“Teacher say, student do.” – Mr. Miyagi

Last week I had the sudden urge to watch “The Karate Kid.” I have to admit that this is one of my guilty pleasures. Who doesn’t love an underdog story with fancy karate moves and everyone’s boyhood crush Elizabeth Shue? But upon further glance you see there is more to this story. A relationship formed between a mentor and a student.

In the movie, our reluctant hero Daniel LaRusso (played by Ralph Macchio), is put to the test of completing various chores for his mentor, Mr. Miyagi (played by Pat Morita). He is reluctant at first and complains that he isn’t learning the art of karate. But he realizes in hindsight that the laborious “wax-on, wax-off” technique is exactly what he needs in order to defeat his adversaries. As a result Daniel-san learns many important life lessons.

As I watched this movie, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had a Mr. Miyagi of their own?”

Here at the Writers’ Program, we make that possible through a special online mentorship program that allows students to work one-on-one with an instructor. This four-week course designed and taught by our seasoned screenwriting instructor Tom Lazarus, gives students a rare opportunity to tailor a class to their specific needs.

Why is having a screenwriting mentor important? Our very own “Mr. Miyagi” had this to share in a recent interview.

WP: How did you initially conceive the idea for this course?

TL: A couple of years ago, I had the wonderful experience of teaching screenwriting online to students across the country and even a few in foreign countries, and what struck me was the absolute need of these students to have an experienced voice out there in cyberspace to support them and guide them in their screenwriting. They were hungry for knowledge and I found the teaching ? the ability to write and rewrite my notes, then emailing them ? to be very efficient. The work was good and the students really liked it. From that, I developed the Screenwriting Mentorship Program along with the good people in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. What I particularly like about the program is teaching one-on-one where I can be fully attentive to each of the students in their turn. And the good news is, it’s working.

WP: What type of student would be interested in a course such as this?

TL:: A screenwriter looking for a one-on-one learning experience. A screenwriter looking to work hard and raise the level of his or her writing. A screenwriter who isn’t shaken by criticism. A student looking to develop an original voice. A screenwriter who is willing to entertain a new, more contemporary screenwriting paradigm. A student willing to think outside the box. A student who doesn’t ‘get’ the classic screenwriting formulas and has something original to say. A professional writer looking to get kicked in the ass to raise his or her game. A beginning screenwriter looking to learn the ‘right’ way. A screenwriter willing to be challenged. A screenwriter looking to be more commercial . A screenwriter looking to be less commercial. A screenwriter looking to advance his or her style. A screenwriter who is lost.

WP: What should students expect coming into this course?

TL: They should expect that they will get what they put into it. I’m committed to making this course a success so I’m there for the students. I will work as hard as they want. They should expect that I’m going to be tough. That I’m going to raise the bar. My goal is for students to write the best they’ve ever written. I’m blunt and I’m direct. I’ve written two books on screenwriting, written over fifty original screenplays, twenty movies of the week, hours of network drama and developed hundreds of screenplays with students. I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. The students in the Mentorship Program should expect that I’m going to be proactive in making their writing better. They should expect that I’m going to push them to excel. I’m going to inspire them to do the best work they’ve ever done.

WP: Could you tell us a little bit about what happens during each four week session? Is there a benefit to signing up for multiple sessions?

TL: The Mentorship begins with the student telling me his or her goals for the course and what he or she wants to be writing. I develop a teaching strategy, unique to each student, and the writer starts thinking about writing, and actually does the writing and then submits work in the form of email communication. Within hours, literally, the student gets a written response. There’s usually an exchange of a number of emails hashing out the notes and the screenwriter thinks about writing, then writes again…then submits again. It goes like that for as much as the screenwriter writes. There is no limit to the amount the writer can write. And that’s the key…THERE IS NO LIMIT TO THE AMOUNT A WRITER CAN WRITE.

WP: What should students expect to leave with at the end of the course?

TL: They should hopefully leave with their goals reached. More than likely it will be tougher than they think so they might not get as far as they thought they would. You know why? Because screenwriting is hard. And it takes time. And thought. I teach writing and I teach thinking about writing. They should expect to leave the course with a better understanding of their own writing, what they’re capable of and what is expected of them in the future.

WP: What are the rewards of working with a student one-on-one?

TL: The reward is seeing writers grow. Screenwriting is hard. Most screenwriters have been taught to write a certain formulaic way….and when I see writers open up creatively and feel free to create for the first time as writers, it’s pretty good.

WP: How has the experience to teach a course like this been for you?

TL: Hey, I’m a sucker for talking about screenwriting. I’ve been writing for a whole bunch of years, written books about it, taught at UCLA Extension for something like fifteen years, and now, with the Mentorship Program, I’m communicating with screenwriters all day long. And I love teaching this course. I’m committed to this course so when a student tells me that I’ve inspired them about screenwriting, I tell my computer that “my work here is done,” then I climb onto my horse and ride off into the sunset.

Want a little guidance with your script? Sign up today and start polishing your writing chops!

Call an advisor today at (310) 825-9415 or email writers@uclaextension.edu.


Chae Ko is the Program Assistant in Screenwriting (Onsite). Write to him at cko@uclaextension.edu.

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