The ten warning signs you’re still a screenwriting aspirant…

January 1, 2016 § 1 Comment

The_EndOkay, it’s one thing to finish a screenplay and another to understand the complexities of how it fits into forging a career or what I call “the bigger picture.” Sure, a completed screenplay is an accomplishment to be celebrated, but you have to realize it’s only the beginning of a long journey. If you’ve completed a few screenplays, congratulations. Now get back to work because it’s always going to be about the work. Writing the perfect screenplay is elusive at best, but we can still try, right? Every time out is a chance to get better and learn while you build your screenwriting arsenal.

If also you lack humility on this adventure and think it’s an easy road, the film business will humble you and fast. According to the 2015 Scoggins Report only 93 spec screenplays solid in 2015. Also there are approximately 50,000 scripts bouncing around Hollywood every year and half of the Writers Guild doesn’t report any income and those are writers with professional credits.

Consider your first screenplay as a training tool and one of many that you’ll have to write badly to get to a place where you’re writing at a professional level to compete. Specs usually end up being your calling card instead of a million dollar sale. Also realize now that everything you write is not going to sell. It might take ten scripts and four drafts of each to have one open the door for a job.

hollywood boulevardThe pursuit of a Hollywood screenwriting career, especially in today’s film business, is not for the thin of skin or for anyone looking to achieve easy fame and fortune. I wish you the best of luck if that’s your intention. There are better careers that pay more on a regular basis instead of going from script to script with many never getting produced or you paid. Honestly, no one cares who wrote the screenplay when they see a film at the multiplex. They’re going to see the stars or the story and hopefully your name is still on the end product and you haven’t been fired or have to share credit.

If you’re calling yourself a screenwriter but without credits, do you have four or five solid screenplays written, other pitches, one sheets, or treatments and have you done the training necessary to compete? Professionalism is an attitude, work ethic and discipline that shows you are serious about your screenwriting even if you haven’t sold anything yet.

Time to check the list…

THE TEN WARNING SIGNS YOU’RE STILL AN ASPIRANT:

1 . You don’t spend the time necessary to become a better screenwriter because you still believe it’s easy to establish a career.

2.  You’re writing beyond your ability at this point in your screenwriting journey because you want to sell a Hollywood tent-pole before you’re ready.

3. Your writing is only a rehash of what you’ve seen before in movies and on television and not something unique to your voice.

4. You lack the patience to master your craft and want success to come fast without sacrifice.

5. You’re not open to notes, you’re defensive about criticism on your screenplay and bristle at the suggestion of cutting anything. You have not learned how to be a collaborator and team player with professionals.

6. You haven’t accepted it’s a long haul journey to reach any level of success in the film business and believe it’s going to be different for you because you are the “chosen one”– it’s just that Hollywood hasn’t chosen you yet.

7. You don’t learn from your mistakes and you’re doomed to repeat them.

8. You constantly bemoan, “The producers, executives and agents don’t know what they’re talking about. I see the movies out there and I can do better.” If so, why haven’t you sold anything?

9. You feel entitled to success just because you’ve completed a script and expect Hollywood to grant you a big sale and a career.

10. You do more talking about your “writing” than actually writing.

If you’re guilty of any of the signs on this list, consider making immediate changes to your attitude and game plan. Hollywood is filled with screenwriters and the odds of establishing a career and being paid regularly are horrible, but it does happen. Respect the craft and the journey because that’s what professionals do and you don’t want to be stuck aspiring for success.

Scriptcat out!

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“Don’t focus on where you’re not (famous or A-list writer)—focus on where you’re at—hopefully screenwriting. Regardless of success or experience, we’re all equals in front of that blank page channeling the muse.”—Scriptcat

“‘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

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

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

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On your first screenplays don’t tackle stories beyond your ability…

December 28, 2015 § 1 Comment

smash head in wallMy real world advice to beginning screenwriters is… don’t write stories that are beyond your capacity at this point on your journey. You must be aware of your screenwriting ability and accept what you can and cannot write at this time. I find that too many beginning writers try and go after the massive budget Hollywood tent-pole story ideas for their first screenplays with the hopes to compete against A-list Hollywood writers. It’s a huge waste of time and energy as the studios already have proven A-listers who have box office mega hits and the credits to write the movies that we generally see in the multiplexes. All of the super hero movies are assignment jobs from ideas and franchises the studio already owns. And when 50,000 scripts bounce around Hollywood every year with only under 100 spec sales at the studio level, the odds are horrible for a sale.

When writing specs, I try to persuade beginning screenwriters to write something smaller in scope with regards to story. When beginners work on their first or second screenplays, they are still learning the craft as they go and also forging their own unique style. It takes at least four or five scripts to hit your groove and really understand your strengths and weaknesses as a screenwriter. As you’re becoming a better screenwriter by writing bad specs, making mistakes and learning how to execute notes, you can’t focus on competing with the A-listers with scripts that are basically learning tools. Early on in every screenwriter’s journey we’re still discovering our identity and ability as screenwriters. We need that precious time to learn our craft. When you’re finally writing at a professional level only then can you write something more challenging and stretch your abilities.

script page and keyboardWhen starting on your first screenplays, I suggest writing more personal stories. I hate to use this cliché, but focus on character driven stories where you can really showcase your talent for creating relationships between people. Every story that you write should be driven by characters, but some stories end up being more focused on plot. Yes, structure and story are equally important, but if you can’t create memorable and unique characters that can interact you will be lost. Showcase your talents with your passion for a story and let it show though on the page. If you’re chasing the big budget tent-pole ideas you’ll probably be fabricating characters, tropes and stories that feel inauthentic because they’re only a rehash of other movies that you’ve seen.

If you write a story about an FBI agent who deals with a serial killer, did you do research on serial killers or FBI agents, bureau procedures, and how agents think and talk? Did your research include reading books or interviewing an FBI agent? My point about authenticity is that without extensive research or living in the characters minds, the scripts and stories will feel inauthentic because the experiences are drawn from other movies or TV shows the writer has seen before. This perpetuates clichés and keeps them alive.

I’m talking about spec screenplays and not assignment jobs—they’re a completely different experience. When you work on assignment, you must please producers or executives who must please their bosses at the studio or network, or please the buyer, or the investor, and even the director must please the producer to create a commercial product on schedule and on budget. Filmmaking is a business first and millions of dollars is on the line with every project.

When writing specs, try to pick stories that can showcase the best of your writing abilities with story structure and equally as important, character development, motivation and emotion. Too many times I read specs that feel inauthentic like they are just rehashing “Hollywood” scenes that the writer only knows from movies and not from real life. Inject your personal life and experiences into your stories to make them unique. If you want to say something or cause people to think, write a personal story and strive to make the emotions leap off the page. This is what will attract talent and move the script forward more than you just trying to roll the dice and hope Hollywood wants another movie about a super hero or alien. Again, I’m talking about specs from unknown screenwriters with no credits—and that’s most of the writers trying to break into Hollywood.

You usually get one chance to dazzle them with your script, so you must be writing at a professional level with a solid screenplay to compete. Anything less is a waste of everyone’s time. You also must have the patience to weather the long haul journey while you’re learning your craft and getting muddy as you slog it out in Hollywood’s trenches. They will be filled with rejection, criticism and failure, but it’s all part of the process. Patience helps, but if you can’t accept this reality, your frustration and anger will spoil any splendid dreams of a career.

What separates those aspirants who see screenwriting as an easy way to fame and fortune from those writers who have a professional mindset? It’s a respect for the difficulty of writing, the discipline to create the necessary work, and going after dreams even in the face of the incredible odds to reach any level of success. Keep true to yourself and always write with a passion for your work, but when first staring out keep it simple and don’t tackle stories beyond your ability.

Scriptcat out!

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

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

“Then our writers when they have made some money increase their standard of living and they are caught. They have to write to keep up their establishments, their wives, and so on, and they write slop. It is slop not on purpose but because it is hurried. Because they write when there is nothing to say or no water in the well. Because they are ambitious. Then, once they have betrayed themselves, they justify it and you get more slop.”—Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa, page 23.

“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

“Just do the best you can every time.  And if you’re going to stay in the movies, and you like movies—and I love them—you’d better love them a lot, because it’s going to take all of your time.  If you want to be in the movies, it’s going to break your heart.”—Richard Brooks

When you start a movie script, it’s like entering a dark room: You may find your way around all right, but you also may fall over a piece of furniture and break your neck. Some of us can see a little better than others in the dark, but there is no guaranteeing the audience’s reaction.”—Billy Wilder

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You’ll need multiple projects in the marketplace at all times for any chance at success…

March 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

a projects journeyIt’s a numbers game at best. Consider the odds of selling a spec screenplay the same as winning the lottery if you believe the numbers—nearly 40,000 projects bounce around Hollywood each year with just over 100 specs selling at the studio level most years. Hollywood released  728 movies in theaters domestically in 2016. Only 42 spec sold as of September 2016. Don’t forget about the thousands of films without distribution that end up competing at film festivals every year with only a handful landing deals. Ah, don’t forget about the hundreds of pitches that don’t sell and the fact that the WGA 2016 employment report listed only 5,159 professional writers reporting income in 2016 (Ends June 2016). They’re worse because they struggle out there in the ether with the producer or executive debating if the writer can deliver the goods as pitched.

Yes, I also hate learning about the odds, but it’s a reality that must be considered so you know the mountain that you must climb with every new screenplay. It also makes you humble knowing it’s not going to be easy. This is an example of why you must have multiple projects, pitches and treatments in the marketplace at any given time for chance that one might—and I stress might—find interest and move farther down the playing field. And talk is cheap in Hollywood, so add that to the journey of your projects when producers or executives head their praise on your talents and your screenplay, but string you along with offers of free work as they dangle the carrot of production. Interest, even when you receive a payday, doesn’t always guarantee your film goes on to being a produced film. Sure, money makes their interest real, but your project still must jump over hurdles that are out of your control.

  • An option for little money doesn’t end up with the purchase of the script.
  • A script is purchased, the writer is fired, and it’s rewritten so many times it languishes in development hell and never gets produced.
  • A script is close to being financed when suddenly the investors pullout, the producer loses the money and the star as a result.
  • A project is put on hold because of scheduling conflicts.
  • A project isn’t produced due to changing global marketplace factors. It’s cheaper NOT to make the film than take a risk.

Each project you create will have a shelf life and travel on its own unique journey to either failure or success. Sometimes a spec that didn’t sell two years ago can find a new home, but it’s a long haul journey for any project to find a producer or executive who likes it enough to move forward in some way. The project must also survive the dicey minefield of the development process and with luck, move into production. Even when a film is produced, there still is no guarantee of success either. How many films considered a “guaranteed hit” end up a bomb at the box office? It happens every weekend. As you see there are many hurdles that are out of a screenwriter’s control, but the one thing in your control is creating a solid body of work and putting it in the pipeline with the goal of having one move forward down the field to production. This is why you can’t be a “one script wonder” and burn out after a few drafts of your first screenplay.

poor screenwriterI just completed my 31st overall screenplay that is my 15th paid assignment and it’s still hard work and humbling. One of the hardest lessons that I had to learn when I finally started being paid to write screenplays was that not every project that I wrote was going to be produced. Many projects that I was hired to write ended up in development hell, not from anything I did, but because of a variety of circumstances out of my control. These projects remain viable with production ready drafts, but might never get off the shelf and into production. That’s okay. Take your lumps and move onto generating your next logline, pitch or treatment and hopefully another job.

Never forget that Hollywood is a business and screenwriting is a profession with the same dilemmas of other jobs. Your goal is staying in the game and being hired again and again to write screenplays to establish a career. It may take writing a half-dozen projects for one to finally sell or get you assignment work, but every new script is a new opportunity or a missed opportunity–it depends on how you play it. The other harsh reality is that you will need plenty of time to master your craft and be writing at a professional level with at least four or five solid projects that can be out in the marketplace competing with the thousands of others. This is why I stress the practice of patience during this period of your journey. I find many beginning screenwriters are too eager to sell their first script for a million dollars—like it’s just that easy. It’s not just that easy. And you need to respect your craft and practice it every day. You’ll need the time to fail and write badly before you can become an excellent screenwriter, execute notes and work on a schedule under pressure. You don’t want a yellow belt in screenwriting—you want to achieve a Grand Master 4th degree Black Belt—and to do this you’ll need to train by writing every day.

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The only way you’ll be able to do this is to keep to a tight writing schedule. You’ll need to protect your precious writing time from distraction and procrastination. Stephen King calls it “closing your door.” When your door is closed, it means that you are writing. You have to take your career seriously and become a master at scheduling your time. If you dabble at your career, time becomes your enemy, it passes quickly while projects burn out and life gets in the way of your most splendid screenwriting dreams. If you keep the pipeline always filled with your best work you will create opportunities and have a shot at success. If your body of work includes feature-length original screenplays and if they don’t sell, the scripts can become solid writing samples that can get you assignment work.  If you want to work in television, your body of work should include your original TV pilots to show an agent, manager, producer or executive your unique voice. It used to be that you needed to write a spec episode of an existing series, but now agents and managers look for original material to get a handle on the writer’s talent and unique voice. And for both feature films and TV continue to craft your pitches for ideas that you want to write.

If you have a solid body of work and you’re always creating new projects, you will be more attractive to an agent or manager as they can see you are not a “one script wonder” but a workhorse. They don’t like divas and love writers who write and create the product. As you build up your projects, you’ll be working on your craft and becoming a better screenwriter in the process. And as it’s extremely difficult to sell a project, you’ll want to increase your odds by unleashing solid projects into the pipeline so you can attack a career on different fronts. Eventually one script will slip through and stick and it will jump-start your screenwriting career.

Keep writing because if you stop—you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

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

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A SCREENWRITER’S CHECKLIST Part 1 & 2

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“In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me.”—Kurt Vonnegut

“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

“Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard. When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.”—Florida State University’s Anders Ericsson

“The 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

“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

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Scriptcat’s Top 10 Disciplines to Being a Professional Once You Sell the Script……

February 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

handshake cartoonOkay, you finally have some interest in your screenplay, perhaps an option or maybe a sale. Congrats! Now the real work begins. It’s one thing to write your spec in a protected bubble, where every idea is yours and you never have to change a word—now you’re thrust into the professional world of screenwriting. This is not the amateur hour and not the time to act like an aspirant. You’ve been granted entrance behind the gates and  just graduated into the big leagues, so your attitude and actions must follow. Even if  you’ve never sold anything yet, you should always act like a professional. Okay, you sell a project and there is interest in your talents, that is an amazing start, but never believe you are Hollywood’s new gift to screenwriting—you aren’t and there are thousands, possibly ten of thousands of other writers, equally as talented, more driven to success, who are not divas and can get the job done.

poor slobIt is a fickle business where years can pass between jobs, writers are “hot” and then not, and life can get in the way and derail even the best attempts at a career. Hollywood owes you nothing, so respect the journey or the business will humble you. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned on my fifteen plus years as a professional screenwriter. It’s such a competitive business with the odds stacked against you even before you start your next script, but if you always act as a professional, your reputation will definitely help you before and finally when you do land an opportunity. I’ve experienced it over a dozen times with jobs, and I’m sure it is what has helped me secure my assignment jobs over other writers. Yes, talent is very important, that is a given, but the ability to craft a really good first draft, execute notes, being a team player and collaborator, all of these professional actions can mean the difference between securing a job or not. I’ve been on the short list many times for projects, and I’ve secured the jobs because I can show the producers that I care and they can trust me. This is how you get hired again and again—that’s called a career. Remember, luck is a prepared screenwriter who meets with an opportunity and knocks it out of the park. Here is my TOP 10 list to help you stay in the game as a professional after you have sold a script:

1. Always deliver your best work, every time, regardless of your salary. You’ll probably make very little money at the start, but always look at the bigger picture—a long and successful career.

2. Be the writer/collaborator whom they trust to execute the notes and get the job done.

3. Never be late for meetings. Ever. They are late and make you wait, don’t you do the same.

4. Don’t be precious with your screenplay. Never get testy about script notes or show your anger. A “team player” works again. Remember, no scene or dialogue is wroth losing a job over. Trust me.

5. Go the extra mile on the project and clearly show them how invaluable you are to the producers.

6. If you haven’t trained enough or built up the ability—pay close attention to all details. So many things slip through the cracks, it’s your job to make sure to point every one out for the sake of the film. They will appreciate you for it.

7. Become a repository of knowledge about the script for the director, producer and actors. Help them make the film and offer any support you can to make their job easier. You have lived and breathed it more than they will ever do and it came out of your head so you’re the expert.

8. Always turn in your work on schedule or early. You want to build your professional reputation as someone the producers can trust.

9. Be fun to work with on projects. Your unique personality will go far and if you’re fun to be around, people will remember your positive characteristic. Nobody likes to work with a diva or A-hole.

10. Be humble and know that we all are just traveling from job to job. The work you do now is going to pay off over the long haul for your career, so always keep the bigger picture in mind and do everything you can now to build a solid foundation for success.

Being a professional doesn’t only mean that you’re getting paid to do your craft, it means you always follow the code of a professional in a business where time is money and they don’t put up with divas. You’ll always find opportunities to build your reputation and integrity as a professional screenwriter.  It will take some time to build up a solid reputation, but it’s vital if you want longevity in this business. Every new project is a chance to build new relationships and show the producers and executives they can trust you by being a person of your word.  If you promise to do something—do it.  It’s really that easy.  Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you and that your word means something.  It’s part of being a professional in all aspects of your career and you will attract those by the way you act. Keep filling your blank pages because if you stop… you’ll never have a shot at any level of success. @Scriptcat out!

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

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

“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling

“People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich.”—William Faulkne

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

 

Scriptcat’s 3 strategic screenwriting survival tips for your journey…

January 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

script revision photo copyIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, first of all—THANK YOU!  I truly hope you’re busy creating and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey and you’ve been able to take away a few nuggets of advice that helped. 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 in the various articles on this blog, but this feature will be a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate your screenwriting journey. Download my new free app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp—includes tips from my upcoming book with a hopeful spring 2015 publishing date. So, in addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), I’ll be posting new ones here from time to time.  Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting!

Did you reach your screenwriting goals in 2015? No? Okay, maybe these tips will help on this new year’s journey…

TIP #1        NOTHING PERSONAL, BUT NO ONE CARES!

The longer you slug it out in Hollywood’s trenches, you’ll learn that it’s important not to expect anything from the film business. Never expect anyone to love your screenplay as much as you do—that goes for your agent, manager or producer. And don’t expect anyone to care about your career as much a you do. It’s your responsibility to steer your career in a direction that you want. If you go into this business with eyes wide and your head in the clouds believing that success will be easy, you’ll soon be crushed by the reality of feedback.  As Lao Tzu wrote: “Act without expectation.” It’s a good philosophy to follow on the long haul journey to any level of screenwriting success.

TIP #2       YOUR TIME IS PRECIOUS & WORTH MONEY!

And what about time? You don’t get it back on your deathbed. It’s your greatest asset or your worst enemy. It depends on how you use your precious time to create a solid body of work and continue to become a better screenwriter. That’s why I ask if you have an artist’s mentality — or the insanity to believe that even as you stare into the dark void of the unknown, your burning passion will guide you across yet another hurdle. You’ll need to withstand continued rejection, criticism, failure, and even sometimes ridicule — and if you can remain strong and shout with confidence, “I am a screenwriter” and truly believe it, because you are doing the work. Sacrificing the time to create a solid body of work and not just talking about what you’d like to be doing.

TIP #3       DEADLINES, DEADLINES, DEADLINES… 

If you want to eventually work professionally, as I’m sure is your goal, you will need to work efficiently under a deadline, and at the best of your ability. It’s basically working quickly at the best of your creativity on a schedule and under a deadline. The only way to train for this is to always set your own deadlines and meet them every time with your spec screenplays. If you’re not practicing working under a strict writing schedule now, I’d suggest starting it on your next project. Write the same time every day, make your page count and get the job done. When you do land a screenwriting job, you don’t want to be without this vital ability and experience and then struggle to finish your new paid job under a deadline.

BONUS TIP!  

reading guy You may write a half-dozen specs that don’t sell before one of them secures you an assignment job from a producer or studio. Keep writing and finding your unique voice, keep mastering your craft, and really think about why you are writing your spec. What you write about is as important as how you write it.   You never know the perils that await you on your pathway to success, but the road is definitely paved with your spec screenplays—it just might take a half-dozen or more.

Keep the faith and filling your blank pages because if you stop you’re guaranteed never to have any shot at success.

@Scriptcat out!

Dig my new screenwriting app SCREENWRITING GURU — now free from Yapp. Weekly script tips, video tips, and links to my social media pages with valuable information for your journey.

Visit and subscribe to my new YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly screenplay videos.

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

Screenplay consultation services

Having a hard time reaching your screenwriting goals? Maybe my on-demand webinar can help. Check out “A Screenwriter’s Checklist: 10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game” now available in two parts, each $14.99 and available for streaming access rental. Click on the photo below for the link to the website.

checklist 2

Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

“We all have the tendency to want to take the quickest, easiest path to our goals, but we generally manage to control our impatience; we understand the superior value of getting what we want through hard work. For some people, however, this inveterate lazy streak is far too powerful.”—Robert Greene, “Mastery”

“If a writer stops observing, he is finished.”—Ernest Hemingway

“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling

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

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

“Luck is a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity and delivers the goods.”—Scriptcat

A screenwriter’s year-end checklist: Do you have a game plan to hit the ground running in 2016?

December 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

Completing your screenplayWho can believe 2015 is history? The new year is off to a roaring start and there is no time to look back with regrets. It is the time to critically analyze the good, the bad and the ugly choices we’ve made. Hopefully, we’ve learned from your failures and enjoyed our successes. Excuses abound, but what really matters is how productive have you been? Is there room for improvement? We must always adapt to survive 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?

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 to go 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. tumblr_lje93woH531qfs5byo1_400Too 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?  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. Boulder FlatChoose 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 have 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. script oddsTrust 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 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 only 4,899 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 busy for me and I’ve pushed various projects down the field to production. In the last twelve months, I’ve had two films go into production. Late last year it was my twelfth screenwriting assignment, “Mother of All Lies” that was my seventh produced film and it premiered on television and is distributed globally. And my eighth produced film wrapped late last year and will premiere in the next few months. I also was hired to write a sitcom pilot for a producer, completed the first season of a new web series that is out to financiers, finished editing my new book on surviving in Hollywood’s trenches coming in the spring on Amazon, and this blog hit over 51,000 reads last year alone. I also created a new free app for screenwriters called SCREENWRITING GURU, I taught my new workshop in Rome last spring to Italian screenwriters, and continued to expand my screenwriting consulting business.

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 the year is nearly over, grab a piece of paper and if you haven’t yet, set up a game plan for 2016.  Hit the ground running 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. Ask yourself the hard questions: “Why are you writing this particular spec and will it serve you in the best way possible to create opportunities and open doors?”

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 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.

3)  Make a list of your achievements in 2015. 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 production or take an internship. List anything that shows you are working toward to your goals.

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: “First of the year—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. Also check in every few months if you have a new project to let them know what you are up to. Don’t pester them, but do keep yourself on their radar.

5)  If you haven’t yet, start attending or attend more networking events in the new year. Be 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. Check out Stage 32.com also and sign up for free. Get out of your writing cave and meet other screenwriters and network.  Take advice from my dear friend, actor Rawle D. Lewis (Cool Runnings) who talks about “Paying it forward” (click on the title) with regards to networking. Help 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)  Do your homework. 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.” 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.

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 is your responsibility. You chose this dream so don’t expect others to hold your journey in the same regard as you do. It also doesn’t just mean focusing on writing your latest spec and ignoring the business side of your pursuit. 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.

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 into 2016 and may it be the best year ever. The key is staying in the game. Scriptcat out!

Download my new free app SCREENWRITING GURU from Yapp. Weekly script tips, videos, and links.

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

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. Hit the ground running in the New Year with a solid project.

Screenplay consultation services

Having trouble with your screenwriting goals? Check out my on-demand webinar “A Screenwriter’s Checklist: 10 Questions Every Screenwriter Must Answer to Stay in the Game” now available for streaming rental. The two part webinar is $14.99 each and click on the photo below for the link to the website for a preview.

checklist 2

Click the photo for the link to the webinar.

“Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard. When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.”—Florida State University’s Anders Ericsson

“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

“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling

“People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich.”—William Faulkner

“If you’re worried about failing, you ought to get into a different business, because statistics will tell you that sixty or seventy percent of the time you’re going to fail.  By fail I mean that the movie won’t make money.  Just do the best you can every time.  And if you’re going to stay in the movies, and you like movies—and I love them—you’d better love them a lot, because it’s going to take all of your time.  If you want to be in the movies, it’s going to break your heart.”—Richard Brooks, director of Blackboard Jungle, Sweet Bird of Youth, In Cold Blood, Looking for Mr. Goodbar

Be patient, respect the challenges ahead, focus on your love of the craft and not the urgency for success…

November 16, 2014 § 1 Comment

BoulderFlatIf you’re just starting out writing screenplays or if you’ve been in the game for a few years, you will recognize it’s a long haul journey to reach any level of success in the film industry. One script will not launch your career and it may take five or six until you hit your stride with your ability to compete on a professional level. Even if you reach the point where you are working, there are no guarantees of any continued success—ever.

Are you willing to do what it takes and spend the time to craft a solid body of work to compete? Are you writing and learning to 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 endeavor. It’s your dream and you must be responsible for it. No one else can go after it for you. Being a screenwriter is not for the thin-skinned or for those looking for a shortcut to success. Ask yourself the honest questions about why you are pursuing a career in screenwriting. Realize that you must stay in the game over the long haul to have any shot at success. It’s a fool’s endeavor to seek fame and fortune, but if screenwriting is your life’s work and passion, you will find a way around any obstacles to succeed.

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

Iscript oddst’s a numbers game at best and you’ll burn through a pile of specs before one finally either sells or lands you a screenwriting assignment. This is why it’s so important to always have many projects in various stages of writing, development or the idea & 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. Here’s my advice on how to juggle a day job.

It’s a long road to becoming a working screenwriter and forging a career usually doesn’t happen overnight. My personal journey took six years out of film school until I secured my first professional writing job and eight years until my fifth spec went before the cameras. 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.

Your journey as a screenwriter will be a series of failures and mistakes, triumphs and little successes that when added up will hopefully lead to a steady career as a working screenwriter in Hollywood.  The process will be long and difficult, but if you have patience and accept the challenges ahead, you’ll focus more on your love for the craft and not the urgency of success.

Keep on filling your blank pages and keep your eye on the big picture.

@Scriptcat out!

Subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL for weekly video script tips, tricks and tactics to help you survive in the trenches.

Did you just completed your new screenplay?  Congrats! Time for in-depth consultation? Check out my screenplay consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information.

Screenplay consultation services

“No road is too long for him who advances slowly and does not hurry, and no attainment is beyond his reach who equips himself with patience to achieve it.” — Jean de La Bruyere

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

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

“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman

“If a writer stops observing, he is finished.”—Ernest Hemingway

The professional understands delayed gratification.  He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare… the professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that.  He recognizes it as reality. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep the huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

masater po

When you type “FADE OUT: THE END” — then it will be time for you to go…

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