Never disrespect the value of your first draft…

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I remember writing my first feature-length screenplay back in film school. I had a vague idea of the structure and got lost somewhere in the barren wasteland of ACT 2 and felt like I would never reach the end. Now, after writing a huge stack of screenplays, I have a better grasp on the process, but it’s always a new and different experience every time you type FADE IN. I respect the process more now as a working screenwriter and the romantic notions of “waiting for inspiration” have given way to the reality that screenwriting is a job with many of the same responsibilities that any job requires.   Early on, I thought screenwriting would be an easy experience, just sit down and write, and I was humbled every time by the enormity of the craft. I’m still learning, even after having sixteen films produced, writing thirty-nine feature length screenplays, and nine TV pilots.

screenplay feedback equal disappointmentDo not fool yourself into thinking your first draft has to be shit. It’s just the opposite—your first draft is extremely important because the DNA of your story and characters lives in this precious first pass. I love this quote from six time Academy Award nominee screenwriter Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?):

“Good screenwriting is about carpentry. It’s a juggling of beginnings, middles and endings so they all inevitably seem to be moving correctly together. Your first draft is dangerously important. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, ‘It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.’  Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve gone in another direction.”—Ernest Lehman.

It’s true. I know from experience that it’s difficult to totally rewrite a first draft from page one into something new. Sadly, too many times it ends up becoming a jumbled mess as the foundation of the story is being altered after it’s been built. My advice is to make your first draft your best possible work at the time you write it. Act as if you’ll never get another chance to touch the screenplay. That’s not to put extra pressure on you, but to train yourself now to turn out a superb first draft—not something you just vomit out. This will prepare you for the day when you’re hired professionally on assignment and have to deliver the goods with every draft. This pays off in many ways, most importantly when you’re working for a producer, and your solid first draft secures your job and makes for a smooth development process—not development hell.  A solid draft also moves the project forward by attracting the interest of investors, a director, and actors.

praise or blameMake sure your screenplay suffers the fewest amount of changes during the development process. Trust me, you don’t want your script to get bogged down in endless rewrites that could change your script into something completely different.  It’s hard to climb out of that pit and too many times projects die a tragic death from too many drafts over a long period.

I’m not suggesting that you agonize over every word, but treat your first draft with the seriousness and respect it deserves. A solid first draft will help with faster rewrites because you’re not reinventing story lines but doing more of a “clean up” job. You want to avoid situations where your first draft is shit, and you have to do a page one rewrite and throw out seventy-five percent of the work. This will throw off your writing schedule for sure. When you start working on paid screenwriting assignments, you will not have the luxury of turning in a crappy first draft. The producer or executive will expect the best possible draft that matches the accepted story outline. Anything less will endanger your chances of getting a chance at writing the second draft and staying on the project through production.

As I mentioned, avoid writing a “vomit” draft because you can use that precious time to actually work on a solid outline and write a faster and more effective first draft. Most of your vomiting stream of consciousness won’t probably keep and you’ll have a massive rewrite anyway. So, why not spend that important time on a solid outline before you start any pages? A sold first draft also helps lessen massive rewrites on the successive drafts. Good luck and keep screenwriting.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2020 by Mark Sanderson. All Rights Reserved. My Blank Page blog at http://www.scriptcat.wordress.com

And speaking of first drafts… before you go… if you just completed a new screenplay and need in-depth consultation, check out my screenplay consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. T

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CHECK OUT MY BOOK ON AMAZON with 31 FIVE STAR reviews (click on the book cover at the left).

It’s a long haul journey to reach any level of screenwriting success. 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.  It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

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
(Dawn Of The Planet of the Apes, War For The Planet of the Apes, The Batman)

“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
(Lost, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

“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, The Man From Hong Kong, 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, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

“Mark’s book starts off as an adventurous tale of a boy’s passion and love for the world of storytelling and this world effortlessly morphs into his accomplished career as a screenwriter. He shows how passion, perseverance, and hard work not only make an amazing screenwriter, but it also strengthens one’s character. Mark cleverly creates a great story out of his journey through the world of telling stories.”

Rawle D. Lewis, writer/actor/stand-up comic (actor Cool Runnings, Spy Hard, K-Pax, The Hybrids Family)

 

Check out my two hour seminar, “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood” now free on Youtube. Click on the icon below.

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Scriptcat’s end of the year checklist for screenwriters…

new opportunityWho can believe the year is almost over? It will be 2020 in a blink of an eye. It’s always a powerful tool to look back over the previous year and critically analyze the good, the bad, and the ugly choices you’ve made. Hopefully, you’ve learned from your failures and enjoyed your successes. Excuses abound, but what really matters is how productive have you been? Room for improvement? 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?

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.

Too many times, I’ve heard screenwriters blame others for their own missteps or lack of success in Hollywood. Some writers look for the quick and easy way to success, but end up frustrated when their one script doesn’t sell, they have no other plans and they are not working on new material. Sure, it’s easier to soften the blow to blame the agent, manager, producer, or Hollywood itself for not getting your film made, but screenwriters need to step up and take more control over their choices.

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 FlatAlways have a purpose in choosing your material. REMEMBER: What you write about is as important as how you execute it — and just because you write it doesn’t mean they have to buy it or 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 in a particular genre. 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. A writer with zero credits is still a writer without any produced films.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the odds are already stacked against you and time marches on so quickly. Only 6,057 WGA members reported any income last year and of those, 4,830 were in Television (annual report ending in June 2019) out of nearly 13,000 members. Check out the 2019 ANNUAL REPORT FROM THE WGA. 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, networking, building your unique voice, and casting your best scripts wide to the right players.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2This year was very busy for me with three paid assignments and two of the films go into production in the next few months. Screenwriters are also discovering and enjoying my book, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” with 23 FIVE STAR REVIEWS on Amazon. I also offered my master class seminar “Staying in the Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood,” and continued to expand my screenwriting consulting business. In fact, I’m offering a holiday special with $35 off any feature screenplay or TV pilot consultation package until Dec. 31st. Now is a perfect time to get your project ready for 2020.

 

IMG_2016So, it’s never too late, even though the year is nearly over, to grab a piece of paper and if you haven’t yet, set up a game plan for 2020.  Hit the ground running and achieve your goals every day of the week. Treat your screenwriting like a business—because 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?”

Here are seven steps in my checklist to prepare for the new year:

1)  SCREENPLAYS! 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? Do you have 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. It’s dangerous to be impatient and go out with a screenplay without having another solid project to back it up.

2)  ACHIEVEMENTS!  Make a list of your achievements in 2019. 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.

3)  SOLID CONTACTS! Make a list of any new contacts that you met by networking during the year. 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, instead of always asking for help, BE a good contact too. It’s not all one-sided.

4)  DEADLINES!  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.

5)  NETWORKING! If you haven’t yet, start attending networking events in the new year. Become a member of the International Screenwriter’s Association ( ISA ) for workshops, webinars and in person events in your area. Join Scriptwriter’s Network and they have seminars and meetups every month in Los Angeles. Network on Stage32.com and also Final Draft hosts meetups every month with known screenwriters and offers tips and many free networking events during the year. Get out of your writing cave and meet other screenwriters and network.  Help others and you will find they will help you.

6)  READ, READ, READ! 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 most were 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)  HOMEWORK! 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. A lot of vital information slips 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. 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. It’s always about the right project to the right producer at the right time. That’s why you stay in the game by continuing to write and get better. 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!”

All my best wishes for a glorious and successful new year that is a blank slate for you to fill as you wish.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2020 by Mark Sanderson. All Rights Reserved. My Blank Page blog.

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 photo below for the link to my website and more information.

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Check out my new interview on actor/producer John Lehr’s podcast where we talk about the journey of screenwriting in Hollywood. Click on photo below for Sound Cloud link.

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

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then.”—William Falukner

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”—William Falukner

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” —Lao Tzu

“Your screenwriting career is not a Dali-esque delusion, but the result of work, talent, focus, sacrifice, patience and luck. And we know that luck is a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity.”—Scriptcat