screenwriting assignment career.

What happens if you continue to place in screenplay contests, but you don’t win and can’t seem to use your achievements as a way to further your script’s chances of being read by producers, agents and managers? The reality is there are no guarantees, even if you do win a screenplay contest, but it certainly helps and brings validity to your talents in the eyes of the film business. The reality is that you’ll still have to fight and claw for every inch of forward movement down the field to plant your flag. You might be taking a huge step through the door by winning a screenplay contest, but the key is staying in the game and having a solid body of work to offer and being a workhorse screenwriter. You’ll realize that once you achieve some any type of success, you have to do it again, and again for it to be considered a career.

Look at contests as another tool in your arsenal to some noise, but don’t put all of your hopes and dreams into them. Get out into the world and make those necessary film industry contacts to start getting your work noticed by producers, agents, managers, and executives. Find a way to go directly to the talent if you can like actors, directors, and producers. Always consider creative ways to break through Hollywood’s gates, but don’t keep trying the same methods over and over again if they are returning the same results. That wastes precious time and helps to drive you crazy. If your specs aren’t moving your career forward, consider writing an original TV pilot or creating your own web series as a proof of concept. Think outside the box.

The top screenwriting competitions are a great way to gain much-needed exposure for beginning writers, but don’t look to them as the only way to further your career goals. If you can’t win a contest, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to land representation or your first writing job in Hollywood. Make sure to do your research on the contests, pick the more legitimate ones the industry recognizes, and read the fine print on the entry forms.

As always, keep the faith, your eye on the big picture, and keep filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.

My top suggested screenwriting contests (in no special order):

*The Academy’s Nicholl Fellowships (I was in the semi-finals—the top 1%)

*Final Draft Big Break Contest

*Page International Screenwriting Awards

*Disney Writers Fellowship

*Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship

*Sundance Writers Lab

*Warner Brothers Writers Workshop

*Screen Craft’s Screenwriting contests

*BlueCat Screenplay competition

*American Zoetrope  (Francis Ford Coppola)

*Slamdance Writers Competition

*Scriptaplaooza

*Austin Film Festival

PILE OF SCRIPTS

“Keep screenwriting and the winner is… YOU!”—Scriptcat

You have to be very productive in order to become excellent.  You have to go through a poor period and a mediocre period, and then you move into your excellent period.  It may be very well be that some of you have done quite a bit of writing already. You maybe ready to move into your good period and your excellent period.  But you shouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a very long process.”—Ray Bradbury

“It’s such an exhausting thing, you know, facing that empty page in the morning.”—Billy Wilder

“For the warrior, there is no ‘better’ or ‘worse’; everyone has the necessary gifts for his particular path.” — Paulo Coelho

Also subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting videos.

Did you just complete your new screenplay? Congrats! Is it time for in-depth consultation/analysis/proofing/editing? Check out my professional consultation 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 without excuses.

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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 twenty years writing professionally in Hollywood and my tips, tricks and tactics that have allowed me to stay in the game. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon and the reviews.

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