Tag Archives: Script Rewrites

What’s a Spec Script? I’ll tell you what I think it is.

It isn’t what's going to be shot, that’s for sure.

A friend of mine who is an exec at a big production company was telling me the other day how hard it was lately to even get through a lot of scripts to find the story.

And I’ve been hearing a lot of bad advice lately about what should or shouldn’t be in a spec script when only one thing should be in it.


A story a reader can see. I didn’t say audience. I said reader. If you write specs you hope will eventually get made this is very important. The first people you need to get through to option a script are even called “READERS”. That’s why you need a slick fast reading script that’s not bogged down with all the crap you’ve been told by some people you need.

You don’t need overly long physical descriptions of your characters. Blonde hair? Blue eyes? Brown eyes? Red nail polish? I’ve seen it all. Waste of space. No one cares. Unless it has to do with the story, it doesn’t matter. In fact, these days the less you say is better. Why is this? Because as the READER is getting into the story, they get to picture the character the way they want to and that helps with the ease of the read. If there is a physical characteristic that is a story point, then by all means get it in there. Otherwise, let the words spoken and the actions, the story, define who the character is.

I just read a script where every female character was described with some flourish to be as sexy or beautiful as she could be. It took me right out of the story. Why? First, I hate it. Lots of people who read scripts hate it because it’s unrealistic and cheap (and sexist) and if you look around you wherever you are, you aren’t going to see a lot of supermodels, so why populate your script with them. You want to write a story that resonates with real people? Write about real people. Real women. Real men. You can put them in unique and other worldly situations, but they still need to be real. Let the reader decide who your characters are inside and out by the dialogue and action and what they feel and see in their heads as they read.

You don’t need descriptions of what everyone is wearing unless it’s part of the plot. I just wrote a scene where a woman had a wedding dress on. Why? She was getting married as part of the plot. In every other scene she’s in? Not a word about her wardrobe. Why? It has nothing to do with story. It takes up valuable story space and it takes the reader... you guessed it... out of the story.

Capitalizing sounds? BAM. BOOM. Capitalizing props? CAR. BEER BOTTLE. SANDWICH.

I had one writer tell me those things need to be there for the Sound and Prop departments so they know what they are in the film. I hate to tell you this... but there are no Sound or Prop departments in a spec script. There are no departments at all. You only have those if the script sells and they go to a shooting script.

That goes to my next point... Spec scripts never ever ever never ever ever never get made the way you wrote it anyway. Never. Ever. By the time a Sound or Prop department sees the script it’s been rewritten so many times it often doesn’t resemble what you wrote in the first place. So ALL those WORDS capitalized in YOUR script JUST look RIDICULOUS and... yes... take the reader out of the story.

Don’t use character names that are unpronounceable. Don’t use words that the average reader will have to look up. I see these all the time. It’s not about impressing someone with clever names or vocabulary. They don’t care. Honest.

The purpose of a Spec script is for the reader to see and experience your story through your words. To see it in their head as a film or TV show. That’s it. It’s not anything more difficult to understand than that. It’s not easy to do, but that’s what gets you noticed and your script noticed. Lean and clean. Uncluttered.

You want a script they don’t put down. One that they want and need to keep reading. You clutter it up and make the read difficult and it’s too easy for them to put it down. Maybe to never pick up again. When they can read your script in an hour because it READS well, you stand a much better chance of moving it to a different level.

Leaving all this crap out is liberating. It actually sets you free to just concentrate on what’s important.


That's what they option. That's what they buy. That's what they want to see from a screenwriter.

Follow me on Twitter @BobSnz


Ok. Yes. I have been away from this Blog for about 6 months. Not exactly a vacation, but kinda. I did have an awful lot of work last year and it was the best year by far I’ve ever had as a writer, but that’s no excuse. I just got away from it. So, hopefully you’ll let me weasel my way back into your good graces.

The Art of Backtracking. Some history...

Last year sometime in the fall when I was back in LA, I was lucky enough to find myself sitting across a conference table from the head of a pretty big production company. His development exec had brought me in to pitch a couple of things she liked. In the room were the development exec, a sofa full of interns, the head of the production company, his assistant, and a well known actress that came with me because... well, it made sense since one of the pitches was with her in mind and she’s a good friend so it couldn’t hurt, plus she’s great to be with. They weren’t unhappy she came with me.

After some introductions, mostly the interns, and some idle chatter, I got down to business and pitched the movie idea I had with this actress in mind. I got about a minute into it and the boss turned to his assistant and said, “We’re buying this, let the business office know.”

Yes, my jaw dropped. The actress’s jaw dropped. Afterward, she said she’d never seen this happen in 25 years in the business. But there it was. They also asked for a synopsis they could approve before I started writing. At that point I probably would have agreed to anything because shock. So I went home and wrote one. Did I like it? Absolutely. To me, it worked. It worked for them, too. They said, “Get going on it.” I said, “Where’s the contract?” and unleashed my Rep to make a deal. Which after an extended time period, he did. And... a week and a half ago, after a lot of planning, I started on the draft.

Was really happy with the first 10 pages. It flowed. My female protagonist was sharply drawn, I thought. So far the supporting characters worked well, too. I had an ending that worked for what I wanted to do based on the synopsis and my bullet points.

But... and this is a big but... when I got to my male protagonist on page 13 and began to work on the meat of the story with the both of them, I hated him and what was happening to the story. A story I had well planned out. He was a nothing burger. They had zero chemistry. My fault, because I set him up to fail in the synopsis but didn’t realize it. And yet, I wrote on and was painting myself into a story corner because this guy was so lame. Dilemma? You bet. The deadline clock was running and they approved this storyline based on my premise which I still believed was rock solid, so I forced myself forward. As I did this I found it harder and harder to motivate myself to write. The lure of the internet, playing with Rocket the Dog, little chores around the house, screeners to watch. Anything but writing. Guilt? You bet. Admitting I was wrong? Not yet.

So yesterday I forced myself to open the file. To waste more time, I decided to reread what I’d written so far. And there... on page 7, it was. My “what if” moment. A three line minor character I put there to help establish a location greeted me waving his arms wildly and yelling, “Look at me!! What about me!!” And I said, “What if this guy was the male protagonist?”

I sat, my brain finally fully engaged in this writing process I’d been avoiding, and thought about the possibilities. And like a beautiful lightning strike (are there beautiful lightning  strikes?), the whole story opened up. A new much more meaningful emotional ending. A way to build this relationship surprisingly and with intelligence. The whole Magilla. It was all there. Zowie.

It also meant deleting 36 pages of script completely. Gone. Deleting 36 pages of hard struggle. Of hours and hours of work. And completely new story points to work out.

Took me about 30 seconds to think about it and do it. I hit the key. (I still had a backup) Victory was mine. Then I thought... “Uh oh.”

I needed to make the call to the producer to explain I was keeping the premise, the theme, and was completely changing direction in story and would you please let me. She was totally receptive as I explained exactly where it needed to go to work well, asked a couple of excellent questions as she always does, and then said, “I like it. Go and do it.”

I know it’s unfathomable to realize that writers, no matter how much they prepare themselves, can be completely wrong about their story after they’re into a second act. Sarcasm aside, you as a writer owe it to yourself, your characters, your story, to listen to that little voice that says “This is NOT working” when it happens instead of plowing ahead thinking you can write your way out of it. The delete key is your friend. “What if” is your friend. Don’t fear using them liberally if you have to.

This is not the first time this has happened to me, but never on this big a level or circumstances. I find new stuff and get new ideas, not just from me but from my characters, all the time in scripts as I write and go back and adjust. This time it was major. But after my Ah Ha moment I didn’t hesitate because you have to service your story before your ego. If I had kept going with my original storyline, the script wouldn’t have worked. And any rewrites would be based on a script that didn’t work. Plus I’m NOT going to turn in a script that doesn’t work. Neither should you.

Among all the other stuff you have to do as a screenwriter is question the honesty of your work as you go along. Be truthful with yourself. It’s not easy and it hurts a lot sometimes. But it also makes the big picture of what you’re trying to do better, healthier. If you see a character obviously not working, stop and fix it, even if it means radical change. Relationships in the story or conflict not working? Stop. If you force these things it kills good story and killing good story kills scripts, essentially wasting your time.

So, with a renewed sense of purpose I will plow new ground in this script, but this time won’t hesitate to zig in another direction if I think it gets off track again.

Glad to be back. Follow me on Twitter @bobsnz.

Yes. It’s been too long since I last blogged but I have a good excuse. I’ve been in LA for more than a month and writing like a fiend before that. I shall be writing like a fiend again until the end of the year, too. Thank You God.

So... what did I do on my summer vacation. I was in LA.  And what did I see? I did and saw a lot. I learned a lot. I had two spectacular producer meetings that have the potential to change my professional life for the better. Whether they do remains to be seen, but it’s nice to hear from influential people that they are fans of what I do.

But the main part of my trip? Culmination of a dream. I’ve had produced films from scripts I’ve written before. Seven, to be exact. Each one was good, except one, in their own way. All have been successful, even the one I hate, unfortunately. I got a fan Email just yesterday about the one I hate saying they loved it. The fact that the film doesn’t have one single thing I wrote on the screen and that it’s kind of an embarrassment to have my name on it notwithstanding.

Back to Summer Vacation. Our first stop.  A script I did a complete page one rewrite on that was NOT my idea nor my original script, but one that I did LOVE the premise and basic story for and a lot of the people who were involved, went into production. I got to spend a couple of days on the set, including playing a small part in the film they were kind enough to offer. I even got to play guitar on screen, another dream fulfilled. Wait, I got to play guitar while Joey Fatone danced to it. Not bad for an old guy like me. Even if my scenes end up on the cutting room floor it was a wonderful experience, so my profound thanks to all involved. But beyond that I also think this could be a very good and maybe groundbreaking film in a genre that’s not known for its groundbreaking films. I hope so. Thank you, John McGalliard, Stephen Baldwin, Christopher Shawn Shaw, and Thor Ramsey.

The rest of my six weeks of vacation, minus the things I’ve mentioned? Ok... this is where it gets really good.

One of my original spec scripts shot at the same time as the other film. Yes, I had two films in production at the same time, something that probably will never happen again. The fact that I’m still under embargo not to mention the specifics of this second project because it hasn’t been announced yet makes this part of the blog post a little tricky, but I shall try to be as vague as possible while still telling you how incredibly damned wonderful and exciting and spectacular it was.

Let’s start with casting, and holy crap what a CAST. Better than I could have ever imagined down to the smallest character, all of those filled with fabulous very recognizable talented character actors... and the leads, forget about it, just remarkable. Only one sore thumb in the cast. Me. Once again these wonderful people asked me to play a small on camera role, which was mega fun. I never write roles for myself when I write a script because... well, I never write roles for any actor. I write CHARACTERS who fit the story I’m trying to tell and hope actors want to play them. It’s worked out well. They offered me a role that surprised me, though. Which if you think about it, is damn cool. And I’m crazy about the casting agent who did this, too. She was wonderful, sweet, smart, innovative and yes, I will name everyone when the embargo is lifted.

The director. Can I say I love him without it sounding pervy? No? Then I don’t care. And even though he is now my lifelong friend, I’ve never worked with anyone I was so on the same page with. Watching him work to bring my story alive was so amazing that I did cry sitting there on set on a few occasions. Watching characters come alive the way I wrote and pictured them was something I hope every writer gets to experience.

The producers. More love. The one on set everyday worked harder than I’ve ever seen a producer work and got more done than I thought possible.

The crew. The best. THE. BEST. In every department. The best.

And every time I was there and there were a lot of extras (some days a whole lot) I went and sat down with them. That’s where I started in this business. Right there in extra’s holding. Right there with the people who get to eat last. And I talked to them and I told them to never give up on their dreams. That I didn’t and even though it took 18 years of not giving up, my dreams were now seeing the light of day in ways I never could have imagined.

I got to share some of it with my wife and daughters. My wife was with me most of the time, except the days I acted (or attempted to act) and was, as she always is, one of the most popular people on the set. The fact that she baked piles of homemade cookies for everybody helped. Two of the stars came up to her separately after the first batch to ask for more please. Immensely satisfying to her... and me. She’s been at my side for this whole journey and I couldn’t have made it without her. I can never repay her for all she’s done. The greatest wife ever.

My daughters came for one night of filming each and that was also wonderful. Not only so they could share it with me, but to see the scope of the production, which in both cases surprised them. Hey, I’m Dad. They’ve lived with this dream and all the failure and hard work and rejection and been uber-supportive. I wanted them to see that it all paid off in a big way.

Now I’m off to write the first of three paid jobs I need to get done. Two movies and a second episode of my series I hope to tell you about soon. Everything moves so slow in Hollywood and everything can blow up and disappear at any time too. So that’s why I am careful about specifics until a project is really real.

Or announced. Damn it.

Follow me on Twitter @BobSnz

You can. It’s not always easy. But you can.

As much as I’ve said more than once in my Blogs that no one is the exception, that everyone’s scripts get changed and they always bring in other writers (Hey... I’ve BEEN that other writer on many occasions), it still hurts when it happens to you, especially completely unexpectedly on a project I’ve been working on for 10 years. Not that it wasn’t completely explained in a very nice way by someone who was clearly unhappy to be doing it, it stung a lot. I do get it. I do understand, but... damn.

And yet, as a script I was hired to rewrite goes out to the original writer today, I can’t help feeling like a hypocrite. He’s going to read a script that was based on his, but isn’t his. I did try my hardest to write it with his intent at the front of my mind at all times. As I told my wife, “They bought HIS script, not mine.”

So I strove to make his characters true to what he had intended for the most part. Yes, I did change a couple of them radically. One from a comic relief spectator to a very important cog in the story wheel. Another just to make her more interesting and less like the other female lead. But these changes, in my opinion and of the producers who’ve already read it (thank You, God), I believe have made this story a fully arcing compelling, funny, tale. With weaving subplots that all come together for a satisfying end. Plus stuff for the audience to talk about as they walk out and over coffee. That’s not too bad.

I hope he likes it. I’ll understand if he doesn’t. I changed a lot of dialogue. There are whole scenes he didn’t write. I took out a huge subplot and replaced it with... nothing. It’s just gone. And so are the three characters that populated that subplot. I took that space to meaningfully build the main story and main characters.

And now... or soon anyway, someone will be doing the same thing to my script.  It’s just what happens when you decide to try and be a screenwriter.

Of the seven produced films I have out there, I’m happy to say that two are 95% of what I wrote for my final draft. Two are probably at 75%. One at about 50%. One at maybe 35%. And one at about .01% and have no idea why my name is still on it. Plus, it’s irredeemably bad.

I think I’ve actually been luckier that way than most, talking to some of my friends. And I like all the films, except the THAT ONE. Whoever wrote the percentages I didn’t write (except THAT ONE) did well enough to make the film as good, or in some cases, better than I had written them. Just in a different way.

If you get to the point of having something produced, you’ll go through the same things. And even though I understand intellectually that this IS the business I chose and the way it works, I still spent a lot of yesterday wanting to punch something. Ok, and maybe actually punching some helpless inanimate objects.

Today? Not so much. I’ve erased the project from my white board and for now, am moving on to other projects I am actively writing or involved in. Including the rewrite that went out today, which may be one the best I’ve ever done, or at least I feel that way right now.

I’m getting paid to do the thing I dreamed about all my life.  I look at it and it’s a dream come true.

I have a super supportive wife, super supportive kids, supportive friends who mean the world to me, a kick ass dog who gets me, a manager who has been true to his word and puts up with my bullshit, and when I think about all those things, I realize what I was upset about yesterday has happened for a reason. What that reason is has eluded me thus far, but if I sit in a corner and dwell on it, the only loser is me.

Being a screenwriter this day and age is as close to being a masochist as you can get. You do get beat up a lot. You hear NO (in more inventive ways than you can count) more than a lot. You get soooo close soooo many times and then, poof, it’s gone a lot. You have to be tough. You have to be resilient. You have to have a good supply of stuff soft enough to punch and not get hurt. And at the end of the day, you have to be able to sit back and, as clichéd as it is, count your Blessings.

I think about my set visits to films I wrote and wonder if they were real because they were so amazing. I think about watching director’s cuts of my films with my wife and trying not to cry when something I know I wrote works so damn well on screen. I think about the production meetings. The conference calls. The exhilaration when I write something I know works. The high of finishing a script. Of polishing a script. The discovery of something you never dreamed of for a script while writing it and having it make everything work better. Those are the things you LIVE for professionally. Of working with someone, whether it’s a partner, producer, director, or development exec on a script and having it hit on all cylinders. It’s those things that bring you back. It’s those things that move you forward.

Wow. My amazing wife just brought me some hot tea with honey. Rocket the dog is here at my feet and I have another writing assignment due this month. I don’t have time to think about what’s past.

A smart screenwriter looks forward, only looking back to learn from mistakes, not looking back at what could have been. That accomplishes nothing. So I thank you... for letting me use my Blog this month as therapy. And my hope is that you can learn from this and be prepared for how wonderful and painful this screenwriting thing can be at the same time.

Formula. Food for babies so they get all the nutrients they need. A blending of chemicals to make a drug. A specific path to follow to make beer or wine. A way of rating race cars. In Mathematics, a rule or principle, frequently expressed in algebraic symbols. A formal statement of religious doctrine.

A way to write a successful spec script? Not so much.

I know this may rub some writers or some script gurus the wrong way, but in my opinion a spec script written to a formula is never going to be anything special. How do you write a creative story that lets your own unique writing voice sing out if you have to write it according to some formula? If the story reads like everyone else who’s used the same formula, it most likely can’t.

I’m not talking about format. You need to follow that.

The reason for this Blog is a couple of emails I got and an advertisement I read online all touting to have the secret of getting your script sold and made. All by people who’d never had a screenplay produced, or if they did it was in 1986. They were pushing their formulas. Not unlike Save the Cat, which personally I also think stifles creativity and good storytelling.

Now. There are people who will tell you certain genres have Formulas you have to follow. Where did these formulas come from? From writers who went out of the box to begin with to find success. And when it worked, others followed. Thus becoming formula. Does that mean other new things in that genre won’t or don’t work? Hell no. This is about going out of the box or being a follower with your own spec scripts.

When you get to the point of doing some writing for hire for producers, or studios, or networks, some will have you follow their formulas, their rules for what they want in a script. Some cable networks actually have them written down. Most every TV show has them in stone.

The problem with actually getting these jobs is that you have to get noticed for your own spec work to get them. And believe me, the people who would rep you or hire you are NOT looking for formula from new writers. They’re looking for exciting great stories they haven’t read before told with a unique voice. Your voice. Not a Tarantino clone. Not a Shane Black or Tony Gilroy clone. The one you’ve developed by writing and writing and writing and letting go of preconceived ideas and releasing your own creative voice. One of the best compliments I ever got about a spec script I wrote was from a producer who said she knew I’d written it about five pages in by the voice and style. She also optioned it.

Then there’s my spec script that’s responsible for EVERY job I’ve ever gotten, EVERY room I’ve ever been in, got me my Rep, and is in some way responsible for everything else good that has happened to me in this business. What about it? Readers have trouble deciding who exactly the Protagonist is. When they finally decide it’s one person, that person dies. The main character, who may or may not be the Protagonist or may be the Antagonist, has NO ARC. He doesn’t change or grow or learn a damn thing. In fact, in his last line of dialogue he tells the audience that in so many words. Did I write it that way on purpose?

No, not really. I’m also not sad it turned out that way. I just wanted to write a great story that would be great on screen. Something I’d never seen before. And I came up with something I believed in, something if it worked that would make people pay attention to me as a writer. Does it follow any formula at all? Well, I guess it has three acts. Inciting incident? Page 37. Oh… it has specific music cues in it. An opening scene where the first characters introduced never say a single word for their entire time on screen in the film. Are they important characters? Yes.

And guess what? No one has cared. No one. It’s been optioned 8 times over the last 16 years by 8 different producers or production companies, including a studio. In the past, I’ve had producers in line waiting for an option with another producer to lapse so they could option it. I got a call a month ago asking if it was available. (it's not) And it’s never been made. No one made it because... well... the story itself is a wee bit controversial too.

Something else I did on purpose. I really never meant for it to get made. I meant for it to get me noticed. It did. The fact that it’s getting made next year, by the 8th production company, is a bonus.

A spec script these days has a very slim chance of getting made. Just the way it is right now and for the foreseeable future. Yes, there are some that get produced. Hell, I’ve had some produced. But selling specs is a very very tough road to go down. What you want from a spec is to show people, people who could hire you for writing jobs, that you have skill, imagination, a unique voice, and the strength to go out of that formula box, even though they may put you back into it to work for them. I know, it’s weird. But true. Ask any writer who’s broken out lately if they didn’t throw some formula to the wind to make the spec that got them noticed something different and special.

Formula has a place. You will be asked to use it for writing jobs. So you should know it before you ignore all or parts of it for your spec. It’s there to make familiar things happen that audiences are used to in certain kinds of films. Things everyone has seen before. It’s there because some people think it has to be there for your story to work cinematically. I personally don’t believe that.

But if you stick to it in your specs, trying to mold your story around it, Producers and Reps probably have nothing special to notice.

Follow me on Twitter @bobsnz

Again, I’ve been ignoring my blog not because I don’t have anything to say but because I have a film going into production early next year and the director wanted one more rewrite for casting that takes place this month. That one more rewrite ended up becoming a five week “let’s vet every single word” rewrite.

Is the script better? Yes. Did he let me do ALL the writing and listen to me? YES. Did I win some arguments? Yes. Did I lose some? Yes. Did he let me take those notes and put my spin on them so I could maintain the integrity of the story and characters? Yes again. Have I been the only writer on this from when it was originally my spec until now? Yes. Am I spoiled on this one? You bet your ass.

He did have last say, but then he’s the director. I’m not. I get it. He’s also smart and knows what he’s doing and I completely trust him. I did get frustrated and I am sure that I frustrated the hell out of him at times. I thought it would never end and feared it wouldn’t at the same time. This is a big one for me. A spec I wrote 16 years ago that has been responsible in some way for every writing job I have ever gotten and every room I’ve ever gotten into. So it’s very meaningful. And to have this kind of experience, I’m certain, is a fortune I will never have again in this business. So I am thankful and grateful.

I have written reams in my blogs about script notes. How you will get them. How there's a 100% certainty your script will change. How you can cooperate or be tossed away like yesterday’s garbage from the project.

But I’ve never written about how much you can LEARN from the experience if you open your mind to other experienced people with a different point of view and understand why they want to do the things they want to do with your work. This director was very clear he loved my spec and understood my themes, my story, and the characters, but also clear when he said, “This film will be my interpretation of your script.” There was no waffling or beating around the bush.

But in giving me the notes he had and the notes he got from our new producer, who has only produced some of my favorite films, he talked about density and specificity, and then proceeded to show me what he meant.

We took characters and scenes that worked and proceeded to layer them with meaning I never thought about. To give conversations I thought were great much more depth and subtext. To give the multiple subplots more dimension and meaning as they reflect on the main storyline. And every time we did these things, I learned something new that will make me, I think, a better writer in the future. It was like a doctoral degree writing lesson. For hours and hours every day. My brain hurt every night because all I could think about was this story and these characters and how they related to each other as the story progressed, even after we stopped for the day. In my dreams, even after I was asleep.

The funny thing was, as we wrapped up the rewrite last night and the director sends it out today to the producers and the casting company, I knew this wasn’t the end. I knew we’d be back at it as soon as we got more notes from producers and actors that were cast. And that’s fine with me. Bring it on.

As a screenwriter, no matter where you are on the pecking order, it’s incumbent on you to always be learning. To suck knowledge from those who know more. And believe me, there are ALWAYS people who know more. They’re also easy to mistakenly dismiss if you are so wedded to your work that you can’t open your mind to them. And that can be harmful to you as a writer in the long run.

In the middle of all of this, I also had the joy of being a judge in a short film writing contest put on by a national screenwriting group made up of and for teens (with one 11 year old) who want nothing more than to do this for a living and are WORKING hard at it to learn, grow, and get better. (There needs to be an applause button here) They, like me, decided early in life that this is what they want to do. Only they, unlike me, are starting now rather than just dreaming about it for the first 35 years before doing anything about it like I did.

So they sent me the finalists in their contest. 7 short scripts that averaged about 8 pages each. The 11 year old’s was 20 pages, but we’ll get into that in a minute.

First, second, and third place winners got some nice prizes and Final Draft (good for you) was awarding the winners free software, which is pretty cool since all the scripts were all obviously written in Word.

I decided to read all the scripts in one sitting to be fair. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much, but then whenever I read a script by any new writer I’m not expecting much.

Four of the scripts were what I expected from teen writers. Stories about high schoolers that went nowhere and didn’t have any theme or purpose. They were still well written with a basic knowledge of what dialogue should and can be. Not as bad as some adult written dialogue I’ve read for sure. Those were easy to put in the “Honorable Mention” category. But I also don't want to ignore the fact these writers had obviously learned a lot and were on the right track.

The 11 year old took third with the only script NOT about school age kids. Amazingly enough, he wrote a 20 page script about two adult men having a “My Dinner with Andre” philosophical discussion while each sat in their respective cars stuck in a traffic jam before going their own ways. It was too long and repetitive, but wow, I loved the thought process that brought this about. He/she was already out of their comfort zone trying this at 11. Impressive. I’d help this kid anytime they asked.

Second place went to a 17 year old who wrote a five page piece about how two different high school kids specifically see each other from each kid’s point of view and how even though they both think they’re so different, they aren’t. Clear theme. Fairly good dialogue. Super thought process. Thought this one might be the winner.

Until I read the first place script. Also by a 17 year old. It started out for the first few pages like a boring selfish high schoolers day and ended up with this high school girl discovering that her preconceived notions about people and situations were not what she thought at all and learning and growing from it. In 6 pages. A whole character arc well thought out. Easy winner. Again, impressive. You could tell this writer had studied and learned and retained and was putting the education into practice.

No way any of these 7 finalists just threw these together. They were serious about this. They want to learn. They want to grow as writers.

You, as a writer, can learn from them. There is always an education in writing to be had out there if you want it and see it and are open to it. Sometimes it might hurt, but it’s always worth it.

Follow me on Twitter. @BobSnz

Fear. Fear you’ll never make it. Fear, if you’ve had success and then get a lull, that you’ll never ever work again. Fear that the script you’re halfway through sucks like crazy. Fear that the script you’re halfway through and LOVE is already being made someplace. Fear that you’ve been pigeonholed in your career and now all anyone wants from you is a narrow scope of one genre. Fear of rejection. Fear your manager isn’t brave enough to tell you that NOBODY wants to see you and that you should take that job at Home Depot.

Loathing. Loathing the empty page that’s been sitting in front of you for three days. Loathing social media because it’s a time suck you can never get back, but you just can’t stay away because you might miss something good. Loathing that your moods about all these things will affect the people you love and care about. Loathing looking in the mirror for fear of seeing a fraud.

How do I know all of this? Because I’ve experienced all of them. Sometimes all at once. It’s not fun. And even though I know when this happens, and it will happen to you or already has, that the only person it hurts is me, I still fall into it.

Welcome to the world of creative arts. It’s not just screenwriting that this affects. My story isn’t different than anyone else that has the need and desire to create.

Film and TV is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. From the time I was about ten years old, I knew it. I obsessed about it. I wanted to be an actor and I set about doing something about it. I worked at it. I didn’t wait for it to happen. I was proactive. It wasn’t until I found some success at it, I realized I wasn’t destined to make at living at it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in a bunch of films and TV shows and just got cast in a pretty good film this week. (My first acting job in a couple of years.) But it's not my strength.

Don't misunderstand, I’m really comfortable on a set and in front of cameras. I mean, I enjoy the hell out of it. And in a small range of characters I’m not too bad, but I’m never going to be a world beater as an actor. It was a sad, but liberating thing to realize. It got me looking in other directions.

It was then I found out I got more joy from writing. And even more fortunate that I seemed to be somewhat good at it. Much better than I was as an actor.

I still have the same desire I had when I was ten years old. All I want to do is make movies or TV. Every time I step onto a set as an actor or a writer it’s magic. I shed a tear of happiness in private on every set I’ve ever been on. It’s a dream come true every time. I am so grateful for everyone who’s helped me on my way, too. But I’m also very aware I’m always one lonely step away from that ledge.

When you want to do something creative for a living, it’s like walking a tightrope without a net. You’re out there alone with nothing to catch you.

You are on your own until you establish yourself one way or another. Even then, the only person you can count on in the long run professionally is you.

Therefore, fearing and loathing can become your daily companions. And it’s up to you to fight the hell out of them. And you do it by putting your head down and plowing through it. If a blank page is taunting you, write. It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not. You can’t let that damn blank page beat you. You do that to every fear. Knock it on its ass.

And I’m the biggest criminal. I was in the grips of the great fear I’d never work again in this business when I got the acting job. Couple of days later a producer sent me the galley of a novel that’s coming out late this year for my take on the adaptation. (GREAT novel, by the way, so far.) And a director called to say the film based on a script I wrote 17 years ago (you read that right) is still on track for shooting early next year. My manager set a meeting with a big production company that’s very interested in a limited series I did with another writer. The light at the end of the tunnel was not an oncoming train. All the effort and time I wasted on fear and self-loathing was just that. WASTED TIME. And I knew it at the time and still I let it color my life.

Thus, I hit myself in the head and say, “Idiot.”

You can’t get anything constructive done when you’re paralyzed with this kind of fear and loathing. You can’t. But boy do you get to make excuses. Tons of them. All of them lame.

You are going to experience this. You do experience this. You’re experiencing this now. Well then... Wake up! Stop it! I know it’s easy for me to say now, but damn it, I need to write this because I need this advice myself. I need to listen to it and put it into action.

You need to tell fear to get screwed. You don’t have time for it. I’ve written before about how you need to be fearless to do this screenwriting thing, but it’s more than that. You need to dispel self doubt. You need to believe. In yourself. In what you do.

Doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the work. The hours and hours of all kinds of research and all kinds of reading and writing and rewriting. The hours and hours of work to get it out there. The hours and hours of work marketing yourself and what you do.

You can choose though whether it’s painful or a joy. You can choose how you react to the setbacks and rejection. And there will be plenty of both. You can choose to let it paralyze you or you can use it as a motivator. As a learning curve. To use it to make your scripts better. Because it can be all that if you choose it.

Now if I can only be smart enough to take my own advice.


Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

Let me state right up front that these are my OPINIONS. They are based on my experience, but they remain my opinions. I will also be up front and say I have in the past written for free at times (not for a long long time and not ever again) and if I had to do it over again...

I wouldn’t do it.

So... let’s talk turkey about writing for free or optioning your work for free (or a dollar).

It’s not fair to you.

Let’s talk about script options first.

A guy walks into a shoe store and says to the owner, “I want your best shoes, but I’m only going to pay you a dollar or maybe take them for free and rent them for a year and in that time I’m going to let other people wear them for a day or two to see if they like them and if one of them does and wants them permanently in that year, I’ll pay you your regular price for them and give you credit for renting them to me. If no one buys them, then you get them back and you can keep the dollar, unless you agreed to let me take them for free, and then you can try to sell them again, but not to me. And by the way, we return 99% of the shoes we rent.”

Sound like a good deal to you?

If you’ve invested exactly NOTHING in something, how easy would it be to give up on it? Pretty damn easy. If you invest actual money in something that you will lose if you fail? You’re going to try a lot harder. If you really believe in something and value what it took for the person you’re getting it from to create it, you’re going to reward them for their effort. Even if it’s minimally.

When you option your script for zero, what you’re telling the person optioning it, is that you are placing your worth at zero. You’re setting your quote.

Believe me, if a legitimate production company balks (and legitimate ones don't) at giving you (if you are new and not WGA) $500 to $1000 dollars for a 12 month option they aren’t that crazy about your script anyway. Plus now they have skin in the game. They invested money. It’s not as much the amount as it is the psychology of it.

And this doesn’t take into account the “Producer” who may be offering you $100 to $1000 dollars to BUY your script if the project is super low budget. NEVER accept, even if it’s a super low budget film, just “Screen Credit” as pay. That producer or director offering that is using YOUR script to make a film that they want to advance THEIR career. Not yours. Don’t let someone make their bones on your back. Even if the budget is 10K, you need to get your 2 ½% ($250). Fair is fair and your work is the BASIS for the film. Get paid every time.

I know I’m making it sound like there’s an adversarial relationship between writer and producer. If the producer is a legit producer, it’s not. Any producer, and I mean ANY producer, who can get work for free is going to try. Hey. I had one try with me a couple of months ago. Right after they did it and I laughed and said no way, we got serious about fees and it was a quick negotiation. It wasn’t a problem. There were zero hard feelings. It’s business. Would I have passed on the job if there was no pay, but just promises? Yes. My personal view is no pay, no work. Promises don’t pay bills. If I’m going to work for free, I’ll write a spec script that’s all mine, not owned by someone else when I’m done.

They aren’t going to get pushed out of shape or hold it against you if you stand up for yourself as a business person and ask to get paid for your hard work and imagination. It doesn’t have to be a lot when you’re first starting, but it should be something. If someone wants your work, then you have worth. They’re telling you that by wanting it.

Now... let’s talk about writing a script for a producer for free.

Mr. Producer has a great idea and he needs a writer to write it. He likes your work and comes to you and says, “There’s no pay upfront, but if we make it you’ll get paid and get credit.” Uh huh. Again, he has ZERO invested in this besides thinking it’s a great idea. ZERO. How easy is it for him to give up on it? Pretty damn easy. Yes, sometimes a one in a million shot happens and the film gets made. But I’ve heard from countless writers who spent months of their time on other people’s projects for free and got paid exactly what was promised. Nothing. And they didn’t have any ownership of the script either. Less than nothing.

The vast vast majority of these projects go nowhere, just like the vast majority of most projects go nowhere. But if you get paid for your work, you still have something to show from it. Even if it’s a minimal amount like $500 to $1000 dollars (depending on budget) for a new writer.

Plus, you’re going to work harder on it and do a better job, knowing you’re being treated as a professional.

Yes... You’re going to hear people say, “But writing for free is paying your dues.” No, it’s not. It’s setting your worth at nothing. What other business would take something that you spent a lot of time to create from you for free? I can’t think of a lot of them. Hell, I can’t think of any.

How hard do you have to work to finish a great script? A script someone might want. A script that’s a good enough sample to get you write for hire offers? Why would you give it away? Even for 12 months.

I have worked with some amazing producers and directors in my short career. Some smart wonderful fair people. I’m working with some now. This business is filled with real business people who are fair when you ask to be treated fairly. Will some of them lowball you? You bet. It’s in their interest to try. Are they upset when you don’t agree? Nope. It’s business. And I have to tell you, a lot of the time you will get fair offers to begin with.  I'm just talking about the times when you don't. And when you get a manager and agent and a lawyer, they’ll handle it anyway. But even if they handle it, YOU still have to agree. You are the one who signs the contract. You still have to look after yourself and ask the questions you need to ask and be satisfied with the outcome. It’s YOUR career.

Someone offers you nothing for your script or nothing to write for them? Your choice. I always say no. I’m worth more than that.

The time has come to talk about Fearlessness. Something every successful screenwriter processes.

Fearless. About working with people. Fearless. About their own work.

Let’s tackle the second one first. Fearless about your own work. If you don’t believe in it, no one will. But don’t mistake fearlessness with ego. There’s a difference in believing in what you do and unrealistically looking at your work. As a new writer (or as an experienced writer for that matter), you have to be able to listen to your own honest opinions or others opinions of your work without letting your emotions and ego get the better of you. To look at your work dispassionately and see it for what it is, even if it’s bad. Especially if it’s bad. To learn that other people’s notes, even the ones you have no use for at first glance, can a lot of times make your script better. Or... can cause you to fearlessly throw it out and start again if you need to.

Just happened to me. I’ve spent the best part of the last four weeks working on a pilot script for a dark comedy series. I finished it a couple of days ago. Today I deleted it, completely. Not going to make some people happy, but instead of handing in something I know isn’t near good enough in my opinion, I’m going to regroup immediately and tackle it again, fearlessly. I know I can conquer this. It’s in my wheelhouse. Dark. Funny. Twisted.

Part of being fearless as a writer is being able to look at your own work and toss all or parts of it if you have to. You know if it’s not good or not. It’s being honest with yourself that’s the hard part. To throw out the bathwater, baby and all. Sometimes it’s the first ten pages. Sometimes it’s a whole act. Sometimes it’s the ending. And sometimes it’s the whole damn thing. Like today.

Don’t be afraid to be completely honest with your own work. Save you a lot of grief in the future.

Now to being fearless working in the industry.

Screenwriting is a scary enterprise. You already know it’s not easy. Getting a film or TV show made from your original scripts is a damn miracle. The odds of being consistently successful are impossibly long. And screenwriters are subjected daily to ego crushing events. They get bounced off their own projects and replaced by writers who don’t care how much time and personal creativity you devoted to it. Producers and Directors change your work so much that sometimes you don’t even recognize it as yours. Screenwriters are left out of most of the crucial decisions about a project. Sometimes you can write something, sell it, and end up with zero screen credit for it. Did I leave anything out? Oh yeah, a lot, but I’m not here to depress you. I’m just showing you there are a lot of things to fear in trying to do this.

You should know that the three things Producers and Directors HATE from writers are fear and desperation and unwarranted ego.

They look at screenwriters with an agenda. And this only happens if they LIKE what you do. Can I work with this person?  Do they process the ability to understand what we want and give it to us creatively? Are they ready to do some heavy lifting without complaint? Do they understand the filmmaking process and can they live with it? And the list goes on....

Meetings with Producers can easily become scary places if you let them. The fearless will go in knowing they belong, with their ears and eyes open and speaking when they have something substantive to add, not just to hear their voice. The fearless aren’t intractable and defensive. The fearless aren’t afraid of other people’s ideas and opinions. The fearless welcome the opportunity to co-operate. The fearless stay in the room longer. A lot longer.

I wish screenwriting were as easy as writing a first draft, selling it, and watching the film as you wrote it. I wish I didn’t run into writers who believe it is or should be. Writers full of ego and emotion who can’t believe it’s so hard. Writers who are angry and desperate at the same time because the industry doesn’t recognize their particular genius. Writers who are truly amazed that they can’t just waltz in and get everything they want. Writers who are the reason producers ask their secretaries to interrupt the meeting after 10 minutes with a fake call so they can flee if they have to.

Fearlessness isn’t entitlement. It’s the attitude of the professional.

Yes. You read that right. Strategic Patience. I first heard this term when someone in our Government used to it to explain why they weren’t doing anything about a huge problem that needed attention. I laughed, but on second glance I thought, you know, really not a bad term to use when it comes to writers.

As every experienced writer knows, patience is something that is needed almost as much as creativity is. I was terrible at it for a long time. I stressed and fretted about not hearing from producers or production companies after submitting something. I let my imagination run wild and all of it bad. But I finally learned to let it go. Let things happen when they do.

A writer hears NO more than any other word in their professional life. From direct NO’s, to light positive NO’s, to broad excuse NO’s, to “we love it, but...” NO’s, and everything in between. The worst is the silent NO where the producer just never responds and you’re supposed to understand that is still a direct NO. In fact, and this is a truth. Anything that isn’t a direct YES with a contract involved is a NO.

And you’re supposed to understand that NO is standard and the occasional YES it supposed to be treated like a miracle that might not ever happen again. I understand it, but it still hurts a little no matter how many times you experience it, whether it’s for a spec or for a rewrite or adaptation job you thought you had a chance for.

I’m asked all the time by new writers “How long do you wait to hear from a producer or manager/agent after you submit a script?” My answer is always the same. “Who the hell knows?”

You can hear the next day or you can hear in 6 months or a year. Or as I said before, never. Good producers, good agents, good managers are busy people. In most cases, really busy people. They also usually have a huge stack of scripts to read. The ones sent from friends, professional contacts, actors, the big agencies... those get read first. Sorry. Just the way it is. They do get to yours if they’ve requested it, but most of the time it isn’t timely. And you as a writer have to practice strategic patience. Meaning... you can’t be calling to find out what’s going on or emailing on a regular basis asking if they’ve read it yet. Yes, you can do these things, but sparingly. Being a pain in the ass is not the impression you want to leave.

This is also goes for writers who send in rewrites on a heavy deadline and then hear nothing for weeks. I know it’s tough. I’m experiencing it now. The big rewrite I had to have done on January 5th and got in on time? Have I heard anything yet? Not a thing. Does that make a writer semi-crazy? Uh huh. But the last time I had a deadline like this with the same company I waited 10 months to hear. Yes, I called or emailed a couple of times during that period and received very nice polite answers that said, “We’ll get to it.” This is a GOOD company that I’ve worked for many times, so I wait. Strategic Patience. Last time after not hearing 10 months, they called to tell me when the first day of shooting was and how we needed to rush the next rewrite for production. You just never know.

But you can still get caught in it. You can still misfire and be stupid. I had a very interesting 5 day rewrite on a script that a director and producer needed done because at the end of the 5 days they start their location scouting. Tight tight schedule. I was thrilled to get the job after pitching for it. I got the script on the Friday before Superbowl, read it and made my notes Saturday, and had a conference call to pitch my ideas with the director and producer on Sunday before the game, then waited until Tuesday when I got the job. No time to celebrate either because they needed it Saturday. Terrific people, too. Very open to my ideas and pretty much let me apply those ideas any way I wanted. So I sent it to them early, late Friday Night. Yes, I did write about 12/16 hours a day to get it there. They said they would read it immediately and get back to me.

And then Saturday & Sunday came and... nothing. About 5pm on Sunday, I texted the director with a “Hey, you guys read it yet?” She got right back to me to say basically, “Relax, we’ll get back to you soon.” So, like most neurotic writers I immediately figured the reason they hadn’t called was because they hated it and were busy rewriting it themselves. I was a failure. What did I do wrong? My wife, who was used to this when I first started out, hit me. “Stop it. Have you learned nothing?”

Apparently. They called Monday late afternoon to say they loved 95% of it and the other 5% was the part I didn’t particularly like either. They didn’t have a solve for that 5% yet and neither did I, so we’re in a holding pattern on that, but the rest... they really liked and were going to use.

I let my own discipline about patience fly out the window. Not good. It makes me look unprofessional. It raises my blood pressure. And my wife hits me. (not hard, ok?)

I have a white board in my office that has a list of everything I’m actively working on listed with deadline dates if they have them, number of pages completed if it’s a script, and a checkmark next to it when it’s finished, like a synopsis or treatment (don’t get me started on treatments, I hate them more than anything). And then, when I send it, the date it got sent.

Then after a month or so, or I get more work than the white board can hold, I start erasing. Even if I haven’t heard back yet. My way, I think, of compartmentalizing everything. To send and try to forget for at least a while.

Right now, besides waiting for news on the rewrite from January, I’m waiting for news about my Procedural Series from a very large Production Company who told me they are excited by it. By the way, production companies can be very excited about something you wrote and not buy it. Happens every day. So, I wait. And I move on to other projects and opportunities and will not be bugging them. You have to let things happens in their own time. Hollywood time. Where time sometimes stands still. And remember for every NO you waited a long time for, when you get a YES it’s all worth it. Honest.

You send something? Be smart. Practice Strategic Patience.