Five Questions You Must Answer to Survive Script Development

by Mark Sanderson on April 13, 2013

Okay, you’re a Screenwriter—but are you a Team Player?  You’ve probably written a handful of spec screenplays and enjoyed the process of having everything on the page be your vision, words and creative ideas. It’s truly a safe and protected bubble that will burst the moment you unleash your screenplay upon Hollywood. When your script moves on to the next level, you must prepare yourself for the development process. This is when the real work begins and your experience and attitude can determine if you’ll stay on the project or be fired.


During my fifteen years of professional screenwriting experience, I’ve learned the importance of being the team player during the development and production process. As a result, I’ve built important and lasting relationships with producers, executives and directors who have welcomed me to be part of the overall process. I’ve also been invited to every set of every movie that I’ve written and even traveled out of state and the country to work on production rewrites. This important collaboration was only possible because I built my reputation as a team player that gets the job done.


You’ll need to honestly answer these five important questions to honestly self-assess how you'll collaborate in the development process. If you can’t answer every one with a solid “yes” — then you have work to do.


#1:  Have you mastered the ability to take constructive criticism and professionally execute producer’s notes without griping and grimacing during the experience?


It’s not about you or your ego anymore—everyone is there to service the project and make the best film possible. You’ll stay on your projects as the screenwriter if you’re not a temperamental diva. I know the constant barrage of notes and changes can make you frustrated and angry. Avoid the temptation to go down a destructive pathway with these emotions. This is why you’ll need to detach from the work and see the bigger picture. Help the producers develop a script that will attract the financing, the best director and actors to the project. Making a film involves a team effort and producers will hire a talented team player that helps over a pain in the ass that has no regard for professionalism.





#2:  Can you be trusted to meet your deadlines and turn in your work on schedule or early? 


If they can trust you, then you’ll build your integrity as a team player and important collaborator. During the development, pre-production and production stages, the producers and directors I’ve worked with know they can send me notes and I’ll have the changes back to them the next morning. My mantra is “whatever needs to be done.” This is the time when you’ll be asked to deliver the goods at the top of your game. It’s also a test for them to see how you’ll react under pressure. As you know, making any film is a collaborative artistic endeavor and your script is the integral blueprint of the film. Meeting your deadlines is also a necessary discipline for any real chance at success in Hollywood.


#3:  Do you always go above and beyond what is asked of you to the best of your ability at the time?


People in Hollywood generally like to work with those people who they’ve had a positive experience with in the past. So, always deliver your best work, every time, regardless of your salary and don’t ever gripe about the job. Go the extra mile and show them how much you care about getting the project made and how seriously you take your work. Most great producers have their radar up early on to detect if a screenwriter is going to be easy or difficult when it comes to development and rewrites.


#4:  Are you acting like a true collaborator and professional?


As you’re the screenwriter, do your best to be the creative repository of knowledge about the script for the director, producer and actors.  No one will know the script better than you the screenwriter. It’s important leverage, so use your advantage as the “go to person” and make them want to keep you around. As I mentioned before, do everything you can to help them develop a screenplay that will attract the other talent and financing. Lend all of your support and offer creative suggestions to make the best project possible. That’s the end game—you’re paid, the movie is produced and you receive your screen credit.


#5:  Are you building your reputation and integrity?


Remember that 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. Your talent is equally as important as your professional work ethic and your attitude and these are the characteristics of a professional screenwriter. Hollywood is a small town when it comes to people knowing each other. If word gets out that a producer or director had a difficult working relationship with you it can mean the death of your next job. Be the screenwriter who wants to work and make it all happen. Make a point to clearly show the producers how invaluable you are to the project and why they need to keep you around. If you promise to do something—do it. Your reputation is vital to your working relationships in Hollywood. Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you, that your word means something and you are a team player.


If you answered “yes” to all five questions, congratulations Grasshopper!  You truly are a team player. As you continue on your screenwriting journey, you’ll always discover new opportunities to build your integrity as a professional screenwriter.


Initially, you may not receive the praise you feel that you deserve for all of your hard work. If this happens, be patient, as it will eventually pay off for you over the long haul. Your praise will come in the form of a payment for your writing, a produced film, and a vital part of your screenwriting career—a screen credit. Produced film credits will determine your payment quote for your next project and secure your reputation as a working professional.


Keep screenwriting and keep the faith!


Mark Sanderson (aka @scriptcat) is a screenwriter and consultant whose eleven screenplay assignments have garnered a half-dozen produced films on SyFy, Lifetime, LMN, Here!TV, Fox Family, and NBC/Universal. His films have also been recognized at major festivals and distributed globally. Mark’s long association with Hollywood veterans dates back to his first produced screenplay and has since worked with Producers Guild of America nominees, veteran genre directors, and Academy Award, Emmy and Golden Globe acting nominees. He offers workshops, webinars, and screenplay consultation services at his website FIVE O’CLOCK BLUE ENTERTAINMENT and screenwriting advice on his popular blog MY BLANK PAGE (Script Magazine’s pick for website of the week).


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