What Happens When A Screenwriter Gets Fired Off Their First Writing Assignment? by Mark Sanderson

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Hey there! Mark Sanderson here (also known as @scriptcat). I want to invite you to my new seminar ‘Staying In The Game: Surviving as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood’ sponsored by Film Courage.

It’s going to be 2 hours of me offering up my tricks, tips and tactics and disciplines that can actually help you establish your own screenwriting career.

Now we’re going to have a Q&A to follow and also a chance to get my new book. That’s September 25thTuesday night, from 7 to 9 pm in North Hollywood. Hope to see you there (tickets $25.00 for purchase on Eventbrite here. Sorry, no tickets at the door, online only).

Film Courage: What about advice to writers who have been fired off a project?

Mark Sanderson, screenwriter/author:  Well, there’s a firing and then there is sort of like We’re going to go with someone else. Which is a firing. It’s not quite as like You’re fired! It’s always Thank you very much and now we’re going to have this other writer finish it. And then you share credit.

What I would say to them is learn from what happened with that particular producer and not make those mistakes again.

Or maybe they are not as good as a writer as they thought they were. So they were able to get in with the script but they weren’t able to stay on, which I think is important to stay through the end. Luckily on most of my projects I’ve stayed through the end and sometimes even been on the set doing rewrites because the director wanted me there (I had that relationship with the key members). You want to stay through the whole thing, you don’t want to be the person who leaves. If you’re leaving because you have another job and you can’t do it, that’s different. But if you’re leaving because they don’t want you anymore then you probably won’t work with that producer again.


“Learn from what happened with that particular producer and not make those mistakes again.”


Film Courage: What if it’s a combination of that and politics and you know that? Let’s suppose there is a little bird in your ear letting you know they’ve brought someone else on and that person has worked with this other person before. And you know that and you just kind of have to swallow your pride and not say anything.

Mark: Well, that happened to me when I was working on the game show. I was told…this was earlier…one of my first professional jobs, I was told that I didn’t have enough experience to do a certain (during production) experience. I went through the development of 6 weeks of writing the show and then they shoot the show. But during that point I was let go and they said Oh, we’re bringing in somebody. Somebody that had a connection in the writer’s room. And I thought Well, I went through the whole writing, I don’t understand? But it was just strange and I was let go and I was Okay, I understand but it was hard to be let go because I had taken that job and I quit my restaurant career (so called) as a waiter and that was my first professional job and then to lose it…that’s why in the book [A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success: Tips, tricks and tactics to survive as a working screenwriter in Hollywood] I say how I was fired from my first professional job.

Check Mark’s book out here on Amazon

Film Courage: At Christmas, right?

Mark: At Christmas time, but it happens. You’re not guaranteed anything. The hardest thing I had to learn when I first started getting paid to write was that I thought that everything I wrote would get made…of course it would be. Well, I have probably five projects sitting on a shelf, they’re production ready, I was paid for all of the drafts…and…nothing.

A myriad of reasons because of marketplace changes, economics, their buyers decided to go with a different genre, the actor bowed out and financing fell through. All things that were not my problem, I’m just the writer, right?

That was the hardest thing but it’s not hard anymore, I’ve realized the realities of the business. But that was the hardest thing, I thought that everything I wrote would be made. I thought when I wrote my specs of course obviously too. Every spec you write is going to sell, right?

But to be let go of a job you have to learn why, it’s a learning experience. You don’t want that to happen too many times because then the word will get around and you won’t work, but know your producers and what they want. And so luckily the producers I know kind of now after working for so long what they want. And that’s what they want, they want to have to leave you alone.

Arrggghh, is he going to turn in the thing because we’ve got people waiting and a lot of money, you know? They don’t want to have to worry about that. But you have to build into that. So a writer that gets in somehow, luck, maybe whatever, sells the script but doesn’t have that ability to see it through to the end, that’s a terrible thing because you think Oh, I’ve sold it! And you’re not staying on it because you can’t do the rewrites. Sorry but we need to take this into production and we need to get through development, if you can’t do it, we’ll find someone who can.

Film Courage: How was Christmas that year?

Mark: It was okay, not great because I was without a job.

Film Courage: Well not only that…sorry to interrupt but you were leaving one world to go to this world that you had been waiting for.

Mark:  Yes.

Film Courage: And it’s Christmas.

Mark: I got through Christmas and…

Film Courage: How was New Year’s?

Mark: It was fine because a few months later my spec was optioned. So I rose from the ashes like a Phoenix. I didn’t have to go back to the restaurant and I never did. That’s my point about having multiple projects of things. If I had nothing else then I would be out knocking on doors going Ahh!? But if you charted the course before that first job, that spec was constantly trying to find its way and finally ended up with the proper timing, the right home with a company who said We want to make it.


Question For The Viewers: What did you like about this conversation?

Watch the video interview on Youtube here



Youtube channel


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 thirty-six 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 twenty screenplay assignments with television premieres and worldwide distribution of his fourteen 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,” action-packed thrillers “USS Poseidon: Phantom Below” (aka HereTV’s “Tides of War”) and SyFy Network’s “Sea Snakes” (aka Fox’s “Silent Venom”), Lifetime Network’s highly rated thrillers “Mommy’s Little Girl,” and “A Night to Regret,” and the LMN Network premieres “Mother of All Lies,” “A Wedding to Die For,” “One Small Indiscretion,”“Hunted by My Ex,” “Family Vanished,” and the upcoming thriller “My Daughter Vanished.”

Mark’s films have premiered on Lifetime Network, LMN, SyFy, Fox, HereTV, HBO Canada, Christmas 24, 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, veteran directors, and has written films starring Academy Award®, Golden Globe®, and Emmy® acting nominees and winners. Mark is also a screenplay consultant and his new book, “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” is now available on Amazon…(Read more here).


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How does a screenwriter break into the business? Is it all about who you know? How much networking, hustle, and craft does it take? Once you break in, how do you survive and sustain a career? In this 2 hour speaker series(that will include Q&A), screenwriter Mark Sanderson (aka @scriptcat) will take us through his journey of graduating from UCLA and how he balanced various odd jobs with his writing for years until he reached the point where screenwriting became his career. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t easy. His story shows us it’s possible and in this talk Mark is going to share the particulars of how he did it.