We’re off on a new journey and I hope you’ve created opportunities that have pushed your screenplays closer to success. Trust me, I know if can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall hoping for a breakthrough, but finding the same results of rejection and criticism. I truly hope you’re busy creating a solid body of work and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey. I hope that I’ve been able to offer a few nuggets of advice that you’ve found helpful. In addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), my Youtube Channel.
I’ll be posting new tips here every month in addition to new articles. Dig in as I’ve written over 180 articles on this blog. I’m also broadcasting live on the new app PERISCOPE. Check it out. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting. Okay, let’s cut to the chase and get right to the action—here are a few more useful survival tips for your journey…
Act like a professional even if you’re an aspirant writing your specs. As a screenwriter, you must consider writing a job and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional. As with any job, it comes with deadlines, requirements and expectations, so it’s good practice to follow professional disciplines as you prepare for the time when you do get paid to write. If you train yourself to work under a deadline, it’s not a shock when the producer requires you to complete a script by a certain date. It’s no longer the romanticized dream of spending endless time working on your spec to get it just right—it’s “go time” and you’re now playing in the big leagues—exactly where you belong. The producer or executive expects greatness from you and you generally have six to eight weeks to deliver the first draft and its excellence will decide if they keep you on to write a second draft, or fire you. This is not the time for a “vomit draft.” If you start meeting your own deadlines when writing your specs, it will be easier later when they pay you under contract to meet a deadline.
Don’t take criticism personally and realize that it’s part of the process. If you’re going to play in the majors, you’re competing with the best and you must accept that sometimes you won’t find the validation you need. Many times feedback on your script is disappointing and your high expectations become squashed. Your ego’s bruised, beaten to a pulp and you to doubt your talent and chances for success. Don’t take it personally, because feedback is a rite of passage necessary for the growth of any aspiring screenwriter. If you want to survive over the long haul of a career, you’ll need to toughen up and build your courage to endure disappointment criticism and rejection. Learn how to filter the good notes from the bad and ugly notes. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps make your script better, helps push it closer to something a producer wants to produce, and teaches you how to collaborate as a team player so you can work again.
You’ll learn the longer you pursue a screenwriting career that talk is cheap in Hollywood and people want credit for their good intentions. Too many times the words are empty promises that end up wasting an eager and hungry writer’s time. Money makes it real. Take everything as face value for talk is the cheapest commodity in Hollywood. Many times interest in you or your script and the endless talk is just that—interest and talk. Many times meetings are just meetings. Many times a producer’s upbeat attitude about your project can become infectious. You want to believe that others see your dream and can realize it. Why not? It’s what keeps us going as screenwriters—belief in our projects and the faith that success is just around the corner. I’m sure when producers and executives tell you that your project is going into production, they just might believe it themselves, but sometimes they tell a writer this to buy more free time. Producers want to keep a writer’s interest in hanging on until they “work out the pesky financing details” and it becomes the bait for more free work. If they can’t raise the money for the budget or they have no money in their development budget, there really is no money to pay the writer. Be understanding to a certain point and look at every situation through a risk/benefit filter. Are you willing to risk your free time with free rewrites on the possible chance a project “might” get produced? Get excited when a producer gives you a contract, you both sign it and you get paid. That’s the professional way—otherwise, you can’t live on the currency of good intentions. Now get back to your blank pages. If you stop writing you’re guaranteed never to have any chance at success.
STOP MICROMANAGING YOUR SCREENWRITING!
This leads to overwriting your script. What should be a 105 page screenplay is now 125 pages and you wonder why.
You might be asking, “What do you mean by micromanaging?”Here is a Top 10 Checklist to see if you’re guilty of this:
- You describe every action detail between the lines of dialogue. The fewer words on the page the better. Leave the specific character’s business up to the actor unless it’s absolutely necessary to move the story forward.
- You’re TELLING and not SHOWING in your writing: “It was a hot summer day like the ones you remember as a child.” How do you SHOW this?
- You’re directing the character’s actions with too many details: Frank rolls his eyes, shrugs, smiles, blushes, folds arms, grits teeth, scowls and drops his head. It’s Bad Acting 101 and actors will hate this from the writer.
- You describe every “turn” the character makes. It’s assumed characters are talking to each other unless to write otherwise. You don’t need to constantly write “Frank turns to Kate.”
- You’re using idioms: “Lisa was over the moon by the performance.” No. She wasn’t literally “over the moon” so don’t write it. Screenwriting is only what we can see and hear on the screen.
- Don’t repeat phrases or words in dialogue between characters. You’re not David Mamet, so don’t waste space by writing, “Are we going? Yeah we’re going. Okay, when are we going? We’re going now.”
- Don’t write what a character is thinking: “Henry was sad as the remembered the good times with his wife.” You have to show this visually and not TELL us.
- You write WE SEE and WE HEAR in your descriptions. Leave this out of your screenplay. It takes us out of the read and you are directing as this point. What you write on the page is what “we see or hear.”
- You describe the set with too many unnecessary details: The living room had green shag carpet, paisley wallpaper and a giant crystal chandelier. Unless it’s necessary let the set designer and art director do their jobs.
- You’re writing eight pages of dialogue. Sure, Quentin Tarrantino can get away with opening a film with ten pages of dialogue–you and I cannot. Most of the time the dialogue can be cut and then cut again by fifty percent.
Keep writing and filling your pages because if you stop—you’re guaranteed to never have any shot at success. This is a business with no guarantees even when you do sell a screenplay.
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“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?” ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
“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
“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
“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