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Film Independent Thu 4.9.2015

Here’s a Dangerous Fairy Tale: Talented Writers are Born, Not Made

Anyone tempted to buy into the fairy tale that talented writers are born, not made, might want to rethink this notion.

The danger of this fairy tale is that it feeds the other seductive notion that naturally talented writers are able to write and sell great scripts pretty much right out of the gate, perhaps even win an Academy Award, just like it happened for (fill in some Diablo Cody-type name here).

Being able to write a first-ever script good enough to sell and get made is a great story.  But we have to keep in mind that the folks in Hollywood are staunch believers in never letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

Without outing anyone, I went to film school with several writers who say they sold their first ever screenplay, which is absolutely, positively 100% true… Just as long as we are all willing to pretend that those six or seven less-than-stellar screenplays, written prior to the one that finally sold, don’t actually exist.

If you believe in natural talent you will probably put an unfair amount of pressure on yourself to be good right away–or at least as quickly as possible.  This is why many writers have such trouble finishing their first script or two.  If their scripts bomb it must mean they don’t have what it takes, and they are understandably terrified to face such a reality.  It’s also why some writers finish scripts and then refuse to listen to anyone who dares to suggest these scripts aren’t good.  Because, again, that would mean they have to face the fact that they don’t have what it takes.  It’s also why some quit after a couple of bad scripts.

The real tragedy, beyond the unnecessary suffering and fear, is that this natural talent, fairy tale mind-set prevents writers from effectively growing and improving.

So the best gift you can give yourself is to expect your first couple of scripts to suck.

These scripts are practice scripts. They are not going to sell. They are not going to get made. They are not going to change your life.

These are the scripts you write to make mistakes so you can learn from them.

The biggest problem with writers who believe in the fairy tale is that they spend far too much time and energy desperately trying to avoid mistakes rather then embracing and learning from them.

I am friends with an Academy Award winning writer and I saw the crap he used to write.  He wrote truly dreadful scripts before dedicating himself to learning from his mistakes so he could grow into writing only somewhat dreadful scripts.  Several scripts and a lot of hard work later, he graduated to being able to write almost average scripts.  A couple of scripts beyond that, he clawed himself up to the position of writing decent scripts.  Several years later he was able to write a remarkably great script, which sold for a fair amount of money (and officially became the first script he had ever written, wink wink).


Corey Mandell is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter who has written projects for Ridley Scott, Wolfgang Petersen, Harrison Ford, John Travolta, Julia Roberts, Warner Brothers, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Fox 2000, Fox Family, Working Title, Paramount, Live Planet, Beacon Films, Touchstone, Trilogy, Radiant and Walt Disney Pictures. Corey teaches screenwriting at UCLA and offers private online classes using real time video conferencing.

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