99% Of Screenplays Are Rejected After The First Scene – Corey Mandell

99% Of Screenplays Are Rejected After The First Scene – Corey Mandell

December 12, 2019 83 By Kailee Schamberger


Film Courage: 99% of scripts are rejected by the
industry after the first scene yeah so what are screenwriters doing wrong and
what was like what’s so horrible about .. what’s so terrible about these
scenes? Corey Mandell, Instructor/Screenwriter: So when I was a studio reader…when I was in film school it was
a crazy dream to be a writer. I was working as a studio reader and what we
were trained is read the first two scene let me step back if a script came in by
the Coen Brothers or Quentin Tarantino you you’re reading that whole script and
if you don’t like it you’re reading it again to see what’s wrong with you and
then you’re calling your friends who read it like you taking this very
seriously because you giving them extreme benefit of the doubt but I was
taught when your rhiness script by some an unknown writer a new writer read the
first two scenes and stop and ask yourself do I have to keep reading and
yet the answer is no then don’t I have a lot of students who are readers now and
they do they have the one scene I guess you know tensions fans have shrunken
with Twitter and everything so they read one scene I think here’s what I would
say if I read a scene of a script and it doesn’t absolutely make me want to read
the next scene I know this writer is not going to be successful script why it’s
not going to get better if you if you your first scene is like your interviews
if someone goes to a job interview for a job they really want they’re late
they’re disheveled they reek of alcohol they’re doing inappropriate jokes
they’re just doing everything wrong right you’re interviewing this person
you’re like okay this is this person on their best behavior gonna be like on a
bad or you know you go on a first date as person is a disaster like this is
them on their best behavior yeah your first scene is if you know
anything about writing it’s your first impression that is you on your best
behavior oh I like that so if your first scene it doesn’t have conflict just
something I believe I talked about in a previous film courage video otherwise
there’s a lot on my site about that or the characters
don’t feel like compelling characters or it’s supposed to be funny but it’s not
like all the stuff we were talking about you know in terms of what you’re selling
with a pilot script now I’m not looking for an engine I don’t need to have the
concept but it bet you better nail the genre and and the characters better be
characters I absolutely want to spend time with and you better know how to
write in compelling conflict now let’s say someone can do all of that that
doesn’t mean that the whole script is going to be great it means it might and
you know one of the things and by the way I really would recommend for anyone
who’s serious about being a writer if possible try to go on the other side of
the fence for six months try to be a reader someone who evaluates scripts for
six months you can do it for that for the like the writing competitions but if
possible especially if you live in LA I would try to do it for an agency a
management company a production company producer someone who’s in the industry
someone was involved with buying of projects and I always tell people do it
for six months but not a day longer because you’ll lose yourself and I don’t
mean that what I mean is most people most writers who start down that path if
they stay on that path too long they end up becoming executives or producers and
they stop writing and and maybe they’re happier for that but I think six months
is a great time to learn what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence
because as a writer your job is to write scripts that total strangers will read
and fall so in love with that they’re willing to go to their boss and go to
bat for you and you know I’ll put it an even more important way when I was
starting out I thought the key was I had to get a manager and then an agent I had
to get people who were out there advocating for me because I can’t do
that you know as an unknown writer I can’t call up horner brothers or Netflix
and say hey you don’t know me but I wrote a script and it’s great you can’t
first of all they’re not going to take your call right and good luck getting
through yeah good luck if you do yeah right so I
thought I needed two people or at least one person out there advocating for me
if you’re really smart that’s not your objective your objective
is to get an army of people advocating for you and the way to do that goes back
to writing pitch perfect authentic scripts which I talked about in the
previous film courage videos check those out if you haven’t seen this because
when you write something that’s unique non formulaic with amazing characters an
engine an amazing concept people who read it and I was one of those people
and I have a lot of students who are these people they will to this a very
small community Hollywood and they will email or call or text people and say
have you read Karen’s script have you read this script and they’re like no and
they’re like you should and they send the script it’s called the script
travels well the script goes viral and within days everyone’s has read it and
everyone wants to meet you know who you are
because your script has gone and everyone’s buzzing about it so when
you’re writing a script the the so I’m sorry I’m going a little bit off tangent
here but I will bring it all together in a moment so when I first thing I do in
my UCLA class because they’re so overly educated they don’t realize what a
liability that is so what I’ll say is your writing I could do it with a
feature or a TV TV script 60 minutes what has to happen let’s say there’s
four scenes in act 1 what has to happen in that last scene what’s the objective
of that scene and I get incredibly smart answers you know it’s the point of no
return it’s the first crisis it’s the it’s the first subplot it’s the reverse
I mean I get all these really smart answers they’re all wrong but they’re
really smart the answer is the fourth scene what it must do is get total
strangers to have to read the fifth C and the fifth scene has to get read the
sixth it’s true of every scene every scene has to compel someone to read the
next scene and so that first scene has to get someone to read the second scene
think about the first scene as a versity you’re not getting married on
that date they’re not buying your script the job of a first date is to get a
second date job of a second date to get a third date now enough dates in a row
and then someone will be like okay like I want to get in a relationship with you
that’s the moment when they’re like I will read your whole script they’ll come
a point where someone will become such a fan because they’ll realize here’s the
concept I know where this is going and I think that’s an awesome idea for a show
or a movie love these characters and and these scenes are structured so tightly
and in such a compelling way I’m starting to get confidence that this
person knows how to structure and at some point you’re like I will read this
to the end and then when you get to the end your job is fitting the fall in love
and when they fall in love that’s when they will tell everyone about your
script it’s like you’re watching a TV show that you love and no one else is
watching it you’re telling all your friends oh you’ve got to watch the show
you got to watch the show we do that with scripts so that’s your job so now
that that statistic of 98% sometimes people get mad at me and and or they
want to debate that number so just to be clear that’s not my number I didn’t come
up here if you’re upset don’t direct it at me I am just the messenger
it’s very simple I’ve been teaching at UCLA since 2007 I have brought in
countless executives producers agents managers I always ask these people the
gatekeepers when you get a script from a writer that’s not a current client and
not an established write or a new writer how long do you read then decide if
you’re gonna keep reading and they always say one or two scenes I have
heard people say the first 10 pages they were in a good mood but is usually one
or two scenes I asked those people what percentage of the time do you keep
reading and I have heard 1% 2% far less than 1% and it probably averages out to
about 1% but I tried to be a little more optimistic and I may
two percent so when I say 98% of non establish writers if they move mountains
to get their script into the marketplace 90 percent of the time people stopped
reading after one or two scenes that is solely based on what all these producers
agents and managers and what my experience was many years ago as a
reader so anyone who takes offense or son like that number I didn’t come up
with it I am the messenger sure and and then I I will when I teach I’ll say how
many of you right now are executives or readers or story and listen there’s
usually like six or seven hands that go up and I go so let me ask you when I say
only 2% of scripts are continued to be read after the first scene or two do you
think that’s accurate do you think that’s too generous you think that’s too
pessimistic and across the board they’ll say you’re being way too generous you’re
protecting these people it’s less than 2%
oh so that’s what these people are saying and why is sometimes being too
smart getting in your own way yeah because what happens is they learn
all these rules so the industry has changed so the industry has dramatically
changed so it used to be that there were three or four channels and basically
what everyone was doing there’s Donald Glover had a great interview on The New
Yorker about this the brilliant creator and star of atlantis.oh
back in the day like up to I don’t know 2000 2002 whatever you have three or
four networks and that was it and they were making macaroni and cheese they
were making comfort food you come home after a long day and you want a drama
you want a comedy you want a spiritual whatever and they would follow paradigms
so all the comedies were the same structure different jokes and the crime
scenes you know CSI Hollywood CSI Missouri CSI Australia
same structure just different crime and the idea was we’re creating comfort food
and what we’re gonna do is put a star that you like you like Ted Danson we’re
gonna do a pony and cheese would you like hello
yeah LM generous we’re gonna do macaroni and cheese with Ellen generous and the
truth is these shows were designed to get the widest audience possible ratings
for advertising so they wanted two shows to be watched by as many people as
possible so you wanna show doesn’t offend people you want to show that a
lot of people like and the truth is people would watch a show and they’re
like it’s okay it’s not great but they don’t change the channel
because they know there’s nothing better in the other two or three channels and
this says Ted Danson and I like Ted Danson so I’ll just stick with this
that’s how it used to be and now there’s so much content that we know because we
have metadata that people sample pilots and then it’s like they’re on a date for
10 minutes they’re like well who else can I date and they’re just jumping and
what in most cases not all cases but in most cases what determines success or
failure is follow-through simple simply put what percentage of the people who
watch the first episode watch all the episodes
that’s follow-through because in a world of too much content what you need is
brand loyalty you need people that’ll stick with your show so girls I think
had about two million people watching it that’s not a large aggregate number but
I think it had one of the highest if not the highest follow through well over 90
something percent of people who watch the first episode of girls they watched
every episode of girls that’s valuable now because it used to be again largest
number possible and also to have a lot of episodes to put it into syndication
very few shows go to syndication there’s just so much original content so it’s
all about creating shows that in a world of too much content people are going to
stick with this show and so you see that a lot of the scripts that are being
bought they’re not the paradigm driven rule driven script anymore they used to
be like if you go back 15 years ago you’re an unknown writer that’s what
you’d want to write if you wanted to sell something nowadays as my agent well
my former agent we don’t have agents right now but my former agent W
has repeatedly said if you’re doing a three camera standard paradigm driven
comedy or paradigm driven procedural unless you’ve been an executive producer
or above in a hit show in that space in the last three years your scripts do a
no one’s gonna read it what you need to be doing is writing a script that no one
has seen before writing something that only you could have written and making
an elevated story so instead of preordained plot points the the story
unfolds organically and it’s not predictable and it feels that characters
are doing what they would really be doing and saying what they’d really be
saying and it’s captivating these are the hardest scripts to write these are
the pitch perfect authentic scripts but this is what the majority of scripts
that are selling these are the scripts that are selling now there are paradigm
and rule driven scripts that sell but they’re predominantly written by people
who are executive producers or above on those hit shows and further it used to
be if you want to get staffed on a TV show which is generally the entry way
starting place for a TV writer to get staffed on an existing show work your
way up the ladder you would want to write specs of existing show so if
you’re a comedy writer you would write spec episodes of hit comedies or spec
episodes of procedurals almost no showrunner in town would read dot script
what they will read is original scripts they and here’s why they need their show
to make an emotional connection to the audience to get follow through they need
writers who can create emotional attachment they want to read your script
and see that you’re a magician that you could write a script that is unique that
has characters that just I have to keep following these characters I have to
keep reading this script that’s what they’re looking for when they staff
their show I have a friend as a showrunner I mean he has a budget from
the streaming company for nine staff writers and you only have seven because
he can’t find nine because there’s so many shows and everyone who’s good is
working and they’re running shows or they’re the second that’s a big problem
is getting enough really amazing writers so the people coming out of these these
programs and a lot of time they have been trained to
fight a war that ended seven years ago so what these institutions are teaching
was absolutely true at the time and it’s just it’s a lot harder for a big
institution to sort of change course for a lot of reasons so anyway I’m not
venomous a from UCLA I love the experience I mean a lot of great
connections a lot of great friends but but to answer your question I I find a
lot of I have a lot of agents and managers send me writers to work with in
my workshops because they’re overly educated they know all the rules I know
all the paradigms their heads full of what you can do or can’t do it’s
ridiculous when you see what is selling when you see what showrunners are
looking for they’re looking for something that is absolutely original
and captivating they don’t want the rules they don’t want the paradigms
they don’t that’s that’s easy they want someone who could create something that
people is memorable it’s impactful that you have an emotional attachment to
because they need to create shows that when someone watches it they will keep
watching that show so almost as if you’re talking about the marvelous
missus myzel Mazal myzel sorry it she’s it’s almost
that kind of that metaphor of she was the perfect
whatever friend mother everything is overly sanitized perfect but nobody
wants to watch that they want to see somebody who’s gonna really like like
push the envelope and offend people possibly maybe not but but really like
go outside the lines yes that’s really the same thing with the writers it
sounds like yes that’s really smart and if we want to use more of us miss might
as well we can go a little bit deeper as a metaphor because I think it was a
brilliant metaphor in that show for writers so we have a character who
doesn’t want to get rejected so I mean as a wife she’s taken sex classes to be
perfect in bed this is in the show she not only have her makeup on perfectly in
her hair when she goes to bed she wakes up an hour earlier oh wow Rhee does her
makeup and hair gargles with mouthwash pretends to be asleep so when the alarm
goes and her husband wakes up she is a angel
she’s the perfect daughter she’s the perfect I mean she’s so charming and
she’s so wonderful but it comes from this terrible terrible fear of being
rejected so you already know as creating the show she’s gonna get rejected a lot
by her husband and by society and her parents but to the metaphor I would
say then this I can relate to this as a writer it was one of my biggest
struggles and I never overcame it and as part of why I stopped writing and I see
a lot of writers with this struggle if you are so afraid of rejection then it
makes you or it can compel you to be the kind of person that you think people
want you to be and this could be true as a son or a daughter or a spouse or a
writer so you start writing in a way that you think is what people are
looking for and you’re scared of writing in a way that could offend people and so
people who are so terrified of rejection can become the kind of person who it’s
hard to reject but the person they become is not who they really are so the
fear of rejection can lead people to reject themselves so afraid of being
rejected you reject who you truly are in the marvelous MS myzel she has gone
through her whole life being a perfect person at the end of that pilot she’s
going to been the worst thing of her life as her husband not only is he
reject her but who we rejected her for and when he did it and she’s drunk I
managed I’ve it’s fine but she is drunk and gets on stage and for the first time
ever that character starts to search for and to express her truth not as a
stand-up just because she’s drunk and she does and then Susie tells her you
are amazing you know this town as the show unfolds what’s fascinating is the
character exists in two spheres her everyday normal sphere where she is a
perfect person and then a sphere where she will continue to find and speak her
truth and that is on stage and really the metaphor of the show that I take
is the only way to reach your full potential as a creative person well this
would be true of anyone but let’s stay focused with rioters the only way to
reach your true potential is to express who you really are through your writing
to be completely authentic and and know that people will reject that and be okay
with that you have to be willing to be rejected to be authentic and I know
because I spent a decade as the studio writer never being authentic in my
writing and I wouldn’t take any script that was close to who I was and my agent
was repeatedly saying like you need to spec something from your heart and I
would never do that because I was so terrified of being rejected I knew at
least if I wrote a script that wasn’t me I didn’t put myself into it if it got
rejected then my skill set my talent was being rejected
I was terrifying to me but at least I wasn’t being rejected I’ve I was
authentic in my writing as I as I knew I should be and I was rejected that was
just too terrifying so you know this is film courage courage is so important and
I lacked it as a writer and that’s part of why I teach because I really want to
do what I can to help inspire other people to not make that mistake and so I
think the marvelous is miles is a really beautiful metaphor and to really hit
your full potential you have to be okay with being rejected and what will happen
is you will there were people who read the pilot or they heard they did for
Seinfeld or you know catastrophe or Breaking Bad or orange is the new black
Russian doll hated it I I was once the some of your viewers
might be a little young to fully appreciate this but I was at a studio
once I’m not gonna name the studio for reasons that will become clear and I was
early for a meeting so I was walking around and I kind of wandered in an area
I don’t think to be and there was AI there was a box
of coverage reports coverage report says when scripts go into the studio of
people write coverage I saw a coverage report for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off the
that’s represents the minutes that studio and they looked at the coverage
this person heeded that script they said this is the most annoying script I ever
read first of all you have a teen character who thinks he’s the smartest
person in the world and he is and he breaks the fourth wall and he talks to
us in such a cloying superior way and it’s like yes that was the magic of them
Oh like you loved Ferris but the point is you take any amazing project I’ll
guarantee people told Quentin Tarantino and they read pulp fiction if you move
forward with this you’re going back to the video store like this you this is
going to be a disaster of epic proportions there are people who read
American Beauty and said this is just stylized melodrama there’s nothing here
all it when you are your authentic self you’re going to have detractors and then
you’re gonna have people that are gonna fall in love and that’s all you need is
one person to fall in love and then it can change your life all it needs is one
person to say I’m making this this is important and I’m doing it so film
courage writer courage is have the courage to don’t feel protected by the
rules and paradigms find what you’re trying to say create authentic
characters find the concept and go for it and just write it completely not
worrying about being rejected and there will be people who reject the script but
then people are gonna see who you really are and what your voice truly is and
there going to be people who love it and that’s how someone launches a career in
the current marketplace Cory you said in the beginning I believe of the last
question that you were listening or reading an interview with Donald Glover
yeah I’m The Hollywood Reporter I’m I think it was the New York The New Yorker
okay he was a New Yorker magazine and it was a in-depth look at dongil
and I was also talking about it was lanta which if I’m correct has won more
Awards in his first two years in an e TV show in his first two years and Donna
Glover was talking about how it used to be where they were trying to get the
most people possible to watch a show and now it was following these paradigms and
these tropes o people like families that argue then come together and love each
other then people love a mystery with a red herring and then you find out who
did it so everyone’s doing the same generic stories just with different
dialogue or different locations of different characters but now in a world
where there’s literally too much content nobody can watch all of the shows
nobody knows all the new shows in a world of too much content concept and
story are king yes you need great characters but there’s so many scripts
that have great characters and it’s no longer the case that just because you
have a certain star people are gonna watch the show there’s just too many
show so what he was the point he was making is oh and there’s a really great
really great funny quote I’ll let I’ll let people read it so and there’s a
great quote in there but basically what he’s saying is it used to be getting the
right actor you know give me a Ted Danson was the key now it’s the story in
the concept that’s what differentiates and it’s it’s telling a story in a
unique way it’s telling the story in the way that’s
best for that story and for the experience you want people to have so
Atlanta is brilliantly structured it’s one of the shows that have a plot
casting class and we do case studies and teach people how to deconstruct these
shows to see how they’re put together and Atlanta is just brilliant but if you
look at any of the paradigms or the rules that are widely taught and then
you look at the really successful shows like Atlanta or the marvelous misses
myzel or fleabag or Russian doll and then if you also get scripts that have
launch writers careers in the past four years and I’ve done this with my UCLA
class it just pile the scripts have people grab
whichever ones they want and then the question is what percentage of these
scripts adhere to the rules and the paradigms that you’ve been taught and
the answer ranges from none to almost none and then people get upset well why
am i forcing a square peg in a round hole and I don’t have to exactly so the
the article that Dong Glover was talking about the new paradigm or the new
reality of TV and how the stories have to make an emotional connection
they can’t be predictable no the reality we know this from the meditate metadata
is that these paradigm driven shows that’s what our parents watched you know
we grew up and came of age with on-demand video platforms and we have as
a generation watch more TV than is probably medically advisable we know
what’s a redo we know what’s a reheat and more and more our generation is not
watching those shows you know Murder She Wrote which was a
brilliant show in its day that’s what our parents watched and so that was the
Donald Glover was making that argument in a much more articulate way than I
just did and so you can go look at it it’s in The New Yorker two years ago or
so you