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

April 28, 2018 § Leave a comment

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

TIP #1: 

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

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

TIP #2: 

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

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

TIP #3:

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

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

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.

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

 

 

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

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Click the photo above for the link to the webinar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working.”—Michael Crichton
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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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Did you just complete your latest magnum opus? Time for in-depth screenplay consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website for more information.

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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

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

The myth of “making it” in Hollywood…

January 7, 2018 § 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptcat out!

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

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

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

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

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

“This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.”—Rod Serling

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

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

“Starting tonight, every night in your life before you go to sleep, read at least one poem by anyone you choose. Poetry and motion pictures are twins.”—Ray Bradbury

 

 

 

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.

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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 romanticized image of a working screenwriter Vol. 2…

October 26, 2017 § 1 Comment

script page and keyboard copyI 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.

PILE OF SCRIPTSThis 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.

handshake cartoonSometimes 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.

Scriptcat out!

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

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

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

 

 

 

“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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, you sold a screenplay, but will you survive the long march through development hell?

July 30, 2017 § Leave a comment

the march of development hellMaybe 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.

rewritesOne 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.

FADE INI 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.

Scriptcat out!

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

Subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenwriting videos.

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

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Do you need help navigating your daily pursuit of a screenwriting career? Check out my new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” now available on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years of working professionally in Hollwyood and shares my tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve used to keep in the game. Click on the book cover for the link.

 

 

 

 

Need inspiration with your morning cup of java? Check out my new COFFEE RING CARTOONS merchandise for screenwriters now available at my online store.  Click on the photo below for the link to see the new designs.

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