If you haven’t heard the word on the street, each year the Writers’ Program hosts the Writers Studio at UCLA Extension.

What does that mean for all you writers out there? Four full days to concentrate on writing the great American masterpiece with seasoned writing instructors who are professionals in their field. Sounds good, right?

Students choose one of ten workshops in screenwriting and creative writing which are limited to 18 students.

We got the chance to ask Writers Studio instructor Corey Mandell about his upcoming course.

Here we go:


Writers’ Program: We’re excited to have you teach Creating Powerful Scenes and Sequences for the Movies again at the 2010 Writers Studio. Why is scene work so essential to a successful screenplay?

Corey Mandell: I recently met with a producer who received a hundred and twelve script submissions from writers at a recent pitch-fest he attended. He read the first scene or two of each script, but would only continue on if the scenes were well written. I asked how many of the scripts he continued on past the first couple of scenes? He said only two. Which means he tossed 110 scripts out of the 112 submissions after only a few pages. Which makes me believe there are two essential skill-sets required for screenwriting success. The ability to consistently write scenes that grab a reader’s attention and compel them to want to keep reading — and the ability to sequence these scenes into the most impactful order (story structure). And I believe these skills are not equal. The first skill is far more important than the second one. If a writer can’t write original, powerful, and compelling scenes, all the story structure in the world won’t save them. Without this ability, a writer simply has no shot.

WP: Students in your Scenes and Sequences classes of the past seem to all be in agreement about how the course has challenged them and taken their writing to the next level. What is it about your Scenes course that that sets it apart from the typical screenwriting course?

CM: Most screenwriting classes involve writing a screenplay, or at least a sizable portion of one. So these classes require participants to keep moving — writing a bunch of new pages per week in order to keep up with the deadline demands. Such classes are valuable in helping writers learn how to produce work in a compressed time-frame, as well as for receiving feedback and critiques on their evolving scripts.

What makes this class different is the ability to slow down and really focus on scenes and what is required to be able to succeed at this level. We have the time to explore specific tools and techniques that can raise everyone’s game in writing professional-level scenes.

Also, I have found that the overall structural mistakes writers make in their scenes are almost always the same they make in their screenplays. So, another advantage of focusing on scenes is writers can make these mistakes and learn from them much faster and more efficiently than if they were writing screenplays.

WP: What is your favorite thing about teaching at the four-day Writers Studio?

CM: How much the students bond and go out of their way to support each other. It felt much more like a writers group than a class. I believe the ability to live and breathe screenwriting for eight hours a day, four days straight, as a full immersion approach allows everyone to make really significant strides and help everyone else in the class do likewise. It was an incredible experience last year and I was honored to have been allowed to be a part of it.

WP: What can students expect from your upcoming Writers Studio course?

CM: A safe and fun environment to really test themselves and grow in their abilities to write professional caliber scenes. By the time they leave, they will know the requirements of a compelling scene and what aspects of this they are naturally strong at, and which areas they could stand to do some work on and specific individually tailored tools and techniques they can use to take their writing to the next level.

WP: What are some of your favorite powerful and memorable scenes in films of the past year?

CM: Oh boy, I always hate such questions as there are always so many to choose from. I almost feel like a parent asked to choose their favorite child. But one scene I would mention is the gas station scene in No Country For Old Men where Anton forces the proprietor to stake his life on the flip of a coin. One of the most layered and tense scenes I have ever experienced. It certainly compelled me to want to keep watching.


Gabrielle Stephens is the Program Representative for Screenwriting (Onsite). 

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