Sunday was mostly a quiet, relaxing sort of day. I spent some time at the gym engaged in the on-going battle of the bulge and did some channel surfing between NFL games. By early evening I was starting to feel guilty for not having done anything on the writing front. I tried to rationalize my inactivity by telling myself it was okay to take a day off once in a while. But then I recalled my pledge from Day 1 when I said I would do something every day for the next 365 days to further my career. Somehow, resting didn’t seem to be an adequate advance of the cause.
Then I recalled the webinars I had purchased. The first one, Sell Your Screenplay in 30 Days Using New Media by Marilyn Horowitz, was a complete bust and I have had little interest in spending valuable time watching the remaining two. So this seemed a perfect opportunity to do something to ‘advance the career.’ Besides, I need to finish watching them so I can request a refund if I’m dissatisfied with series.
Even with this impetus in mind, I still had a hard time forcing myself to sit down and watch what I felt was going to be just another painful pitch to buy someone’s product. I am pleased to report that this time around the webinar was a worthy use of my time.
The webinar was Breaking Into the Business: Effective Strategies for Launching a Screenwriting Career, hosted by award-winning playwright and screenwriter Corey Mandell. I didn’t do any research on Mr. Mandell prior to watching the webinar, unlike last time with Ms Horowitz, as I wanted a completely unbiased mindset going into the webinar, or at least as unbiased as I can be – I have little regard for most of these types of exercises. I was delighted to discover early in the webinar that Mr. Mandell is a screenwriting instructor at UCLA with numerous real-life credits in the industry, albeit mostly uncredited or scripts he has sold to studios, but have not been produced. Like with Ms Horowitz, I am not concerned that he has sold scripts that have not been produced. Our goal as screenwriters is to sell the script. It’s up to the buyers to produce the resulting film. It would be great if he had more produced scripts – I’m sure Mr. Mandell would agree – but there are far more scripts sold than are actually produced in Hollywood, all of which provides income to the screenwriters.
Mr. Mandell’s credits include work with Fox, Disney, Warner Brothers and Paramount, Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford, Wolfgang Peterson and Julia Roberts among others. Throughout the webinar, Mr. Mandell frequently relates stories from his own experiences, something Ms Horowitz’s webinar was severely lacking, though he tends to dwell on his time working on the Metropolis project with Ridley Scott. Still, not a bad name to be dropping. Mr. Mandell’s biggest produced credit according to IMDB is Battlefield Earth, the unfortunate John Travolta star vehicle based on a story by L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology fame. While some may scoff at a Battlefield Earth credit, I would simply ask ‘How many of you have been paid to write a John Travolta film?’
And like Ms Horowitz, Mr. Mandell offers a series of screenwriting workshops – though no books – which he claims has led to numerous successes for his students. What I particularly liked about Mr. Mandell’s presentation was that he held off pitching his workshops until the very end of the webinar. It was a solid hour of actionable information bereft of sales pitches. The information presented was so intriguing that I actually went to his website after the webinar to review what his clinics offered. You can find them at www.coreymandell.net.
The webinar began with 3 basic questions Mr. Mandell thinks all screenwriters should ask themselves:
How do I know when to send out my material?
What should I be writing or not writing?
How do I get someone to actually read my material?
Mr. Mandell emphasizes the importance of the first question, but acknowledges most writers skip this one entirely and proceed directly to the next two. This, he states, is a fundamental and often catastrophic mistake. When an agent receives a script, it is often sent for coverage, an analysis of the script by professional readers who give the script a Recommend, Consider or Pass rating. 99% of all script submissions are rated as Pass. We don’t want to receive a Pass, and it’s a bigger issue than you may realize.
When a script receives coverage, it is placed in a database where any agent or producer can see it. So if your script is rated as a Pass by one agent, they all see it. Your name is also in the database, so if an agent or producer is interested in you, they can look your name up to see if you have received a Pass in the past. If you have one or more, the agent may quickly lose interest in you without ever meeting you. This is why you should not send a script out before it is ‘pitch perfect authentic.’ Doing so could end your career before you even get started.
Mr. Mandell then walks us through his first attempted sale of a script that he felt was ready for the market. He had workshopped it, received feedback from other writers and an instructor at UCLA. When he presented it to a manager for whom he was interning, the manager told him it was a good idea but ready to sell. The manager convinced Mr. Mandell to submit the script to several studio readers ‘under the table’ so that it wouldn’t become part of the database. All three readers gave his script a Pass. Luckily for Mr. Mandell, the manager took him under his wing and over the next 2 years, Mr. Mandell wrote 28 different drafts before it was deemed ready to sell. This time his coverage received all Recommends and nabbed an agent at ICM, who in turn sold the script to Ridley Scott.
The importance of that first question is a point Mr. Mandell repeats throughout the webinar. Even when you think your script is ready, pay for ‘under the table’ coverage first! It’s important to qualify ‘under the table’ coverage. This is coverage that is done by an actual industry reader for a production company or studio. It is not coverage done by the large commercial farm operations like Coverage Ink or coverage offered by screenplay competitions. These companies operate outside the industry for profit, and while you may get a good idea on how your script would place, it’s not the same as getting industry coverage. The one area Mr. Mandell was a little vague on was how to find an industry reader. He also cautions against using a script consultant; they can be very expensive and in the early stages of career development are not worth the expense to the beginning writer.
Another interesting point Mr. Mandell makes is that most writers who get their break do so with scripts that break the Hollywood mold. They don’t follow the traditional 3-act structure or adhere to certain plot points on prescribed pages like the Save the Cat paradigm (Oops!) This was news to me, as virtually every screenwriting book drills it into your head that you must conform to these formulas if you want to succeed. Mr. Mandell explains that this is often confusing for beginning writers because they are looking at their own script, which is better than the same type of movie Hollywood is making, but the industry won’t bite. As Mr. Mandell explains it, Hollywood will pay you to write their 3-act structure screenplay, but they hire you based on you creativeness and willingness to break that structure and write something original. So all those commercial scripts you’ve been working on may come in handy after you’ve got Hollywood’s attention, but to get their notice you need to be original.
Mr. Mandell rounds out the webinar with advice on to get an agent, which usually involves getting a manager first. He outlines the various steps you can use to do just that. He also touches on contacting production companies. And in an extended section, Mr. Mandell explains the tools a screenwriter needs to write an ‘pitch perfect authentic’ script, including writing compelling conflict, creative integration, organic story construction and most importantly rewriting.
To sum up, this was an information-packed webinar and well worth the $10 it cost me as part of the package I purchased from The Writer’s Store. Is it worth the $80 regular price? Probably. I have a hard time paying $80 for most things, but I would be hard pressed to think of something else Mr. Mandell could have added to this webinar. It’s about as good as they come.