The Screenwriter Who Only Writes One Screenplay Every Five Years by Mark Sanderson

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Film Courage: Is it crucial to have multiple projects going at once?

Mark Sanderson, Screenwriter and Author: Yes.

Film Courage: Why?

Mark Sanderson: Because like salmon going upstream, a few will get up there. I mean you one script is not going to do it, as I always say. One script eventually does open something.

Like for me, my spec opened the door for assignment work with the company, you know. I continued on with that but if you just focus your energy on one thing, it’s a lot…the odds that…you have to be constantly…then that was my problem I’ll share with you.

When I sold my spec, I didn’t have a follow-up and that really was a problem because I thought “Here I am!” And there was no follow-up for awhile and that was my mistake because I wasn’t thinking in those terms. You know, it was early on in my pursuit, I just graduated from college and was not thinking in that structured like…”Okay, what’s my game plan?” and I knew a friend who went to film school and he directed a movie that he wrote but he didn’t have a follow-up and they spent so much time on this movie and it was a feature and he didn’t sell it, it didn’t get picked up by anyone, he paid money to show it in a theater and they…”Okay, what else do you have?” “Nothing.” So you constantly (as I say in the book), you have to have ideas, you have to have log lines that you’re working on and then you also have to have some treatments or one-sheets which are a lot easier to do than write a complete screenplay and then you also have to have your screenplay that you’re working on.

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But constantly when you go into a meeting with your spec that gets you the meeting, they’re not buying that spec they just want to meet you and say “Oh, I can see your ability” and then they say “What else do you have?”  And you don’t want that to be “Well, I’m working on something and it’s going to take me six months.” I’m not going to see you for six months? Or You’re not going to be on my radar for six months?

You want to say “I have this other thing.” You don’t want to bring a suitcase full of scripts but you want to say “I have this other thing.” “Oh? Well after the meeting, send it over.” BAM! You know what I mean? You have to have multiple projects in the marketplace I think at all times because not all of them and maybe not one of them, but that’s what you’re up against is to be…I don’t want to say a machine, but you know you can’t be precious with “Oh, I’m only working on one thing for five years.” And if you have the luxury of doing that, that’s great but you better have a day job that pays. I didn’t want to wait tables the rest of my life.

So what motivated me to get out was continuing to write and create. So yeah, I think it takes more than one project.

Film Courage: I know you do a lot of speaking events, is that right?

Mark Sanderson: I do.

Film Courage: So when you have writers approach you either afterward or even if you see them at a mixer or whatever. You know when people ask you for advice and you give it and you can see that they are disengaging because they don’t want to hear the answer?

Mark Sanderson: Yes.

Film Courage: What are some of those points when you’re talking and they’re saying “How do I break into the industry?”

Mark Sanderson: Because their experience will be different than mine (which it will be) but their experience will be like “Oh its not going to happen to me.” And like I said multiple projects. And so when people do that I say I just I don’t want to expend any more time bestowing any sort of advice because what’s the point?

Example: I did a favor for a friend. Oh my friend wrote this TV pilot. Okay, I’ll meet with him. Now I consult in my off times I have a consulting business, but I only do it when I’m not working because the real jobs are the assignment jobs. So in the downtime I open it up and say shop’s open. So I thought I’ll do this as a freebie, as a favor. And a lot of times it stings you and bites you in the you-know-where.

So I went to meet with this guy at Starbucks and he brings in a giant screenplay. And I say “What is this?” And he says “It’s a TV pilot.” And I go “Okay.” And he starts dropping names of people that I know that are going to give him an office in the thing. And I’m like “They’re going to give you an office? What about me?” And so I say “Okay I’ll read it.” So I went home and there were (I’m not kidding you) ten issues on every page from typos, to format to whatever you want and so we met again and I was really doing my friend a favor and he had an excuse for every one and wouldn’t listen and he said “Well, I’m going to chop it in half and make it a thing.” And I’m like “Okay, interesting.” And still went on and on dropping these names about some of the people I know are some how going to bring him in and give him a desk and an office and I was just like “I can only do so much. Good luck to you.” And maybe I’m wrong? I doubt it but okay. People who don’t want to listen it obviously shows their ignorance. And it’s not…I’m not trying to be malicious I’m just trying to say “Hey, I wish someone had done that to me.” Then it would save me a lot of time and time is what keep clicking away. When you make mistakes, why spend all this time making mistakes, when you can do it right? Or go down this path? Everyone has to learn, hopefully they do. But yes I’ve experienced that, where people just tune off and it’s like “Huh? Okay?”

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Film Courage: And is that around the time when you say it’s going to take several scripts, always have multiple things so if somebody wants to see one?

Mark Sanderson: Yeah, that’s why. I went to talk at a high school. My friend is a teacher to their film class and one of the kids raises his hand and goes “Have you written any big movies?” Phew…how long do we have on this?

So we went through the thing and you could just see all of this.  The few film nerds (which I was one growing up), after it was over they came up (three or four came up) and said “Oh!” And they wanted to look at a script and talk to me directly. Everybody else couldn’t wait to leave and I just thought “Huh? Interesting?”

I was making films when I was their age, you know? Doing that and they can do whatever. Maybe they weren’t interested, that’s okay. But I always say you’ll be humbled. If you’re not humble now, the craft and the business will humble you eventually where you say “Oh, my one script.” And then you learn that after 35 screenplays either you’re still learning which should be and it takes a lot to get one. That’s why the multiple projects thing is important, to have multiple projects going at each time and that’s not to say you have to write two projects, but always have something. You finish one, you’re working on another, don’t leave these long gaps of nothing and you’re out there.

And my spec that I sold it took seven years, but that wasn’t my only thing I had. I wasn’t running around town with this one spec. I continued on doing other things. I was in a sketch comedy show. I was doing proactive things at the same time but the only problem is that once it’s sold, I didn’t have a specific spec like in the same genre where they could say “What else can I look at?” Where things weren’t ready. You know that’s important, too. To have those other things ready because like I said if you have that meeting and they say “Oh send over something,” you don’t want it to be six months later, you want it to be immediately.

Question for the Viewers: How many scripts do you have ready right now?

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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