Film Courage: Being the hot young writer, being on the cover of Variety, your name is out there, and probably your phone is ringing a lot. I know you’ve talked in other interview about how some of this went away for a little bit. Can you talk about how if someone else is in a similar situation, how they regroup?
Corey Mandell: What I’d like to do is give the single best piece of advice that is most forgotten, that is ignored. And so what happened is when I was on the front page of Variety and all these offers were coming in, there was an agent at my agency (Barbara Dreyfus), who didn’t represent me, but she took me out to lunch and she gave me the following advice. She said “The next script you write is the most important script you’ll ever write. It will determine the trajectory of your career. So right now you were an unknown person. You are on everyone’s radar. You worked with a high-profile director. He’s planning on making the movie. He said how great your script was. Everyone in town wants to work with you. Everyone is like so hyped up on you.” Now there are like writers who are commodity writers. They go in and they write these summer movies and these big action movies and they make a lot of money. But there is nothing special about them. And then there are writers who are A-list writers. Writers who have these amazing careers. The next script you write will put you on a trajectory. So her advice was this…don’t take any job you wouldn’t have done for free which was to say you love this project and you believe you can just knock it out of the park. You love this so much, you would do it without getting paid. Now we’re going to get you paid but don’t take anything that falls short of that. Just say no to a lot of stuff because most of what they are going to offer is crap or just not a good fit for you. And the offers are going to start to slow down and you are going to panic and think you have to grab the next best one, don’t! And the offers will keep slowing down and I’m telling you this even…you’ll think that the offers will eventually go away and they won’t. But even if they do, literally you’ve said no to everything, spec your next script and make it something that you love and knock it out of the park. Because she said if the next one is amazing, that puts you on a trajectory, then people see you a certain way. Later on is the time to do it for money. Later on we’ll grapple on for the money. But not for this next script. Now everyone knows who you are, the next script is going to tell them what kind of writer you are. And when she said that, I had that chill up my spine that this is absolutely true, I need to hear this and do this.
“The next script you write will put you on a trajectory. So her advice was this…don’t take any job you wouldn’t have done for free which was to say you love this project and you believe you can just knock it out of the park. You love this so much, you would do it without getting paid.”
And I said no to something, I said no to something. The third time I said no was a Disney project and they doubled my quote and I said no. And they doubled my quote and I said yes. And I’m embarrassed to say that that project of all the projects was not only a script I did not want to write, it was a movie I wouldn’t even want to see. I don’t come from money. I had student debt and it was more money than I ever thought you could make in years and I was going to get paid for three months. And so the precedent that I set (at least for myself) was I’m in this for the money and that really locked me into a career path. It was I wish I could go back in time. I feel like that was a really big test and I failed it.
Film Courage: I could see where a lot of people would not blame you and I’m not even sure which project you’re referring to (forgive me). So you really feel like even the money that you took, it probably changed many things for you because money can do wonderful things but it can also hurt some things.
Corey Mandell: But here’s the thing, if I hadn’t taken that project and that project never got made. And as a writing sample I think it was good but it wasn’t special. If I had waited and waited and took something else or even something original and even if it was great, I would have made so much money down the road.
So my agent represents me, but he also represents Aaron Sorkin.
I worked non-stop as a studio writer for 11 years. I made a lot more money than I ever thought I could make. Do you know the difference between how much money Aaron Sorkin is making…I don’t know? But I’m sure that whatever Aaron Sorkin makes is not even in the same zip code of what I made.
He also represents J.K. Rowling. Now I’m not saying that I could have become Aaron Sorkin or that level or that I could have been J.K. Rowling. I don’t know. But what I do know is that the choices I made prevented that possibility. I was a studio writer and I just started doing a bunch of action movies, some were action comedies. Sometimes I thought they were fun, sometimes I didn’t but I loved the paycheck. And I loved just making the money and the deal and I never stopped and wrote from my heart. And I’ll tell you one of the main reasons was I was so fixed-mindset, I was so afraid of rejection. I was so afraid that people would say “Oh, you’re not that good of a writer, you’re a fraud.”
Now if I wrote something from my heart, if I wrote something that exposed me to the material, now you’re not a good writer and you’re not even a good person. Like they could reject me…if they rejected my material and it was very personal, then that would feel like they rejected me as a person. And that was too painful. I was not going to allow that to happen. My agent was begging me to write something authentic and from the heart. My wife was begging me, my manager was begging me, my Golden Retriever was begging me and I just wouldn’t.
So A) it was short-sighted. First of all, money isn’t everything but even if money is everything I potentially could have made so much money. But more importantly I could have written stuff that I was in love with. Look, I could have tried for that career. I could have written authentic stuff. I could have swung for the fences, I could have tried for that A-list career and maybe come up short. And then backed into the career I had, maybe? I don’t know. But I know that the choices I made then, I was never going to have that career. I was never going to be creatively fulfilled. I was never going to be writing the stuff that I really wanted to be writing. I was never going to be writing from love. I was always going to be writing from fear. I regret that. And so part of the reason I teach is I want to help writers do it the right way and help empower them with the tools. I wish someone had taught me creative integration up front and some of the stuff. But I hope that I can be an influence on writers so that they can have the best possible career that they are capable of, maybe even a better one than that.
Film Courage: So if you were to take yourself to lunch, instead of that women [the agent Barbara] taking you to lunch and it was an older you speaking to that younger you, would you have said the exact same thing?
Corey Mandell: I would have and I would have said “And look, I’m from the future so let me tell you.” And I would have told him all of the terrible things that would have happened and I honestly think that this younger me would have made the same decision. The reason is he was so fixed-mindset and with fixed-mindset you are just working from fear and you just can’t see the truth or you can’t…and hopefully that is not true, hopefully I would have. But anyway, I’m not confident that I would have made a different decision. I’m not proud of that but I think that’s the truth. But I will say, my wife always sees the real truth. And one of the things you says is all the things that happened in my career is actually a blessing. It softened me up. It got me out of this fear space and I wouldn’t be the teacher that I am now had I not made those mistakes and gone through that. And I did make a lot of money, which is nice. So it’s like it had a lot of perks. But yeah…I wish I could have done it differently.
Question for the Viewers: What do you think of Corey’s decision, his regret and his advice to others?
Corey Mandell [FULL INTERVIEW]