Corey Mandell begins one of the most extensive and approachable interviews ever conducted for the excellent resource on screenwriting that is Film Courage, by asserting that it is easier now than it has ever been to find someone looking to buy your script, but make no mistake: it’s still hard. Very hard, in fact, but there are things that you can do to set yourself up for success, and Mandell works through some of these over the course of a 3-hour conversation.
Primarily, he considers television writing, and the importance of having an engine to your pilot, a built-in functional machine to drive your story. You can have amazing characters, a brave new world, great stories, but you will be met with rejection if the engine of your script doesn’t supply you with material for the duration of the show. In that case, it’s not a show, it’s a singular story, and to TV executives, that’s unsellable.
Another must: nail the genre, a field where, per Mandell, many writers fall short. If you insist that you’re working in a particular genre, you must accomplish the promise of that genre. For a comedy, readers expect to laugh, and a horror needs to creep them out. It simply isn’t enough to have the promise of an affecting final product, your script itself must impart the feeling of the material. For instance, research-heavy genres like procedurals must feel authentic, “as if written by a homicide detective”.
All tips thus far aside, what dwarfs them all, is concept. One or two lines, a pitch that is unique and involving on a gut level, is what hooks whoever is considering your work most of all. Mandell proceeds to recount a true story. He knows of a manager who makes prospective clients read a box of scripts before they meet again the next morning. This exercise gives them an in as to what producers go through in having to parse through this barrage on the daily. Just as more scripts are sold now than ever before,
more material is written and must be considered than ever. Therefore, your concept ought to be nailed by page 10, or the reader is likely to give up on you. Deliver ASAP, stowing your ‘elevator pitch’ within the first few pages.
Though there are plenty of guidelines worth keeping in mind, be sure not to stay inside the lines; pushing beyond is how readers come to see your potential. You need to let go of the fear rejection, which tempers the creative spirit. It’s interesting to see someone as pragmatic as Mandell insist that the only way to broach quality is that you must put yourself into your work. Don’t hide for fear of being rejected. It will happen, you will get over it.
Mandell is an engaging and practical advisor, who here provides more than just snippets to carry with you, but a full, unpolished lecture. It’s a veritable repository.