Not Every Screenwriter Has The Skill Sets To Succeed, But They Can Develop Them by Corey Mandell

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Film Courage: It sounds like Left Brain (i.e., Conceptual Writers) have a lot of trouble letting go. They are so formulaic and they’re so much about making sure that something makes sense, whereas with these Right Brain people, they are all over the place? They are just too easily led. So it sounds like you do exercises to help the Left Brain people let go and the Right Brain people reign themselves in? (Catch the rest of this video interview on Youtube here.)

Corey Mandell:  So there is another video I can send people, and again you can email my assistant which is lisa@coreymandell.net.  And it’s this neurologist and she’ll really break down the conceptual and intuitive parts of the brain.  And literally what one part is good at and what the other part is good at, but they cant talk to each other because they have a different processor like in the old days with PCs and Apple.  So like you have a dream which is a very intuitive experience, non-linear, non-casual, but it’s really evocative.  And then you try to tell someone about the dream which is a conceptual exercise.  And the best you can get them do is kind of go “Oh? I see how you had a really interesting dream!”  But they don’t necessarily it that way.

The hardest part is turning off your home base.  And then when I can get you over to this other side I can give you because everyone knows about this 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.  Well even Malcolm Gladwell has said that the 10,000 hours is the wrong thing to focus on.  There’s nothing magical about 10,000.  What he said it was 10,000 hours of dedicated practice.  Everyone latches onto 10,000 but everyone forgets dedicated practice.  Dedicated practice is the way people become an expert at something, sure they’ve got to put a lot of time, energy and passion into something.  But it’s what they do with their training.  It’s how they train.  And so if you think about…I trained at Second City improv.  They don’t let you on stage for a year and a half.  Because you’re doing specific exercises everyday to learn certain key skill sets, that ultimately they’ll integrate together, then they’ll put you on stage.  Same thing with Juilliard and acting.  Same thing if you’re a professional athlete.   It’s about specific exercises to train yourself to develop the key skill sets and integrate.

 

“…I have a lot of friends and I know a lot of people who are very successful writers.  And almost all of them either figured stuff out themselves which takes about 10 to 12 years for most people.  Or they had someone help them.  And there are two kinds of people that help them, a manager or they get to be a writer’s assistant staffed on a TV show following a show runner and that show runner’s process.”

 

(And I’m sure we will talk about this at some point) I was a working studio writer for 11 years and while I did that, I taught once a year at UCLA to give back and for fun.  And then over the last 6 years I’ve been building a teaching business and teaching and working with writers.  And I have a lot of friends and I know a lot of people who are very successful writers.  And almost all of them either figured stuff out themselves which takes about 10 to 12 years for most people.  Or they had someone help them.  And there are two kinds of people that help them, a manager or they get to be a writer’s assistant staffed on a TV show following a show runner and that show runner’s process.  I know someone who worked on BREAKING BAD and with Vince Gilligan for three years.  And Vince Gilligan taught her how to change her process.  In fact the greatest story…she was very intuitive and she got onto BREAKING BAD.  And BREAKING BAD…what happened (in the beginning of the season), Vince Gilligan will ask all the writers in the room to come up with certain ideas and if he likes the idea, he writes it on an index card and it goes on the board.  And ultimately there are all these ideas on the board that they are going to work with to develop the season.  Well, if you’re a new writer, you really want to get a lot of ideas on the board and if none of your ideas get on the board, that doesn’t look so good.  Well his rule was his idea had to fit on the card.   So if you start pitching an idea and he’s writing and he runs out of room, it may be a great idea but he ran out of room on the card, it doesn’t go on the card.  And she’s like “I couldn’t get my ideas out succinctly enough.”  She said “I don’t know how to speak in index card.”  And so she had to learn (and this is one of the things I train intuitive writers to do) is how to take what they see and feel and how to communicate it in a very concise way.  And so that’s just one example.  I’m sure she learned a million things from working with someone like Vince Gilligan.  But that is just one example.  She learned how to be very concise on how she thought and felt and pitched.

Check out the book Mindset here

So the way that most writers get there, they worked in TV for several years with a really great show runner.  And through that process you learn these skill sets and you adapt and you develop or you just get pushed out.

Or there’s a manager who will work intently with you because the reality is most writers they have certain strengths, certain weaknesses and certain blind spots.  Blind spots are weaknesses you don’t know you have.  The key is the figure out A) what your blindspots are so at least they’re known weakness.  Then how do you turn those weaknesses into strengths?  That’s where the dedicated practice comes in.  And it’s very difficult to do this yourself.  So a manager (who really knows what they’re doing) they will develop a writer…they’ll take a writer who’s really good but not exceptional and they will train that writer over one, two or three years to do this.  And then, when that writer can write at that level, they’ll go out with the script pretending that it was the first thing the writer ever wrote.

By definition when you sell something, that’s the first script you ever wrote.  You never talk about the rest of it.   So the writers that I know, who have careers (especially the best careers), generally speaking either they were trained by show runners (because they were able to work in TV early on) or they were trained by managers.   Very few of them were self-trained.  It’s possible.  I know some examples but it took a decade and they’re rare that they got there.   Well, the reality is there are a lot of writers who don’t live in Los Angeles so they can’t work on the show.  And even if you live in Los Angeles and you’re like “Okay, I’ll work on a show for training.  Where do I sign up?”  It’s not that easy.  It’s very competitive.  And the thing about a manager is they’re so busy servicing their clients no one wants to do development anymore so the manager has to really work with their top writers and really help them develop their material and they don’t have time to work with their new writers or emerging writers.  So writers are like “I have a manager but they won’t spend a lot of time helping me.”  And there are all these managers saying “God, I really wish I could be helping these writers but I don’t have time.”   So it’s really hard to find someone to do that kind of training.

So that’s when I used to teach at UCLA for a long time and I was…someone challenged me like “Can you develop a training program to train writers like this, if they don’t have a manager who can do this for them.  If they are not yet able to get on a TV show or they don’t want to or they don’t live in LA.  Is there another way they can learn these skill sets?”  Because a lot of the programs out there, they are just telling people to take your writing and put it in this paradigm.  But what I did, I wanted to create a series of workshops that could teach these new skills.  So that is where this all came from.

 

Question for the Viewers:  Which part of this video intrigues you the most?

 

 

 

 

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