There’s A Million Excuses Not To Write by Mark Sanderson

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Film Courage: We had a comment that came in which said [in response to a video interview] “That’s easy for this person to say because this person is a professional screenwriter and it’s their job to write all day. It makes sense to say it’s your job (kind of like get over it, just do it). But most people that watch the Film Courage [Youtube] channel [Which is very nice that they think this] are not professional screenwriters they actually have other jobs that have to pay the bills. Screenwriting is a hobby for them at best while they make the two worlds work and that I get. So no…you don’t have to write everyday to be a writer.”

Mark Sanderson: I don’t write every day. I do when I am on assignment and then when I’m not, I’m kind of exhausted. And the last year has been crazy I mean with like 6 movies. So it’s like almost every 3 months turnaround.

But it’s fantastic because I was constantly writing, but it’s draining. It’s almost like I want to go do something else and stop. And they say “Well, when you stop the assignment, you want to go work on your spec.” Like not right now because I don’t have the time, you know? But you have to manage your time, you really do and there is no excuse. I’ve had to do it when I was in college in film school. I was working 4 to 5 nights a week in a restaurant. But I had friends who went to film school or any college and they could just go to school. They had the luxury of living at home, their parents paid for everything. I had to pay my bills. But I think that trained me into really sectioning my time. Yeah, you can go to parties and all this stuff and I was not only making movies in film school, but I was also after day class I had to go down (I was working in Westwood here) and work a 5-hour shift and then come home. So it really trained me for that. And there’s a million excuses why we don’t want to write. I mean truthfully when it’s difficult, even more “Oh, you know?”

A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success

Like I said, I never have the house as clean as when I am procrastinating. But the movie I just turned in on assignment was my 35th screenplay. It’s still learning, I still respect the craft and bow down to it because I learn something every time. Every project is different, every producer or company you work with, it’s a whole different scenario each time. Yes, you know how it works a lot better. I look at old scripts now and like my 4th spec (my 5th one sold), my 4th one made some noise. We met with the A-list actors about it (this was a million years ago) but I looked back at that script and I was like “Arrgghh! If we’d only, if I could only go back and rewrite that with what I know now!” But you only have the knowledge that you have this exact moment in time and you can’t live with regrets. So study, get better, write more screenplays.

Yes, writers write, but I don’t think you should feel guilty if you’re not writing every day. But don’t let it go two days because two leads to four, four leads to a week. This weekend we’ve got something going on, you have to schedule it and I always say to aspiring screenwriters, treat it like your job because it will be. You don’t have the luxury of when you write your specs to go “Uh, I’m going to go off today.” Work on it for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, whatever it is. But that constant is what is going to happen when you get the assignment jobs and you don’t want to be shocked when suddenly you get this opportunity, you’re hired to write a movie and you can’t physically sit there for 8 hours a day or you can’t write it in 30 days or you can’t write it in 8 weeks or however much time you’ve agreed to write the screenplay. You will be shocked because you’re not training.

The same thing as an athlete or you wouldn’t go run a marathon without training for it, same thing in my opinion, in my experience. And so if you’r going to spend the time writing your specs, train yourself now for (hopefully) for the time that you are going to be hired to write screenplays and then you’ll be much better.

But again…yes…coming from a thing that this is all I do for a living but that’s where you want to be. And like I say, I better damn well be doing it 10 hours a day if that’s all I do.

Film Courage: It seems like maybe some jobs are more draining than others. And I know it’s easy for me to just say “Oh, well just find a job that’s not draining!” And I know that’s easier said than done. But I think there are jobs where you can have sort of a side other job slash hobby and there are jobs where it just takes you out of it, it’s so demanding.

Mark Sanderson: And the thing about that is it’s going to take you that much longer if you can only write on the weekends. How long do you think your screenplay is going to take. It’s going to take 6 months. You know, I mean that’s where the time creeps in and there’s so many other distractions and interruptions that come in that 6 months that are dangerous, that will derail you so quickly and go “hmmm.” That’s where you have to…I would dig deep and say “This is what I want to do and there’s nothing…” That’s where the passion and the tenacity come from that really drives you through all those other, through the field. You are going to step on that – Kaboom! And that sets you back 3 months. It’s really difficult.

And yes, you are right. When I worked at the law firm for 2 years, it was draining. And I would come home and have to write again. But it was even worse because I had a movie go into production while I was at the job and again it wasn’t enough money to quit. And so I had to excuse myself and say “I’m going to go to the set for a few days this week,” because I was an as-needed assistant type position and that was again (even years later) a freaky thing going. “But why do I have to work at the thing? I’ve got a movie.” And then you look at the thing and you go “Okay I get it.” And then I stayed on it for another year at the firm and do the same thing. Come home, make dinner, write, you know, blah, blah, blah and then I got a call from the production company that I worked with (the new president of production) and they said “Hey! How come we haven’t worked with you since the last movie?” I said “I don’t know?” They said “We have this fast track movie we want you to write. It’s a done deal.” And I gave my 2-week notice. I was like this is my kick in my pants that I’m back in without fear not like “Oh, well…” And the money was good at the firm. But I was seeing myself be derailed and I had a relationship at the time (my girlfriend) and I saw just everything was being derailed and I thought well I could just get into this and you know, another year go by and…

So when that call came in from the company I was like “I gotta go.” And they were shocked. They were like “Well…well…I guess this is what you do?” And I said “Yeah. This is what I do. I’m a writer. I have to go do writing and it’s a job.” And they said “You are always welcome to come back.” And I said “Exactly.” Like when I finally quit the restaurant business when I got my first job. It took me 6 years out of film school before I landed my first professional writing job and I thought when they handed out the diplomas they were going to give me a 2 picture deal.

“Oh thank you very much. Oh look at this?” 6 years! And that’s not for lack of writing and specs and all of that stuff. I finally landed a job so I gave the notice at the restaurant and they were like “Huh?” They didn’t quite understand and they were like “So how long is this job for?” And I go “No! I’m out. O-U-T. Not coming back.” I said “I appreciate…there’s never again will I step foot…” And I didn’t. I mean I did catering, but that was sort of less of a, you’re in different places. But I was never going to work…I worked 10 years in a restaurant. I did many odd jobs in my life. I say in the book. Many different jobs, but it was all about facilitating me being able to stick with my dream, whatever the job was, as long as it allowed me to continue, I didn’t care. It wasn’t embarrassing or you know. It was like you have to do what you have to do.

Film Courage: It reminds me of the movie IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. So Jimmy Stewart he thinks I’m going to go off and see the world and then become an architect and then gets sucked back in 2 years or 4 years at the bank and it keeps going…life changed for him.

Mark Sanderson: It’s hard. It really is hard. But as I say it’s hard, I am living proof that it does happen. And there’s no guarantees, but I always say the only guarantee in screenwriting is that if you should stop writing, you’re definitely guaranteed never to have any chance at success. So as long as you’re in the game, you have a shot.

Question for the Viewers: What’s usually the reason why you miss a writing day?

The Two Worlds of a Young Screenwriter by Mark Sanderson

BUY THE BOOK – A SCREENWRITER’S JOURNEY TO SUCCESS: Tips, tricks and tactics to survive as a working screenwriter in Hollywood


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About Mark Sanderson:

Mark Sanderson (aka @Scriptcat) is a Los Angeles based screenwriter, author, script consultant and sometimes actor blessed to be living his childhood dream of making movies with over two-dozen screenplays written in genres ranging from comedy to drama. His work ranges from his sketch comedy writing and performing as a founding member with The Amazing Onionheads, writing for MTV, to his spec sale, and nineteen screenplay assignments with television premieres and worldwide distribution of his twelve emotionally compelling films— the WWII indie feature “I’ll Remember April,” Lifetime Network’s “An Accidental Christmas” and “Deck the Halls,” the stylish indie noir feature “Stingers,” and action-packed thrillers “USS Poseidon: Phantom Below” (aka HereTV’s “Tides of War”) and SyFy Network’s “Sea Snakes” (aka Fox’s “Silent Venom”), LMN’s “Mother of All Lies” starring Franchesca Eastwood, Lifetime’s highly rated thriller “Mommy’s Little Girl,” the LMN Network premiere “One Small Indiscretion,” and his latest produced films “Deadly Vows” aka “A Wedding to Die For,” “A Night to Regret,” and “Hunted by My Ex.”

Mark’s films have premiered on Lifetime Network, LMN, SyFy, Fox, HereTV, HBO Canada, Christmas 24, and NBC/Universal, The Movie Network, and have been distributed globally. His films have been recognized at festivals including a premiere and opening the Palm Springs Int. Film Festival, premieres at the Hawaii Int. Film Festival, St. Louis Int. Film Festival, The Rainbow Festival in Hawaii, Newport Beach Int. Film Festival, Fort Lauderdale Int. Festival, and nominated for the Starboy award at the Oulu Int. Children’s Film Festival in Finland.

Mark’s long association with award winning Hollywood filmmakers dates back to his first produced screenplay and has since worked with Academy Award® winning producers Paul Colichman (Academy Award® winner “Gods & Monsters”) and Mark R. Harris (Academy Award® winner “Crash”), veteran directors Brian Trenchard-Smith, Fred Olen Ray, George Mendeluk, and the late Bob Clark, and has written films starring Academy Award® acting nominees Seymour Cassel, the late Pat Morita, Haley Joel Osment, Tom Berenger, and Emmy® acting nominees Mark Harmon and James Hong…(Read more here).


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