Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Webshow: "Why I Don't Like Screenwriting Coaches"

Okay gang, as you no doubt have realized by now, there are a lot of services out there that try to separate a struggling screenwriter from their money.  Some, like the Black List, offer reasonable value for their price - or at the very least, have a decent risk/reward ratio.  And I've admitting in the past that there might be some merit to coverage services.

But one service I can't see myself endorsing in any form is the practice of "screenwriting coaches."  There's something really predatory about dubious experts charging naive writers for the privileged of being mentored by them.  Here's some free advice - you don't need them.  Spend your money elsewhere.


  1. It can be invaluable week after week to have a gifted writing teacher comment on your work, especially in identifying your recurring mistakes.

    Talented writers can be lousy critics of their own work, especially in the early stages of development.

    1. It can be, but how are we defining gifted and does gifted REALLY matter if they have no connections in Hollywood and are unable to get your script read by people who matter? How are they different than your writing peers and what are they offering that's worth the price?

      I'd argue that talented writers MUST be good critics of their own work. It's not going to happen, but I wonder if suggesting we're all lousy critics of our own work isn't a crutch to CONTINUE being lousy critics of our work. I say this as someone who is hyper-critical of his own stuff to a fault.

      Long story short, I'm not sure I'm better off paying exorbitant amounts of money for "comments" on my work.

    2. I'd better get specific.

      I took the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting where I wrote three screenplays over an academic year and had instructor and peer feedback every week.

      My instructors were or had been professional screenwriters with credits.

      I learned A TON from this feedback and this was after I'd already written four screenplays and had read a lot of screenwriting how-to books.

      See, that's the thing, Jonathan. It's very hard to spot YOUR OWN weaknesses, your own blind spots unless an extremely experienced reader points it out to you.

      Unless you're a pro, your peers are making the same or similar mistakes are you are. Many people, especially those with some experience, say they're hyper-critical and of course believe it.

      They are, but often there's mistakes they've made since the beginning that they don't recognize as mistakes.

      How many pro athletes train without a coach?

    3. The point of writing screenplays is to get them sold, and if they get sold then success. Every sold script I've read on my ipad has mistakes. Memento has mistakes. Pulp Fiction has mistakes. They all have things that a coach would turn around and take a dump on because they don't follow the rules.

      But they sold, and they sold because they were fun to read and more importantly they were good. Doubtful any of these writers shilled out money to a consultant to hone their craft and get a pat on the back before facing Hollywood at large. Rather, I think they just wrote, shopped it around, and figured out what worked.

      Not dismissing the whole coaching thing if it works, but it's not what gets you in the door nor is it what leads to a sale. Following the rules gives you no advantage over anyone else. With that in mind, perhaps these coaches can switch to only charging you when your script is successfully sold?

  2. Will the puppet ever do a Muppet flail?

  3. Screenwriting isn't basketball. There's no hoop. Those trying to make it objective -- ie, attempting to make everything formulaic -- are one of the main reasons so much screenwriting sucks.

    A "coach" is just another title for someone trying to make everything the same.

    And any who believes they need coaching in the basics of story, structure, grammar and the rest has no business even attempting to pass themselves off as screenwriters.

  4. But if you're brutally honest you have to admit the Black List is little different. It's a nickel-and-dime scam as opposed to the go-for-the-jugular script consultant rip-offs. Both prey on the gullible and the desperate via false promises of access to industry pros. Having seen several reviews by Black List readers it's very obvious they are aren't movie biz professionals. The Black List cleverly makes its money by not charging the Earth for a worthless service and so it appeals to a much larger group of hopefuls and wannabes. A very large number of small fee payments probably earns Franklin Leonard way more than a very small number of large fee payments, even after he cuts-in the high school kids he's employing as readers.

  5. Gosh you were pissed when you did this one. Well said sir. You rock.

  6. I'd be interested in what you think of TOP 10 TIPS FOR WRITERS by Tony Gilroy whose 'Michael Clayton' script is one of the best I've read, and the film is just as good.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Also: on The Black List. I paid $50 bucks for an evaluation/review of a comedy script. The lengthy review was not very good overall, i.e. I got low grades, BUT I have to say that the review was very intelligent, to the point and touched upon several issues in my script that I had to admit were very real. Did it hurt? Sure, but I will take constructive criticism and honest feedback over BS any day. And people: do NOT ever ask your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, boyfriend/girlfriend to read your script. You put them on the spot which is grossly unfair and very selfish, and even if they are writers themselves, they will NOT be able to give you honest feedback.

    As for The Black List as a way to get your script produced: good luck with that! It works as a coverage service, nothing more. The only way to get a foot inside the film industry is via personal connections. Your mom's hair dresser's boyfriend's ex-wife or whatever. Just don't sleep your way to the top...or rather to the bottom. You want to be known for your writing, not your sexual favors.

  9. These debates always annoy me, because the truth is either you can write or you can't.

    The best writers are almost always those who have been writing forever, and who have never wanted to do anything else with their lives.

    The people who suddenly decide it would be cool to be in pictures, despite no real previous interest, and who then sign up for a few night classes in writing and donate a lot of cash to consultants are likely never going to have what it takes.

    You should think about doing something else if your writing is so bad that you need to pay a stranger to tell you why that is.

  10. I don't understand the debate? People who have the money can do anything they want with it. If they end up getting value, then great, everybody is happy. Those who don't have the money will or should do something within their means.

    I do not agree that folks either can or can't write. M. Night has written awesomeness and crap, same with Lucas. Personal development in writing is the same as with any other profession or interest. Practice and dedication can raise one's quality, coaching can perhaps make it easier and faster if you have the cash to burn.

    1. I also don't understand why I put a question mark at the end of my fist sentence.

  11. Great post.

    I think that you have to pay attention to the difference between legitimate teachers at educational institutions (IE UCLA, USC, etc) and paid consultants.

    Also, isn't a manager a sort of paid consultant in a way? I know they can do stuff, but in my experience the best ones are sort of like a mentor in that they challenge you to be a better writer by giving good notes.

  12. But what could be wrong with a screenwriting couch? Since when do we have to sit on chairs all the time?! Why can't we even STAND and write?!!! But if we do have to sit, I actually think a screenwriting couch is a GREAT alternative to - ...What? Oh. Never mind...