Why 9 Screenwriters Failed by Corey Mandell
Film Courage: Corey, from your time in film school and also having writing instructors speak with you when you were a college student, did you feel embraced or discouraged? Something like what I heard in an old Ray Bradbury interview where he advised a lot of people not to take writing classes because he felt they [the students] were always discouraged in the class. How did you feel as a student?
Corey Mandell: As a student, really encouraged.
Film Courage: Did you? Okay.
Corey Mandell: But that is actually why I would…have people think twice before taking those classes because there is fixed mindset encouragement and there is growth mindset encouragement. The very first teacher that I…let me step back. A lot of teachers that I know have a philosophy that the more you write, the better you will become. And so their job is to encourage writers. And you are going to point out things they are not doing right. You are going to criticize but you always couch that with three compliments, you know? Like the sugar with the medicine.
“So my experience (for the most part) in film school was very gentle. Everyone came in and told us “You can make this. You can do this. You’re amazing.” And in my class there were 12 of us. 3 of us went on to have careers and 9 didn’t. And one thing that the 3 of us had in common, we weren’t smart than…I certainly wasn’t smart than some of the others or a lot of the others. We didn’t work harder…”
Film Courage: [Laughs] Sure.
Corey Mandell: Ultimately, at the end of the day, your job is to make these people feel like they can do this, that they have what it takes. And that will keep them writing and the more they write, they better they will become. And I don’t do that as a teacher for a variety of reasons. First (as I said) I think most writers when they first start writing, they see significant improvement. Because when we first start writing, we make lots of really dumb mistakes that we don’t know. We don’t know what we don’t know. So if you are somewhat open to feedback and criticism, you’re trying to get better and you have really smart (or reasonably smart people) in your life and giving you feedback, I do think people start to make a really good improvement then they’ll hit a plateau that they will stay on forever. And that plateau is the more they write, the higher the pile of some early flawed scripts are. Because if they have intuitive weaknesses or conceptual weaknesses, you can keep writing as much as you want and you’re going to keep making those mistakes.
I know writers who have been at it for 10 or 12 years and what they’re writing today isn’t really better than what they’re writing 8 years ago. So I don’t believe…I believe the more you write, the better you become but without the right training and tools (for most people) is kind of a Santa Claus/Tooth Fairy fantasy.
Further, I do think it is important to have someone in your life or people in your life who believe in you and love you and support you and when you’re feeling down they are like “No. You can do this!” And they can be the wind in your sails when the wind goes away and you just sort of lose confidence and you lose your way. I think that’s absolutely essential. I would never do that as a teacher. I don’t think someone should pay for that and also I don’t want someone to become dependent on me. I want them to find people in their lives and ultimately themselves to be able to have that confidence and love.
I think the fixed mindset confidence is always pointing out what you’re doing right and complimenting “You’re so good. You’re so good. You have what it takes.” That’s so fixed mindset. The growth mindset is “There are tools that you can learn. And let me teach you a tool.” So what is your biggest weakness as a writer? Let’s spend four weeks doing nothing but training on that tool. And then, we’re going to have you write a scene or a sequence and you’re going to see (or you give it to other people and they’re going to see) “Oh my gosh. You’re suddenly better at this thing!” and then you’re like “Oh?!” That is the confidence that I want to give someone. I had a weakness. I identified (or it was identified for me). I had a specific training regiment and I came out the other end stronger at that. And maybe you’re not as strong as you need to be, yet but you can keep training and you can keep training and you can realize that I can get to the point where I’m as good as I need to be. Okay, now maybe I’ve got six things that you need to do that on and so maybe it’s going to take 6 months or a year. That’s growth mindset confidence. That’s what I want to instill in people.
So my experience for the most part in film school was very gentle. Everyone came in and told us “You can make this. You can do this. You’re amazing.” And in my class there were 12 of us. Three of us went on to have careers and 9 didn’t. And one thing that the three of us had in common, we weren’t smart than…I certainly wasn’t smart than some of the others or a lot of the others. We didn’t work harder. Honestly, I didn’t work that hard in film school. I’m not proud of that but I had a lot of procrastination issues. What we did have in common was that we had a manager (not the same manager). But we all had a manager who in their own way said “You are not as good as you think you are. And you need to get better in certain skill sets and I can help you do that.” And in my case, it was a year of working with this manager turning weaknesses that I didn’t know I had (or I did know I had) into strengths. That’s a big reason why I teach, because I had access to that. If I didn’t, I would have been like the 9 who didn’t. I had certain things that I was really inherently good at and certain things I was inherently really bad at and I had things I didn’t know I was bad at. And no one in film school was really helping me with that. It was the manager that did that work.
So I think yeah…classes where are there to just kind of tear you down and discourage you should be avoided at all costs. I know people who have troubles with their writing and they don’t feel confident and they find a teacher who gives them confidence and support and they love that teacher and they become addicted to that teacher. And it’s a good business model for the teacher because they’ll keep taking classes because they’re taking classes to feel that feeling. But that’s not solving the problem. If I can make you feel confident or good about your writing or special or I can make you feel like you can get there, that doesn’t mean anything. What matters is when you can feel that way. And the way you’ll feel that way (in my opinion) is through proving to yourself that you’re making progress and confidence through your training.
Film Courage: It sounds like this sort of military style, you know, boot camp, breaking you down [teaching-style] is going to harm someone? But at the same time, too much hand-holding and babying and “Oh, you’re one of our prized student!” that sounds like it’s equally damaging? Like you’re the golden child?
Corey Mandell: It’s highly-addicting and you’re going to feel good but that’s like junk food. It tastes good, but it’s not nutritious. It’s not making you healthier.
Film Courage: So with this manager, do you think you were more open to hearing [about the weaknesses] than some of the other people? I mean if you feel that you were on the same level, was there a difference in that you were maybe more open?
Corey Mandell: Right…That’s a great question and as I said earlier, I was such an incredibly fixed mindset person. So I was absolutely not open to hearing and I want to say this because I try to share this with as many writers as I can because I think it’s a really important story and there is something here that they can do which I would highly-recommend. So what happened is I wrote this script and…(watch the rest of the video here on Youtube).
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