“Do you respect the mountain you’re climbing as you pursue a screenwriting career?”
An excerpt from screenwriter Mark Sanderson’s upcoming book on screenwriting:
A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success…
Yes, it’s a mountain—the ultimate challenge. Consider it your own personal Everest or K-2. Sure, we all have mountains to climb in our daily lives, but finding success as a working screenwriter in Hollywood is one hell of a conquest. Do yourself a huge favor early in your screenwriting and respect your journey. Don’t believe that somehow it’s different for you because you’re “special” or “more talented” than the next writer. We’re all special and unique and we still have to claw, fight and write our way to any type of success by hard work, discipline, drive, passion and sacrifice. Don’t forget another important element to success—tremendous luck. It helps to know that “luck” is when a prepared screenwriter meets with an opportunity and secures the deal.
We all believe that achieving a screenwriting success is easy at the start of our journey. Our enthusiasm and passion drives us far because we have yet to taste the bitter dregs of rejection and struggle over the long haul. The beginning of the journey is exciting because we believe, “Hell, screenwriting is easy. I know it took those other writers ten years to sell something, but I’m different… I’m more talented and my ideas are better.” You’ll even be seduced into believing your first draft or even your first few screenplays are groundbreaking material. You’ll truly feel it’s the best script that you’ve ever written—and this might be true—but it’s still not good enough. Often times, aspirants chase the easy part of the climb before they become proficient with the proper tools to make it safely to the next level. This is a dangerous method without the safety of proper discipline, technique, experience and training. “What fools us mortal screenwriters be,” right?
You should always strive for the top and doing your best work, but realize that not everyone is going to achieve “A-list” status or “make it.” That’s okay. This is why you need to consider what your definition of “making it” is and if you’ll be okay with not reaching the very top of success. Know that everyone in your collective group of screenwriters will each have varied levels of success in their pursuit of the dream. More importantly, if your happiness will only come from reaching top and nothing else will do—you could be chasing an unrealistic dream. Never allow your level of success to dictate the value of you as a person or artist. Some of the greatest artists in history never achieved superstar financial status. If your pursuit in this screenwriting game is for money and fame only, you may want to consider another business.
What is within your control? Becoming an excellent screenwriting and finding a balance of happiness on your journey. This needs to come from inside you and not from outside events that you can’t control. Realize that so much is out of the writer’s control and even if you do sell a project there are a myriad of scenarios that can kill it from moving forward: Lack of financing, a change in the marketplace, the executives get fired and the company loses interest, talent pulls out to do something else, you get fired and the producers change their minds about moving forward. So much can happen before it goes into production. It’s a business with “no guarantees”—even with a contract and a start date.
Are you training enough for the marathon and the mountain you are climbing? Hollywood is definitely not a place for a screenwriter who isn’t working at a professional level. As you respect the marathon ahead of you—ask yourself if you have an artist’s mentality. You’ll need a bit of insanity as you stare up into the dark void above while you begin to make your ascent. Fight your fear and insecurity so it won’t cripple you as you doing your best work. You’ll need to toughen your resolve to withstand continued rejection, criticism, failure, ridicule, and times when you make little or no money. Your burning passion will guide you on your journey. If you’re okay with all of this, you just might have what it takes to weather the long.
Never believe that you’re bigger than your craft because you’ll be humbled when you realize how much you still don’t know. Humility goes a long way in life and in the film business. You can move forward with confidence about what you’ve learned and your abilities, but always respect for the mountain we all have to climb every day. The ascent never ends and knows that if you do reach the very top, no one stays there forever. The Yin and Yang of life creates a balance, so prepare for the unexpected shifts of success and failure and you’ll be able to weather those storms over the long haul.
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.
Mark is busy shopping two TV pilots, moving into pre-production for his new indy comedy Area 54, and finishing his first book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success. 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).