Tag Archives: Done Deal Pro



I did a Podcast last weekend for @FilmReverie with the lovely Mike and Brad, who were a joy to talk to. We mostly talked about my seeming career and my thoughts on writing. It was a lot of fun. I’ll link to it at the bottom of the Blog if you want to give it a listen. But during the hour or so we spoke, something we talked about got me thinking about why some great ideas hit and why some don’t. And most of the time, the randomness of it all.

There was also a post on DoneDealPro that spurred this. A writer who couldn’t understand why, given that everybody loved their pilot ideas and scripts, and even though they were getting in rooms and getting to pitch, they couldn’t sell or option any of them. There was more than an air of frustration in the post. They expected to do better. And as we all know, expectation is the mother of all frustration.

So, let’s get the a few things out of the way first before we get to the meat. In order to get turned down you had to make it a whole lot further that 90% of writers. And that took toil and sweat and damn hard work that paid off with the opportunity. I know that doesn’t help much when the answer is still no, but it means you’re seriously in the game.

And believe me, I understand the frustration. I’ve lived intimately with it, sometimes turned all the way up to 11. Every kind of writer frustration there is. And you know what? It ALL goes away the Moment someone says YES. It’s amazing how years of frustration can vanish when that happens. The problem lies in getting to that MOMENT.

The Moment. That instant where the word YES enters the head of a producer or actor or director or production company exec. The magic moment that can change your life. Or your bank account. The elusive Moment.

You can be spectacular in a room, have the greatest idea ever, a solid script, and you will still probably hear NO 99% of the time. It’s a numbers game. Hundreds of thousands of film and TV scripts in the system and only so many optioned and a lot less greenlit.

So you go into that room uber-prepared and give it your best shot. They’re smiling and asking the right questions... It’s all going like you imagined. And then you walk out empty handed.

What happened? Well... It boils down to what works for producers or network people at that Moment. If you're in there on the right day at the right time with the right idea for them at that exact Moment... you're gold. And you have zero control over it.

They don’t want you to fail. They want you to have an idea/script they love at that Moment. It’s true. But that damn numbers thing keeps rearing its ugly head. The people in the waiting area when you left? There to pitch their script or show. And the people arriving in the parking lot as you leave? There to pitch after them. And so on. The odds just by sheer numbers are against you. I was told over and over what an amazing fresh take my pilot was on the procedural genre. Never sold it. Never got close. Will I save it for down the road? Sure. And maybe somebody remembers it when they're looking for a procedural in 3 years. One can hope. But for now, deader than dead.

Experienced credited writers hear No most of the time. And like all serious writers, at first they look at all rejections as personal. Can't help it.  I know I do until I shake myself out of it, which sometimes takes a while. But the good ones regroup and move on to try again to get to the Moment.

It always helps to realize that there are thousands of writers out there wishing they were where you are. Getting to pitch seriously. But you also need to realize you aren’t the only one they’re saying No to. I know I forget that when I'm feeling sorry for myself. You’re not alone.

Like I said, I thought for sure my procedural would be my in to series TV. It would at least be optioned by someone. Even production companies who I’d worked for and optioned to before said they liked it. But when the Moment came... well... it didn’t come. But that doesn’t mean you don’t put your head down and look for more ways in. Never giving up.

And then... I sold a pilot. One I hadn’t even written. How? By sheer good fortune. God. Right place. Right time. The moment. At lunch with a production company exec I'd worked with who'd just moved to a new company. At the end of the lunch she casually mentioned they'd just signed a deal with a BIG TV star. Household name big. And they already had a cable network on the hook for the show, based on his name alone and the agreed upon genre. Now they needed to come up with the series for him. They had a vague idea of what he wanted. By vague, I mean his 2 required elements. One kinda specific, a dog, and the other a general feeling of tone. That's it. Genre, a dog, and tone.

As the check for lunch came and we were getting ready to part, I asked her if I came up with an idea, could I pitch it? She said sure, they were out to other writers, but ok, send me a one page.

I went home and wrote one. I decided to go outside the box and do something a little weird because I knew other writers would be trying to stay in the box. They responded favorably and the dance started.

Over months and months of back and forth and some serious contract negotiations from my manager (Thank you, John), they bought the idea and I wrote the pilot, on a contract, for money. Now I wait to see what happens next.  And like all projects at this point, there are a million reasons it fails right here, and hundreds of miracles that have to happen for it to move forward. The rug pulled out from under the Moment. I hope not, but man it’s nice to get this far.

Don't let the Nos get to you. Easy to say, hard to do. Write more scripts, more pilots. Keep pitching the ones you have. Get to that Moment. And remember, nothing happens when you want it to. Ever. You hear no, punch something, preferably soft, and move on. Move forward. I get the frustration. Believe me.

Quite a few of my friends who are writers have gotten to the Moment lately and it makes me really happy. It can happen. It does happen. But only if you don’t give up.

Here’s the link to the Podcast: http://filmreverie.com/podcast/film-reverie-take-50-bob-saenz/

Follow me on Twitter: @bobsnz

Welcome to my Annual Thanksgiving Edition where I give thanks. Or sometimes complain a little. But mostly gives thanks.

First up... My Wife. Number one. My kids. Right there. Spectacular. Thank you.

A quick long overdue thank you to Jeff Lowell. Who a few years ago said this in a DoneDealPro posting: “As for Bob, I don't think that, given his resume, he should be handing out advice that contradicts actual industry pros.” This said in reaction to some BAD advice I gave on an IMDb Screenwriting Board because at the time, I thought I knew it all. I didn’t. Not even close.

I had optioned a couple of scripts (never made) and had a couple of small independent film rewrites (made, but never distributed), nothing big. So... of course, I thought I knew everything about screenwriting.

Then someone told me about the DDP thread and I read it. I also looked Jeff up. He’s the real deal, but then most of you know that. To have someone of that stature saying that about me by name was an eye opener. Made me look at myself and realize my ego was much bigger than my knowledge by a long shot. Made me take a BIG step back. I realized having a couple of optioned scripts, of which there are hundreds out there, does not make you an expert. Yet here I was offering black and white advice about screenwriting when I had no business doing it. I hadn’t been in a production meeting, I hadn’t ever worked with a development exec, I had barely ever worked with producers, I didn’t even have a rep. Idiot. Was talking when I should have been listening and learning.

And I'm still learning, 6 produced films later. I just had a two week rewrite session with a director (Thank you Jay) on one of my spec films that goes next year and the amount I learned from that session alone is staggering.

Do I give advice now? Yes. Hey, I have a blog. But now I give it from a background as a produced writer who makes a pretty good living at it. I also rightly label it as my OPINION based on experience and not like I walked down off some mountain with Gold Tablets. If you learn one thing from this: One unmade optioned script to your name? Look for advice, don’t give it.

So thank you to all the writing pros who took me under their wings and to executives, both at the production company and cable network level, and to producers and directors who have let me suck the knowledge from their brains over the years. You’ve all made me a smarter better writer. I hope to never stop learning.

Thank you to my Manager, John. Not with one of those big management companies. An independent guy. We’re having a pretty special year so far. And next year looks even better. Which goes to prove that, yes, even though you often strive toward a big name manager, sometimes it’s better to find one who just believes in you even if he’s not a household name. Something I think new writers need to consider when they’re looking down their nose at a person they’ve never heard of who wants to work with them, waiting for a better offer from a bigger rep that may never come.

THANK YOU to the execs and producers that believe in and support my work. There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude.

Thank you Jay Lowi. Ten years. TEN YEARS. Let’s go make a movie.

Thank you to my real life writing pals. All of you. The people who come and drink with me when I’m in LA. The writers who want to, but can’t make it. The writers I talk to on the phone and trade scripts with. The writers who I want to be successful in the biggest way. Your friendship is one of the things that makes this journey so much fun. Just know how much you mean to me. The writers on Twitter, who make me laugh and who make me happy when they share their successes.

I walked up to my wife 23 years ago and told her I was quitting my pretty successful day job to become a film actor and a screenwriter. Also maybe a radio DJ. She could have said, “Hell no.” Instead she said, “You gotta follow your dreams. But only if it takes you a couple of years.” (See why I always thank her first?)

That was enough for me. So I ventured out KNOWING NOTHING about any of these things or how damn hard it was to even be a part of them, let alone succeed. And in those first two years, I got my SAG card, did some movies and commercials, I was an actor was on a successful TV show (for 6 seasons in a microscopic part, but I was there getting paid to learn how to make movies and TV, Thank you Don Johnson), I optioned the first script I ever wrote to a production company at Warner Bros (never got made, and BOY is that a sad story), and I was on the air as a DJ on KYCY, a country music station in San Francisco. AGAIN, I KNEW NOTHING. I didn’t know how hard these things were to do so I went and did them.

I’ve had a Forrest Gump kind of life. Right place, right time. (Thank You God) Got to work for directors like Coppola, Eastwood, Fincher, Ron Howard, even Michael Bay in blink and you’ll miss me parts. But I got to watch them work. I’ve met and talked with acting heroes of mine I couldn’t have imagined meeting. They wouldn’t remember me, but I’ll always remember them. I’ve gotten walk around movie studios, and not as a tourist (although I’m sure I looked like one). The list of the amazing things I have lucked my way into is too long and boring to list. But damn... my grateful quotient is off the chart.

Finally, thank you to the readers of this Blog. The numbers who read it constantly amaze me. I appreciate you, too.

And everybody have a Happy Thanksgiving.




The amount of time between my Blogs varies. From as little as a couple of days to a couple of weeks. It all depends on what strikes me as a good reason to blog. I thought about it a few days ago when I was struggling to come up with a topic and decided to forget blogging until something happened organically.

Happened this morning. Another remark I read from a self professed new writer on Done Deal Pro. (Again, if you’re not visiting this website as a screenwriter you’re doing yourself an injustice, IMO). This writer had some innocuous questions about screenwriting and then got to his/her concern. Money. How much money will I make? Who gets paid the most, TV or Feature Writers?

Money. Riches. Some of that movie and TV money they throw in bushels at writers, who write while lounging in their opulent backyards by their pool.

You can generally separate new writers into two categories most of the time after talking to them.

1. Writers who love to write and create and want to see their work on the screen and are willing to put in the time and hard work to learn the craft of writing. Writers who would LOVE to make a living writing, but the money isn’t the ultimate goal. They live to write.

2. Writers who do it for what they think is the untold riches and fame they’ll get after they sell their masterpiece for millions.

If you’re in the first category, it’s easy to spot. You struggle over the craft. You vet every word of your script. Your worry about acts and turning points and character development and story. You care. You care a lot.

If you’re in the latter category. You want to know how big the checks are.

Sorry, Charlie. The checks aren’t nearly as big as you think. They can be good, if you can write well enough to get paid. But I’ve found the ones who end up getting paid are the writers in category 1.

And the chances are, even then, your first checks will be small. Non-union independent film small. A thousand to five thousand dollars small and maybe even less depending on who you deal with. I know because that’s where I started and where most of my friends who write started. Some are still trying to get started. Some have even given their scripts away for a writing credit. (Writing for nothing is another Blog, but know I am firmly against it.)

Chances also are very good your first check will be for an option and not a sale, anyway. Maybe for as little as a dollar or as much as a hundred dollars, with a few thousand due if they make the film. Most all (MOST ALL) optioned scripts never get made. Most all specs scripts never get made for that matter. So the chances are very good the most you might get for your optioned script is that dollar.

(By the way, to understand why specs have hit the tank and to understand from a knowledgeable insider why Hollywood has so radically changed in the last few years, I HIGHLY recommend Lynda Obst’s FABULOUS book, “Sleepless in Hollywood”. BUY IT. READ IT. It will open your eyes and scare you at the same time. I couldn’t put it down.)

So… If you’re trying to be a “screenwriter” for the big bucks, I’d reassess my goals if I was you. A Producer friend said to me not too long ago that “Screenwriting is the new Acting” when it comes to people trying to break in for the fame and fortune of it. (There’s a joke in there someplace) He’s never seen so many scripts. Well, bad scripts. Great scripts do tend to find their way to the top. There’s just damn few of them. Of all the scripts writers have given me to read in the last five years, I can count the great ones on two fingers. Not good ones. GREAT ones. And both of those were period pieces that right now are almost impossible to sell. (READ Lynda Obst’s Book)

Writer John Gary (@johngary on twitter) wrote a series of really harsh tweets you should look up and read on what he calls the Hope Machine, warning writers how impossible it is to attain their dreams of writing for a living. That if they’re going to write scripts, they need to do it for the joy of creation, not hopes of careers or money. (If I got your point wrong please excuse me, John) It was terrific and depressing at the same time. And a really good lesson in reality. (And read Lynda Obst’s BOOK, which I am NOT getting paid to shill, by the way)

Don’t chase dollars. It’s a chase you will not win. Yes, I will admit, I do make a pretty ok living as a screenwriter. But only in the last few years. It took me twenty years of writing poverty to get there. And… I’m still not in the WGA and have only had representation for maybe two years. After TWENTY YEARS of working at it. Learning. Writing and writing and writing.

Now… The film I wrote that goes into production later this year changes that, but for now, I get paid semi-well to write for non-union, mostly cable TV movie houses. It’s great work. Abundant work for me and an incredible training ground in Production and Development. I worked my ass off to get here and if all I was chasing was money to begin with, I would have given up a LONG time ago and be working at Home Depot.

Oh and I do have a pool, but not because of my writing.

I have a few screenwriters that I really look up to. Brian Koppelman, John August (Big Fish is on my top ten list of all time favorite films), and Craig Mazin top the list. Not only because they’re GOOD at what they do and successful, but because they choose to give up their personal time to give back to the screenwriting community. All the time. To me, it’s a very cool thing to do and has been a great help.

One of the things that makes a good artist, no matter what discipline you choose, is the quest to learn more all the time about what you’re trying to do. These men constantly teach me new things that I USE. So to them, thank you.

Lately there have been a lot of discussions (actually, there have always been discussions) about the supposed “rules” a screenwriter has to obey or be banished from the business forever.

When I first started writing scripts I believed these “rules” because, well, they were everywhere. The most used term, “It’s not your job as a writer”, included a lot of what I WANTED to use in my scripts because it worked for the stories I was trying to write. I should have known better, too. I broke them ALL on my first script and I optioned it right out of the gate, before I could even write a second one. The only script I’ve ever optioned to a studio. (It never got made, but that was a HUGE learning experience for me, too)

Then I started listening to the so-called experts about what I couldn’t write instead of trusting what had worked already.

And being an egotistical jerk, because I’d “optioned” a script to a studio before I knew how any of this worked, I became one of those know nothing experts and I went on writing websites and dished out “advice” like I was King Shit. Am I embarrassed about that now? Yeah, you bet, but ego is a strange thing and sometimes you need to get some sense knocked into you before you figure things out.

I doled out the “You’ll get your script thrown in the trash if you do any of this” advice with reckless abandon without knowing what the hell I was talking about.

I think I know more now.  I’ve got some experience, a few produced films (and the never ending rewrites that go with them), some production meetings under my belt, but I’m also sure that there is more I don’t know than I do.

I HAVE learned that story is king. Without a great story that people want to see, you can follow all the rules in the book and never get anywhere. I have also learned that with great story, those “rules” can be easily ignored if it serves your story to do so.

Even then, last week on DoneDealPro there was a question from a new writer about putting opening credits in a script to which I answered:

It doesn't matter what you write or where you locate your opening credits. Do what you want. It's not the writer's job. If it’s sold, the director will put them where he/she wants anyway. Relax. If it works for you, leave it. Me? I never put any credits in because I realize it's not my job. But again, that's personal for each writer.

Just looking at that now makes me want to slap myself in the face. Not my job? Arrrggggggg!!  A jerk answer and a jerk move. Mister Ego showing his ugly head.

Then Craig Mazin, one of my heroes, when answering someone else who had written basically the same thing I did, stepped into the discussion and told the truth…

To quote Craig Mazin:

Choosing to not demarcate the credits is still a choice. Your style may be such that you almost always choose to not point out where the credits go, because you intend that they should be after the film.

For me, I make that choice based on the script.

It's very old school to think any of this stuff isn't our job. It reminds me a bit of the way editors used to work. When I started, the editor edited the picture. That was it. She sent it down the hall to the assistants to add temp SFX, temp score and temp VFX.

Modern editors will do all of that themselves. They think of it as their job.

I've talked about this idea on the podcast... the definition of the modern screenwriter has changed. Studios are always looking for the "screenwriter plus," the writer who not only writes but is involved in the shaping of the movie all the way through.

Modern directors seem to be far more interested in that kind of writer as well. The old military-style divisions of labor are falling away, and I think that's fantastic.

I responded to his post with:

Thank you.

What I should have said was:

Please keep knocking me down, because I learn so much when you do.

After he made me think about what I had written, I knew everything I posted wasn’t close to true, even about me. I've used opening credits in two of my original scripts as story devices and BOTH scripts have been optioned in the past. One is still optioned.

His whole post shook me awake. He described the experience I’m having now with the producers and the director on the feature I’m working on from my original script that shoots in May. (Announcement with cast coming soon, by the way) They are listening to my ideas, asking for my input, keeping me in the loop, and using some of those ideas to shape the film. Just like he said.

He took me to school and I needed it. I went back to the tried and true, “You’ll shoot your eye out” answer, while he with confidence, and truth I knew but didn’t even think to express, showed why he’s where he is right now and how much I still don’t know.

So to Craig: Thanks for the lesson. Please don’t stop.

And to John August and Brian Koppelman and other experienced seasoned writers who give their time and knowledge so we all can be better, air kisses, honest appreciation, and the request not to stop either.