“How do the pros do it?” is probably the number one question that new screenwriters ask themselves. The thing about pro screenwriters is that they’re busy…writing. So, it’s always nice when we get to hear from one directly.
In a video from Mark Sanderson, aka Scriptcat, he breaks down some of his favorite screenwriting tips, tricks, and tactics from his career in entertainment. Check it out below:
Full disclosure: this video seems to have been shot on an iPhone, so the audio isn’t great. Also, about 60% of it is Mark plugging his new book. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything! Let’s jump in:
1. Don’t Be Desperate
If you work a 9-5, you go to work for 8 hours, come home at the end of the day, and get paid every two weeks. It’s always the same and it’s always reliable. That’s why most people get a normal job.
Screenwriting is not like a normal job. When you’re a screenwriter, you’ll have periods of intense activity, followed by stretches of relative quiet. And sometimes, that quiet period can start to weigh you down.
“Did they forget about me? Am I still good? Will I ever work again?” These are common questions of self-doubt that screenwriters ask themselves all the time, and they’re totally normal. The key is not to let your self-doubt govern your actions. Remember: you’re the writer, the idea generator, the creator. They can’t do it without you.
2. Contests Aren’t Everything
A lot of aspiring screenwriters get caught up in the contest game. Submitting your work to contests can be a good form of validation, but you don’t want to be a professional contest-submitter. You want to be a professional screenwriter. Focus on your craft and don’t put too much stock in contests. As we laid out in our in-depth article about screenwriting contests, most of them aren’t worth your time or money.
When it comes to contests, you don’t know who’s reading your work, you don’t get any guarantees of a career even if you win, and you don’t have the opportunity to meet your fellow contestants. So, what exactly do you gain? You’ll get much more out of moving to (or visiting) LA and building a network of like-minded creatives.
3. Production Is The Goal
“Development Hell” is a commonly heard term, but its meaning may not be immediately apparent. Basically, development hell is when a script gets notes from executives, directors, other writers, producers, etc., and then has to go through them all over again (and again) for whatever reason...usually when there’s a regime change at the studio or when a new director is hired to replace the old director. Suddenly, the script needs to go in a different direction, which means they’re going to ask you for yet another rewrite.
Are you getting paid to do those rewrites? If the answer's yes, then, by all means, stick with it. More likely, you’re being asked to do them for free. In that case…it’s time to de-prioritize. Scripts that wind up in development hell stand a much smaller chance of ever getting made. As Sanderson notes in the video, your goal is not to go into development. Your goal is to get your script made into a movie.
What's next? How Do You Write a Nuclear Disaster (In a Good Way)?
Hopefully, you’ve learned a lot from these tips, and you’re ready to take them with you out into the world of screenwriting. If you’re looking for more, check out our takeaways from Craig Mazin’s interview about writing Chernobyl.
Now go write something great!