Are You A Real Screenwriter?

Corey Mandell, an L.A. based script consultant and screenwriting teacher, shares more views on how to bridge the divide between amateur writes and professional ones.

I’ve recently had several agents and managers come to my UCLA classes to speak about how the industry has changed since the last writer’s strike, and one thing I heard really hit me. One manager said that real writers are still able to break in and stay in the business, but that the pretend writers are now completely out of luck.

 I asked her what the difference was between real writers and pretend writers. She said pretend writers fall into different camps. Some of them are the IMITATORS. They see Juno and try to write like Diablo Cody.  Or they see The Hurt Locker or The Hangover and try to write movies like that. They are trying to replicate someone else’s success. 

Another camp includes those who try to chase what’s hot. They write what they think the industry is buying right now. They don’t write from their passion. They don’t write what they most want to write.  They write what they think they can sell, and it shows.  She also said pretend writers follow the popular story paradigms and formulas.  They knock out predictable, homogenous scripts. She said that before the writer’s strike the best of the pretend writers could cobble together a career, perhaps even a fairly lucrative one.  But not any more.

It’s now virtually impossible to sell anything without a major star or director attached, which is why the agents and managers who visited my class all said they’re looking to sign writers who can write material that can attract these elements.  And what are the stars and directors looking for?  Something different.  Something fresh and original. Something that isn’t like all the same old formulaic junk coming out of the studio development process. The agents said that stars want to play characters that nobody has ever seen before. Characters with unique voices. 

 And that is what real writers create.

Real writers don’t care what anyone else thinks.  They don’t write scripts to chase the hot trends.  They write what they want to (or have to) write.  And they don’t fit it into the popular story paradigms and formulas.  They write it their way in their voice. Which means that their scripts are unlike anyone else’s scripts.   

That’s the key.

Real writers are brand names. They aren’t manufacturing characters and stories that follow the same old tired formulas and trends.  They are creating truly original characters and worlds. Which is the only way to get a star’s or director’s attention.

One agent put it this way:  When you are established and have a career you need to know how to write the studio formula script, but you can’t break into the business that way.  You have to break in with an amazingly well written piece of work that is unlike anything we’ve seen before.  That’s the only way to get noticed.


The way to give yourself the best possible shot at a career is to do the hard work to develop and master the essential skill sets, then repeatedly put them to use in service of being a real writer. Which means write what you most want to write, following your own unique passion and voice.

 Create characters and stories that only you could have invented.

 Write scripts that don’t read like everybody else’s scripts.

Because in this current marketplace the multitude of pretend writers are sitting around complaining about how impossible it is to break in and have a career while the real writers are doing  just that.

“Inspiration is for amateurs.  I just get to work.” –Chuck Close

 “Goals are dreams with deadlines.” –Diana Scharf Hunt

One Comment Add yours

  1. Mark Goldberg says:

    I just finished a class with Corey and he was by far the best teacher I ever had. It’s a shame more people don’t teach his methods.

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