In June/July of this year, I took the Corey Mandell Professional Screenwriting Workshop. This was an online workshop for learning screenwriting skills. The class met for a three hour live online session once a week for eight weeks. It included weekly homework assignments plus in-class discussions. It was taught by Corey Mandell and Talton Wingate. You can learn more information about it, as well as get details about how to sign up, by clicking here.

My view of the workshop was distinctly mixed. Let’s start with the good things and move on to the things that I did not like.

The good

I like Mandell’s approach to screenwriting and his approach to learning screenwriting.

Mandell is a strong believer in screenplay structure.  But he is no fan of the one-size-fits-all approaches heralded in books like Save the Cat.  He not only thinks those approaches are wrong, he thinks that they are obvious and that gatekeepers will recognize screenplays written on such templates and will reject them out of hand.  I could not agree with him more.

He is a strong believer that it is possible to improve one’s skills through hard work and constant effort, that being a good screenwriter (or a good anything) is not a matter of natural talent but rather of lots of hard work.  He believes that setbacks and criticism should not be taken as proof that one cannot succeed, but rather as learning experiences that can teach us what we need to improve.  Here again I agree completely.

His general approach in the class is to teach basic screenwriting skills, to let students learn the building blocks that they can use to construct good screenplays.  At this beginning level, these basic skills mostly involve creating high stakes conflicts between characters that escalate in intensity in ways that lead to good scenes and scripts.  The homework involves writing scenes built on such conflicts.  It is not about workshopping a script: it’s about learning these basic skills.

The neutral

Mandell spends a lot of time discussing how to get hired as a writer in Hollywood.  This was interesting, but not really relevant to me: I took the class because I want to learn more about screenwriting so that my own scripts for my own projects will be better.  I did not take the class with the expectation that I will get hired by Hollywood.  (Of course, if Hollywood wants to come calling, I will answer the phone.  🙂 )

The not-so-good

There were a number of things about how Mandell ran the class that bothered me.

First, of the eight class sessions, two of them just required us to watch canned videos.  I found that surprising.  What was perhaps worse is that Mandell seems to have forgotten what he put in some of those videos.  At least, he repeated some of the information from the videos, including almost verbatim repeats of anecdotes, in later classes.

Second, half the time we were not with Mandell, but with Talton Wingate, one of Mandell’s alumni.  Talton did a good job teaching his sessions, but I was surprised that Mandell was not the instructor – all the materials that I saw beforehand said that Mandell would be teaching the class.

But those two are relatively minor.  My biggest criticism of the class is that it felt like Mandell was often phoning it in.  There were times he showed us scenes from movies to illustrate a point, but often when the clip ended it would be a couple minutes before Mandell was back online.  The impression that I got was that he set the clip running and then left his computer to do something else.

Further, Mandell made it clear that he would not be available to us other than at class time.  No answering emails.  No looking at our homework between classes.  And, in fact, when we reviewed scenes that we had done for homework, Mandell and Wingate would say, “We’re looking at X’s scene now,” and would then go quiet while they read the scene.  They did not do their review of the homework between classes: they did it during class while everyone was sitting there waiting.  Thus, for each three hour class that involved reviewing scenes, a total of about half an hour would be devoted to quiet time while the instructor read the scene.

I’ve never seen anything quite like that in the many classes that I’ve taken and taught over the years.  It was quite annoying and rather unprofessional.  Yeah, reviewing homework is not the best part of teaching, but it is part of the job.

A final note

One last thing I learned from taking this class: always look up the instructor ahead of time.  Suffice to say that Mandell’s IMDB credits are a lot less impressive than you might think given his self-description on his website.  When I read that he was an “award winning playwright and screenwriter,” it didn’t occur to me that the award might be a Razzie for Worst Screenplay.  And when he mentioned doing a project for John Travolta, I never imagined that the project might be “Battlefield Earth.”