The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Mark Sanderson’s List

E.B. White wrote that there are “no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.” With this in mind, we’ve asked working screenwriters to share a list of the “un-rules” that they find most helpful in their writing careers.

Our list this week comes from the talented Mark Sanderson (@scriptcat). Mark is a screenwriter and consultant blessed to be living his childhood dream of making movies. He has done sketch comedy writing and performing with The Amazing Onionheads, completed eleven screenplay assignments and television premieres, and enjoyed worldwide distribution of his emotionally compelling films, the WWII indie feature I’ll Remember April, Lifetime Network’s holiday films Deck the Halls and An Accidental Christmas, 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 20th Century Fox’s Silent Venom).

His films have been recognized at major film festivals and distributed globally. Mark’s long association with Hollywood veterans dates back to his first produced screenplay, and he has since worked with Academy Award winning producers, veteran genre directors, and Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe acting nominees.

Mark is currently busy shopping two TV pilots, moving into pre-production on his indie sci-fi comedy Area 54, and he just completed his first book, A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success. He offers workshops, webinars and screenplay consultation services at his website FIVE O’CLOCK BLUE ENTERTAINMENT and screenwriting advice on his popular blog MY BLANK PAGE (Script Magazine’s pick for Website of the Week).

Here are the rules that Mark would like to share with us today:

  1. Respect the craft of screenwriting. This includes mastering format and becoming an excellent storyteller. There is no easy way to success. If you believe that your first script will make your career, you will be humbled when you learn that your craft is bigger than you’ll ever be.

  2. Carve out a schedule and protect your precious screenwriting time.Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.”—Ernest Hemingway.

  3. Create a solid body of work. Are you a one-script wonder or a workhorse who constantly creates new material? Always have ready a new pitch, synopsis, treatment or script to offer. Hollywood is a business and agents and managers size you up to see your professional work ethic.

  4. Be a team player who is open to collaboration and notes. Don’t bristle or defend every change in your screenplay. Drop the ego and focus on the reality of doing everything you can to push your screenplay closer to getting sold and produced.

  5. Master the art of executing screenplay notes and how to write under the pressure of deadlines. When you do finally get paid, you’re a professional, and they will expect you to deliver like one. If you make yourself an invaluable asset to producers and directors, you will stay on a project and not get fired.

  6.  Be patient. It’s true what they say—an overnight success is usually ten years or 10,000 hours in the making. I sold my first spec (my 5th script) six years after graduating film school. I hope you’re in this for the long haul because it’s going to be a long slog marathon. Make sure to enjoy the little successes along the way on your journey to success.

Don’t forget to check out Mark’s excellent screenwriting website, My Blank Page, and to follow Mark on Twitter.

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