January 9, 2018 § Leave a comment
It’s time again for a guest blogger here on MY BLANK PAGE!
Appearing for his fifth time with another superb contribution about screenwriting in the trenches… welcome back U.K. based screenwriter Niraj Kapur.
“How to regain your confidence as a screenwriter” by Niraj Kapur.
You’ve been rejected by managers who say, “you’re not what we’re looking for.” A script reader requests your scripts then never returns your phone call or email. You spend hours waiting to meet an agent who doesn’t even show up despite the fact you reminded them the day before. A producer agrees to option your script, then tries to pay you less than minimum wage.
You pour heart and soul into anything you care about, you sometimes get good results.
Writing has a different set of rules. There are absolutely zero guarantees.
The internet has helped lots of artists get exposure, especially musicians. As a screenwriter, you still need a producer, director, crew and lots of investment which most writers don’t have access to.
I’ve seen talented screenwriters give up after several years of struggle and seen many slightly above average writers make it because they had family connections, childhood friends in the business, or got on well with a producer’s assistant at a party. A friend of mine who has never written in his life received a paid option because he’s best friends with an upcoming movie star. Did he spend years toiling at his craft? No, he wrote a rough treatment in a week. That’s it!
Can you imagine how that feels?
This business can easily drive you mad and knock your confidence. So how do you stay sane and how do you rebuild your confidence and find work after constant rejection?
Here’s what I did which helped me recently get a producer and director attached to my new Irish drama screenplay, Belfast Son.
- Take care of your health.
Sitting down all day is not good for you and the gym isn’t for everyone. Walking 30 minutes a day is a good start. I’ve tried yoga which aches and mediation which sends me to sleep. However if that works for you, please enjoy. Reiki has worked well for maintaining my inner calm.
- Take care of your nutrition.
I’ve cut out carbs at lunch and have more energy in the afternoon. I also avoid chocolate until end of the day which is torture, but worth it for the increased focus and concentration I get when writing.
- Find a writing support group.
I have a group of five writers called The Gamechangers. We make it a policy that it’s a support group, so although you can whine and complain about your frustrations sometimes, it’s more important to be positive and help each other out.
- Keep in touch with people who said “no.”
I contacted forty producers and agents I’ve known over the years who I liked, yet who turned down my work. I simply wrote them a letter, since hardly anyone received letters these days, telling them about my adventures attending pitching events in L.A. and that I had a new project that may interest them with a simple logline.
- Twenty-six of them didn’t get back to me.
- Seven replied saying were two busy.
- Four didn’t like my concept.
- Three of them liked my logline and asked to read my screenplay.
- Two producers said they would like to make it
- Only one of them actually contacted me and offered to option the screenplay.
- Follow inspirational people on Twitter.
@katherinefugate – writer of Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve.
@jakethornton – screenwriter making huge waves.
@stephenking – a master at everything he does.
@jk_rowling – no explanation needed. Simply amazing.
@bang2write – amazing resource for writers.
@indust_scripts – writing services and excellent industrial events.
@barackobama – inspirational.
@Markruffalo – fighting for everyday people.
@officialjimrohn – the father of personal development
@bettemidler – biting and very funny
@sarahksilverman – compassionate, caring, very funny
- Write every day.
Most writers I know have a 9-5 job. Then they try to write on top of that. When you have family commitments, that makes writing even tougher. Writing one hour a day, even 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes over lunch is better than nothing.
That’s all it took to rebuild my confidence. The producer liked my screenplay so much, he has a director on board and is now seeking financing.
Niraj Kapur has had several screenplays optioned, sitcoms commissioned, and his movie Naachle London was released in British cinemas in 2012. His non-fiction book, Everybody Works in Sales, will be released March 20. Visit his website at www.nirajkapur.com.
January 7, 2018 § Leave a comment
Sure, 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.
Don’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.
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.
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.
“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
December 3, 2017 § 1 Comment
Hey, soon we’ll be saying a fond farewell to 2017 and there is no turning back. I do believe it’s always a powerful tool to look back over the previous year and critically analyze the good, the bad and the ugly choices we’ve made. Leave the regrets behind and focus on your growth as a screenwriter and human being. Hopefully, you’ve learned from your failures and enjoyed your successes. Excuses abound, but what really matters is how productive have you been? Is there room for improvement? We must always adapt to survive while slogging it out in Hollywood’s trenches. Have you become a better screenwriter and have you been able to move yourself and your projects down the field? Have you opened doors and gained new “fans” of your writing? Have you been able to gain and hold new ground? Established new relationships and contacts? Created a solid body of material in a genre to show your unique voice? Sold or optioned a project? Follow your writing disciplines to stay on target?
The responsibility for a screenwriter’s career begins and ends with the screenwriter. The hard fact: Your screenwriting career is probably the most important struggle to you and not to anyone else. Only you know the hard work and sacrifices you’ve endured for years going after your dream, so you need to protect your career path by taking responsibility for chartering the course of your career. Your time is precious and you need to constantly be moving forward and avoid the pitfalls of poor choices and negative experiences.
Too many times, I’ve heard screenwriters blame others for their own missteps or lack of success in Hollywood. Some writers look for the quick and easy way to success, but end up frustrated when their one script doesn’t sell, they have no other plans and they are not working on new material. Sure, it’s easier to soften the blow to blame the agent, manager, producer, or Hollywood itself for not getting your film made, but screenwriters need to step up and take more control over their choices. You can’t believe that every spec will sell—in fact most will not. Your new spec may not be the “one” — but one of many you’ll have to write and burn through until it jump starts your career.
Every time you write a new project on spec, you must consider how it fits into the bigger picture of your screenwriting goals. It’s a risk when you write a spec and you are rolling the dice with your precious time. Did you just have a “fun idea” for a movie and thought it would sell, so you decided to spend months writing it hoping when you’re done for a huge payday? This is not an effective use of your time. If it’s your passion project and you must write it—do it and hopefully you’ve executed it properly and your passion will be there on the page—but choose your material wisely. REMEMBER: What you write about is as important as how you execute it and just because you write it doesn’t mean they will “love it.” You’ll only figure this out after you meander through four or five scripts that don’t achieve the plateaus you had expected or do not sell. You’ll be forced to take a step back and examine your reasoning for embarking on the journey with each project.
If you’ve been successfully making noise with a particular genre, continue to establish yourself as an expert in that genre. When you secure a writing gig, you’ll move forward with steady work because you’ll be known for a genre. There is nothing wrong with being pigeonholed as a screenwriter. It means you’ll work and build up your résumé in a genre that you hopefully enjoy writing. Trust me, bouncing around for years with different scripts in different genres hoping that something sticks is a fool’s endeavor. I’ve been there. When something eventually hits and is a success, the producers will want more of the same from you in the way of screenwriting assignments—the bread and butter or working screenwriters. There is no shame in steady work. I find sometimes aspirants believe they’ll hold out and will only go with a script that is “their vision” and somehow it’s “selling out” to take a job offered writing something that maybe isn’t their favorite choice of material—but it’s a foot in the door.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the odds are already stacked against you and time marches on so quickly. If you don’t believe the odds, consider that according to the Scoggins Spec Market Scorecard, only 70 specs sold at the studio level in 2016 . And only 5,227 WGA members reported any income in a year (annual report ending in June) out of nearly 9,000 members. The other half did not work. Over half of those numbers who did report income were working in television. Think about those odds for a moment and then get back to work. And if you add the non-union screenwriters working… it can boggle the mind with more stats and there are no stats for non-union screenwriters working or not working. The main issue is that you must stay busy creating projects and casting your best scripts wide.
I’ve been blessed, this past year was very busy for me and I’ve pushed various projects down the field to production. In the last year, I’ve completed five screenwriting assignments—three of the films were produced, one goes into production in December 2017, and I just completed the first draft of my latest assignment and I’m turning it into the producer. I also finished my new book on surviving in Hollywood’s trenches called “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. We must stay active and not wait for others to open doors. We create new opportunities with every project that we create.
So, it’s never too late, even though we’re already into the new year, grab a piece of paper and if you haven’t yet, set up a game plan for 2018. Look back at 2017 and chart your successes and failures. Write down your goals you achieved and the ones you missed. Hit the ground running this year and achieve your goals every day of the week. Treat your screenwriting like a business—it’s YOU, INC. and every decision you make affects your pathway to success. Every three months check in on your progress and keep updating your list and following your road map to success. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions: “Why am I writing this particular spec and will it serve me in the best way possible to create opportunities and open doors?” If you haven’t done this start now. Grab a piece of paper and…
1) Make a list of all viable projects. Completed scripts and what condition they are in—ready to be read, needs a rewrite, needs a polish, only a first draft, etc. Add to the list any fleshed out pitches, log lines, one sheets, beat sheets or treatments. This is important if you cross paths with an agent or manager. They want to see you busy and prolific on your own. What do you have to offer? One script only and nothing as a follow-up? You’ll need a solid body of work to standout and it will take time to craft these projects.
2) Make a list of your achievements in 2017. Scrutinize the successes and failures so you can see where you need to pick up the slack in areas where you need to focus in the new year. List any accolades—did you win or place in a significant screenwriting competition? Did you option or sell a screenplay? Did you graduate from film school? Did you make any films, short movies or a webseries on your own? Did you work on a film production or complete an internship? Find a screenwriting mentor? List anything that shows you are working toward to your goals.
3) Make a list of potential deadlines for any rewrites or new ideas. Keep true to these self-imposed deadline as if they were real screenwriting jobs. Do not deviate from the commitment for anyone or any external forces. Trust me, either on purpose or by mistake, people will try to derail your schedule and will think it’s not that important because you’re writing on spec. It is that important. It’s vital training for the time when you finally do get a job on assignment and you’ll know how to keep a deadline under any conditions. Find respected screenwriting contests that you may want to enter and use their entry dates as a goal and deadlines to finish your new material.
4) Make a list of any new contacts that you met by networking during the year. If you have an e-mail, or the address of their company, send a holiday card. Nothing like the holidays as a good reason to reconnect, right? In January, make sure to send them a: “Midyear check in—hope this finds you well—this is what I’m doing” e-mail. It will put you back on their radar and if you list a few interesting projects, they might bite and ask for a read.
5) If you haven’t yet, attend more networking events before the year ends. Become a member of the International Screenwriter’s Association ( ISA ) for workshops, webinars and in person events in your area. Also Final Draft hosts meetups every month with known screenwriters and offers tips and many free networking events during the year. Network on Stage32.com also—it’s free and a great place to meet fellow filmmakers. In addition, check out the Scriptwriters Network in Los Angeles. They put on networking meetings the first Friday of every month. Get out of your writing cave and meet other screenwriters and network. Make sure to support others and you will find they will help you.
6) If you don’t already, read scripts on a regular basis. Good scripts, bad scripts, classics—read! You’ll be surprised how much you learn from reading screenplays. Be careful of the screenplays that are posted during award season. Do not try to emulate their style as many are written in a protected bubble of development and were not specs, so they can get away with many things regarding format that you cannot with a spec from an unknown writer. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” —Stephen King.
7) If you don’t already, read screenwriting blogs, books, articles and film websites with news about the film industry. You must do your homework on a daily basis and not expect your representation (if you’re lucky to have an agent or manager) to do it for you. Many things slip through the cracks and information is priceless currency in Hollywood. It can mean the difference between getting in a door with a meeting that could land you the next job that launches your career. A game plan helps you allocate your precious time wisely. It shows that you’re your serious about your career and treating your screenwriting as a professional—not just willy-nilly writing a script and hoping it will sell on its own merits. It’s rare that one script makes a career. It’s always one script that opens the door, but you’ll probably have to write five or six to get to that “ONE.”
And keep updating these lists every three months to keep track of your progress and not allow an opportunity or contact to slip through the cracks. Keeping an eye on your career doesn’t just mean focusing on writing your latest spec and ignoring the business side of your journey. You have to multitask and keep all of these important aspects in check throughout the year. Your current spec is just one of the tools in your arsenal to use to move forward on the field.
The overnight success is usually a series of little successes along the way that lead up to continued success. You have to consider how everything you do regarding your career fits into your bigger overall goals. Your career aspirations can’t live or die by one project and you can’t focus on “the one” and hope it unlocks the gates of Hollywood. It’s always going to be a numbers game with horrible odds of success. Even if you sell a screenplay, there are no guarantees and still so many hurdles to jump.
The good news is—the more quality material you create, the better chance you have of garnering interest and that may lead to a sale or assignment work. Keep your eye on the big picture. It’s like what Bruce Lee said in Enter the Dragon, “It’s like a finger-pointing a way to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!” And read this eye-opening essay on the current filmmaking business environment as you try to chase the Hollywood studios with your specs: “How the Death of Mid-Budget Cinema Left a Generation of Iconic Filmmakers MIA.“ All my best wishes for a glorious and successful journey for 2018 and may it be the best year ever.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog My Blank Page.
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Check out my new book. If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism and ability to endure criticism, rejection, and failure over the long haul. The odds may be stacked against you, but the way to standout in this very competitive business is to create a solid body of work and build a reputation as a team player and collaborator. The rest is just luck — a prepared screenwriter who meets with an opportunity and delivers the goods. “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry that have helped me stay in the game. It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.
“You have to be very productive in order to become excellent. You have to go through a poor period and a mediocre period, and then you move into your excellent period. It may be very well be that some of you have done quite a bit of writing already. You maybe ready to move into your good period and your excellent period. But you shouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a very long process.”—Ray Bradbury
“It’s such an exhausting thing, you know, facing that empty page in the morning.”—Billy Wilder
“Seeking support from friends and family is like having your people gathered around at your deathbed. It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye. Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work. In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
“Writing is very hard work, and having done both writing and directing, I can tell you that directing is a pleasure and writing is a drag… but writing is just an empty page—you start with absolutely nothing. I think writers are vastly underrated and underpaid. It’s totally impossible, thought, for a mediocre director to completely screw up a great script.”— director Billy Wilder
You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it. But the best writing is certainly when you are in love. If it is all the same to you I would rather not expound on that.”—Ernest Hemingway
“Most directors do not want to rewrite the script. They have more pressing commitments on the sound stage. The writer’s best insurance against a rewrite is to have an understanding of the directorial problems. Write a scene that can’t be played, no matter how beautiful the words or thoughts, is begging for a revamp.”—Jerry Lewis
December 3, 2017 § Leave a comment
I can’t believe it’s December again and my seven-year anniversary for this blog. Time sure flies as we’re busy filling our blank pages, right? Yes, it’s my SEVENTH ANNIVERSARY and it’s been another solid year of readership and with over 16,000 views of the blog. I want to thank all of my loyal readers for a fantastic seventh year on the net. I hope my articles helped with your survival in the trenches of Hollywood as a working screenwriter. As you know, screenwriting is a long haul journey to reach any level of success, but when you know other writers are out here slugging away, fighting the good fight, and being successful, it can give you hope and strength to fill yet another blank page as you follow your dreams.
I hope 2017 has been a productive year on your screenwriting journey. I’ve been blessed keeping busy with five screenwriting assignment jobs that have resulted in three produced films—two films, “ONE SMALL INDISCRETION” and “A WEDDING TO DIE FOR” have premiered on tv, the third film “STALKED BY MY EX” premieres Friday, December 15 at 8 PM on LMN (Lifetime Movie Network). Another film that I wrote, “THE BREAK-IN” starts production this week, and I just completed the first draft of my latest script assignment. I’ve also completed my online store that sells my COFFEE RING CARTOONS MERCHANDISE for screenwriters. Check it out as they make great gifts for the screenwriter in your life — maybe that’s you!
If that wasn’t enough to keep me busy, I published my new book, A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success, earlier this year on Amazon. The book has been a long haul journey to write and shares my twenty years of experiences in Hollywood’s trenches with advice about forging your own career with my tips, tricks and tactics to say in the game. Click on the book cover at the left for the link to Amazon.
If you haven’t yet, check out my screenwriting YOUTUBE CHANNEL where I post weekly script videos with my tips, tricks and tactics to help you survive in Hollywood’s trenches. I have twenty seven videos uploaded to help with your screenwriting survival in the trenches. I also provide on-demand webinars from my Pivotshare Channel to help you reach your screenwriting goals.The webinars make great holiday gifts for the aspiring screenwriter in your life. And as you complete your latest magnum opus, if you find yourself in need of professional screenplay consultation, check out my screenplay consultation services. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay.
As the year ends, take some time to reflect on your experiences — celebrate your successes, analyze your mistakes and failures, and adapt to find new strategies that can move you and your projects forward down the paying field. Always set realistic goals and do whatever you need to go after them with passion. Remember, it’s later than you think, and life passes quickly while you attempt great things with your screenwriting career.
My sincere thanks for your support of this blog. Remember to always respect the craft, keep the faith, write from a passion for the work and not seeking fame and fortune, and remember—if you stop writing, you’re guaranteed to never have a shot at any success.
See you on Twitter/Periscope and the big and small screen.
All my best screenwriting wishes for 2018.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.
“… a basic “must” for every writer: A simple solitude—physical & mental.”—Rod Serling
“Being an artist means not having to avert one’s eyes.”—Akira Kurosawa
“Hollywood is Hollywood. There’s nothing you can say about it that isn’t true, good or bad. And if you get into it, you have no right to be bitter—you’re the one who sat down, and joined the game.” —Orson Welles
Stephen King with advice from his old newspaper editor John Gould: “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”
“Don’t think of it as art, think of it as work.”—Paddy Chayefsky
Hemingway said it best, “I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.“
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”—Pablo Picasso
“I never feel the need to discuss my work with anyone. No, I am too busy writing it. It has got to please me and if it does I don’t need to talk about it. If it doesn’t please me, talking about it won’t improve it, since the only thing to improve it is to work on it some more. I am not a literary man but only a writer. I don’t get any pleasure from talking shop.”—William Faulkner
October 26, 2017 § 1 Comment
I haven’t been on the blog lately writing because I’ve been too damn busy with screenwriting assignments. I know, be careful what you wish for, right? This has been a busy year with three script assignments in a row—and all of them have been produced. So far, one of the three has premiered on LIFETIME to terrific ratings, while the other two have wrapped post and are coming soon.
After those three projects, I secured another job and worked a solid month on a story treatment for that assignment. After getting the green light, I began the first draft with a short, three-week writing schedule. It’s a fast-tracked movie that will shoot in early December of 2017, so being able to deliver the goods is vital to its success—and mine. I just completed the second production polish and it’s on its way. It’s not impossible and I’ve even done it in less time. The key is having a solid story treatment before you type FADE IN. This always helps you write a faster first draft. I will tell you, being holed up for three weeks, working 8-10 hour days, really is the test to see if you can meet any challenge offered. Fortunately, I’ve met the challenge before, but I never take it for granted. Every time up to the plate with a new script is a completely different adventure.
This is why you have to start training yourself now with your specs to build your writing endurance. Set up deadlines and meet them. It’s good practice. Are you able to focus and write for 8-10 hours a day—every day uninterrupted? That’s what it takes sometimes when you start working professionally. You lost the luxury of working on your spec when you feel inspired. It’s now your job and you clock in and out with an eye on doing great work under the deadline.
Sure, it can be torture at times—a hellish rewrite on a screenplay can make you question your decision to become a screenwriter when you curse the day you typed “FADE IN.” Other times it’s easy breezy and brings you great creative satisfaction, a credit and the bonus of getting paid as a professional screenwriter. As with life, you deal with the good and the bad, and learn how to survive the storms to stay in the game as a working screenwriter.
Sometimes you get lucky and the alchemy just works and you produce a great script and build new working relationships. I joke about the cliché of the ideal “romanticized life” of a working Hollywood screenwriter, but many times I find aspirants who work with total freedom on their specs, believe it will be the same breezy experience when they get hired to write a screenplay assignment. It’s not all about premieres, parties and huge paydays. Once you land the gig, it becomes your job with the same expectations, responsibilities, pressures and deadlines of many jobs—all while working with a contract.
If you’re blessed enough to secure the gig, you must be the ultimate team player and collaborator. Sure, you scored the job, but never fool yourself into believing you’re the only screenwriter who could do the job. There is always someone out there equally or more talented and maybe hundreds of eager aspirants who would even write it for free just for the break. The important thing is that you landed the job. It’s yours to screw up or succeed. Show them why you were the right pick on that short list of other writers. I’m blessed to finally be offered jobs now that are mine to take or pass. You’ll learn that you take opportunities when they come your way and they will lead to more work as shown by my example.
So, after completing the first draft for one project and turning it in, I was offered a new project from another producer, took that gig, and had to immediately start on that outline. While working on the story for three weeks, I received my notes for the second draft of the first project, and had to jump on that as well. The process is called “stacking” where you work on multiple projects at the same time. That’s why you see writers with four or five credits in one year because they are working on multiple projects. This takes experience, but also a knowledge and confidence in your abilities so you can deliver quality work within the deadlines. Trust me, it’s not easy and takes a keen sense of time and your screenwriting abilities. Mostly, you don’t get weekends off because those two precious days can be used to possibly write or rewrite 12-15 pages. You’ll of course suck it up because you’re under a deadline and want to deliver a production ready script as promised.
Always remember, meeting your deadlines is vital to your reputation and your career. I’ve worked for these producers before on successful collaborations and it’s nice when they call me with job offers and ask, “Are you available?” I’ve worked hard to get to this place and continue to solidify my professional reputation.
So, what’s all this I continually hear about the romanticized and exciting image of working screenwriters? It’s a false image and not reality. Most of the time it’s the hard work of getting the job done. You’re writing at the top of your game and it’s weeks or months of rewrites, polishes, and the pressure of deadlines. You’ll feel the pressure when you hit a creative wall and begin to stare at the calendar or spend more time calculating your daily page count than doing the actual writing. It will always be about the work. If you’re a true screenwriter, you thrive on process and getting the job done no matter what it takes. You’ll go above and beyond every time to show your producers and executives that you are the right person for the job. Screenwriters are craftspeople, the ones up at 3:30 A.M., chipping away, fixing the scenes, working on the structure, putting the puzzle together, chasing after your characters.
Sure, you might come up short on praise and validation but even when you do receive praise, it might be a let down from what you’d expect. The longer you’re in the screenwriting game, you’ll learn that screenwriting can be a thankless and lonely job as you slog away sometimes in the wee small hours of the morning. But don’t lose heart, realize that it’s a job and it’s hard work at all levels of the business. It was your choice to pursue the journey of a master crafts person, working away in your workshop, crafting a new story to unleash upon the world. It’s a lonely process with no parties, no champagne, no red carpets, no fame and rarely fortune, but your praise and validation comes from the satisfaction knowing that you’re working at the top of your game. How do you know? You’ve just moved your last draft from the development process into the important pre-production stage—that’s a major step to success.
Today I received that phone call that every screenwriter wants to get—the producer loved my second draft and has minimal changes for the polish. Not bad, two drafts and a polish, and then on to production. It’s truly satisfying, but there is no fame, no fortune, no glory… just a master craftsman in his workshop, who finished his thirty-third screenplay and eighteenth paid assignment, blowing out the candle to return another day on that other project.
I never take any of it for granted and know the long slog and decades of experience that it’s taken me to get here. It’s work—hard work and I’m happy and humbled to have had another chance up to the plate and made sure to knock it out of the park. On to the next one!
You just have to be the writer that doesn’t give up. Keep writing because if you stop you are guaranteed never to have ANY shot at success. You create new opportunities with every screenplay you create and hopefully it best represents your talent and ability.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog My Blank Page.
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“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”—Ray Bradbury
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”—Pablo Picasso
“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”—Ray Bradbury
“I never feel the need to discuss my work with anyone. No, I am too busy writing it. It has got to please me and if it does I don’t need to talk about it. If it doesn’t please me, talking about it won’t improve it, since the only thing to improve it is to work on it some more. I am not a literary man but only a writer. I don’t get any pleasure from talking shop.”—William Faulkner
“If there ever was one analogy for what a screenwriter must accomplish, it’s this: To create a source of life, to find the bedrock of a given idea, to prevent most of the work from evaporating.”—FX Feeney
“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.” —Leigh Brackett
July 30, 2017 § Leave a comment
Maybe you’ve heard of this dilemma and have yet to experience it, but if you work as a screenwriter long enough in Hollywood you will not escape the disappointing clutches of development hell. If you’re lucky enough to sell your spec script or score a paid screenwriting job, what happens after the first draft could determine if your script languishes in a constant state of development or moves into production. There are many reasons why a script becomes stuck in development hell with seemingly endless rewrites. Many times, the producers or executives are not clear about what they want, so they’ll tinker with the script until they find their vision. Changes in casting can also extend the development process because the script is rewritten to tailor the new casting choice. Even changes with the film’s location can drag out the development process because if the story takes place in the tropics and the producer changes it to a winter climate with snow, you’ll have another rewrite on your hands and possibly more development. The longer a project is in development, the greater the chances for outside forces to come along during the process and derail the entire operation.
Other times the project itself can stall because of financing issues, global distribution shifts, changes in what the buyers want, and lack of a distribution deal. This is why it’s called development hell—it’s either the hell of endless rewrites or your project being stalled from moving forward. Yes, it’s truly frustrating and disappointing. Hopefully, you’ll be paid for every draft but it’s little consideration if the movie never gets produced.
One of my writing professors in film school complained that she spent her entire professional screenwriting career in development hell because she was paid to write scripts, but the projects never ended up being produced. I’ve experienced this when a production company hired me to write a detailed story treatment and then the screenplay. After I turned in my first draft, the executive responded with twelve pages of notes. I was dumbfounded because I had worked closely with the company on the story treatment and once it was to their liking, they allowed me to write the screenplay. As the dutiful screenwriter, I moved forward and executed their twelve pages of notes and eventually completed a second draft. Five years later, the script has yet to go into production because the company has dramatically changed and is making fewer films focusing on lower-budgeted productions. These scenarios are the most frustrating because screenwriters’ contracts involve step deals that pay the writer an upfront sum to write the script and successive drafts, but the larger production bonus only is paid when the script actually begins principal photography. That means no production date—no production bonus. Again, another example of how so many aspects of the film business are out of a screenwriter’s control.
I also experienced the bitter sting of development hell when a producer hired me to rewrite another screenwriter’s script. The previous writer had done three drafts and the producers felt she was “written out” and could no longer execute their notes effectively. They brought me on the project with a contract and pay, and I eventually did another five drafts working closely with the director as I executed his production specific notes. It was a long process that stretched on for nearly two years. The bad news is the script remains in “development” and I can’t get a straight answer as to why. I have to let it go because it’s never going to be produced. I certainly hope someday the producers pull the trigger on making the project, but it’s out my control. You have to move on.
Conversely, I’ve also been lucky to write a fast-tracked film during February of one year that went into production eight months later in October of the same year. This was one of two films that I had go into production during a ten-month period, so you never know the fate of your completed screenplay. This is especially true when you’re not on the front lines producing the project. Currently I have five screenplays in development, all production ready screenplays. Why they are not moving forward is out of my control. When you start on a new screenplay, you’ll never know the journey it will ultimately take. Sometimes you end up lucky and have a slate of steady work. I completed three screenplay assignments this year and all three have gone into production. The latest script just started production last week, it’s my eleventh produced film and my 33rd completed screenplay that I’ve written on my journey. So, as you can see, you never know. The key is being a prolific workhorse and turning out solid material that will hopefully open doors to screenwriting assignments.
After I started working professionally in Hollywood, the hardest reality check that I quickly learned to accept was that even when you do finally get paid to write a screenplay or sell a spec, not every one of your projects will make it into production. This is why you’ll constantly need to create a solid body of work and have as many viable screenplays out in the marketplace as possible. There is no real way to avoid development hell and it happens on every level of the film business. If you want to feel empowered, you should focus on your next project and always do your best work every time up to the keyboard.
Keep filling your blank pages because if you stop writing you’ll never have any chance at success.
Copyright 2017 written by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.
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July 25, 2017 § Leave a comment
Many aspiring screenwriters have huge dreams of success on Hollywood’s pantheon of A-list screenwriters. Why not shoot for the highest levels? It’s easy—they did it, right? The reality is that it’s a tough business to achieve any level of success. While knowing this, many aspirants still believe that it’s going to be easy to forge a successful career and pursue it completely unprepared. This will lead to frustration, rejection, and a huge waste of precious time. It’s easy to piss away five years due to disrespecting the craft and the level of work it takes only to end up having nothing of merit to show for your effort. Preparation is vital to staying in the screenwriting game. This starts with self-reflection and asking the hard questions that must be answered.
Are you willing to do what it takes and spend the time, maybe years of work and sacrifice, to craft a solid body of work to compete? Are you a collaborator and team player? Are you writing, reading, and learning so you’ll become an excellent screenwriter? Do you have the drive and tenacity to weather the storm of criticism, rejection, and failure during the years it may take to secure even one successful job?
Remember that no one forced you to choose this screenwriting dream. It’s yours and you must be responsible for it. No one else can go after it for you. Being a screenwriter is not for the thin-skinned or for those looking for a shortcut to success. Ask yourself the honest questions about why you are pursuing a career in screenwriting. Realize that you must stay in the game over the long haul to have any shot at success. It’s a fool’s endeavor to seek fame and fortune, but if screenwriting is your life’s work and passion, you will find a way around any obstacles to succeed.
And what about time? It’s your greatest asset or your worst enemy. It depends on how you use your precious time to write uninterrupted and become productive. That’s why I ask aspirants if they have an artist’s mentality — or the insanity to believe that even as they stare into the dark void of the unknown, their burning passion will guide them across yet another hurdle.
It’s a numbers game at best and you’ll burn through a pile of specs before one finally either sells or lands you a screenwriting assignment. This is why it’s so important to always have many projects in various stages of writing, development or the idea and pitching stage. The urgency we feel as writers for a read or to sell scripts is always pushed back by the reality of the film business and the bizarre amount of time it takes for anything to happen. Any movement on your projects will always take longer than you ever expected. A career will probably take many years to forge. This is why you never want to stake your future on just one project because the odds selling anything are rare. You don’t need to put yourself in a the horrible position where you need to sell a script to get you out of debt or to save you from a day job that you hate.
As you travel on your screenwriting journey, the image that you project is extremely important and you should keep up an image of success. You do this by being busy and creating a solid body of material to show prospective agents, managers, producers and executives that you are a work horse with something to offer. Never give them a chance to think of you as a diva who believes he or she is God’s gift to cinema. It’s the team player and collaborator who always works again. The pain in the ass gets branded as “difficult” and wonders why the work has dried up.
Also remember, after you finish your spec screenplay, unleashing it upon Hollywood becomes the most important driving force in your life — unfortunately unless it’s an assignment job where the producer is waiting for you to deliver the project, no one cares. They just don’t give a sh*t. I’m not being cynical, just honest. You’re now part of the other 50,000 scripts registered at the Writers Guild every year and without representation, you too must figure a way to catapult it over the wall and into someone’s compound for a read. This entire process of writing, rewriting, to finding representation takes a long time and requires tremendous patience. Especially if you’re working a day job you hate and you see your script as your way out and into the life of a working screenwriter. I don’t suggest putting this kind of heavy pressure on yourself, as it will make you stressed and even more impatient.
It’s a long road to becoming a working screenwriter and forging a career usually doesn’t happen overnight. My personal journey took me six years after film school to secure my first professional writing job and seven years until my fifth spec sold and was produced. I talk about this, my start in the film business, and details about my new screenwriting book on the fantastic new podcast Eclipse the Script. If you are in this for the long haul, it will require tremendous patience. Even becoming a better writer does not happen overnight and requires you to continually write, learn and create projects that you will sadly discover will ultimately never sell. It also helps once reach a professional plateau not to become lazy. Always push yourself out of your comfort zone as this is the only place where growth happens.
Make sure before you start your journey, that you ask yourself the honest questions about why you’re screenwriting. Prepare to meet the challenges that will come your way on your journey as a screenwriter. They will be a series of failures and mistakes, triumphs, and little successes that when added up will open a door that hopefully leads to a steady career as a working screenwriter in Hollywood. The process will be long and difficult, but if you have patience, you do the work necessary and respect for the mountain you’re climbing, you’ll focus more on your love for the craft and not the urgency of success.
Keep filling your blank pages and keep the faith.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.
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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.
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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