How To Stand Out As A Screenwriter

Corey Mandell, discusses how to stand out from the pack. Noticed in a good way.

Over the past ten years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work closely with some of the smartest and most successful directors, producers and writers in the business. I’ve seen firsthand how they think about, create and revise stories. And none of them use the approaches and methods taught in the screenwriting books and seminars. In fact, their approaches often fly directly in the face of conventional wisdom found in such sources.

Similarly, many agents, managers or producers, they always say that they can spot a script written to one of the popular structure formulas a mile away and that these scripts never succeed. Writers who use a “this must happen by this page” approach almost always run into the following problems:

  • Their scripts read a lot like all the other scripts following the same rules and formulae and so probably have little to no chance to stand out.
  • Their scripts are predictable since the reader knows what specific plot points are going to happen on what specific page.
  • Their scripts are populated by less-than-compelling characters that feel like puppets forced to say and do things in order to serve pre-ordained plot points.

Even worse, writers following these formulas tend to destroy what’s original and unique–and hence interesting–about their scripts by forcing them to conform to a set of one-size-fits-all, paint-by-the-numbers rules that hold little real value.

Because there is no one-size-fits-all formula. Every story is unique–at least any story worth giving a damn about. But please don’t take my word for any of this.

Get a bunch of the greatest scripts ever written.  You might want to use the AFI list of the 100 greatest movies or the WGA list of the 101 best screenplays. Add some of your all-time favorites to the mix.

You also might want to include scripts that unknowns have used to launch A-list careers.  Scripts that literally changed people’s lives, such as The Hurt Locker, The Wrestler, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Thelma and Louise, Milk, and such.

Read these scripts and you’ll see there’s something unmistakably original and unique about each of them.  Now look to see how many of the so-called universal rules and paradigms the scripts follow.  Or more importantly, don’t follow.

What you find might surprise you.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. WKS937 says:

    This is so true … I’ve been champion this for some time now. There is no rule book on creating a great story.

  2. Matt says:

    So Corey, how do we get our unique, original scripts that don’t follow the standard paradigms past studio/competition readers marking the script off against screenplay coverage checklists using evaluation algorithms awarding points based on “first ten pages”, “first read”, “characters”, “three act structure”, “plot points for Act 1”, “yes/no reversals” etc? Your advice makes sense, but how do we get past the readers to the directors and producers? Can I send you my screenplays?

    1. WKS937 says:

      Good question Matt – One answer – six degrees of separation’ – we are only six degrees separated from everyone on the planet. Network. Someone you know, knows someone, who knows someone … because of Social media and the internet, we are in the best position we’ve ever been as writers to connect with someone who can get our material submitted and read. It takes work, but it’s readily available – unlike the old days – when virtual networking did not exist. Make a list of companies, producers, directors, agents you feel are a good fit for you and your material and query them for permission. try to get past the reader level though.

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